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History of Wood River Township, Madison County, Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


Wood River Township lies in the northwestern part of the county, and is Township 5 in Range 9. It is bounded on the north by Fosterburg; on the east by Fort Russell; on the south by Chouteau; and on the west by the Mississippi River and Alton.

The principal water course if the Wood River, from which the township received its name. This stream has two branches know as the East and West Forks. It was here within the forks of the Wood River that occurred the brutal Indian massacre in the summer of 1814 (the Wood River Massacre). Another sensational affair occurred in 1812 at the house of Abel Moore – the killing of William Wright by Eliphalet Green. Some dispute arose, when Green grasped a gun and deliberately shot his opponent. Green was tried, convicted, and hung. Judge Reynolds, who later became governor of Illinois, was then on the bench. The time fixed for the execution was just four weeks from the day of conviction. This was the first case tried for a capital offense in Madison County, and the second in the state.

Thomas Rattan was the first white man to settle in the wilds of Wood River Township. He came from Ohio in 1804 and located in section 13. This was prairie land, and the soil was rich. The prairieland was later called Rattan’s Prairie. Rattan had a large family, and soon after the War of 1812, they moved to Green County.

Toliver Wright, a native of Virginia, settled near the mouth of the Wood River in the Spring of 1806. He bought the improved land of Shadrach Williams. He brought with him his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth (nee Ray) Wright and several children. The family moved in two years to section 10. During the War of 1812, Mr. Wright joined the Rangers. He was detailed as Captain of a company of spies, and in the Fall of 1812 while on the way to Peoria, he was shot by an Indian and mortally wounded. He was taken back to the Wood River Fort, where he died in about six weeks.

Abel Moore, a pioneer of Wood River Township, was a native of North Carolina, and migrated to Kentucky in 1804, and then to Illinois in 1808. He located in section 4. His family consisted of his wife, Mary (nee Bates), and two children – William and Joel, then 10 and eight years of age. William and Joel were among the victims of the Wood River Massacre. Eight other children were born at the old homestead in section 4: John, Nancy, Sarah, Joshua, Rachel, Lydia, Anna, and Franklin. As of 1882, only three remained living: Nancy, who resided in California; Lydia, a widow of Madison Williams who lived near Bethalto in section2; and Major Franklin Moore of Upper Alton. Franklin Moore has his own rich history as eventful as his father before him. Abel Moore died in 1846 at the age of 63. Mrs. Moore died the day before her husband, at the age of 61. They lie side by side on the very spot of ground where their pioneer cabin was constructed. In the sale of the old homestead, the children reserved this sacred spot as a lasting tribute to their departed parents. The old farm was later owned by George Cartwright, and in modern times became part of the Alton State Hospital.

George and William Moore, brothers of Abel, came with Abel and their father as far as Ford’s Ferry on the Ohio River, where they separated and went to Boon’s Lick, Missouri, where the father died. The following year the brothers and their families came to Illinois and settled near their brother, Abel, in section 10. William’s family consisted of his wife and two sons – John and George – both of whom were also victims of the Wood River Massacre. Two children were afterward born to the family. They all moved to Pike County, Illinois, in 1830. George Moore had no children when he came, but two were born while residing here – Margaret and Walter. The family migrated to Independence, Missouri in 1837. His farm was later occupied by William Gill. Both William and George Moore were gun makers, and followed their trade in the township. George also manufactured gun powder.

Reason Reagan, son of Timothy and Elizabeth (nee Faye) Reagan, was born in 1783 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Reason and his family came to Wood River Township about the same time as the Moore family. His wife, Mrs. Rachel Reagan, and their two children – Elizabeth and Timothy - were also victims of the Wood River Massacre. According to the book, “The Book of Ragan/Reagan,” by Donald B. Reagan, 1993, Reason Reagan ran away from home sometime before 1808. He married Rachel Thomas on February 3, 1808 in Livingston County, Kentucky. About 1808, Reason returned to Tennessee, and his sister, Catherine, “Caty,” Reagan returned with him to Kentucky. In about 1810, Reason moved the family from Livingston County, Kentucky to the settlement at the mouth of the Wood River in Illinois Territory. Caty lived with her brother, Reason, and sister-in-law, Rachel. It was in 1814 that Rachel, Elizabeth, and Timothy were massacred by Indians. Reason Reagan lost his life while pursuing the Indians after the massacre. He was either buried where he died, or buried in the Vaughn Hill Cemetery with his family.

William Montgomery, a pioneer settler of Wood River Township, was born in Kentucky and moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1809, having only one dollar in his pocket. In 1814 he moved to Illinois, and located on Indian Creek in Fort Russell Township. That same year he married Sarah Rattan. Three years later he moved to Wood River Township, and settled in section 13. Montgomery had a large family, consisting of twelve children – Nelson, John, William N., Nancy R., Thomas J., James, Paris, Matilda, Amanda F., Hampton, Ann, and Eliza Jane. Mr. Montgomery became a very prominent and prosperous farmer, owning 2,000 acres of land at his death in the Fall of 1849.

Two brothers, George and Thomas Davidson, came from South Carolina in about 1806, and settled on section 36. George established a tannery on his premises in 1810, where he conducted the business until 1818, and then sold out to a man by the name of Smith, and then moved to Bond County. Thomas improved a good farm, and was a prominent man in his neighborhood, serving as justice of the peace.

The Collet family was prominent among early settlers – Mrs. Anna Collet and her three sons, John W., Robert, and Mark. They came from Philadelphia to Illinois in 1817, and located at the now extinct town of Milton, situated on the Wood River. Mark lived but two years, and Robert moved to Galena in 1819. Mrs. Collet subsequently moved to St. Louis, where she died in about 1830. John W. Collet married Mary Ground in 1829, and had two children – Daniel W. and John W. Jr. John W. Sr. died in 1846, and his wife died about 1880. Daniel and John Jr. later resided in Upper Alton.

Another early settler of Milton was Thomas Lippincott, who was born at Salem, New Jersey in 1791. At the age of twenty-five, he married Patty Swift. In the fall of 1817, he started westward and landed in St. Louis in February 1818. In the fall of the same year, he brought a small stock of goods to Milton and commenced business under the name of Lippincott & Co. Rufus Easton of St. Louis furnished the capital, and Mr. Lippincott conducted the business. Milton was a sickly place because of the stagnant water caused by the mill dam. The following year his wife died. In 1820 he married again, but she died a few months later. He soon moved to Edwardsville, married again, and reared a large family. He served as editor of the Edwardsville Spectator, clerk in the Land Office, and Justice of the Peace. He died in 1869, and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton.

James Huston was a native of Virginia, and moved to Kentucky when a boy. He married Judith Fountain in 1808, and in 1819 came to Illinois and settled in Upper Alton. The family consisted of his wife and five children. By 1882, only one of the children lived in Madison County – Sarah Wood, wife of Joshua Wood.

The oldest cemetery in Wood River Township was originally known as Vaughn’s Graveyard, located on Vaughn hill, on Highway 111, or South Bellwood Drive near Rosewood Heights. There are currently many trees surrounding and in the cemetery, but it once was a cleared spot of ground. In this cemetery the bodies of those killed in the Wood River Massacre of 1814 are buried. This cemetery originated before 1809. Upon this same ground was built the first church, in about 1809. It was a small log cabin constructed by the Baptists. A frame building was later built in its place, but it too passed away long ago. Rev. William Jones was the early pastor. Before the log cabin church was constructed, services were held in the home of “Uncle” Johnny Rattan.

The first school in Wood River Township was located in section 4, on land later owned by George Cartwright. It was made a simple, rough logs, and the first teacher was an old man by the name of Peter Flinn.

The early Justices of the Peace were Nathaniel Pinckard, William G. Pinckard, John Allen, and Benjamin Spencer.

The first Sunday School was organized by Mrs. Thomas Lippincott at Milton, in11819. This was also the first in the State of Illinois.

The first physician in Wood River Township was Dr. Tiffin, who resided about three miles down the Wood River at a point then called St. Mary’s. He later moved to Edwardsville, and then to St. Louis. Erastus Brown was also an early physician.

The first post office in Wood River Township was established at Milton.

In 1818 or before, there was an extensive packing house established at the mouth of the Wood River, in section 28. D. E. Tiffin was the proprietor. Both beef and pork were packed here and shipped to other towns.

The first town or village in the township was Milton. The exact date of its establishment is unknown, but it existed at least by 1808-9. It was located three miles from the mouth of the Wood River, in section 17. It was established by John Wallace and Walter J. Seeley, as they owned in 1818 nearly all of the improvements in the village. They were transacting business under the firm name of Wallace & Seeley, and owned three miles, two saw mills, and a grist mill. A dam was built across the river, which gave a head for water power. The saw mills were located at opposite sides of the river, and at either end of the dam. The town also contained a distillery, one store, a blacksmith shop, and a tavern kept by Joel Bacon. Stagnant water caused by the dam produced a great deal of sickness. A few years later, and it was nearly depopulated. In another decade, all the buildings were torn down and removed to other locations.

Other early towns in Wood River Township include Chippewa, Gibraltar, and St. Mary’s, but they are all in the Mississippi or the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico due to flooding long ago. Chippewa was situated directly opposite the mouth of the Missouri, and could boast of one of the first steam mills in Madison County. Gibraltar was about a mile above the mouth of Wood River, and located on the west bank. St. Mary’s location is unknown. Dr. Tiffin settled near the mouth of the Wood River, and built a two-story house in St. Mary’s.


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