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The First Citizens of an American Frontier

The "Sangamo Country", a 1500-square-mile region centered on the Sangamon River in central Illinois, was an important Euro-American frontier settlement during the early 19th century. The first Americans to permanently settle in the area arrived in 1817, or two years after the close of the War of 1812. The county of Sangamon was formed in January 1821.  At the time, its limits included all or part of the modern counties of Cass, Christian, Logan, Macon, Mason, Menard, Sangamon and Tazewell.  

On June 5, 1821, the Sangamon County Commissioners ordered a county tax to be made for the “purposed of defraying the necessary expenses of the county.”  They ordered the county assessor to assess all taxable property, which included horses, cattle, carriages, stock in trade and distilleries. As a result, the assessor compiled a list of residents of the county who owned such property.  This list, containing over 380 names, represents the earliest known list of American settlers living in central Illinois.

While some of the names included in the list are well documented in later histories, many of these individuals spent little time in the fledgling community and their enumeration on this document is the only record of their presence. Information regarding each of the names on the list might include date and place of birth and death, land purchases, census, military service, voting, marriage, and probate records.  The location of the individual within the county in 1821 was attempted as well as familial connections to each other and place of nativity.

The 1821 tax list is an important document, representing the earliest known list of American settlers living in central Illinois. Such lists are not necessarily commonplace in early the county records of Illinois. The 1821 document provides a rare glimpse into the nature of the first years of extended-family settlement within an important frontier-era community in Illinois.

The 1821 tax list was published in the SAC Archival Studies Bulletin Series.  A PDF version of the report can also be downloaded here.


Approximate limits of the "Sangamo Country" frontier, circa 1817-1830.

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