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History of Helvetia Township, Madison County, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


Helvetia Township is located in the southeast corner of Madison County, and is designated as Township No. 3 North, Range 5, West. The first arrival of white settlers was in about 1804, when Joseph Duncan, with a few others, made the extreme southeast corner of the county their home. Near the same time, the Higgins and the Hobbs arrived also. Mrs. H. Hobbs state she knew the settlement to have existed in 1808. The buffalo had barely disappeared from the state, the elk was still seen at times, and deer were roaming in herds. The prairie were covered with high grass, with groves of trees on the hill tops.

The Howards settled in the southwest corner of Helvetia Township in the year 1809. There were Duncan settlements six miles south of them, but it is unknown if they knew of each other. No progress seems to have been made in this part of the county prior to 1815.

Indians had previously been friendly. They roamed through this and other counties as hunters. When the War of 1812 broke out, they became the settler’s foe. Reports of murders and depredations reached the isolated settler, and the few scattered families huddled together in block houses, enclosed by a row of strong posts, called forts. Between alarms, they tilled their small fields, with their rifle on their shoulder. Cox’s Fort, near Old Aviston, afforded shelter to the settlers on Sugar Creek. It was never attacked, but Mrs. Jesse Bailes, daughter of Mr. Bradsby living on Sugar Creek, was shot in 1814 by Indians. She fled across the prairie to her father’s home, where she died. Mrs. Bailes was a relative of Joseph Duncan – probably a sister-in-law. Peace was restored in 1814, and the settlements returned to tranquility.

Joseph Duncan, James Good, Gilbert Watson, and Jonathan L. Harris made their settlements on Sugar Creek. Duncan had been a Ranger during the war, and on his return located on the east side of the creek, on section 15. He was an educated man for that day, and was appointed justice of the peace in 1817. He filled that office for nearly three years. In later years he had a post office established at the place, and served as postmaster. He died in 1852. His wife’s maiden name was Cuddy, and she was an aunt of George Cuddy, who was so well and favorably known at the time. The Duncans raised a family of five children – four daughters and a son, Hugh M. Duncan, who became the father of a large family. Hugh lost his life by accident, being thrown out of his carriage while on the way to attend a funeral. The daughters were: Linnie, who married John S. Carrigan; Sarah, who married Alexander Forrester; Rebecca, who married B. C. Plant; and Mary, who married James A. Berry.

The Duncans and many others lived on the land as squatters. The record of the first land entry was by William Morrison, on section 36, on the 10th of April, 1815. Morrison became the first bona fide landowner in the township. Gilbert Watson, friend and companion of Joseph Duncan, entered the southeast quarter of section 22, directly south of where Duncan had squatted, and James Gingles (Jingles), the southeast quarter of section 26, on November 14, 1816. The Gingles (or Jingles) lived nearly fifty years in the township, but in 1882, none were still living there.

John L. Hearrin entered 160 acres in section 35 on December 12, 1816, and James Ramsay entered 160 acres on the December 23, 1816. Duncan and Good, who had been squatters, entered their tracts on October 27, 1817. Jonathan L. Harris settled in the edge of the timber on the old trail from Duncan’s to Carlyle. He had a horse mill there, which he operated until 1834. He left the county in 1840 and moved to Clinton County.

Robin Craigg came to the settlement in about 1818. He improved a farm on the east side of Sugar Creek, and lived there the rest of his life. His son, Madison Craigg, was a skillful mechanic and cartwright, and established a business in Edwardsville. Henry and William, his brothers, were farmers.

Lee Cuddy, brother-in-law of Joseph Duncan, brought his children, consisting of George, John, Shelby, Ephraim, Anna, and Elizabeth, to Madison County in 1823, settling in the vicinity of Joseph Duncan. Lee Cuddy cultivated a farm on the west side of Sugar Creek. Later he moved to Deck’s Prairie, where he died.

John Gracey settled on the north half of section 11 as early as 1818. He cleared 30 acres, and lived here until 1835, when he moved to Hancock County. His brother, Joseph, also cleared a small field in the same section. He sold his land to Alexander Forrester and moved to Bond County.

Allen Bryant, an early settler, improved land in section 2. He died on the farm, and his children moved away.

B. Gullick settled the H. Drancourt farm in section 26, and established a distillery there. He died on his farm, and his family left Madison to live in Bond County.

Alexander Forrester came to Helvetia Township in 1829. He raised his first crop – a little patch of corn – near Highland, just north of the township line. He came to the township with Thomas Carr from Tennessee, intending to start a tan yard. This plan was abandoned, since bark was scarce and lime was expensive. Carr returned south after three years, but Forrester remained and enlisted in the service during the Black Hawk War, then joined a ranging company on an expedition west, where the company acted as guards to traders freighting across the plains. The company, 100 strong, was commanded by Captain Matthew Duncan of Vandalia. After eleven months, the men were discharged and sent home. In 1833, Forrester bought Joseph Gracey’s land and married Sarah H. Duncan, daughter of Joseph. He went to work improving his place, moving his buildings to the edge of the prairie. He raised a family of ten children.

Norris W. and James Ramsay came into the township at an early day. They were the sons of John Ramsay, who settled in Clinton County in 1818. They first located in the south part of the township, where James bought 160 acres as early as 1816. In 1188834, they settled the W. T. Ramsay place in section 12, where they farmed for many years. Norris was married, and raised a family of ten children. Only four lived to the age of maturity. James Ramsay did not marry until he was of middle age. He had no children. He was a Presbyterian preacher. Norris died in 1863, and James died in 1864 – both on the home place.

Herbert Hobbs was a North Carolinian. He settled on the northwest quarter of section 34 in 1824, where he improved a small farm. In about 1842, he entered land in section 32, and continued to live on that land until his death in 1846. He had two sons – T. A. and Frank Hobbs.

John Hobbs, a brother of Herbert, settled the Calvin Lee place in section 33, in 1826. He lived there until he died.

Thomas Savage settled in the township as early as 1827 and improved a small farm. He was killed in an accident in St. Louis in about 1857, and left a widow and seven children to mourn his loss.

The settlements in the west half of the township were of a later date and less numerous than those of the east half. The prairie lands were at first overlooked and ignored. One their advantages were understood, they soon attracted the greater part of the new immigrants.

The first white child born in Helvetia Township was H. M. Duncan. Up to 1830, not more than 25 families inhabited the township. They were farmers, with each family cultivated from ten to twenty acres of ground. Corn and wheat were their main products until 1830, when they began raising cotton for home use.

The nearest church in the early days of Helvetia Township was at Pocahontas in Bond County – about ten miles away. The Presbyterians held services in a private cabin on Sugar Creek, where in 1824 George Ramsay taught school also. James A. Ramsey promoted a schoolhouse and church to be erected about 1825 or 1826. It was constructed of hewn logs, and was known as the Ramsay Church. Subsequently, the congregation built a church on section 28. This building was bought by R. N. Ramsay, and in 1882 it was used as a tenant house.

Oliver Hoyt, a New Yorker, settled on a farm in 1836. He was the second man in the neighborhood to risk prairie farming. He bought the improved land from a Mr. Giloman, near Sugar Creek, and moved the cabin and what rails there were to his place on the prairie. Hoyt lived there seven or eight years. Later he erected a better and more comfortable buildings and a house.

James Billingsley tried prairie farming a year or two in Helvetia Township, then moved to Pike County, and then to Texas.

E. M. Morgan settled in 1844 on section 31. He was the only son of John Morgan, the pioneer of Clinton County. E. M. Morgan was appointed associate justice of the Madison County court from 1857 – 1861. In later years he opened a store on his land on section 31, and had a post office established there, serving as its postmaster. The post office was named St. Morgan. Judge Morgan died May 16, 1881, and was buried with Masonic ceremonies. The site of the former post office, St. Morgan, developed into a little village. Nicholas Zopf operated a tavern there, and Frederick Hanzelmann was the blacksmith. John Kaeser was wagon maker.

Under the leadership of Dr. Caspar Koepfli of Sursee, Canton Lucerne, Switzerland, a group of Swiss parties arrived in Helvetia Township in 1831. Among them was Joseph Suppiger, one of the most useful men which the township ever possessed. For nearly twelve years he had filled the office of Justice of the Peace. He died April 24, 1861. Anthony Suppiger, a younger brother of Joseph’s, was also one of the part to arrive. Mr. Anthony Suppiger filled local offices, and in 1865 he became a member of the county court.

Dr. Koepfli was accompanied by his sons, Joseph and Solomon. Bernhard Koepfli and Dr. Caspar Koepfli Jr. arrived later. These early pioneers all clustered around the homesteads of the Suppigers and Koepflis.

In 1836, General James Semple, then a member of the House of Representatives, together with Joseph Suppiger and Solomon Koepfli, selected section 5 of Helvetia Township for the site of a future town. The names of New Switzerland and Helvetia were suggested for the new town. Semple thought those names to be rather foreign, and being by birth a Scotchman of the Highlands, the name of Highland was selected. The original plat of the town included a projected railroad, depot grounds, and an additional railroad named “Die Belleville and St. Louis Sweigbahn (branch road to Belleville and St. Louis). The road was never built.

Click here to read the history of Highland, Illinois.


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