Report of the Commissioners
The report of the commissioners was made June 8, 1835. This document ordered “that Charles R. Bennet be appointed to survey the town of Stephenson, in Rock Island County, as soon as practible.” A further provision of the report was to the effect that “one-third of the town lots be offered for sale on the 11th of July next, and that the same be published three times in the St. Louis Republican, the Alton Spectator, the Northwestern Gazette and the Galena Advertiser.” The town of Stephenson was therefore laid out by Charles R. Bennet and the plat recorded July 10, 1835. This recorded plat bears the certificate of Joseph Conway, clerk to the county commissioners. The town comprised within its modest limits twenty blocks in addition to the one set aside for a public square upon which the county buildings were to be erected and upon which the handsome modern court house now stands. The lots were most generous, as befitted a time when land was cheap. They measured eighty feet front and had a depth of one hundred and fifty feet. Colonel George Davenport, John W. Spencer and John Vanatta, the county commissioners, entered the town site of Stephen-son for the purposes’ of a county seat, May 11, 1836. Its description was “the north-west fractional quarter of Section 35, containing 61.95 acres.” This entry was made in the land office of this district at Galena. To add to the official dignity of the local courts, the commissioners ordered September 7, 1835, “that Joseph Conway be authorized to get two seals, one for the circuit court of Rock Island County and one for the county commissioners’ court of Rock Island County, the device to be a sheaf of wheat and a plow.” These courts were removed from Farnhamsburg to the new county seat, Stephenson, in November, 1835. One incident of these early days, having peculiar interest through later national legislation and civil war was the ordering of the court that a tax of one-half per cent be levied “on slaves or indentured Negro or mulatto servants, pleasure carriages, distilleries, horses, mules, cattle, watches and their appendages, household furniture, clocks, wagons, carts, sheep and town lots.” By this listing of slaves among real and personal property with a recognized cash value to be the basis of a percentum tax the ownership of slaves was recognized in this section which later took important and active part in the war which destroyed and discountenanced the entire system of slave ownership. The occasion of the tax levy upon “indentured Negro servants” was the holding of slaves by some of the officers at the Fort Armstrong garrison. When these officers were transferred to this post they brought with them these “indentured Negro servants.” This practice though not sanctioned by the constitution and laws of the State of Illinois was possible under the old territorial laws, enacted when Illinois was a part of the Territory of Indiana. Under these territorial provisions permitting slaves to be introduced into this free soil as “indentured servants,” many lived in Illinois. In 1810 there were one hundred and sixty-eight slaves in this state. Ten years later the number had increased to nine hundred and seventeen. Ten years later in 1830 there were seven hundred and forty-six slaves within the borders of Illinois. It was about this time that Dr. Emerson, the surgeon of the post, brought to this section as his servant, the famous Negro, Dred Scott. When Fort Armstrong was evacuated in 1836, Scott went with his master to Fort Snelling in Minnesota and there proceedings were commenced which culminated in the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, one of the history making incidents of ante-bellum times. Dr. Emerson afterwards made Davenport his home, erecting a handsome residence on East Second Street. There he died and was buried at an early cemetery, now the crossing of Sixth and LeClaire Streets. In 1829, it is a matter of history that a number of slaves were held for a short time in Rock Island County on a farm just above Moline. Their owner, a southern man, brought them with him when he moved to this section. He brought his holding to the number of seventy-five expecting to give them their freedom and place them upon lands entered in this section, but the colored people preferred to return to their “sunny” southern home, and were allowed to do so after experiencing the rigors of one northern winter.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908