Stephenson County, Illinois Genealogy
A Brief History of Stephenson County, Illinois
GEOGRAPHICALLY Stephenson County is one of the most interesting in the state. Within its borders is the highest elevation in Illinois, West Point Hill, a short distance from Lena, the peak of which is about a thousand feet above tide level and seven hundred twenty-three above Cairo, the lowest point in the state, while the level of Lake Michigan is four hundred fifteen feet below the summit of the mound. Lying in the northern tier of counties it combines the prairies of the Sucker State with the woods of the timbered regions of the Badger State on the north and in comparison with the other counties of the northern tier was probably more heavily wooded than any lying to the eastward.
To the eye of the geologist the region within the boundaries of Stephenson county is none the less interesting. From deep borings it has been established that the underlying rocks from four to six hundred feet are mostly of sand formation varying in color from chalky white grading through pale and dark yellow, orange and the palest shades of red to bright red and finally culminating, in the lowest levels, in dark reddish brown where salts of iron have percolated millions of years ago. Above these lie a stratum of St. Peters sandstone over two hundred feet in thickness, soft in texture and very white. Above this the greater part of the county is underlaid with limestone of the Trenton group of which the Galena stratum is the uppermost, below which in consecutive order come the varieties known as the blue and the buff. The highest elevation of the county is capped with Niagara limestone which extends over but a small area. That which at remotest periods covered all has been eroded and carried away to make the upper soil of other regions during the eons of years that have elapsed since the substance of which it was composed was the slimy ooze in the bed of some pre-historic sea. The quaternary deposits on which we live and from which we draw our substance is composed mostly of gravels, sands and clays. Over parts of the northern and eastern sections of the county are distributed "lost rocks" and boulders, undoubted evidence that the colossal ice flows of the glacial period extended this far to the southward bringing its loads of debris, while along the banks of the Pecatonica and its larger tributaries may be found alluvium soils so recent, when compared with the older formations, that the human mind can not grasp the immensity of the period of time since the latter were the surface of the earth.
Politically the region of which this county is a part has had many vicissitudes. By right of discovery and occupation it became a province of France some time between the visit of Perrot to the Miamis at the mouth of the Chicago river in 1671 and the formal possession taken by La Salle in 1680. The region had been explored to some extent by Fathers Allouez and Dablon in 1672, and by Marquette and Joliet the year following when they descended the Father of Waters from the mouth of the Wisconsin to the present state of Arkansas returning by the Illinois to the portage across to the Chicago river and thence by lake to the north.
From the time of LaSalle and his lieutenant, Tonty, France held undisputed sway until 1765, when at the close of one of the many wars between France and England, all the region east of the Mississippi was ceded to Great Britain who held it but a short term, however, having to relinquish it to the new Republic at the close of the Revolutionary War.
In colonial jurisdiction, too, it has had as varied experience as has been its national dominion. It is a fact not generally known that the earlier colonial maps assign a wide zone across the northern end of Illinois to the colony of Connecticut, as the southern end of Wisconsin was a part of the Bay State with corresponding strips of Michigan belonging to each. At the same time Virginia, who seems to have claimed everything in colonial days that was not nailed down, exerted titular authority to the region which was acknowledged until she ceded all the North West Territory to the National government in 1784. While the claims of the different English Colonies were concurrent with that of France little if any trouble arose for the reason that but narrow threads along the larger streams were all of these vast regions that was ever seen by civilized man.
After the "Compact of 1787" dedicated the region north of the Ohio forever to the cause of freedom, settlers from the eastern states began pouring in and the Territory of Ohio was organized embracing all of the region in the northwest including Illinois. This latter became a part of the territory of Indiana and finally when that commonwealth took on the dignity of statehood it in turn became a territory with new boundaries and a new name.
In like manner the county was successively a part of nearly every grand division of the State, from Sangamon north, until at last, just prior to being defined within its present boundaries, it was under the jurisdiction and formed apart of Jo Daviess county, its nearest neighbor on the west.
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