Court, Bench and Bar

Court, Bench and Bar

The first term of the Circuit Court of Rock Island County was held April 28, 1834, in the house of John Barrel in Farnhamsburg, Richard M. Young presiding Judge. Farnhamsburg was located on the bank of the Mississippi River, in the east part of the City of Rock Island, a short distance west of the residence of the Hon. Ben T. Cable. The first house built on the present site of the City of Rock Island, then Farnhamsburg, was a log house built by Colonel George Davenport and one Russell Farnham, who was engaged in business with Colonel Davenport. This log house was afterwards enlarged and kept as a hotel by John Barrel, a Virginian. In November, 1835, the records and Court were removed from the house of John Barrel to Stephenson. Under an act of the Legislature of March 31, 1819, the State of Illinois was divided into four judicial circuits. The Judges of the Supreme Court of the State held the Circuit Courts. The Circuit Courts are Courts of general jurisdiction. The County Commissioners Court was established March 22, 1819. It had jurisdiction throughout the County in revenue matters, county tax, licenses, ” and other public business. Three Judges formed the Court. One was the County Judge, the others Associate Justices. This Court continued until the County Court was established by act of February 12, 1849. The County Court consisted of one Judge. It had probate jurisdiction. Under the law two Justices of the Peace were elected. These had authority to act with the County Judge to transact the business formerly done by the County Commissioners Court, and so continued to 1857, after which the County business was trans-acted by the Board of Supervisors, the County being then organized under the township organization law. The following persons, residents of Rock Island, were at various times members of the County Commissioners Court: George Davenport, John W. Spencer, John Vanatta, George’ W. Harlan, John S. Miller, Lucius Wells, Nathaniel Belcher, Jacob Coleman, Lemuel Andrews, Adolphus Dunlap, John R. Taylor, George S. Moore, John Kistler, William L. Lee, M. W. Wright, Samuel Sloan, Jacob Starr, T. C. Temple, Captain T. J. Robinson, James Weaverling, William M. Bailey, John M. Gould, George E. Holmes. The County Court was established by an act of the Legislation of February 12, 1849, in addition to its jurisdiction in probate matters and matters pertaining to the revenue. The Legislation conferred upon the Court a limited law jurisdiction, which it still possesses, although enlarged. The office of County Judge has been filled by prominent citizens of Rock Island County:

John W. Spencer, 1849 to 1852; William Bailey, 1852 to 1853; John M. Gould, 1853 to 1857; Cornelius Lynde, Jr., 1857 to 1861; Joseph B. Danforth, 1861 to 1865; John W. Wilson, 1865 to 1871; Samuel S. Guyer, 1871 to 1877; Lucian Adams, 1877 to 1902; E. E. Parmenter, 1902 to 1906; Robert W. Olmsted, now acting Judge, elected in April, 1907, in place of E. E. Parmenter, deceased.

Courts of Probate were first established by law February 10, 1821. In the County of Rock Island Harmon G. Reynolds was Probate Justice from 1839 to 1846. He was followed by Ira O. Wilkinson, 1847 to 1849. The Circuit Court of Rock Island County was originally in the fifth judicial circuit of the State of Illinois, afterwards in the sixth judicial circuit. In 1873 with the Counties Henry and Mercer it composed the fifth judicial circuit. Afterwards, under the act of June 7, 1877, the Counties of Rock Island, Mercer, Henry, Henderson, Warren and Knox composed the tenth judicial circuit. Under the act of April 23, 1897, the Counties of Rock Island, Mercer, Whiteside and Henry now compose the fourteenth judicial circuit. Gentlemen eminent as jurists in this State have presided in the Circuit Courts of Rock Island County; we find on record the names of:

Richard A. Young, 1834; Sidney Breese, 1835; Thomas Ford, 1836; Daniel Stone, 1837 to 1841; Thomas C. Brown, 1841 to 1848; Benjamin R. Sheldon, 1848 to 1849; William Kellogg, 1850 to 1851; Ira O. Wilkinson, 1850 to 1857; J. W. Drury, 1858 to 1860; John H. Howe, 1860 to 1861; Ira O. Wilkinson, 1861 to 1867; George W. Pleasants, 1867 to 1897; J. J. Glenn, 1878 to 1897; A. A. Smith, 1878 to 1894; Hiram Bigelow, 1895 to 1902; F. D. Ramsey, 1897; William H. Gest, 1897. Emery C. Graves, 1903;

Among the gentlemen named above as Judges who were residents of the County of Rock Island are Ira O. Wilkinson, J. W. Drury, George W. Pleasants and William H. Gest. Judge Wilkinson, after leaving the bench in 1867, went to Chicago, where he practiced law until 1881, when he returned to Rock Island County and resumed practice. He died August 24, 1894. Judge Pleasants, after he became Judge in 1867, continued to preside as such until the year 1897. He died October 22, 1902. For nineteen years he presided as one of the Judges of the first, second and third districts of the Appellate Courts of this State. Judge Drury after he retired from the bench in 1860, resumed the practice of the law at Davenport, Iowa; he died March 1, 1899. Judge Gest is now one of the Circuit Judges of this judicial district. The members of the bar of Rock Island County who are now in actual practice are about sixty-five. Many of them are young men who have lately entered into the practice of the profession. The oldest members of the bar now living and nearly all are in actual practice, are John T. Browning, Edward D. Sweeney, William Jackson, Lucian Adams, Henry C. Connelly, M. M. Sturgeon, W. J. Entriken, William A. Meese, William R. Moore, J. T. Kenworthy and Charles L. Walker.


Early Settlements of Rock Island County 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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