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GOVERNOR THOMAS FORD IN OGLE COUNTY.
By Mrs. Rebecca H. Kauffman, Oregon, Ill. The finest of all tributes to the pioneer comes from President Theodore Roosevelt in an address made by him when he was Vice President, at the Minnesota State Fair, Minneapolis, Sept. 2, 1901. It is as follows:
“In his admirable series of studies of twentieth century problems, Dr. Lyman Abbott has pointed out that we are a nation of pioneers; that the first colonists to our shores were pioneers, and that pioneers selected out from among the descendants of these early pioneers, mingled with others selected afresh from the Old World, pushed westward into the wilderness, and laid the foundations for our new commonwealths. They were men of hope and expectation, of enterprise and energy; for the men of dull content, or more, dull despair, had no part in the great movement into and across the New World. Our country has been populated by pioneers, and therefore it has in it more energy, more enterprise, more expansive power, than any other in the wide world.”
The facts pertạining to the life of Governor Ford in Ogle County I have gathered from every possible source within my reach; and I have endeavored to embody in this sketch an account of every connection of importance with Ogle County of the one resident, so far, of this region who has attained the honor of filling the office of the highest position of trust, within the gift of the people, of the State of Illinois. We can appropriately say, quoting from the immortal address of the greatest of all Illinoisans, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this,”—“fitting and proper” that we remember and honor a man who helped to settle this county, who worked to establish law and order, and to carry out strict principles of integrity and justice; and who left behind him at his too early death the record of a career highminded, pure, sensible, capable.
It may be interesting to those present to have enumerated the sources of the information which I have gathered in this paper. They are, first of all, “Ford's History of Illinois," published by S. C. Griggs & Co., the edition of 1854, in which is written, in pencil, the name “R. R. Hitt," the volume having been owned by Mr. Hitt's parents; the “Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois,” prepared by Dr. Newton Bateman, so well known to the people of Illinois, and Paul Selby, A.M.; “Kett's History of Ogle County, 1878;" the "Portrait and Biographical Album of Ogle County," published by Chapman Brothers, 1886; "Mount Morris, Past and Present," published by. Kable Brothers, 1900; the "Souvenir Edition of the Mount Morris Index," 1905, in which is a picture of the “Ford Cabin;" a paper on “The Criminal History of Ogle County,” read by Attorney Franc Bacon, in 1905, in the series of Local History Lectures given by the Oregon Woman's Council; and conversations with Mr. Benjamin Fridley, who was four years of age when his father purchased the claim on which Judge Ford had built what is now known as the “Ford Cabin;" with Mr. Wilson S. Glasgow, who now owns the land on which this cabin stands; and with Mr. Michael Seyster, of Oregon. Some of the books consulted were obtained from Major Charles Newcomer just two days prior to his death,
I am pleased to record that the place of nativity of Governor Ford was in my own “Keystone State," and not far from the much-loved waters of the picturesque Susquehanna of my former home. Thomas Ford (Judge and Governor) was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in the year 1800, his life beginning with the century and continuing just half way through. His mother, after the death of her first husband (Mr. Forquer), married Robert Ford, who was killed in 1802 by the Indians in the mountains of Pennsylvania. She was left alone to support herself and a large family, mostly girls. With a view to improve her circumstances she removed to Missouri in 1804; and, later, from there into Monroe County, Illinois, not far from Waterloo, and afterwards from there nearer to the Mississippi bluffs, where Thomas Ford grew up. His education was received in the common schools of those pioneer times. It is said that he early showed much mental ability, with particularly an inclination for mathematics. His proficiency attracted the attention of the Hon. Daniel P. Cook, a prominent Illinois statesman of that time, and for whom Cook County was named. Through the advice of Mr. Cook the young man turned his attention to the study of law. With the aid of his half-brother, George Forquer, he attended one term at Transylvania University, Kentucky, now the State University of that State, teaching school to help support himself while pursuing his law studies. He soon became a successful lawyer, and early in life entered the field of politics.
In 1829 Governor Edwards appointed him prosecuting attorney; in 1831 he was re-appointed. After that he was four times elected a judge by the Legislature, without opposition, twice a circuit judge, once a judge in Chicago, and an associate judge of the Supreme Court, when in 1841 the State Supreme Court was re-organized by the addition of five judges, all Democrats. The Act creating the circuits legislated the circuit judges out of office and assigned the supreme judge and eight associates to circuit duties. Judge Ford was assigned to the Ninth Judicial District, which included Ogle County and extended down as far as, and including, McLean County. It was while holding court at Oregon, in Ogle County, in this capacity that he received notice of his nomination by the Democratic Convention for the office of Governor.1 He immediately resigned his office of judge and entered upon the canvass. In August, 1842, he was elected, and on the 8th of December following he was inaugurated at Springfield.
1 The candidate for Governor, Adam W. Snyder, nominated by the Democratic State Convention at Springfield, Dec. 5, 1841, died on May 14, 1842. Thos. Ford was selected to fill the vacancy by a meeting of the principal Democrats, held at Springfield, June 7, 1842.
The twelfth section of the Act of January, 1836, establishing Ogle County, constituted it a part of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, and provided for the terms of the circuit court to be held at such places as the county commissioners should designate, and that the circuit judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit should have the power to fix the time for holding such court as, in his discretion, would promote the public good. Judge Ford presided over this court from January 17, 1839, and until becoming associate judge of the State Supreme Court. The first term of the circuit court commenced October 2, 1837, at Dixon, then in Ogle County, Lee County not yet having been formed, the Hon. Daniel Stone presiding. The records show that Benjamin T. Phelps presented his commission as clerk signed by Judge Thomas Ford, judge of the Sixth Judicial District, before whom he had taken the Oath of office, and that Judge Ford became bondsman for Mr. Phelps in the sum of $2,000.
To Judge Ford belongs the credit of naming the county of Ogle. The name was suggested by him and was intended to perpetuate the memory of Captain Joseph Ogle, who had settled in Monroe County, and whose coolness, courage and daring were so conspicuous in the long and bloody conflict attending the siege of Fort Henry, during the early days of our country's history. And it was through the earnest solicitations of Judge Ford that William W. Fuller came from Massachusetts in 1839 to settle in Ogle County and to practice law in Oregon-Margaret Fuller, who was a relative, later visiting him here in the Rock River Valley.
At a special session, Nov. 8, 1838, of the newly-elected members of the County Commissioners Board of Ogle County, Judge Ford was "appointed a commissioner to sell lots for the county of Ogle, situate on . the quarter section on which the county seat was located by Charles Reed and J. L. Kirkpatrick, being the southeast quarter of section four, township twenty-three north, range ten, east of the fourth principal meridian, at public vendue, in Oregon City, on the first Monday in December next.” Some other provisions and directions were added to this order of his appointment as county agent to sell lots. The proceeds of these lots were intended to apply on the erection of public buildings for the county, as provided in the Act of Congress of May 24, 1824. This duty as commissioner was held by Judge Ford till June, 1840. Though so closely interested in the erection of the county buildings, Judge Ford did not have the satisfaction of holding court in one of the buildings planned for. The court house was not entirely completed, but it was intended to be used for the spring term of the circuit court, set for Monday, March 22, 1841. The outlaws, however, willed it otherwise, and during the night before the court was to convene they set fire to the building and burned it to the ground. Until the next court house was built in 1843, the sittings of the courts took place in whatever building could be had that was large enough for the purpose. Sometimes in a house belonging to Mr. William Sanderson, but generally in a log house belonging to Mr. John Phelps, who was so largely interested in the
settlement of Oregon and vicinity. After the 30th day of August, 1838, the records show that it had been “ordered” that “the circuit courts of Ogle County shall hereafter be held at the house of John Phelps, in *Oregon City, in said county, until public buildings shall be erected.” As a result of this positive order, every one knew where to find the county commissioners in session, the circuit courts, the county and circuit clerks and other county officials. This house of John Phelps was situated in Oregon, on Third st., near Monroe, not far below, to the south, of the old Catholic Stone Church. On Nov. 1, 1843, D. H. L. Moss, who succeeded Judge Ford as commissioner to sell lots in Oregon, gave a deed from Ogle County to Thomas Ford, for lot 12, block 26, consideration $21.00. In this deed it recited the fact of the changing, by Act of Legislature, of the name of the place from Florence, its first name, to its present name of Oregon. This lot is on the corner diagonally opposite the old Catholic Stone Church, and is the lot now occupied by the brick dwelling of Mr. Stanley Jones, and in the neighborhood of the John Phelps house where court was held. Judge Ford's home was on this corner lot. A little to the north of this, a street running east and west from Rock River is named Ford street in his honor.
It was in the September term of the circuit court, in 1841, before Judge Ford, that the trial occurred of the largest body of men ever presented under one indictment in this county. This was the trial of Jonathan W. Jenkins and 111 other men for the killing of the prairie outlaws, John and William Driscoll. In his charge to the jury Judge Ford gave it as his opinion that it would be impossible for 111 men to kill one man, and, therefore, the guilt of the men charged was not proven. Without leaving their seats the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty.” It is said of Judge Ford that he publicly from the bench admonished the banditti that he was about to leave his home, and, that, if they dared to disturb his family or property, he would gather a posse and take summary measures against them. It is also said of him that during the time when so many guilty men were escaping by verdicts of acquittal, a lawyer defending a client on a criminal charge was speaking of the policy of the law that it was better that ninety and nine guilty men escape than that one innocent one be convicted, when Judge Ford interrupted him, saying, “That is the maxim of the law, but the trouble here is that the ninety-nine guilty have already escaped.” I have myself heard it stated that when asked for advice as to what to do in case the Driscolls were captured, he replied that if they were brought to court for trial, they would be acquitted as usual.
Mr. Michael Seyster, who came with his parents to Oregon from Washington County, Maryland, in May, 1838, and who was then about thirteen years of age remembers Judge Ford very well. He has seen him preside in court and heard him make a speech. He describes Judge Ford as, in stature, “a little man,” and says that he was “a good citizen and a fine man.” Mr. Seyster had seen the Driscolls shot, and was one of the 112 men indicted for trial therefor. Of course he well remembers Judge Ford, as it was he who presided at this trial.
It may be of interest to give from the records a copy of one of the cases tried by Judge Ford, in the June term, 1839—which shows the