Stark County, Illinois and Its People: A Record of Settlement
Organization, Progress and Achievement, (1916)

Chapter VII  (Pages 87-110)


Transcribed by Gaile Thomas. Thank you, Gaile!

Origin of the Township---First Townships in the United States---Justices’ Districts in Stark County---Establishment of Civil Townships in 1853---Elmira---Essex---Osceola---Penn---Toulon---Valley---West Jersey---Military Land Entries in each---How the Townships were named---Early settlers---Present day conditions---Railroads---Schools---Population and Wealth.

     The township as a subordinate civic division originated in England in Anglo-Saxon times and was called the “tunscipe.” It was the political unit of popular expression, which took the form of a mass convention or popular assembly called the “tun moot.” The chief executive of the tunscipe was the “tun reeve,” who, with the parish priest and four lay delegates, represented the tunscipe in the shire meeting. Says Fiske: “About 871 A. D. King Alfred instituted a small territorial subdivision nearest in character to and probably containing the germ of the American township.”
     In the settlement of New England the colonies there were first governed by a general court, or legislature, composed of the governor and a small council, generally made up of the most influential citizens. The general court was also a judicial body, deciding both civil and criminal causes. In March, 1635, the General Court of Massachusetts passed the following ordinance:
     “Whereas, particular towns have many things that concern only themselves, and the ordering of their own affairs and disposing of business in their own town, therefore, the freemen of every town, or a majority of them, shall have the power to dispose of their own lands and woods, and all the appurtenances of said towns; to grant lots, and to make such orders as may concern the well ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders established by the General Court.
     “Said freemen, or a majority of them, shall also have power to choose their own particular officers, such as constables, petty magistrates, surveyors for the highways, and may impose fines for violation of rules established by the freemen of the town; provided that such fines shall in no single case exceed twenty shillings.”
     That was the beginning of the township system in the United States. Connecticut followed with a similar provision regarding local self Government, and from New England the system was carried to the new states of the Middle West.
In the southern colonies the county was made the political unit.
     Eight counties were organized in Virginia in 1634 and the system spread to the other colonies, except in South Carolina the counties are called districts and in Louisiana, parishes. The Illinois country became a county of Virginia after the conquest by George Rogers Clark in 1778.
     The first provision for a civil township northwest of the Ohio River was made by Governor St. Clair and the judges of the Northwest Territory in 1790. The term “civil township” is here used to distinguish the township with local officers from the Congressional township of the Government survey. The latter is always six miles square, but the civil township varies in size and its boundaries are often marked by natural features, such as creeks, rivers, etc.
     In New England the township is still far more important in local matters than the county. The town meeting, which is the successor of the old “tun moot” of Anglo-Saxon days, wields great influence in such matters as the levying of local taxes, appropriating funds and issuing bonds for public improvements within the township limits. In the South the township is little more than name, all the local business being transacted by the county authorities. Throughout the great Middle West there is a well balanced combination of the two systems, schools and roads being usually in charge of township officials, while business that affects more than one civil township is handled by the county.
When Illinois was first admitted into the Union as a state, no provision was made in its constitution for the introduction of a township organization. This idea may have been inherited from its old county organization, first established in 1778, while the territory comprising the state was claimed by Virginia. The nearest approach to the civil township was the “justice’s district.” Section 8 of the act of March 2, 1839, organizing the County of Stark, provides that the county commissioners, as soon as elected, or within ten days, “shall proceed to lay off said county into justices’ districts,” etc.
     Pursuant to this provision, on Thursday, April 4, 1839, the county commissioners ---Calvin Winslow, Jonathan Hodgson and Stephen Trickle --- established the following justices’ districts:
     Township 14, Ranges 6 and 7. (This district included the present townships of Elmira and Osceola.)
     “To commence at the northeast corner of Township 13, Range 7; thence west to the northwest corner of Section 3, Township 13, Range 6; thence south to the southwest corner of Section 34; thence east to the southwest corner of Section 35; thence south to the southwest corner of Section 35, Township 12, Range 6; thence east to the southeast corner of Township 12, Range 7, and thence north to the place of beginning.” (As thus established No. 2 contained the present townships of Penn and Valley and practically the east half of Toulon and Essex.)
     “Beginning at the southwest corner of Township 12, Range 5; thence east to the southwest corner of Section 35, Township 12, Range 6; thence north to the southwest corner of Section 11; thence west to the southwest corner of Section 7, Township 12, Range 5; thence south to the place of beginning.” (This district included a strip four miles wide and ten miles long in the southwest corner of the county.)
“Beginning at the northwest corner of Township 13, Range 5; thence south to the southwest corner of Section 7, Township 12, Range 5; thence east to the southeast corner of Section 10; thence north to the northeast of Section 3, Township 13, Range 5; thence west to the place of beginning.” (No. 4 contained thirty-two square miles, including the western two-thirds of Goshen Township and eight sections in the northwest part of West Jersey.)
     “Beginning at the northeast corner of Section 4, Township 13, Range 6; thence west to the northwest corner of Section 2, Township 13, Range 5; thence south to the southwest corner of Section 11, Township 12, Range 5; thence east to the southeast corner of Section 3; thence west to the northwest corner of Section 3; thence north to the place of beginning.” (This district included all that part of the county not contained in the other districts, to-wit: The west half of the present Township of Toulon; eight sections in the northwest corner of Essex Township, a strip two miles wide off the east side of Goshen Township, and four sections in the northeast corner of West Jersey Township.)
     Assessors were appointed for the several districts as follows: No. 1, Isaac Spencer; No. 2, John W. Agard; No. 3, J. H. Barnett; No. 4, Silas Richards; No. 5, Adam Perry.
     On March 3, 1840, the board of county commissioners ordered that each of the justices’ districts be made an election precinct and names were adopted instead of numbers. District No. 1 became Osceola precinct; No. 2, Wyoming; No. 3, Massillon; No. 4, Lafayette, and No. 5, Central.
     Section 6, Article 7, of the Constitution of 1848 reads as follows:
     “The legislature shall provide by law that the legal votes of any county in the state may adopt a township form of government within the county, by a majority of the votes cast at any general election within such county.”
     In accordance with this constitutional provision, the General Assembly passed an act on February 12, 1849, authorizing the various counties of the state to vote on the question of adopting a township organization. In Stark County the question was voted upon at the general election held on Tuesday, November 2, 1852. The total number of votes cast at that election was 774, of which 443 were in favor of the adoption of a township form of government and 173 were opposed, 158 voters not expressing themselves upon the question. The records of the commissioners’ court for Monday, December 6, 1852, contains the following entry:
     “And it appearing to the court that a majority of all the votes cast at said election were in favor of township organization, it is therefore ordered by the court that Theodore F. Hurd, Henry Breese and Calvin L. Eastman be, and they are hereby appointed, commissioners to divide the county into towns or townships as required by law.”
     Commissions were issued to these three men December 13, 1852. They met at the courthouse in Toulon on Monday, January 3, 1853, and divided the county into eight townships. On March 7, 1853, they filed their report with the commissioners and it was made a matter of record. The townships as then established have never been changed, to-wit: Elmira Township includes Township 14, Range 6; Essex, Township 12, Range 6; Goshen, Township 13, Range 5; Osceola, Township 14, Range 7; Penn, Township 13, Range 7; Toulon, Township 13, Range 6; Valley, Township 12, Range 7; West Jersey, Township 12, Range 5.

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Updated June 6, 2007