Longtime Effingham resident Dale Fitzpatrick started to look into his maternal family history and his research has turned into much more.
Fitzpatrick recently released a bicentennial edition of his book “Pioneers in Illinois History.” The name was changed for this third edition from “Pitchford Pioneers” to “Pioneers In Illinois History.”
Fitzpatrick began his book as an exploration of his family history, but quickly branched into the history of Illinois’ Northwest Territory and the history of Illinois as a whole.
In the third edition, Fitzpatrick has included Illinois bicentennial sections to recognize the 200 years of Illinois becoming a state.
Fitzpatrick said seven free states and six slave states formed the United States in 1776. Illinois was part of the Northwest territory established by the federal government in 1787. The ordinance setting forth the Northwest territory provided for six states to be free. In his book, on page 40, is a list of the order in which the first 21 states joined the union. The chart shows how free states held a narrow edge over slave states.
According to Fitzpatrick, the period between 1809 and 1830 was an important time in Illinois history. The Illinois territory was established in the Northwest Territory after Indiana became a state. The Illinois territory consisted of the land that would later be divided into Illinois, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.
Fitzpatrick said the boundaries of the territory consisted of the Ohio River to the south, the Mississippi River to the west, Canada to the north and the state of Indiana and the Michigan territory to the east. Illinois could only become a state when two events happened: conduction of a Census showing 600 inhabitants living in that part of the Illinois territory located south of an east-west line located at the south bank of Lake Michigan and passage of a constitution prohibiting slavery in the new state.
Fitzpatrick said that two conditions were later changed — the population requirement was changed to 40,000 and the northern boundary was moved several miles north to its current location. These conditions were met and Illinois became the 21st state in the Union in December 1818.
Ninian Edwards, a slave owner was the governor of the Illinois territory from 1809 to 1818. Shadrach Bond, also a slave owner, was elected governor of the new state. His main accomplishment was moving the capital from Kaskaskia to Vandalia.
Edward Coles, a former slave owner, was elected governor in 1822. The Constitution only allowed each governor to serve one term. Coles had freed his slaves, numbering about 14 upon arriving in Illinois. The citizens of Illinois petitioned for a Constitutional convention to allow slavery in the new state.
The issue was voted down by a narrow margin. Coles spent his entire salary in fighting the new constitution.
Ninian Edwards was elected the third governor of the state in 1826. He served as a federal land officer during 1819 and 1825. According to Fitzpatrick, Edwards attended medical school as a young man and preferred that profession to politics. Edwards died of cholera while practicing medicine in 1833.
He stated that slavery continued to be practiced in Illinois due to a number of loopholes in the constitution. It was not completely eliminated in the state until the constitution was amended in 1865.
Besides Illinois history, the book incorporates the involvement of Fitzpatrick’s ancestors in the development of the United States, particularly the State of Illinois.
A familiar name in the history books is Donner as in the Donner Party. Fitzpatrick talks about Tamson Donner, who was a widow before she married George Donner and lived in Sangamon County. Tamson was a school teacher but after Illinois she became a teacher of surveyors.
She was a caregiver at Donner’s Pass and she and George had several children. She stayed where they had wintered to take care of her husband. Tamson never took part in any cannibalism though.
Copies of Pioneers In Illinois History will be available around Thanksgiving at the Effingham County Museum for a donation.