JOHN WOOD, whom Governor Henry Horner described in a 1935 speech at Pearl as "a great governor whose name has been almost forgotten," was one of the very earliest settlers in what is now Pike county. With his boon companion, Willard Keyes, he stopped upon Section 16, just below modern New Canton, in what is now Pleasant Vale township, in March 1820. Wood and Keyes were the Damon and Pythias of early Pike county. The friendship they formed just before they located on the bank of Keyes (now Kiser) creek in Pleasant Vale continued unbroken until the death of Keyes in the city of Quincy in 1872.
Wood and Keyes were here before the coming of the Rosses. So far as now known, their settlement in what is now Pike county could have been antedated by only one white man, Ebenezer Franklin, who appears most certainly to have been in the neighborhood of modern Milton as early as 1819. Wood and Keyes, so far as the records disclose, come next after Franklin in the sequence of early Pike county settlement, not forgetting the French-Canadian trapper and hunter, Jean B. Tebo (Tibault), who had a hut in what is now Flint township when Illinois became a state in 1818.
John Wood was 21 when first he set foot upon Pike county soil. He was strong, vigorous and ambitious, athletic of limb, tireless in energy, and it was said he could cover more ground on foot and be seen in more different and widely scattered places within a given time than any other of his day. In his breast burned an unquenchable thirst for adventure. For him, the lure of the frontier was irresistible. An Easterner, he early in life bent his footsteps toward the far outposts of civilization. Meeting with Willard Keyes, he discovered in this new-found friend a character kindred to his own. Together, these two marched for years in the very forefront of western advancement. Both achieved fame, fortune and honor.
Wood, stout-lunged as well as stout-hearted, had a laugh and a voice second to none in the pioneer settlements. As he rode the trails, astride his Indian pony, Keokuk, he sometimes raised his voice in some border song or ballad of the period, his great voice filling the wilderness. Often, it was said, as he rode the early Fort Edwards trail from his log home in Quincy to Dutton's smithy in Pleasant Vale, with his plowshares and other irons slung on each side of his pony, and with provisions for the journey in his saddlebags, he sang and shouted as he rode, making the forests ring with his voice.
It was a great day in early Atlas when John Wood came to town. He was a good teller of tales, who loved his joke and quip and who delighted in goodnatured banter. In Rufus Brown's early tavern he often held forth to a merry circle of the early settlers. Before the blazing hearth, with a decanter at his elbow, the glowing logs lighting the faces of admiring friends, his wit sparkled and his merry soul laughed out at the world. Such is the John Wood pictured in the letters and early writings of the settlers of that day.
Wood's penchant for banter is illustrated by the story related by an early historian, dating back to 1822:
A man by the name of Franklin (not the first settler of that name) had been awarded pioneer justice at Ross's Settlement for stealing a gun. William Ross, then a Pike county justice of the peace, before whom the man was tried and convicted, sentenced him to suffer twenty-five lashes upon the bare back, which punishment was administered, borne without flinching and the man liberated. Later, the man committed another crime, was caught, but escaped from custody. He was tracked to Fort Edwards (now Warsaw) and again captured. Pike county then had no adequate place of confinement for such a cunning rascal so it was decided to send him to the jail at Edwardsville.
John Wood and Constable Israel Farr were placed in charge of the prisoner and directed to convey him from Fort Edwards to the Edwardsville prison. Wood and Farr lashed their prisoner to the back of a mule, tying his feet together beneath the animal's body. Thus they proceeded until they came to a swollen creek. The prisoner, seeing a chance of escape, dug his heels into the mule's sides and plunged into the swollen waters, ignoring the threats of his guards, yelling back at them that he would "go to hell and kick the gate open for them." Mule and rider went to their deaths in the raging torrent. Wood and Farr rescued the man's body and buried it upon the bank of the creek, now known as Bear creek, after which they returned to Atlas. To Justice Ross' query as to what had become of their prisoner, Wood replied, ‘Oh, we drowned him," putting as much diffidence as possible into his answer. "You have to account for him in some way according to law, you know," insisted Justice Ross. "Oh, yes," Wood and Farr both agreed, "we drowned him."
Out of this jesting account of the horse thief's disappearance upon the old Fort Edwards trail, grew two noted lawsuits of the early day. Wood, staunch partisan of the Rosses in the county seat war, it appears, had thus made enemies among the adherents of Shaw. It appears that Shaw himself and one of his followers, Daniel Lile, later a resident of what is now Adams county, were charged with circulating stories in the 1824 campaign to the effect that Wood had deliberately drowned his horse thief prisoner. Wood and Keys had previously had some livestock transactions with the man, whom neither then knew to be a thief. Later Wood accompanied Sheriff Leonard Ross and William Ross on a man hunt that led to Fort Edwards (now Warsaw), where the thief was captured.
Wood, learning of the scandal being circulated as to his connection with the case, sued Shaw and Lile for slander, these cases being docketed at the May 1825 term of circuit court at Atlas. The case against Shaw was later compromised, after Shaw had succeeded in taking it on a change of venue to Madison county. The suit against Lile, begun in the Pike court, later became one of the earliest suits in the newly organized county of Adams. Needless to say, the change against "Honest John Wood" was never sustained.
Lile (spelled both "Lile" and "Lisle" in the early records) was made defendant in two other suits filed at the same term of court at Atlas, one being brought by Levi Hadley and the other by James B. Pettit. At the following October term at Atlas, Lile was indicted on a charge of larceny and John Thomas joined in his bond in the sum of $300 and attachments were issued for John Weatherman and Seymour Kellogg of Morgan county as witnesses in the case. A jury, at the May 1826 term, found Lile not guilty of the charge.
The John Wood of early Pike county bore little resemblance to the staid, white-haired, white-whiskered statesman who sat in the Governor's chair at Springfield in 1860-61, and who, in one of the most tumultuous political periods of our history, became the staunch friend and counselor of Abraham Lincoln. Nor does that splendid tribute of a worthy and affectionate people, the Wood statue in Quincy's Washington Park, remotely suggest in its dignified and bewhiskered figure the roving young pioneer of the early 1820's.
John Woods was born in the town of Moravia, in Cayuga county, New York, December 20, 1798, the son of Daniel Wood, surgeon and captain in the Revolution, whose body is buried in Woodland cemetery, Quincy. Leaving the ancestral home on Nov. 2, 1818, before he had reached his twentieth year, he headed into the West, with the valley of the Tennessee as a possible objective. He spent the winter of 1818-19 in Cincinnati. Changing his plans, he bent his course toward Shawneetown in Illinois, crossed the Illinois river on October 30, 1819, and passed the following winter, that of 1819-20, at Cap au Gris, early French settlement on the Mississippi at the site of the present West Point Ferry in Richwoods precinct, in Calhoun county. This region, as well as present Pike county, was then in Madison county.
During his winter at Cap au Gris, Wood fell in with Willard Keyes and a friendship was then formed that was to endure as long as both were alive. Keyes had come from Vermont in 1817 to Prairie du Chien, and in 1819 had come down the Mississippi to Clarksville, Mo., where he lay six months in ill health. In early spring of 1820, he and Wood planned an exploring trip into the north.
On February 20, 1820, Wood and Keyes set out from Cap au Gris with two ox teams, a few hogs, a goodly stock of provisions (mostly the product of trap and gun), a few rude farming implements, a tent and some other odds and ends, and proceeded to blaze a trail into the north. Sometime in March they reached a point on "5 S. 6 W. by the U. S. Survey" and here they stopped and pitched their tent on the bank of the creek near the site of present-day New Canton. Before erecting a permanent abode, they yoked one of the ox teams to a small iron plow they had brought with them, and broke up a piece of ground for the planting of the first crop of corn in what is now Pike county.
Later Wood and Keyes moved their habitation to the southwest quarter of Section 22, about a mile and a half below present New Canton, where they made some improvements and put in a crop. Altogether, while abiding in what is now Pleasant Vale township, they raised three crops, meantime keeping "bachelors' hall." On Section 29, about a mile and a half from their abode, was a salt spring, and Keyes carried water from this spring and boiled it down and made salt for their own use and that of neighboring settlers, who had come in following their original settlement. Amos and Joseph Jackson, David Dutton, Major Nathaniel Hinckley and Parley Jackson were among the earliest comers to that region following Wood and Keyes.
In February, 1821, in company with two men named Flinn and Moffitt, John Wood made a journey into what is now Adams county to look at some land which belonged to Flinn and on which now stands a portion of the city of Quincy. Flinn did not think much of the land, but Wood did. Wood later acquired the Flinn land and planted an orchard thereon, which was in bearing in the early days of Quincy. On his return home, after locating the Flinn land, Wood told Keyes he had found a place where he was willing to settle for life. The city of Quincy was then taking form in the mind of John Wood.
Again, in the fall of 1821, Wood headed a second time into the northern wilds, undertaking to pilot a U. S. army officer, Lieutenant Laniel, up to Fort Edwards. He encamped where the lower steam saw mill (Hubbard's) stood in the early days of Quincy. Wood had never been up to the fort, but he succeeded in his enterprise and returned safely to his home.
On June 5, 1822, Wood was appointed by the Pike County Commissioners' Court, sitting at Coles' Grove, then the Pike county capital, as supervisor of that part of the Fort Edwards road from the section line just north of present Atlas to Fort Edwards. The commissioners desired that this road, which started at Ferguson's Ferry on the Illinois river at the lower end of present Calhoun county, be opened to the fort that had been erected by Zachary Taylor on the site of modern Warsaw in the War of 1812. Viewers had been appointed to lay out this northern extension of the road and their report had been accepted on January 12, 1822.
Pursuant to his appointment, John Wood set out in the fall of 1822 from his cabin on Keyes creek and blazed a cart road to a point on the creek (now known as Fall Creek), two miles south of the present site of Quincy, where he stopped at the house of Justus J. Perrigo, near modern Marblehead. Perrigo and Daniel Lile were then the only white men within the borders of what is now Adams county. Perrigo, of whose signature the writer has a photostatic copy, was a signer of the petition sent up to the second legislature in December, 1820, praying for the erection of a new county upon the bounty lands, pursuant to which the county of Pike was erected.
Wood on this journey traveled in a truck wheel cart drawn by a yoke of oxen. The cart was made by his own hands, from timbers hewn from the native forests. The wheels were circular cuts from a sycamore log, with holes burned in their centers for the inserting of the wooden axles. The wheels were held on the axles by wooden pins. Traveling in this rude ox-drawn vehicle, Wood cut the road as he went, reaching the house of Perrigo in November, 1822.
From Perrigo's, Wood after a brief rest set out again in the direction of Fort Edwards, cutting out the road as he advanced, until he came at last in December 1822 to the site of an old Sauk or Sac village, the beauty of which had attracted his attention on former visits to this locality. There, on a spot he had explored and admired on his trip with Flinn and Moffitt in February, 1821, he stopped and built a cabin in December 1822, the first white habitation within the present bounds of Quincy. Wood, appointed by the Pike county commissioners to open and supervise the northern half of the Fort Edwards road, thus, in the performance of his task, became the founder and first settler of Quincy.
Wood's cabin was built near the river, on the east side of what is now Front street and a short distance south of the point where Delaware intersects Front.
Resembling somewhat the first log courthouse at Coles' Grove and Atlas, but rougher in design and of two feet larger dimension each way (18 by 20 feet), Wood's first Quincy home was built without a nail or a bit of iron or any sawed timber. Logs from the neighboring forest were dragged to the spot with the aid of the ox-team and cart and the "raising" was accomplished possibly with the aid of some trapper, trader or hunter. It should be remembered that the site of modern Quincy was at this time in Pike county.
The following spring (March, 1823), Major Jeremiah Rose and his family moved from the southern part of Pike county to the site selected by Wood for his home. They lived in Wood's cabin, Wood continuing as a bachelor therein. Major Rose had a daughter, then five years old, the first white child on the site of Quincy, as her mother was the first white woman. This daughter, growing into young womanhood, became the wife of George W. Brown, of the early Quincy firm of Brown & Dimock, Merchants.
The story of early Quincy is as much a story of early Pike county as it is of early Adams. Settlers prominent in the pioneer history of Pike were the first settlers of Quincy and the builders of the town. The histories of Pike and Adams, of Atlas and Quincy, are inextricably interwoven.
The second house erected within the limits of Quincy was that of Willard Keyes, built in the spring of 1824, just in the rear of the old steamboat tavern that stood in an early day on Lot 3 in Block 6 of the original Quincy town plot.
The third house was built in the fall of 1824 by John Droullard, a Frenchman, prominent in early Pike and a member, as was John Wood, of the famous grand jury at Atlas in May, 1825, which returned indictments precipitating the long warfare between John Shaw and the Rosses in the Pike county courts. Droullard was a cobbler, with a large family. He secured an early patent to 160 acres of land, which later became the heart of Quincy. This patent is bounded roughly, in terms of today, by Broadway on the north, 12th street on the east, a line between York and Kentucky streets on the south, and a line between 5th and 6th streets on the west. This tract included half the present courthouse block in Quincy and much of the finest part of the present city. Droullard built his early cabin, the third in the town, east of the original town plot and in what later became Church's addition to Quincy.
Dr. J. S. Ware of Quincy, writing in 1848, told of an incident in the spring of the year in which Wood settled there, when the Indians came, and near the spot where the old steam mill then stood, in the lower part of town, buried one of their number, in the usual mode, which was done by placing him in a sitting position against a tree, then building a log pen around the body, and covering it with brush. Wood and Rose, according to this early historian, set fire to and burned the whole affair at first excited ill feelings among the Indians, who threatened vengeance for the insult offered to their sacred dead; but in a short time all was peace again.
The trees in the vicinity, wrote Dr. Ware, were marked with indications of an old settlement; upon felling and splitting them balls were found which had been shot into them fifty or more years before. There was evidence, even after the first settlement by the whites, that the site had in some distant time been occupied by an Indian village of the Sauk or Sac tribe.
In 1824, John Wood set out from his northern domicile and going by way of Atlas, on September 14, 1824, he inserted in the Edwardsville Spectator a notice of a petition to be presented to the General Assembly at its next session, praying for a new county to be established from the county of Pike and parts attached, and designating a boundary line. This notice, signed by Wood, was published twelve times in the Edwardsville paper, pursuant to the law then in force relative to the erection of new counties.
The fourth legislature, on January 13, 1825, defined the boundaries of Schuyler, Adams, Hancock, Warren, Mercer, Henry, Peoria, Putnam and Knox counties (all former Pike territory), and provided for their organization. It enacted that the judge of the circuit in which Adams and Schuyler were located should issue an order for the election of county officers, to be holden on or before the first Monday in July thereafter. By this act, Seymour Kellogg of Morgan county, Joel Wright of Montgomery, and David Dutton of Pike county were appointed commissioners to locate the seat of justice of the new county of Adams, which at first exercised political jurisdiction also over the county of Hancock. They were to meet in Adams county, at the house of Ebenezer Harkness, on the first Monday in April, 1825, or within seven days thereafter, and take and subscribe an oath before a justice of the peace to "locate the seat of justice for the future convenience and accommodation of the people." They were to fix and determine upon the same, and forthwith made out a copy of their proceedings, and file them in the office of the Recorder of Pike county, and were to receive two dollars per day for their services, to be paid out of the first money in the treasury of Adams county.
Pursuant to this act, two of the commissioners, Dutton and Kellogg, met on the present site of Quincy; the third commissioner, Wright, failing to arrive. Dutton and Kellogg proceeded to the log house of Willard Keyes, who was then a Pike county justice of the peace, and were duly sworn and qualified to act. Keyes, an experienced woodsman and guide, offered to guide the commissioners into the interior of the new county to explore the geographical center as a possible location for the seat of justice. Keyes, experienced guide that he was, somehow, in a manner perhaps known only to himself, lost his bearings and kept the commissioners floundering all day through the swamps and morasses of the Mill creek bottoms east of Quincy. At nightfall, exhausted, the commissioners were guided by Keyes back to his log cabin home on the site of modern Quincy.
The following morning, the commissioners, not yet fully rested from their bitter experiences of the day before, met at a point near the present square in Quincy and solemnly decided that here was the geographical center of Adams county and that here should be located the seat of justice. In the presence of the entire adult male population, namely, Willard Keyes, Jeremiah Rose and John Droullard, a stake was driven and the city of Quincy founded. John Wood, on this day, was absent on an expedition to the town of St. Louis.
Kellogg, the Morgan county commissioner, according to Dr. Ware's 1848 story of the founding, was a strong John Quincy Adams man. A number of the Edwardsville Spectator had just been received by Keyes from Atlas, containing the March 4 inaugural address of Adams as he assumed the presidency of the United States. This address was read by the company, and Kellogg, chagrined with the naming of the county seat of his own county Jacksonville, determined to honor the new president and name this new town "Quincy." Dr. Ware thus proceeds with his narrative:
"The commissioners drove a stake near where the city cistern now is (1848), in front of the Court House, on the public square, and Kellogg, placing his hand on the stake, with all the solemnity due the occasion, said: ‘I now pronounce the name of this town Quincy.' Having made out the report of their proceedings to be filed in the Recorder's office of Pike county, the commissioners departed."
Thus, in the breaking up of the great county of Pike into a number of new counties, initiated by John Shaw in retaliation against Atlas and the Rosses, we see arising on the banks of the Mississippi a new settlement destined to become a rival of Atlas, but which in its earlier years is to be dependent upon atlas for its meal and its mail and the sharpening of its tools. This brings us to that interesting period of our history when these two pioneer settlements, Atlas and Quincy, headed by two future statesmen, William Ross and John Wood, engaged in a friendly but relentless contest for commercial supremacy in this western country.
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