From: Goshen Trails, Vol. 5; #2; #3
Hamilton County Historical Society Bulletin
Reprinted with permission.

This article has significant historical importance to the early Circuit Court history of Hamilton Co. and is important, genealogically speaking, as well. Many early residents are named in this article from the years 1821 to 1825.  Mr. Daily presented this essay to the Hamilton County Historical Society in 1969 and it was published in Goshen Trails, the Society's bulletin.

Early residents mentioned – some more than once:

Allen, Anderson, Benbrooks,  Bond, Braden,  Briant, Brown, Burriss, Clark, Coffman, Compton, Cumpton, Conner, Crouch,  Daily, Dale, Dean, Eddy, Ellis, Ferguson, Flint, Garner, Gatlin, Ghottson, Gordon, Griffith, Griswold,  Hall, Hand, Hardister, Harris, Hatch, Henceson, Hill, Hogg, Holiway, Hollingsworth, Holoway, Hood, Hungate, Hurd, Hyatt, Krisell, Lane, Lasater, Lockwood, Maulding,  McBride, McKenzie, McLean,  McLin, McNema, Miller, Moore, Parker, Perry, Porter, Powell, Proctor, Ritchey, Richy, Smith, Snelling, Stull, Thompson, Townsend, Tramell, Upton, Waller, Webb, Wheeler, Willis, Wilson


  Circuit Court 1821-1825

Hamilton Co., IL

  By John D. Daily, Associate Circuit Judge

THIS ARTICLE deals with only the Circuit Court of Hamilton County as it existed from the formation of the County in 1821 to the year 1825, and not with any of the other Hamilton County Courts in existence at that time.  This account is taken directly from the Circuit Court records in the present office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Illinois, with some comment thereon by the writer.

The writer is quite proud of all of the people mentioned in this article, both defendants accused of offenses who probably are ancestors of most of us, as well as officers of the Court.  This treatment of the subject may add some new light and thought to our precious heritage and pay honor to that rugged people who made our County possible and its people great.

The first session of Circuit Court in Hamilton County, Illinois was held on June 18, 1821, with his honor William Wilson, on the of the Justices of the Supreme Court of Illinois presiding, and who also was the presiding judge of the Second Judicial Circuit.  Jesse C. Lockwood presented to Judge Wilson his certificate of appointment and his oath of office as clerk of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County and Judge Wilson certified Jesse C. Lockwood as the first Circuit Clerk.  Jesse C. Lockwood also presented his official bond to Judge Wilson with Samuel D. Lockwood, who was later a Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois, as surety, which Judge Wilson approved.  Also James Hall (or Hill) qualified as Sheriff; James Lane as Coroner; and then Judge Wilson convened a Grand Jury composed of the following citizens: Ralph Hatch, foreman, Merril Willis, John Dale, Robert Anderson, William Hungate, Hardy Gatlin, Anderson McLin, Robert Porter, Danie Powell, Thomas Holoway, Willis Wheeler, Henry Webb, James Lasater, Jesse Hyatt, John Hardister, Eli Waller, John Griffith, Robert Miller and Adam Ritchey.  These men were sworn to “enquire for the body of this County” and they retired to consider presentments. 

Apparently all people in the new county were law abiding, as we would like to consider our forebears, for the first Grand Jury returned to Court and informed the Judge that they found no Bills of Indictment.  The Grand Jury was discharged by Judge Wilson, and there being no further business before the Court, the Court adjourned Sine Die.  Thus, the morning and the afternoon of June 18, 1821 was the first day of the Circuit Court for Hamilton County, Illinois.

This purity and freedom from sin of the people of Hamilton County continued in the term of Circuit Court presided over by Judge William Wilson on November 19, 1821 and also on June 17, 1822.  But the Court then became busy and some of the people slipped and fell, for on November 19, 1822, Judge Wilson fined Elijah Burris $10.00 for “showing contempt the Court” and this was not all for Elijah.  The Grand Jury, under the care of Constable William Miller, after due inquiry and deliberation, returned a true bill of indictment against Elijah Burriss for assault and battery and intent to commit murder.  Also indicted were Red Perry, James Braden and Hugh Snelling for riot.  These were the first two indictments returned in Hamilton County.

Elijah Burriss was tried on May 29, 1823 before Judge Wilson, and the Jury composed of Benj. Hood, Samuel Smith, George Hand, James Moore, Enos T. Allen, George McKenzie, John Ferguson, Thomas Holiway, John Wilson, William Ellis, Merrie Willis and Lewis Lane, who, being sworn “retired from the Bar and after considering the case returned in to court and do say upon their oath they find the defendant not guilty” – whereupon the defendant Elijah Burris was set at liberty by Judge Wilson.  Perry, Braden and Snelling, also fared well on their riot charge, for on the next day, Friday, May 30, 1823, the riot charge was dismissed on defendants’ motion.

Many people appearing before Judge Wilson were not so fortunate as were Elijah Burriss and the alleged rioters.  Thomas Smith was charged with refusing to appear as a witness and to testify and on October 30, 1823, Judge William Wilson, after finding the excuse of Thomas Smith not be sufficient, fined him $4.00 and costs.  Also on the same day, Henry Krisell was found not guilty of assault and battery with intent to murder.  So apparently in the early circuit court life of Hamilton County, it was all right to fight, but not all right to fail to appear as a witness.

November 1, 1823, Judge Wilson convened court at 7:00 o’clock a.m. to try Jacob Coffman and William Hungate for murder.  This was the first murder trial in Hamilton County.  Defendants Coffman and Hungate put themselves upon their county, whereupon a jury was called, composed of the following men: Mastin Bond, Henry Krisell, John Anderson, Adam Crouch, Nicholas Tramell, Lawrence Stull, Jarrett Garner, Gilbert Griswold, John Richy, Anthony Richy, Daniel Benbrooks, and Ambrose Maulding, who heard the evidence, and returned a verdict finding Jacob Coffman and William Hungate not guilty of murder; and they were promptly discharged.

This must have caused another riot, for on the same day the Grand Jury indicted John Hardisty, John Townsend, John Flint, Charles Hurd, Stephen Parker, Samuel Hogg, Sr., Samuel Hogg, Jr., Major Hungate and Charles Hungate “for a riot”.  They were all admitted to bail at $50.00 bond each.  A new Judge, Thomas C. Browne, came to hold court, and on May 28, 1824 all of the defendants, except Samuel Hogg, Sr., were tried before a jury of Hamilton County men who promptly returned a verdict of not guilty, and Judge Browne then dismissed the case as to Samuel Hogg, Sr.

While the records do not show the reason for Judge Browne’s short stay in McLeansboro, Judge William Wilson again returned on October 28, 1824, to hold Circuit Court.  Both Judge Browne and Judge Wilson were members of the Illinois Supreme Court.  Sheriff Hall had the Grand Jury ready which was presided over by Gilbert Griswold as foreman, who promptly went to work to return more indictments.  On the same day Jacob Conner was tried for assault and battery.  Conner did not have an attorney, but tried his own case.  One of the alleged rioters of the previous court term, Samuel Hogg, Sr., was on the jury, which returned a verdict of guilty, and Judge Wilson find Jacob Conner $5.00 and costs and ordered that he be retained in custody until his fine and costs were paid.

Most offenses charged were for assault and battery—a fancy designation for fighting.  Apparently in light of the murder charge previously referred to, sometimes a man was killed in a fight.  But a short time later in the same October, 1824 term of court, a jury of twelve men tried and true, one of whom was John Daily, found Thomas Smith not guilty of assault and battery; but Felix McBride plead guilty to assault and battery and Judge Wilson fined him $2.00 and costs of prosecution and ordered him held in custody until the fine and costs were paid.

In addition to fighting, apparently some people knew how to improperly use their tongues for at the same term of court, on Upton plead guilty to the charge of slander and was fined $3.00 and costs.  This latter case took place on the first Thursday in November, 1824 and Judge Wilson must have felt that he was about through for the week, as he adjourned court to the next day, Friday, not to convene until the late hour of 9:00 a.m.

Thereafter continued the many assault and battery indictments.  In one day in November 1824, the Grand Jury returned five true bills or indictments for assault and battery, against such illustrious names as Lewis Lane, William Briant and Garret Harris, and the amazing part about it all was that Lewis Lane plead guilty; and was fined $2.00 and costs on the first Saturday morning in November 1824.  This fine did not detract from the good character of Lewis Lane in the least, because on the day he entered his plea of guilty to assault and battery he served on a jury that awarded John Townsend $8.00 in damages in a suit against Thomas Smith.  A few days later the Grand Jury returned seven more indictments against Hamilton County citizens for assault and battery.  Fighting must have been the most popular sport or occupation of gentlemen for again we find the names of more of our illustrious ancestors in the role of defendants. 

On March 28, 1825, James Hall, Judge of the 4th Judicial Circuit called the Circuit Court of Hamilton County to order at the Court House in “McLeansborough,” at which time Henry Eddy, Esq. Produced in Court a Commission signed by the Governor of Illinois and dated January 19, 1825 appointing Henry Eddy Circuit Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit which included Hamilton County, and Judge Hall entered an order on March 28. 1825, that Henry Eddy be recognized as Circuit Attorney and admitted to prosecute in behalf of the people of the State of Illinois in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County.  Jesse C. Lockwood likewise produced his appointment as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Illinois, which appointment was signed by the presiding Judge, and to which was attached a certificate signed by Benjamin Hood, a Justice of the Peace in and for said County.  The Sheriff whose name was not given, on the same date returned his panel of grand jurors with Enos L. Allen, foreman, and among others with John Dale who served on the first grand jury to convene in Hamilton County four years before.

Believe it or not, the first case tried at the March 1825 term of court was against our old friend Elijah Burriss for assault and battery.  You will remember that he was the first man indicted in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County on November 19, 1822 also for assault and battery to which charge he was found not guilty in May 1823.  Elijah was not so fortunate in March 1825 as Circuit Attorney Henry Eddy prosecuted vigorously and the jury, after due deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty, and Elijah Burriss was fined $3.00 and costs of suit.  The fact that John Daily was one of the jurors may have had something to do with the change in fortune for Elijah.  Anyway, Elijah hadn’t lost his ability to defend himself.

A case tried before Judge Wilson at the October 1824 term of court surely produced great interest in the new county.  Elizabeth Compton had been indicted for Larceny, and the Circuit Attorney on behalf of the people and the “Defendant Elizabeth Cumpton in her own proper person who being arraigned at the Bar on an Indictment for Larceny pleads not Guilty of the charge Aforesaid, and puts herself upon her county.  Wherefore came a Jury to-wit: William A. McLin, Jeremiah McNema, Eli Waller, Ruben Procter, Nathaniel Ghottson, Isaac Hill, Robert Porter, Elisha Gordon, Randolph Smith, Mastin Bond, William Henceson and Denny Thompson, who being elected and sworn a true verdict to give according to evidence do say upon their oath “We the Jury find the defendant not guilty – William A. McLin, Foreman.  It is therefore considered by the Court that the Defendant be dismissed from further prosecution on said Indictment and goe hence without day.”  The lady appears to have been her own lawyer and did a good job in convincing twelve Hamilton County me that she was innocent of larceny.

But at the same October 1824 term Isaac Bates did not do so well as the lady defendant.  Bates was tried for Larceny before a jury, which contained part of the jurors who turned the lady loose, and this jury, with Abraham Hollingsworth as foreman found Isaac guilty and found the value of the goods stolen to be three dollars and have been “restored”.  But Judge Wilson took a dim view of larceny apparently, even though the stolen goods had been restored by the defendant, for the sentence given was that “the Defendant Isaac Bates receive fifteen lashes and pay to William Dean the sum of Three Dollars and be fined in the sum of One Hundred Dollars to be paid to the County and the cost of this prosecution and Execution Issued.”  Larceny was therefore a much more serious offense than assault and battery.

Several other criminal cases, mostly for assault and battery, were handled by the Circuit Court during the period 1821-1825, but those mentioned herein appear from the record to be the most illustrative of the activity of the Circuit Court during this period of time.

Thus, the first four years of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County end on a similar but more active note than when they began.  The further activities of the Circuit Court during its first four years concerning disputes between citizens of Hamilton County in civil matters are not commented upon, but perhaps reserved for a later time.

Only the names of three attorneys appear in the record during this time: Edwin B. Webb, John McLean and Circuit Attorney Henry Eddy.  The Judge’s names appear frequently in the record.  Many of the cases tried have reference to “plaintiff’s attorney” and “defendant’s attorney” but not by name.  Most of the attorneys surely were circuit riders from other localities.

It has not been determined by the writer whether or not Edwin B. Webb was a regularly licensed attorney, but he apparently had some formal education and attraction to the law, and of some stature in the County.  Judge William Wilson on October 30, 1823 entered the following order: “Ordered by the Court that Edwin B. Webb be permitted to act as an Attorney during this term.”  Whether Mr. Webb continued as an attorney after the October 1823 term of court and his residence is not known to the writer.

Attorney John McLean was from Shawneetown, was a lawyer of prominence, served in Congress, and was a circuit riding lawyer of distinction.  The History of Hamilton County published in 1887 by Goodspeed Publishing Company says on page 294 that the first resident attorney in McLeansboro was Samuel S. Marshall.  Judge Marshall, well known in local history, appeared on the scene as a lawyer at a later period of time.

Judge William Wilson, who presided most of the time over the Circuit Court of Hamilton County during the first four years came to Illinois in 1817 and is believed to have settled near Carmi.  He was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on August 7, 1819.  Judge Wilson was only 24 years of age when he was appointed to the Supreme Court, was an amazing young man and was 26 years old when he first presided over the Circuit Court of Hamilton County.  The Supreme Court Justices in that day spent most of their time holding court in the various counties of the state, and the Supreme Court consisted of only four justices.  Judge Wilson was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois in August 1824, at the age of 29 years.  He continued on the Supreme Court until 1848 when he retired to his home near Carmi where he died in 1857.

Henry Eddy, the first recorded Circuit Attorney in Hamilton County, went to every county in his circuit to represent the people of Illinois and prosecute criminal cases.  He had the same duties as our present States Attorneys in each of our counties, but his duties and responsibilities covered several counties.  Eddy was a citizen of Shawneetown, a very competent attorney and his name appears in many early decisions of the Supreme Court as attorney for litigants on appeals from Gallatin and other Counties in Southern Illinois.  He also was a prominent newspaper Editor, being editor and publisher of the Shawnee Chief and the Illinois Emigrant, published at Shawneetown in 1818, the name of which latter paper was changed to Illinois Gazette in 1819.

Digressing from the time period covered in this article, and of possible interest to this society, is the first appealed case from Hamilton County to the Illinois Supreme Court.  Apparently the decisions of Judge William Wilson as trial judge of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County in the early years of the county were very sound and abided by by both the loser as well as the winner, as no recorded appeal from the decisions of Judge Wilson is found.  However, in December of 1833, our Judge William Wilson as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois delivered the opinion in the first case appealed from Hamilton County; the case appealed from being a jury case presided over by Judge C. Browne, already mentioned, who also was a member of the Illinois Supreme Court, as was Samuel D. Lockwood who signed Jesse Lockwood’s bond as Circuit Clerk mention heretofore.

The first appealed case from the Circuit Court of Hamilton County was the appeal of Reuben Clark who was convicted of arson by a jury in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County at the March Term 1833, and the presiding judge at the trial, Judge Browne, gave sentence that Clark should be imprisoned in the County Jail for three weeks, pay a fine of $360.00 and cost of prosecution and that he should be publicly whipped thirty-nine lashes on his bare back.  Chief Justice Wilson, in speaking for the majority of the Supreme Court, surely remember the sterling qualities of his old friends, both defendant and plaintiff, from his court days in Hamilton County, for he found sufficient error in the trial to reverse the verdict of the jury and judgment of the Hamilton County Circuit Court, and promptly discharge the prisoner Reuben Clark.


It is impossible to reproduce in this article all that took place in the Circuit Court sessions of Hamilton County during the first four years of existence of Hamilton County.  Lost are the physical appearances of the many people involved – the judges, clerk, sheriff, deputies, constables, grand jurors, petit jurors, litigants, defendants in indictable offense, wives, children and relatives of the accused, traveling men, lawyers, and others involved in the early day in McLeansboro and Hamilton County.

Lost is the manner of action of the people involved in the Circuit Court, their mode of speech, tones of their voices, the words they used, their emotions, their fierce qualities, their mode and manner of living.  Lost are the smells, noises, struggles, legal oratory, and antics of the early courtroom.  But we do find that they were a strong people, intent on fair play, intent on a system of government by law and not by the whims of men, and certain that they would fight for their rights.

We who are descendents of those caught up in the affairs of the Circuit Court of Hamilton County during that time can given them thanks that they sired and gave birth to a strong, independent and industrious people, for which Hamilton County is so well known.  So little is touched in this article---so much remains to be researcher.


            Vol. A. Circuit Court Records, Hamilton County, Illinois

            Deed Records A and B, County Recorder’s Office, Hamilton County, Illinois

            History of Southern Illinois, Vol. 1, p. 157, 135, 471 (1912 Ed.) by George Washington Smith

The History of Hamilton, Gallatin and other communities published in 1887 by Goodspeed Publishing Company, p. 194 and other pages.

Mr. John Davis Daily was b. in 1913 In McLeansboro, the son of Whitson W. and Nora Ellen Davis Daily and descends from John and Polly Maulding Daily who settled in Hamilton County about 1815. He married Juanita Leslie in 1938.  He practiced law in McLeansboro, was a special agent for the FBI and assistant Attorney General of Illinois and Circuit Court Judge.

Copyright 1999.  All rights Reserved

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