On the banks of the Big Muddy about four miles west of Murphysboro, are a few heaps of stones - all that is left of the erstwhile County Seat of Jackson County. Those who struggled here have all been called to their fathers on the other shore and unfortunately nearly all the records were destroyed by fire. Doubtless many precious fragments of history have been lost but a faithful tradition has handed down to us a great deal of interesting information.
Who was the first to come or when I am not able to state but records say Bennington BOONE was born there in 1807. He was the son of William BOONE who operated a flat boat on Big Muddy and defended the people against the Indians in 1812 and was later a State Senator. They were relatives of the famous pioneer and Indian-fighter, Daniel BOONE.
In 1818, the same year that Jackson County was organized, this town was laid out by the brave pioneers who, drawn by the magic of the word, Illinois , had come hither to work out their destinies in this strange new land. Every man belonged to the Citizen Militia at that time and once a month the people roundabout gathered at the county seat for Muster and after the officers had bawled themselves hoarse they would have a barbecue, meantime they swapped yarns and sleights of art and feats of strength went around. At such a gathering there was always some of the Wimmem folks who usually prided themselves in being good cooks. Some of them brought their knitting along. Often some old woman sat on an ox cart selling a mixture of water and honey called metheglin for a penny a gourd. Later, whiskey was freely peddled out at two-bits a gallon. Muster days became disgraceful affairs and the best people were happy when the law was repealed.
They had elections then but quite different from the elections of the present. On election days they met at the County Seat to hear someone read the ILLINOIS HERALD, a newspaper published at Kaskaskia, and after a free discussion of the pros and cons of the issues they voted Viva Voca.
Their differences were usually settled out of court by agreement, by arbitration or by fighting it out. Lawsuits were uncommon but here is an account of one which was published in 1878. A man named Wolf was charged with stealing a hog. He was asked, guilty or not guilty? and he replied, If yer honor please I believe I am but if you have any doubts just call Bill Page. He was with me and got half of it but we needed it. The Judge replied, It appears that you are guilty. You are fined five gallons of whiskey and the cost of the suit, the cost to be paid in deerskins killed in the short-blue season.
Mr. Scott CREWS, a descendent of one of the oldest families of Southern Illinois, tells me that the first school at Brownsville was held at the home of William BOONE in 1814. The first bill providing for free schools in Illinois was introduced by Senator Joseph DUNCAN of Brownsville. It passed, was signed by the Governor and became law on January 25th, 1825. On the 6th day of June Jesse GRIGG who had been representative in the General Assembly filed a petition signed by himself and sixteen others of the Brownsville community, which laid out the first free school district in Illinois. The school was held in the Court House and James McMURRAY was the first teacher. He was a sort of jack at all trades, and each summer he would build a flatboat and take a cargo to New Orleans which he exchanged for things the people needed. He had gotten one leg broken and it was considerably shorter than the other. He could not walk well and he was nicknamed Old Hopping John.
When the Legislature authorized the organization of the State Bank at Kaskaskia, then the State Capital, and three branch banks, one of these was established at Brownsville. Another was established at Shawneetown and the other was to be at Albion but was never organized.
Several of the older citizens of Jackson County remember Rev. Phil DAVIS who taught school in Brownsville and was also pastor of the Methodist Church at that place. He was one of the commissioners appointed to restore the records that were burned.
Milton REYNOLDS, the great-grandfather of County superintendent L. E. ETHERTON, was a general merchant at Brownsville. He often went down the Big Muddy and the Mississippi to New Orleans to exchange produce for merchandise. From one of these expeditions he never returned and is supposed to have been drowned.
Old Brownsville was not without names that will live in history. We have already spoken of Senator Joseph DUNCAN who later became Congressman from that district and was also Governor of the State. Conrad WILL manufactured salt and became wealthy. He was State Senator for Brownsville in the First General Assembly. We have already mentioned William BOONE who was Senator in the Second General Assembly. Jesse GRIGG, already mentioned, was representative in the First General Assembly. Sidney BREESE who later became United States Senator lived in Brownsville, plead his first law suit there and lost it. Alexander M. JENKINS was a carpenter of Brownsville and helped build many of the houses. He was Representative in the General Assembly in 1830 and again 1832 when he was elected Speaker of the House. He was Lieutenant Governor from 1834 to 1836, was the leader in organizing the Illinois Central Railroad Company and was a member of the convention that gave us the Constitution of 1848. It is worthy of note that he had a sister, Polly Ann GLENN, who lived and died at Brownsville and her grave in the old cemetery is a grave stone carved by his own hands, dated January 6th, 1833.
The Court House was a two-story frame building in the center of the Public Square. It was used also for a school house. Here is the story of how Old Brownsville became a deserted village. Soon after midnight on the morning of January 10th, 1843, it was discovered to be on fire. People worked hard to save it but all in vain. Everything was burned except a few of the records which were saved by the heroic efforts of County Clerk D. H. BRUSH who later distinguished himself as one of the bravest Colonels of the Civil War. A few hours and all was over for everybody knew that Brownsville was doomed and that this was its funeral pyre. Four days later a marriage license was issued to George M. BROWN and Ann CROSS. So ends the record.
The Old MANNING House - the last of the Old Town, was destroyed by fire about five years ago. Mr. J. W. GRAEFF prizes as a valuable relic the key to the old jail.
A good number of families had settled farther East and were wanting the County Seat nearer the center of the county. After a spirited election on the first Monday in August 1843, it was decided to locate it on a twenty-acre tract donated by Dr. John LOGAN, father of the later famous General John A. LOGAN. This was the beginning of Murphysboro, or as it was then called, Shieldsboro, and this was the end of Old Brownsville. Colonel C. C. BOONE, now in the Soldiers Home at Roseburg, Oregon, is supposed to be the only person living who was born in Brownsville. A few months ago Messrs. C. H. SCHUMACHER, Fred DOODY, Don HAGLER, Edgar WALLER and myself with our families spent a day on this hallowed ground. We definitely located the old jail and a few other places rather indefinitely. We found the old cemetery, neglected of course and grown up in the woods. Yet e en these bones from insult to protect, Some frail memorial still erected nigh, With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked, Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. We managed to decipher a few names: Medina ROOS (ROSS) died September 1, 1828 Polly Ann GLENN died January 6, 1833 Ellis MANSKER died April 20, 1831 Udosia BYERS died July 5, 1833 Margaret A. GLENN died October 31, 1833 William OZBURN died February 7, 1837 Carved by OZBURN Penina WELLS died April 27, 1831 Mary--wife of Peter KIMMEL died April 1, 1839 Margaret Ann LIMRICK died March 2, 1826 Ezra Jones HAUS(?) Died July 28, 1844 The last is the only one we found buried after the removal of the County Seat. There were several others we could not identify. William WORTHEN, from whom is descended the well-respected WORTHEN family, lived in Brownsville as early as 1816 and is supposed to be buried there. William BOONE surely was buried there but we found no gravestone for him. Udosia BYERS, referred to above as buried there, was the mother of indorph OZBURN, who later distinguished himself as the brave Colonel of the 31st Illinois Infantry after General LOGAN s advancement from that position.
Colonel E. A. WELLS, President of the City National Bank of Murphysboro, is a descendent of Homer WELLS who lived near Old Brownsville. Penina WELLS was doubtless some relation of not his wife. We are indebted to Col. WELLS for several bits of information. Since I made my trip there Mr. G. A. RATHGEBER of Murphysboro who has delved deeply into local history has found the grave of Conrad WILL in the Old Brownsville Cemetery. But now the sounds of population fail; No cheerful murmurs fluctuate the gale; No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread; But all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
Contributed by Nancy Attey
Source: Extracted from an address given before the Illinois State Historical Society, by Elbert Waller, a native of Jackson County and now representing them in the Legislature. A. D. 1928 Reprint from the AVA CITIZEN
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