19th Century

Jail conditions 1816

Sheriff John Hays was terse in his dissatisfaction with the St. Clair County jail two years after the courthouse was moved in 1814 from Cahokia to Belleville. Facilities were meager in the early years. A jail wasn't built until four years after the sheriff's protest. The first courthouse was also completed that year.

This was a one line entry in a book that recorded the items considered by the county commissioners. Subsequent entries in 1817 mention a new jail and in 1820 bids are sought. There was a delay of several months and then a new jail was built by William Graves for $2,434.00. The commissioners approved paying him that amount on September 20, 1820.

John Hays was Sheriff from 1802 until 1819. 

From the Gustave Koerner House on Face Book

Blood on the Tracks: East St. Louis and the 1886 Southwestern Railway Strike

Blood on the Tracks: East St. Louis and the 1886 Southwestern Railway Strike

By: William P Shannon, IV
Curator, St. Clair County Historical Society

"We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us." - Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854.

Thoreau, in one line, crystallized the fraught relationship between nineteenth century Americans and the rapid expansion of the railroads, a relatively new technology that was fundamentally reshaping lives the world over.  Railroads shrank space, redefined time, and changed the way people worked and lived.

Such a momentous change would surely bring tensions with it, tensions in society, economics, and culture.  One such area of tension involved the masses of workers required to keep the trains loaded, running, and on time.  Railroad workers, especially in the decades after the Civil War, fought for higher wages, stable employment, and safer working conditions.  Their adversaries were some of the richest men in America, men who had profited handsomely from the expansion of these roads of iron.  As labor organized, notably through the Knights of Labor, and railroad owners dug in their heels, these tensions often erupted into strikes and occasionally violence.

Continue reading "Blood on the Tracks: East St. Louis and the 1886 Southwestern Railway Strike" »

Summons 1807


From the collection of the St. Clair County Historical Society

This is a summons sent to the sheriff in 1807.

The sheriff at the time was John Hays.  Hays was, interestingly, the only recorded Jewish resident of Illinois before statehood (he came to Cahokia in 1790).
You can also see that they are using an old form.  They crossed out "Northwest Territory," and wrote in, "Indiana Territory."
John Hay and John Hays are two different people.


John Messinger Tax Receipt 1831

The document is a property tax receipt from 1831, signed by Sheriff John D. Hughes
Sheriff's were charged with 'Civil Process' including the collection of taxes.
John Messinger was paying taxes on land that he owned in Monroe and Fayette Counties.
Photos courtesy, William Shannon, Curator, St. Clair County Historical Society