Sunday, October 14, 2018

The History of Fort Edwards in Warsaw, Illinois. (1816-1824)

The City of Warsaw, which sits on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from Alexandria, Mo., and south of the Mississippi’s confluence with the Des Moines River, got its start around 1812, an outgrowth of two forts, Fort Johnson was 1/2 mile south of Fort Edwards and the settlement they fostered. 
Fort Johnson and Fort Edwards were built on the east side of the Mississippi River as counters to a British military installation about 100 miles north and part of about 94 forts in today's Illinois footprint.

There are letters from William Henry Harrison Sr., the 9th President of the United States, dated 1807 requiring all settlements to have a small fort or blockhouse constructed.
The Fort was abandoned in 1824. There are no remains of Fort Edwards.

In addition to soldiers posted in the area by 1814, Indians from the Sauk and Iowa tribes settled near the fort and had started to raise corn. Fort Edwards was built in 1814 on the northernmost bluff and named for Ninian Edwards, the first Illinois governor. The purpose of the log-constructed fort was to protect the movement of supplies on the Mississippi River. 

The fort was leased to the American Fur Company from 1828 to 1832 and served as a fur trading post for more than a decade.

Members of the Mesquakie (Fox) tribe were scattered along the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, to Fort Edwards by 1822. Early Warsaw residents Maj. John R. Wilcox, Mark Aldrich, John Montague, and John Vineyard platted the city in 1834.

Major Wilcox had been stationed at Fort Edwards in 1822. He left for a short time after the fort was abandoned in 1824, then returned to live in the area. He built a log cabin in 1827 near the Mississippi River just below the original site of Fort Johnson. His home is believed to be “the first house in what was later to become the town of Warsaw.” Nine years later, Wilcox started a ferry that enabled the movement of people and commodities across the Mississippi from Warsaw to Alexandria and vice versa.

Mark Aldrich arrived in Warsaw in 1832, building the second house in the town – a two-story log home. Despite a brief time of upheaval during the Black Hawk War in 1832, Warsaw grew until there were about 24 inhabitants in 1834.

In the 1840s the Mississippi River opened up to passenger boats filled with “thousands… among them many emigrants, some from Ireland, others from Germany and France.”

Warsaw became a town in 1839 and a city in 1853.

Many people settled in Warsaw during that time, and commerce began to bloom: “… three distilleries, a tobacco factory, flour mills, brickyards, scores of cooperage shops. In 1845, the little town was claiming a population of 473 by 1850.” The French immigration began in the late 1850s and continued through the ’60s and ’70s. Many of the French people settled in Warsaw in the country extending from Warsaw to Basco.”

In 1855, a brick foundry was built on North Fourth Street where the brewery road turns east. Two years later, 20,000 bushels of grain were delivered to Warsaw for use by its three distilleries and three flour mills. Thousands of barrels were made yearly for the shipment of lard, meat, apples, cider flour, whiskey, and wine.

William Grover, Esq., of Warsaw in 1871 spoke to the Pioneer’s Association, describing Hancock County, Illinois, on a trip he made from Carthage, Illinois, to Warsaw in 1837:

"When the Black Hawk war broke out, the population of the county was still very small and thinly scattered and many settlers left the county for a while. There were no actual depredations here by the Indians but there was, perhaps, just reason for apprehensions of danger. Fort Edwards was then standing upon that point, within 100 yards of this square. It had been abandoned some years before as a military post, but the buildings were then in possession of Col. Farnham, an agent of the government, and by his permission, a number of men and a few families took shelter and protected themselves, if necessary. Among these were Col. Farnham, Mark Aldrich and his wife, Isham Cochrane and his wife and James Wells. Among them was an Indian woman who was married to a white man and it is stated that she stood in more fear of an attack from Indians than any of the pale-faced women at the Fort.

I have a distinct recollection of the appearance of the county from Carthage to Warsaw in 1837,” he said. “Coming west from Carthage, the first house was then owned by William A. Patterson. The next was the Chapman's place. The next places… were the farms of Benjamin Marsh and Gotham Clark, side by side. This brought us to the edge of what was then generally called 'The Warsaw Timber.' From thence to Warsaw we passed Truman Hosford’s cabin, Bartholomew Slattery’s vineyard farm (now part of Warsaw) and Mark Aldrich’s cabin and from thence down a winding road through small timber and hazel brush to Andrew Monroe’s. At this point, we got up on Main Street and passed a little frame building they used as a meeting house, and three other one-story frame houses of a single room each, on the south side of the street, one used by James Chittenden as a saddler shop, one by Samuel Brown and Wm. Mcllhenny, as a tailor shop, one by Smith Robbins, as a sort of fancy grocery. ("Grocery" had a different meaning than today's grocery stores, which was called a General Store.)

On the other side of the street was a two-story frame house, unfinished, by R.L. Robertson. This brought us to the ‘Warsaw House’ then kept by ‘Old Man Newberry’ as the boarders irreverently called him, and here I slept my first night in a house after five months of railroad exploration.

I do not think there were then in all our large prairies a hundred improvements a mile distant from the timberline. The few roads across the prairies followed the most favorable ground for settlement, regardless of section lines; and in some directions, you might travel for hours without seeing a house or enclosure. If the direction of the beaten road did not suit you, you had full liberty of taking short and direct cuts to your journey’s end."


Today’s Ralston Park in Warsaw, Illinois was the area behind the fort’s stockade and near the fort’s parade ground.

Fort Edwards State Memorial, Warsaw, Illinois.
Today, the forts are gone, but a monument honoring Fort Edwards was built in 1914 on the fort’s site and still stands.
This obelisk known as Fort Edwards State Memorial stands on this promontory overlooking the Mississippi river as a monument to Fort Edwards.
Why does this brass plaque show the wrong build date instead of the correct date of 1816? In 1914, a 50-foot tall monument was erected at the former Fort Edwards location, known as “The Point.” The dedication was thought to be on the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Fort Edwards, however, the monument was built in the wrong year to celebrate Fort Edwards. At that time, the date Fort Edwards was built was not so clear because most of the military documents had been misplaced or lost to fire. The date they chose was later proven historically inaccurate. 1814 was the year that Fort Johnson was built, which was 1/2 mile to the south of Fort Edwards. Fort Edwards was built in 1816.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D

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