Franklin county came into being in 1818, January 2. At that time it included the territory of the Franklin county of today and the territory of Williamson just south. The present county has an area of 423 square miles, and a population of 25,943, a gain in ten years of 6,268. The county is well watered by Little Muddy river on the northwest, Big Muddy and its branches through the center. It is quite level and is largely prairie. The land is not well adapted to farming. The census report of 1900 gives the value of the lands for this county at $14.83 per acre, while the report for 1910 estimates the value of lands at $38.48. This great increase in value comes out of the wonderful development of the coal interests in this county in the past ten years.
In about the year 1804 seven brothers by the name of Jordan, Wm. and John Browning, Joseph Estes, and one Barbrey settled in what is now Cave township, the southeast township in the county, and there built what was known as Jordan's Fort sometime prior to 1806. Here Barbrey was killed and scalped in 1812. The Brownings came to be a very important people in the history of the county. The McCreerys, Cantrells, Swoffords, and the Joneses were early comers. The next part of the county to be settled was Six Mile Prairie in the southwest part of the present county. The first settler in this region was Chas. Humphrey who came from Philadelphia in 1811. He kept a ferry across Big Muddy just above where Blairsville is today. After the war of 1812 other settlers came to different parts of the county and by 1818 the south and east part of the county was sparsely settled.
The early settlers went to Kaskaskia to get their milling done, but in 1810 a "horse mill" was erected in the Jordan settlement. Other mills of the same kind were built on Crawford's prairie, on Frizzell 's prairie, and one on Browning's Hill. A water mill was built on Big Muddy in 1838 at Hillen 's fork and another was built about the same time on Middle Fork near Macedonia. The first steam mill was built
on Hickman 's Branch one and a half miles south of Benton by Augustus Adams in 1850.
Among the early comers was Rev. Braxton Parrish who arrived in 1821. He was born in North Carolina in 1795 and came to Franklin county by stages through Tennessee. He settled six miles cast of Ben-ton, having married a widow, Mrs. Margaret Knox, in Tennessee. Mrs. Knox's parents lived in Franklin county. In 1874 the Rev Braxton Parrish delivered a reminiscent talk in Benton on early life in Franklin county. He describes very vividly the hardships of those early days.
He paid $12.00 for 25 yards of domestic. He bought it on a credit. His wife was sick and it greatly distressed her to think they were so greatly in debt. Mr. Parrish went hunting one morning before breakfast, captured three otters, and paid the debt with the three otter skins. His wife shed tears of gratitude and said she would never doubt again an overruling Providence, The first Methodist class meeting was held in the home of Nathan Clampets. There were seven persons present.
It is stated in a history of this county that James Eubanks killed thirteen deer one morning before breakfast in 1840. It appears that the streams and timber along them were full of game and the traffic in furs was an important line of business. Regular trips were made to St. Louis with loads of furs, venison, and farm products.
Slaves were held in Franklin county by the leading families, but after the decision of the convention contest in 1824, many of these slaves
were taken to Missouri and sold. In a few cases they were later bought and brought back to Franklin county and manumitted. A specific case is that of the purchase of Richmond Inge by Alexander McCreery. Inge and his wife were put on a farm in Williamson county where they lived for many years.
The lands not being very rich, the settlement of the county was slow. By 1850 not more than half of the land was entered. The law of 1854 changed the price of land in Illinois from $1.25 per acre to 12 1/2 cents per acre. Thousands of acres of land in Franklin county were purchased of the government under the "Bit Act." When the Congress granted the lands in illinois to build the Illinois Central Railroad, 33,078 acres of the grant fell within the limits of Franklin county. For many years these lands were a drug on the market. The mineral rights in this county are now worth from thirty to forty dollars per acre.
When the county was created in 1818, the county seat was fixed at Frankfort. The court house and jail were not built until 1826 and prior to that date the county seat was temporarily in the home of Moses Garrett about three miles east of Frankfort. When Williamson was cut off from Franklin in 1839, the county seat of Franklin was permanently fixed "on or near the summit of a mound or hill in the edge of the timber, and at the south end of Rawlings Prairie." This was to be the site of the future city of Benton. The court house in Benton was built in the spring of 1841. It was a small frame building and stood in the square. A second court house was built of brick in 1845, and a third, the present one, was built in 1874.
Among the prominent lawyers who lived in Franklin or were accustomed to practice before the courts in this county were Judge Walter B. Scates, Judge Wm. A. Denning, Hon. Richard Nelson, Hon. Wm. K. Parrish, Judge Andrew D. Duff, Gen. John A. Logan, and others.
John A. Logan lived in Benton from winter 1855-6 to the outbreak of the Civil war, when he made his home in Marion in Williamson county. It is stated elsewhere but will bear repeating that he was a warm friend of Douglas, and when the later was on his way from the Jonesboro debate to the discussion at Charleston, he stopped at Benton and received a great ovation from Logan and his neighbors. The house in which Logan and his wife lived in Benton is still standing but is in very bad repair. A move is on foot to preserve it and make it a depository of objects of interest connected with the life and services of this nation 's greatest volunteer soldier.
No county did its duty any more loyally than Franklin in the struggle for the preservation of the union from '61-'65.
necessary to quote statistics from the coal reports of 1904 and 1911. In 1904 the total output of all the mines in the county was 4,240 tons. This small output came from one mine. In 1911 the tonnage was 2,354,- 839. This output came from fourteen mines. The coal deposit lies at an average depth of 500 feet, and the veins are from 7 to 12 feet in thickness. There were employed in these fourteen mines in 1911 a total of 3,732 men and boys. The total days of active operation was 176.
The increased interests in coal lands and mines had produced a sort of speculative spirit and many have made small fortunes while many a man has in the past year or so discovered that he "let go" too soon. There are eleven banks in the county, all doing a thriving business. Several towns have sprung up and other activities have been stimulated. Among the towns beside Benton are Akin, Christopher, Ewing, Royalton, Sesser, Thompsonville, and West Frankfort. There are several villages in addition to the above towns and cities.