History of Plainfield Township, Will County Illinois
From: History of Will County, Illinois
By: August Maue
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1928

Plainfield Township has had considerable space in this history because the earliest settlement was made there, and because the renowned evangelist and mission worker, Jesse Walker, worked outward from Plainfield for some years. The first settlement in Walker's Grove dates back a century. The Indian town dates back perhaps two centuries so Plainfield has been on the map a long time. The Red Man selected the townsite because it was a veritable paradise. This name is justified today by the beautiful town with well kept streets, attractive homes and sociably inclined people. The farming region round about is equally attractive and productive.

Much of the early history of Plainfield centers about Father Walker. Much also, centers about Rev. S. R. Beggs.

"Rev. S. R. Beggs, another veteran Methodist preacher, is an early settler at Plainfield, and the oldest settler of the place now living. He settled here in the summer of 1831, near where he still lives. Father Beggs was born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1801, and when four years old his father removed to Kentucky, where he remained two years, and then settled in Clarke County, Indiana, on the Ohio River, seventeen miles above the falls. Here the family were subjected to all the privations incident to a new home in a great wilderness, that of chills and fever being included. As an illustration of the times, Mr. Beggs says he was seven years old before he ever possessed the luxury of a pair of shoes. At an early age he entered the ministry, and became an itinerant Methodist preacher, laboring in Indiana, Missouri and Illinois, settling, as above stated, at Plainfield in 1831. To show the hardships those early preachers underwent to plant the Gospel in the wilderness, we again quote from Father Beggs' book. Referring to his year's labor, he says: "My quarterage this year was $23; my clothing, that I had brought from home, was by this time so nearly worn out that it was necessary to replace it with new. Some of the sisters spun wool and made me a coat of blue and white cotton, a pair of white cotton pants and one of mixed. One of the brothers gave me his old hat, which I got pressed, and then I was fitted out for Conference." Think of this, ye high salaried, stall fed pastors, who proclaim the Word from marble desks, in gilded temples, resplendent in your broadcloth and white cravats! Think ye, will not these self denying men of God, who braved danger, hunger and cold to spread the Gospel, receive the brighter crown when they arrive in the Kingdom? We are not writing a religious history of the county, but the long associations and administrations of Father Beggs and Walker in this particular portion of Will County, are so interwoven and connected with its history that to omit it would be to leave out the most important part of it. In 1836, Mr. Beggs was appointed to the Joliet Circuit, and commenced the work of building the first Methodist Church, also the first church edifice in Joliet, as noticed in the first part of our work. During the Sac war, his house, then considered the strongest building in the Plainfield settlement, was constructed into a fort. Two log pens which he had built for a barn and shed, were torn down and made into fortifications around his house, into which the settlers all crowded. But Indian outrages growing more alarming every day, it was finally decided to risk trying to get to Chicago. The settlers were formed into a company, and James Walker elected captain. Being only teams enough to carry the people, their effects were left behind, many of which were taken or destroyed by the Indians before the whites were permitted to return. But the cloud of war rolled away before Scott's legions, and the people could finally return in safety to their homes.

In 1829, a Frenchman of the name of Vetel Vermette settled at Plainfield. He did not remain very long in the settlement, however, but sold his claim to Jedediah Woolley, Sr., and left for some other land. Of him very little is known, as few are living who remember him. In the summer of 1830, Reuben Flagg, from Vermont, came to Plainfield with his family. He was two months on the road, and arrived in the settlement on the 9th of July. Chicago at the time consisted of about a dozen houses, mostly the huts of Indian traders and half breeds. From Detroit, Flagg was accompanied by Woolley, noticed as buying out the Frenchman Vermette. In a letter written by Mr. Flagg to H. N. Marsh, in 1851, he stated that when he settled at Plainfield, there were, besides Walker and Vermette, Timothy B. Clarke and Thomas Covel, and that he knew of no others then in the county, except three families on Hickory Creek, viz., a Mr. Rice, Mr. Brown and Mr. Kercheval, and the nearest white settler on the west was at Dixon's Ferry. He is said to have hauled the lumber to Chicago to build the first frame house erected in that city, and which was sawed in James Walker's sawmill, on the DuPage, near Plainfield.

Timothy B. Clarke, from Trumbull County, Ohio, came to Plainfield in 1830. He emigrated to Illinois in 1820, and settled in Tazewell County when that part of the state was an almost unbroken wilderness. He remained there about eight years, when he removed to Fort Clarke (now Peoria), remaining there a year or two, and moved up and made a claim within seven miles of Ottawa. This claim he afterward sold to Green, who built a mill on it, so extensively patronized by the early settlers of Northern Illinois, many coming to it from a distance of from fifty to one hundred miles. From this place, Mr. Clarke removed to Plainfield settlements, as already noted, in 1830. This was before the Sac war, and the Indians, who were quite plenty in the neighborhood, were friendly but exceedingly troublesome. They would go into the fields and help themselves gratuitously to corn, potatoes and anything else they wanted, without so much as "By your leave, sir." He could not stay there in peace, and so, in 1834, moved up into DuPage Township, near Barber's Corners. The elder Clarke was a carpenter and builder, and erected the first frame house in Chicago, then a little suburban village in this section of the country. In that house the Indians were paid off before leaving for their new hunting grounds toward the setting sun. He removed to Missouri in 1835, and from there to Iowa in 1847, but returned to DuPage, and died at his son's in 1848. B. B. Clarke was sixteen years old when his father removed to Plainfield in 1830, and remembers distinctly the Indian troubles of that rather stormy period. He served in the Black Hawk war, first in Walker's company, which soon disbanded, however, and afterward enlisted in Captain Sisson's company. During the most perilous times, he went from Plainfield to Ottawa with a team after provisions, with a guard of only four men. They made the trip in safety, though several hats were found along the trail pierced by bullets, whose wearers had been murdered by the Indians. Mr. Clarke says that when his father first removed to Plainfield, the nearest mill was in the vicinity of Peoria, distant 130 miles. His father went there once to mill - bought grain there to save hauling it both ways - and the "rainy season" setting in, the waters arose (there were no bridges) and as a consequence, he was gone six weeks. His family, in the meantime, had to live on potatoes, and by pounding corn in a kind of mortar, which was sifted and the finest of it was made in bread, and the coarse into hominy The elder Clarke was a soldier in the War of 1812, and had a soldier's claim to land in the Military District lying between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, and had bought the claims of other soldiers to lands there. He sold a quarter section of land in this military territory for $75, and took pay in augers, which, next to the ax, was the principal implement used by the pioneer. He also had a claim to canal lands in DuPage Township, a part of which was owned by his son, B. B. Clarke, as late as 1878. The latter went to California in 1850, overland with teams, and was five months on the way. He remained about two years in the Golden State, and then returned to the old home. A brother, Hiram Clarke, went out in 1849, when the gold fever first broke out, and William, another brother, went with his brother, B. B., in 1850. At this latter period, so many had crossed the plains with teams that the grass had been devoured by their stock for a space of two miles on both sides of the trail, and they would take their teams in the evening to the grazing and remain by them during the night to prevent their being stolen. Mr. Clarke tells the following incident of the early times: He and one of his brothers took a lot of ponies to Chicago, for the purpose of selling them to the Indians when they received their stipendiary remuneration, as Wilkins Micawber would put it, and stable accommodations being more meager than now in the Garden City, could find no barn in which to put their stock, were forced to turn them loose in a lot. Hearing a racket among them during the night, his brother went out to learn the cause, when he found an Indian trying to get them out. Without a word, he fell upon the savage with his big horsewhip, and the faster he ran the faster he rained the blows upon him, the Indian indulging in the guttural "Ugh! Ugh!" every jump. Arriving at the fence, he made no effort to climb it in the ordinary way, but scrambled to the top and fell over on the opposite side. This caused them some alarm, lest he should return with assistance, but the night passed without further molestation.

Another of the very first in this settlement was Thomas Covel. He came from Ohio in 1830, made a claim near Plainfield village where he remained for a time, then sold out and moved up on Salt Creek, where, some years later, he died. Though one among the very first settlers, beyond this no information of him could be obtained. John Cooper, a brother in law of Clarke's, came from Ohio in 1830. After remaining in this place a few years he removed to Iowa, and from Iowa to California in 1852, and resided there until his death, in 1872. James Gilson was another of the early ones who settled here in 1830. He came from Tennessee, and lived near the village and kept a shop on his farm and did quite a business in repairing guns. He was a pioneer by nature, and when the country began to settle up around him, he "moved on" to Iowa in search of a location more congenial to his tastes, and there died. From New York, the settlement of Plainfield received John and Benjamin Shutliff and Jedediah Woolley, Sr. John Shutliff and Woolley came in 1832, and the former, after a few years, sold out and moved away, but where we could not learn, Woolley bought out Vermette the Frenchman, then sold the claim to Rev. Beggs and improved another farm on the east side of the grove, on which he lived several years, sold it and removed into Troy Township, about eight miles from Plainfield. Benjamin Richardson was from the East, but what state we could not learn. He settled here in 1834, and in a year or two moved to Joliet, where he is noticed further. Benjamin Shutliff settled in this town in 1834, and was a brother of John Shutliff. In a few years, he moved "West to grow up with the country." Jonathan Hagar was born in the City of Quebec, C. E., and, when ten years of age, removed with his parents to Vermont, where he resided until 1829, when he came West and settled in Michigan, and five years later removed to Ohio. In 1835, he came to Plainfield, making the journey from Cleveland to Detroit by steamer, and from thence to Chicago by stage. The village had been laid out the year before (1834) by Chester Ingersoll, as elsewhere stated, and contained, on Mr. Hagar's arrival, a blacksmith shop, tailor shop, a wagon shop, two taverns and perhaps one or two other houses, of which a man named Royce owned a shop, in which he manufactured fanning mills. James Gilson had a shop on his farm, and being quite a genius, did an extensive business in repairing guns. Mr. Hagar was one of the first merchants of Plainfield, and was always one of its active and enterprising business men. He could stand in his store door of mornings and see the wolves scampering across the open common of the village. Jason Flanders came from New Hampshire in 1834, and settled in Plainfield Township. He came overland in wagons to Troy, New York, thence by water to Detroit, and the remainder of the way by land, arriving at his destination in June. He had six children, one of whom was state's attorney of Will County, Hon. James R. Flanders, of Joliet.

The Green Mountain State furnished the settlement Lorin Burdick, S. S. Pratt, Oliver Goss, Thomas Rickey, Deacon Goodhue and Hardy Metcalf. Burdick was one of the early settlers of Plainfield, a man of exalted charity and benevolence and an enterprising citizen. He was a soldier in the War of 1812, and one of the heroes of the battle of Plattsburg; had one son in the Mexican war, and three in the Civil war; and a brother Timothy Burdick, also a soldier of 1812, died of sickness in the army in Mexico during that war. We extract the following from the Plainfield correspondence of the Commercial Advertiser. Speaking of Mr. Burdick, it says: "He hauled the first lumber from Chicago used in building the courthouse in Joliet; hewed the timber used in building the first bridge across the DuPage at Plainfield, and assisted in building the first sawmill in this section of the country, located on the DuPage; also in erecting the first church, the first schoolhouse in Plainfield, and the first hotel in Lockport. He donated liberally in money toward purchasing the land for the first burying ground, and assisted in laying it out, and is one of the early settlers to whom Plainfield owes her existence. His sudden illness, resulting in death August 3, 1878, was caused by taking Paris green through mistake for sulphur, which he was in the habit of using. Deacon Goodhue settled here in 1832. He entered land about a mile northeast of Plainfield village, on the Chicago road, and when he died in 1856, still lived on his original claim where he settled. Goss came to the settlement in 1834, and made a claim just south of the village, where he died in 1842. Metcalf came in 1834 or 1835, made a claim, sold out and moved away many years ago - where, no one now remembers. Pratt settled in the township in 1835, where he still lives. Rickey settled here in 1834, and died more than thirty years ago.

The first white child born in Plainfield Township, of whom there is any definite information to be had, was Samantha E. Flagg, a daughter of Reuben Flagg, and was born September 9,1830. This is also supposed to have been the first birth among the whites in Will County. The first death was that of Albert Clarke, in 1831, a son of Timothy B. Clarke, mentioned among the first settlers of Walker's Grove. The first marriage remembered was James Turner to a Miss Watkins, in 1831 or 1832, and were married by Rev. Mr. Beggs. The first physician who ever practiced medicine in this neighborhood was Dr. E. G. Wight. He came from Massachusetts and settled in Naperville in 1831, and the circle of his practice was bounded by Chicago, Mineral Point, Ottawa and Bourbonnais Grove, and was more than a hundred miles across either way. He built the first frame house in Naperville, and removed to Plainfield in 1847, but had been practicing here since 1831. He died in 1865. He became blind when scarcely past middle life, and for eight years his son, R. B. Wight, went with him to his professional visits and led his horse. He finally went to an occulist at Rochester, New York, who partially restored his sight, and for fifteen years before his death he could see to get about with comparative ease and safety. The experiences of this pioneer physician would fill a volume. Perhaps the first resident physician was Dr. Charles V. Dyer, who came to the settlement in the fall of 1835, and practiced medicine during the winter. But the settlement being small, the next spring he concluded to risk his fortune in the then unpromising marshes of Chicago. The subsequent greatness of that city and the prominence of the Doctor there up to the time of his death, prove the wisdom of his decision, and illustrate the mutability of human conditions in the careers of both individuals and cities. The first blacksmith in the town was one of the Shutliffs, who opened a shop in 1833-34, and did the light work the settlement needed. The first bridge in the township was built across the DuPage at Plainfield, and was a rough wooden structure. The timbers were hewed by Lorin Burdick, as noticed in the sketch given of him elsewhere. The rude affair presented a striking contrast to the excellent stone and iron bridges at present spanning the DuPage and Lilly-Cache.

The first mill built in Plainfield Township or Walker's Grove, was by James Walker. It was a horsepower mill, which he brought with him from Ottawa, and at once set to work. But he built without delay both a saw and grist mill on the DuPage, which was swept away by a flood in 1838. At this mill was sawed the lumber of which a man named Peck built the first frame house erected in Chicago, and which stood on the corner of LaSalle and South Water streets. Reuben Flagg, as elsewhere noted, hauled the lumber to Chicago, and with an ox team at that. Matthews, as mentioned in another page, built a mill north of the village of Plainfield which, with some additions and improvements, was in operation as late as 1880. It was owned by Noah Sunderland, but was run by M. H. Avery, who had a prosperous business with it. It had three runs of stones, with all the modern attachments. Quite an item in the history of Plainfield Township was Clarke & Co.'s cheese factory, erected in 1877, just outside of the limits of the village of Plainfield. It was a frame building with stone basement, and had a sufficient capacity to consume twenty thousand pounds of milk per day. Cheese was the principal product of the factory, and they turned out sixty cheeses a week, of fifty two pounds weight each, besides making a small quantity of butter.

The first school in Plainfield Township was taught by a man whose name is now forgotten, in the winter of 1833-34, and the first regular schoolhouse was built in 1833 of rough logs with a stick chimney, the exact type and counterpart of many others described in these pages. But the schools have kept pace with the other improvements, and, in 1872, we find there were eleven school districts, five hundred pupils enrolled, twenty two teachers employed, two graded schools and a comfortable schoolhouse in each district. The amount paid teachers was $3,026.38; total expenditure for the year, $4,597.90, leaving a balance in the treasury of $1,381.05.

William Bradford, Daniel, Chester and Enoch Smith, Chester Ingersoll, John Bill and J. E. Matthews came from the old Bay State - the home of Charles Francis Adams and Ben Butler. The Smiths settled in the town in 1832. David sold out and died soon after; Chester went to Wisconsin in 1833, and what became of Enoch no one now remembers. Chester Ingersoll was here during the Sac War, and had a son who lived in Homer Township. He laid out the south part of the village of Plainfield, sold out his lots and entered other lands three miles northeast of the village; improved a large farm, sold it ultimately, and, in 1849, went to California, where he died some years later. Bradford settled here in 1834. He entered land below the village of Plainfield, on which he died the year following. John Bill was a wagon maker by trade, the first mechanic of the "stripe" in the settlement, and located here in 1834. He entered land and made a claim about a quarter of a mile from the village, where he lived until 1876, when he removed to Maryland, and died soon after. Matthews came to the settlement in 1831, and made a claim on the river just above the present village of Plainfield. In 1835, he built a mill here which with some additions and improvements, served that community for more than forty years. It was built of timbers hewed by hand. It was no easy task to place green timbers by hand. Matthews went to Oregon when people first began to emigrate to that magnificent country. Another early settler of Plainfield was John Fish, who come to the place as early as 1833. He was from Indiana, and in a short time moved up on Salt Creek fourteen miles west of Chicago, where he died. Edmund Reed came from Kentucky in 1833-34, and finally moved up near Racine, and whether he is yet alive could not be learned. W. W. Wattles also settled here in 1833. He came here from Chicago, but his native place could not be ascertained. He bought out Timothy B. Clarke, finally sold out himself, and moved up north of Chicago. Robert Chapman, Scofield and a few other early settlers located about Plainfield and Walker's Trove.

La Cache Greet (familiarly known as Lily Cache) is interesting to the historial because the origin of the name connects it with very early times of Will County. The earliest map available (1858 or 1859) gives the name "La Cache" thus verifying the account here given.

Jean Gabriel Cerre' lived in Kaskaskia and St. Louis for many years. He came from France to a French country; later he became a subject of the English king; still later a citizen of Virginia and American; then he was a Spanish subject; and again a subject of the French Empire and then an American citizen once more. In this he was not unique for Will County territory followed the same rotation. Cerre' administered law as a Virginia judge, and made laws as a Spanish syndic. The full story of his life would form an interesting volume but we are concerned more especially with what happened in Will County.

Jean Gabriel Cerre' was born on August 12, 1734, at Montreal. Louis XV was the French King and Beauhernois acted as Governor General of Canada. Peace prevailed throughout the country but the English on the south were inclined to agriculture and the French to adventure and yielded readily to the call of the wild and followed distant waterways and crossed wide plains. When Cerre' was nine years old, two brothers (La Verendrye) returned from a journey of discovery in which they reached the Rocky Mountains. Their accounts inspired him to seek adventure and at twenty one he was at Kaskaskia. He sought wealth by trading with the Red Men.

In 1763 he was on his way from Montreal to Kaskaskia in loaded canoes bearing goods to be traded with the Indians who gathered at Kaskaskia twice each year. As he entered the Chicago Portage and the Des Plaines valley, the Red Men demanded tribute for the right to pass through the Great Highway. This he refused abruptly. The Indians withdrew, held a council and decided to stop him on his way down as he passed their village. (At Channahon). What diplomacy could not procure, force might. In the council meeting some of the warriors opposed the robbery. The majority prevailed but a friendly native reported the action to Cerre'.

Cerre' decided that he would pass by strategy in the darkness of the night if possible, and if this failed he would fight. To lighten his canoes to enable them to pass the shallow places readily, he unloaded most of his goods and hid them in the grove which bordered the creek to the west of the Des Plaines. Here the bales were buried in the ground and covered with care. The surplus earth was removed with care to conceal the burial places (caches).

Armed with guns, knives, and hatchets, the Indians moved down the river. At the village, he left the guards with the boats and called on the Indians for a talk. This was readily agreed upon. Cerre' represented that the Great Father, the French king, owned the land and had authorized him to travel and trade. The most dire consequences were promised to those who interfered. His "big talk" prevailed and he was granted permission to proceed. He said that presents had been prepared by the French king for them but that he had withheld them because of their treachery. They repented and he gave them the bundles which he had prepared for this purpose. The bundles contained a few pieces of bright calico, powder, and shot, tobacco, and flint and steel for making fire. The Indians were overjoyed and sent men with him to uncover the caches and carry the goods beyond the village where he reloaded his canoes and proceeded on his journey from where the Des Plaines and Kankakee join to form the Illinois River.

Thus La Cache Creek was named. Alliteration readily changed it to Lily Cache' as we now hear it spoken.

From this early history of Plainfield Township and the city of Plainfield, we see that it furnished lumber for Chicago and was quite a village before Joliet or Lockport had made a start. The city has held its own through the century, for the first settlement was made there 100 years ago. For many years it was without a railroad. The communication with the outside world for half a century was by means of the stage line. The coming of the E. J. & E. Railroad brought transportation facilities and later, the interurban electric line from Aurora to Joliet made it easy for the people to get back and forth between both cities. The building of the concrete road, Route 22 of the Illinois system of highways, made the interurban useless, but it made it possible for that organization to establish bus lines from Aurora to Joliet, passing through Plainfield. These seem to be prosperous at the present writing.

The listing of the business houses of the city is not always the most interesting history, but no better way can be found to indicate the condition of a city. Therefore, we give the following list: Grocers, Harry H. Bayles, Nicholas Seleman, Louis A. Thompson; General Merchants, Ralph W. Hill and A. C. Steiner; Meats, Fred Selfridge, Oscar Howard; Plumbing, Darius V. Maltby and W. L. Brockway; Hardware and Agricultural Implements, J. R. Jones and Lambert & Fiddyment. Two garages, Cromer Motor Company and N. W. Hartong; Drugs, Chas. W. Hallock and Krebb's Bros., two doctors, R. A. Harcourt and J. C. Owens; Furniture, Geo. C. Luce and Men's Furnishings, Edw. Whitley. Plainfield State Bank is a prosperous institution.

The Plainfield Enterprise is a growing paper published by U. S. G. Blakely. It is the oldest country township paper in Will County. It has always maintained Republican politics, and has been a help in building up the county.

The Evangelical Church is maintained quite regularly, the new pastor being installed at this writing. The Rev. Thomas Charters has charge of the Congregational Church, Rev. A. Annette of the Baptist Church, Rev. Samuel Taylor of the Methodist Church and Rev. Herman Ezell has charge of St. Mary's Catholic Church. All of these are prospering institutions.


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