The Citizens of the Big Creek Settlement: From Reconstructed Census Records to a Legislative Petition

In September, I attended the Illinois State Genealogical Society’s free webinar, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions,” presented by the always informative Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist.1

Judy’s advice about how and where to find legislative petitions was helpful, as was her point that one won’t often find an indexed list of the names of all of the signers of a given petition (darn!). Instead, she suggested, look specifically for petitions that were created where your ancestor lived, and that concerned a cause that your ancestor was likely to have cared about.2

It was also emphasized how handy petitions can be when they fall between a census year.3 In fact, the names of the signers on some petitions have also been used to reconstruct early census records. I recently noticed an instance of this when searching for my Stilley ancestors of southern Illinois on Ancestry.com. My search brought me to “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820.”4

In one example, several men with the surname Stilley are listed as having resided at the Big Creek Settlement, Illinois Territory, in 1810. However, a closer look at the entry shows that the men were named on a petition dated 6 December 1812.5 This petition concerned the desire of the “poor Industrious Inhabitants, faithful Citizens of the United States” to acquire land west of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and a proposition for the sale of no more than 200 acres of said land to each male citizen over the age of eighteen, or each female head of household, for a cost of twelve and a half cents per acre. Allowing the inhabitants to acquire land, the petitioners continued, would further serve to “prevent Rebellions, remove animosities, Cement an union, and promote happiness” throughout the United States.6

Although, to my knowledge, none of these particular Stilleys were my direct ancestors, the presence of these names on the petition suggests to me that, at the very least, some of the extended family had started to settle in this western territory as early as 1812, perhaps paving the way for other members of the Stilley family to follow.



SOURCES
1 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions,” Illinois State Genealogical Society: ISGS Webinars, 2013.
2 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions.”
3 Judy G. Russell, “’To the Honorable, the General Assembly’ – The Treasure Trove in Legislative Petitions.”
4 “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 December 2013); citing Territorial Papers of the United States, vol. 16, p. 274.
5 “U.S. Census Reconstructed Records, 1660-1820,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 3 December 2013), entries for David Stilley, John Stilley, and Stephen Stilley, 1810, Big Creek Settlement, Illinois Territory; citing Territorial Papers of the United States, vol. 16, p. 274.
6 “To James Madison from the Citizens of the Big Creek Settlement, 6 December 1812 (Abstract),” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-05-02-0396 : accessed 3 December 2013); The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 5, 10 July 1812–7 February 1813, ed. J. C. A. Stagg, Martha J. King, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, and Jewel L. Spangler (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004), pp. 485–486.

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3 thoughts on “The Citizens of the Big Creek Settlement: From Reconstructed Census Records to a Legislative Petition

  1. Pingback: A Glimpse of Hyde County | Homestead Genealogical Research

  2. Sharon L. Graham

    In my search of the Darnall ancestry, my Third Great grandfather, Thomas McDonald Darnall moved to Big Creek Settlement, Fairfield Precinct, Edgar County, Illinois. He was one of the pioneers of Grandview, illinois

    Reply

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