“Facts” in Histories are Suspect

“Facts” in Histories are Suspect

In working with some early histories I noted some interesting differences. I assume much of it has to do with the politics of the time, who was writing the book, etc. Certainly it is evident in many “histories” who the “preferred” families were. And it was not unusual to pay for an “appropriate” mention.

For whatever reason, the “facts” vary from history to history. This example relates to one of the early settlers. I found equally interesting “facts” in the others.

In one Logan County (Illinois) history we learn that John and Hannah Downing came to Salt Creek with their sons Robert and James. Actually it says they are “said to have settled on Salt Creek.” I’m not sure what that means since there are clear records of residence and land purchase.

The 1886 history says the Downings came “between 1824 and 1827 or ’28.” Land purchases came after settlement. Perhaps these editors went on land purchase dates although I find it doubtful they had access to the records then.

A 1936 history (of Mt. Pulaski) written by Judge Lawrence Stringer (an historian of some note, although not always accurate – and definitely a politician) says: “The first permanent settlement in the Salt creek country, in the vicinity of present Mount Pulaski. was made by Robert Downing. With him, came his wife, Jane Morrow Downing, and his parents, John and Hannah Downing. Also about the same time, came his brother and wife, James and Ruth Downing.” Note that Robert brought his family rather than he came with his parents. I do not know if James and Ruth came with the rest of the family or just “about the same time” but James and Robert Downing were brothers and Jane and Ruth Morrow were sisters.

The Downings are believed to have arrived in 1822 from Ohio but there is no black and white proof of the date. In the 1820 census Robert was recorded in Monroe Township, Madison County, Ohio. Robert Downing voted on August 2, 1824, in Union Precinct, Sangamon County. (Logan was part of Sangamon County at that time.)

In 1822 John was 60 and Robert was 28. John and Robert both bought land, much of which remains in the hands of descendants.

The 1936 history says Robert Downing “was a Black Hawk war veteran.” He was a War of 1812 veteran, having served  from Ohio along with his brothers John and Josiah. In addition to the military records, he was receiving a pension for his service at his death. Note is made in his probate file that the government wouldn’t cash his final check. I have not seen evidence he served in the Black Hawk War and he is not listed as a veteran in the state’s records.

Such histories have to be considered clues and not factual evidence.

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