Williamson county lies in the great coal fields of Illinois. This of itself would give prominence to this county. But in addition it is an agricultural county of no mean rank. Its area is 449 square miles, and its population reaches 45,098. It has had an eventful history in several ways. It was one of the later counties organized, namely, February 28, 1839. It was for twenty-one years a part of the organization of Franklin county.


       The Indians lingered long in Williamson. They returned to trade as late as 1829 or 1830. They were plentiful between 1800 and 1812. The Shawnees lived over on the Wabash, and the Kaskaskias about the Mississippi. Williamson county was neutral territory—or perhaps better, common ground. “Wigwams were still on Carl Graves’ farm in 1820, and on Hugh Parks’ farm as late as 1829 there were traces of camps.” In 1811, when Tecumseh started south to solicit aid from the Indians in that section, he was accompanied by twelve warriors. They came through Williamson county and were talked to by John Phelps, who lived south and west of Marion.

       Colonel George Rogers Clark came through Williamson county with his patriot army in 1778. He entered at the middle of section 34, T. 10, south, R. 2, east, at a place now known as Pulley’s Mill. From here he went almost due north to old Bainbridge, thence westward through Crainville, and thence into Jackson county.


       The Jordans, who built the Jordan fort or stockade in southern Franklin, came about 1804. One of these seven brothers settled on the south side of the future dividing line between the two counties. It is claimed that the brother Frank, who settled in Williamson, also built a stockade in the northeast township, in the county of Williamson. Other settlers and their dates are as follows: John Phelps, on Phelps’ Prairie near Marion; Jay and McClure at the Odum Ford; Joseph and Thomas Griffith at Ward’s Mill; William Donald on the Hill place; John Maneece and son James, Phelps’ Prairie. These settlers, which were south and west of the present city of Marion, built a block house on the Jolm Davis place, west of Marion. These all came in 1811.

       In the next year settlers came to the region of the Jordans and to the south side of the county. Quite a few people came to the county in 1816 and 1817. In the year 1820 a colored man settled by the name of Wadkins. It is said nearly all the first settlers were from Tennessee, and previously from Virginia and the Carolinas.


       Mills for grinding are landmarks in a pioneer country. The order of evolution of the mill seems to be, first, the mortar, next the hand mills, then horse mills, tread mills, water mills and steam mills. The first

horse mill was erected in 1817 on the north edge of Phelps Prairie by Ragsdale Rollins. William Burns erected a cotton gin in 1819. Jonathan Herrin erected a second cotton gin in 1825. The first steam mill was built by Milton Mulkley in Marion in 1845.

       The act of creating the county named Calvin Bridges of Union county, Thornbury C. Anderson of Gallatin, and Jefferson Allen of Jackson county as commissioners to locate the county seat. They met at Bainbridge in the house of William Benson, and chose the site which came to be the city of Marion, The town was surveyed and platted in October, 1839, by Henry W. Perry.

       The first public buildings were a clerk’s office and jail. Court was held in the clerk’s office. The first jail was partly brick and partly hewn timbers. It stood till 1882, when it was burned. There have been three court houses.


       Williamson county sent one company to the Mexican war. It was Company B of the First regiment. Its captain was J. M. Cunningham, P 563 the father-in-law of Gen. John A. Logan. But the war history of Williamson county from ‘61 to ‘65 would fill several volumes and only a few paragraphs can be given to it.

       The great masses of the people of this county were sympathetic with the secession movement, but John A. Logan was as pronounced in favor of the Union. In a terrible struggle between Logan and a very few friends on the side of the Union, and the masses on the other, Logan won, and by the end of the war Williamson was shouting, marching, sacrificing, for Old Glory. When Logan returned to Marion in 1861 it was rumored he would be mobbed. Rebel sympathizers flocked to Marion. It was indeed a critical moment. A few loyal souls came to the support of Logan, among whom was Dr. Samuel M. Mitchell, a warm friend of Logan. Dr. Mitchell and two or three brave men stood in the


wagon, heavily armed, while Logan made his speech. In front of this little band of fearless friends stood a surging mob of several hundred dangerous men. “The oratory of Logan proved contagious and in a short time he was holding the audience spellbound. Soon they began to cheer, and when he finished they rushed upon the speaker and carried him off in triumph on their shoulders.” Of that mob of a thousand men or more, all became loyal friends of the Black Eagle.

       Doctor Mitchell enlisted as surgeon, but was never mustered, because he was the only doctor for many miles in his community—Corinth. He cared for the families of those who went to the front and treated the sick and wounded soldiers who were sent back home. His life was threatened by the “Knights of the Golden Circle,” and on two special occasions he saved his life only by traveling through by-paths in the woods. He had three or four brothers who were loyal Union men and with their counsel and help he was always able to thwart the designs of the enemies of his country. His son, Dr. H. C. Mitchell, is now a prominent surgeon of Carbondale. P 564


       Marion is not the oldest town in the county, though the largest and the county seat. Bainbridge was a village as early as 1818. There are only two or three houses there now. Marion has grown very rapidly since the opening up of the coal fields here some ten or fifteen years ago. It has no manufacturing interests of any importance. A tie preserving plant gives employment to a few score men, and there are tile works which employ a few score more. The chief interests are railroading, mining and agriculture. The Marion county fair has come to be very noted and is a stimulus to stock raisers and agriculturalists.

       Marion is a city of 7,093 people. There is a number of mining camps or villages about Marion, where disorder and lawlessness often reign, and this often works to the detriment of Marion‘s reputation. The people of the city are a cultured, progressive people. There is considerable wealth in the city, and many retired farmers.

       Other cities are Herrin, with a population of 6,861; its chief interests are mining and agriculture. Carterville, a city of 2,791, a mining town. Johnston City, with 3,248 people, beside a dozen towns and villages of more or less importance. Creal Springs, a noted health resort, is some ten miles southeast of Marion. It has famous springs and one of the most substantial resort hotels in all Egypt. A Baptist seminary is also located here. Crab Orchard, an old town, is a few miles east of Marion. It formerly supported an academy, but it has suspended and the building is used by the public school.

       Williamson county and Jackson constitute the ninth mining district under the laws of Illinois. Williamson has 38 mines, employing a total of 8,532 men and producing 5,180,971 tons of coal annually.

  History Table of Contents

  Biography Table of Contents

  Name Index

  Memorial Library Illinois Selections - First & Only 501(c)3 Host for Genealogical & Historical Sites

  Livingston County Michigan Historical & Genealogical Project

  American History & Genealogy Project


© 2006~ Pam MARDOS Rietsch