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History of Fort Russell Township, Madison County, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


Fort Russell Township (Township 5, Range 8) dates back to 1803, when the first settlement was established there. The township is named after Fort Russell, which was located in section 34 near Edwardsville. The fort was erected early in the Fall of 1812, under direction of Governor Ninian Edwards, who was then the executive officer of Illinois Territory. It was named after Colonel William Russell, a son of a prominent General in the Revolutionary War. Colonel Russell was in command of a regiment of regulars and ten companies of Rangers, who protected the frontier against the Indians who were on the warpath at the encouragement of the British. The fort was supplied with the cannons moved from old Fort Chartres, and held military stores and munitions. Colonel Russell led an expedition in July 1813, with 700 mounted soldiers. They traveled 500 miles through the Indiana Territory, destroying hostile Indian villages. During the month-long expedition, not one soldier was lost.

Fort Russell was considered one of the best townships in Madison County. The land was high, with rolling hills and splendid farms. Wheat was the staple product of agriculture. Liberty Prairie, lying between the Cahokia and Indian Creeks, is very fertile. Originally, the township was about two-thirds timber, but it was cleared for farming purposes. The township is bounded on the north by Moro Township, on the east by Hamel, south by Edwardsville, and west by Wood River Township. Prior to township organization, this land was part of Edwardsville, Omphghent, and Bethalto precincts. Paddock’s Creek, Cahokia Creek, and Indian Creek run through the township. Indian Creek receives its name from the face of its being the grand camping ground of the Indians. An Indian village was once located in section 18. Arrowheads, stone axes, and other relics are found to this day.

The First Settlements
Isaiah Dunnagan has the honor of being the first settler in Fort Russell Township. He was a native of Georgia, and came to Illinois in 1803 and squatted in section 31, a little north and east of the old Salem Church, situated just over the line in Wood River Township. He had a wife and two children – Joshua and Thomas. Their first home was a little log cabin, but he later improved a small farm and built a good log home. Four children were born here – Louisa, Abner F., Joseph C., and Isaiah Jr. Mr. Dunnagan died in 1814 at the old home, and Mrs. Dunnagan died in 1834. Before her death, she entered 40 acres of land for each of her children in sections 1 and 12 in Chouteau Township.

Joseph Newman was the second pioneer in Fort Russell Township, setting there in 1804. He was a native of Pennsylvania, and with his wife and 4 children – Zadock, Maria, John and Andy – left their native state for the wilds of the West. They reached Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Newman family, in company with several other families, came across the country on pack horses – the men often having to swim their horses across the swollen streams, with the women and children in bark canoes. Among these families was Thomas Ford, who later became the Governor of Illinois. Mr. Newman made his way down the Ohio River, and up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. He and his family came to Fort Russell Township, and squatted in section 34. He built a pole cabin, where they lived for some time. He then built a comfortable hewn log house. Newman was a mechanical genius. Others stated he could construct almost anything from wood with the most meager set of tools. As early as 1819, he had constructed a turning lathe, and also did the coopering for his neighborhood. One child was born in Fort Russell Township – Emily, who later became the wife of Robert Clark. Mr. Newman served as the first road overseer in the county. He died in about 1825.

Zadock, the eldest son of Joseph Newman, married Martha Ewing in 1810. Their marriage was probably the first in the township. She died at their home in section 34 in 1828. After her death, Zadock married Mrs. Sarah Cotter, widow of Abner Cotter. They moved to Missouri, where he died in 1864. Six children were born from the first marriage.

Major Isaac H. Ferguson, who is usually credit with being the first settler in Fort Russell Township, immigrated from Kentucky to Illinois in 1806. He settled in section 18. In about 1806 – 1807, he sold out his farm to William Jones, and moved to what is now Marine Township. He had a wife and two children – Melinda and John L. Melinda died in St. Jacobs in 1880, and John L. died two years before in Marine. Major Ferguson had command of a little fort in St. Jacobs during the War of 1812, and it was there that he earned the title of Major. He left the county in 1842 and moved to Texas. When the war with Mexico broke out, he was among the first to enlist. He contracted an illness during the war, and died in Mexico City.

Rev. William Jones, who bought the claim of Major Ferguson, was born in Virginia, September 12, 1771. He moved to Kentucky and then to Tennessee. From that state he came to Illinois in about 1806, and located on Sand Ridge near Alton Junction (East Alton). A few years later he bought out Ferguson and moved to the claim. At that time the claim consisted of a small clearing containing ten acres, and a cabin. Jones’ family consisted of his wife, Elizabeth (nee Finley) and five children – Martin, John, Lavina, Letitia, and William. Seven other children were born after coming to Illinois. By 1882, only one remained in Madison County – James, who later lived on his father’s homestead. Rev. Jones was a prominent man in his day. He organized one of the first church societies in the county. Jones served as County Commissioner in 1820, and later served as a member of both the territorial and state legislature. He served as Captain of a company of Rangers during the War of 1812. He died at the old homestead, January 2, 1845, at 73 years of age. Mrs. Jones died in 1810. Both are buried in the Vaughn Cemetery in Wood River Township.

In the days of Indian troubles, a blockhouse was built on the north half of section 18, on land then owned by Martin Preuitt, father of Solomon Preuitt. In the Spring of 1817, the fort was taken down and moved to the premises of William Jones, and used for a residence by the family. James, the son of William, was born there.

Ephraim Woods, a brother-in-law of Rev. William Jones, came to Fort Russell Township soon after Mr. Jones, and settled in the same neighborhood. His wife was a sister of Solomon Preuitt.

John Finley came from Virginia and settled in the township about the same time as Mr. Woods. He settled in section 20, but moved to Greene County at an early day. He was one of the first Justices of the Peace in the county, having been appointed by Governor Edwards in 1810. Jacob Linder and family came to the county and settled near the Finleys in the same year, but moved away after the War of 1812.

John Springer, who was born in Harrod’s Fort, Kentucky, in 1784, immigrated from Kentucky to Illinois in the Fall of 1810. He stopped in what is now Bond County. When the Indian troubles commenced two years later, he took refuge in the old Jones Fort. In the Fall of 1814, he moved to Madison County and settled in section 30. He arrived in a four-horse wagon, with his family and household goods. Three extra horses were brought along, but during his stay in Bond County, they were all stolen by Indians. His family consisted of his wife and three children – Sarah A., Elihu, and Susannah. He built a hewed log house. Mrs. Springer died in the summer of 1825, and the following year Mr. Springer married again to Elizabeth Byrd. By this union, ten children were born – Thomas O., William M. T., Martha E., Levi C., Nancy E., Emily P., John W., Lucinda, Joshua S., and Joseph E.

The summer of 1849 was the time of the cholera outbreak in Madison County. John Springer and his wife were both stricken, and died only a few hours apart. They were buried on the same day in one grave. Seven other deaths occurred within a week, and many more were afflicted. So much sickness was prevalent in the township, that there were scarcely enough people to bury the dead and take care of the sick.

One of the leading and prominent early settlers was Gershom Flagg. He was born in Vermont in the Fall of 1792, and moved in 1800 with his father to Richmond, Vermont. When he was 20 years of age, he joined the Vermont militia, and served during the War of 1812. At the close of the war, he studied civil engineering in Burlington, Vermont. Completing his studies in 1816, he journeyed to the West, first stopping in Indiana. He remained there until the winter of 1816-17, when he took a flat-boat and traveled to the mouth of the Ohio, and then overland to St. Louis. The following Spring, he traveled by river to Madison County, and settled in the southeast quarter of section 3 in Fort Russell Township. Flagg was one of the government staff of surveyors in Illinois. He improved a farm and became one of the first horticulturalists in the State. He introduced grafted fruit in his orchard, which was planted in 1822, and was the first in the county. In the Fall of 1827, Flagg married Mrs. Jane Richmond (nee Paddock), the eldest daughter of Gaius Paddock. One child was born to the couple – Willard C. Flagg. Gershom died at the old home in section 30, in the Spring of 1857. His wife died six years later, in December 1863.

Willard C. Flagg was born September 16, 1829. He became a prominent citizen in the community, and became a Representative in the State Legislature, and was an appointed Collector of Revenue. In 1856, Willard married Sarah Smith of St. Louis. Willard died in the Spring of 1878.

Gaius Paddock was a neighbor and close friend of Gershom Flagg. Paddock was born in 1758 in Massachusetts. When he was 17 years old, he enlisted to serve during the Revolutionary War. In 1786, he married Mary Wood, and the following year they moved to Vermont, where he lived until the Fall of 1815. They then moved West to Cincinnati, Ohio, and subsequently to St. Charles, Missouri. From there he moved to St. Louis in the Spring of 1817. The next year he moved to Madison County, where he purchased the northeast quarter of section 3 in Fort Russell Township. He resided there until his death in the summer of 1831. Mrs. Paddock died July 15, 1850. Ten children were born to this family – Jane (who married Gershom Flagg), Mary, Salome (who married Pascal P. Enos), Susan, Joanna, Sprout Wood, Julia (who married Henry Reily and then E. C. Blankinship), Eveline, Orville, and Elvira.

John Estabrook joined with the Paddocks and others at Marietta, Ohio, when they came to Madison County. He was born in 1815 in Massachusetts. He was impressed with the Liberty Prairie area, and made his home there in section 15. He built a small log cabin, where he lived alone until his married in 1820 to Nancy White. Ten children were born to this couple – John, Edward, Lucy A., Emeline, James, Albert, Harriet, William L., Clara, and Sarah. Mr. Estabrook died on May 2, 1881, and his wife died a few months later. They lie side by side in the old Liberty Prairie Cemetery.

William Galt, a native of Scotland, came with his father, brothers, and sisters, to America. They landed at New Orleans, Louisiana in 1844, and traveled up to St. Louis. William and his brother, Alexander, bought land in 1845 in Fort Russell Township in Madison County, Illinois. In a short time, Alexander moved to Galena, where he was accidentally killed by the kick of a horse in 1847.

Major Solomon Preuitt, a native of Virginia, immigrated to Illinois with his father, Martin Preuitt, in 1806. They located on Sand Ridge Prairie, three miles east of Alton in Wood River Township. Solomon married Rebecca Higgins, who was then 17 years of age. In 1813, Solomon joined the Rangers on the frontier, and served until the close of the War of 1812. In 1818, Solomon moved to Fort Russell Township, and located in section 18. It was here that his father, Martin Preuitt, died at the age of 97. In 1831, when Black Hawk and his braves went on warpath, Major Solomon Preuitt was one of the first to enlist in the cause. He was elected Captain of a company, and served with credit until the disbanding of the regiment. On his arrival home, he was elected Major of the militia, an office he held for many years. His first wife died in the Fall of 1855, and he remarried Elizabeth Higgins, a sister of his former wife. No children were born by the second marriage. Ten children were born from the first marriage – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Martin, James, Elizabeth, William, Nancy, Wiley, and Mary. Major Preuitt died in his home on January 9, 1875, at the age of 85.

Daniel A. Lanterman came from Kentucky to Illinois in 1818. He first located in St. Clair County for one year. The next Spring, he came to Madison County, and engaged as a school teacher. At that time, he had a wife, Sally, and one son, William A. He taught school in a log cabin on land known as the Ferguson improvement. The cabin had two fireplaces, and mud and stick chimneys. A log was cut out on one side, a few feet from the floor, for lighting purposes. William A. Lanterman, who attended his father’s school, stated that his first book was made by pasting letters upon a wooden paddle. Daniel Lanterman taught for a few years, then bought the farm of Jacob Linder in section 19. In 1843 he was elected county school commissioner. Several children were born to the family at this homestead. Daniel Lanterman died in the Fall of 1865 at the age of 79.

Volney P. Richmond, grandson of Gaius Paddock, came with his grandfather to Madison County at the age of 1 year. His mother was Jane Richmond, who later married Gershom Flagg. At the age of 29, Volney married Victoria West, and took up farming. They had two children – Edward W. and Isabel G.

Emanuel J. West came from Indiana in about 1820, and located in section 7 in Fort Russell Township. In 1824 he moved to Edwardsville. He took an active part in politics, and represented the county in the Legislature. Later, he was appointed minister to Peru, South America, and died on the passage to that country. While living in Fort Russell Township, he was the owner of several indentured slaves. They were later freed.

Joseph Robinson, a native of North Carolina, came to Madison County in 1815, and located in Edwardsville Township. He drove a four-horse team, bringing his family in a covered wagon. He brought in the wagon a wife and three children – Margaret, Eliza, and William S. B. Two other children, John and Mary Ann, were born in this county. He bought 160 acres of land, which had a cabin on it. Mrs. Robinson died September 10, 1879.

Other pioneers of Fort Russell Township include Edmond Owens, Luther W. Lyon, Henry Engelhart, the Belks, C. P. Smith, Nimrod Stillwell, and D. C. Scheer. Henry Belk, father-in-law of Russell Newman, was a native of Yorkshire, England.

The following were the first land entries in Fort Russell Township: Ephraim Wood entered on section 17 on August 15, 1814. On September 12, 1814, Martin Preuitt entered several acres in section 18, and at the same time Thomas Daniel entered section 20. On September 21, 1814, Isaac Hill entered land in section 19. During that same month, William Jones entered land in sections 18, 19, and 20.

J. S. Ferguson, the son of Isaac Ferguson, was the first born in the township. He was born in 1807, on section 20. The first death also occurred in the Ferguson family, in about 1807 or 1808. The interment was made on the farm later owned by James Jones.

The First Schools
The first school was taught by the Rev. William Jones in 1818, at the old blockhouse in section 18. The first regular schoolhouse built was in 1819, and was located in section 20.

The First Churches
Abraham Amos (Methodist) and William Jones (Baptist) were the first to preach the gospel. The early services were conducted at the home of Isaiah Dunnagan in 1809. The Rev. Abraham Amos was then in charge of the ministry of the M. E. Church in the counties of Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair. The first organized Sabbath School was instituted by John M. Peck and William Ottwell, in the Spring of 1824, at the home of Dunnagan.

The German Lutherans constructed the first church building in 1842, near the store of F. Gaertner in section 23. The second church was built by the Methodists at Liberty Prairie in 1850. The Baptists built their house of worship in the Fall of the same year.

There were several cemeteries in the township. One of the largest is on Liberty Prairie. Another is located at Paddock’s Grove, and another on the Springfield Road.

Libertyville was a small hamlet of a few houses scattered along the old Greenville road. In 1882, there was a wagon and blacksmith shop, conducted by Ludwig Silland. There was once a store and post office, but they were abandoned by 1882.

Part of Bethalto is in Fort Russell Township. To view its history, please click here.


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