French Village Precinct, St. Clair County, Illinois

The St. Clair County Courthouse
completed in 1861

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Much information in this history is factual as recalled by people living at that time. However, memories are not perfect, and all researchers are urged to verify the people, relationships, places, and events mentioned below with civil, governmental, private, and religious documents written more closely to the actual fact stated. Many of these original record groups are identified and located in St. Clair County Research and Resources, available from the Society.

French Village Precinct

Scanned and proofread from pages 323 and 324 of St. Clair County History, (Philadelphia: Brink, McDonough, and Company, 1881). This history does have some errors in it so it is prudent to confirm the statements below with other sources closer to the actual event. Any additions by the webmaster within the text are surrounded by [brackets]. Footnotes have been added, and appear at the end of the sketch.

Precincts were those areas of the county that later became townships in 1884. Precincts defined the boundaries of polling districts for local and state elections. Justices of the Peace were elected for each precinct and carried out some civil legal functions. For example, a Justice of the Peace could peform a marriage and hear legal disputes between two parties. While all marriages were to be recorded at the county level, the J.P. was only required to keep a docket of minor civil disputes, not a full record of the proceedings. Very few dockets survive to this day.


THIS precinct was settled by Cahokians about the year 1800, and the first settlement was known as Little French Village. In 1837 it contained only fifteen or twenty families, but it now comprises at least one hundred and twenty families, nearly all of whom are of French descent. It lies in the north-western part of the county, and is bounded on the north by the precincts of East St. Louis and Caseyville; on the east by Caseyville and O'Fallon; on the south by Belleville and Cahokia; on the west by Cahokia and East St. Louis, and contains about 7,700 acres. It extends nearly a mile into the bluff, which comprises about one-fifth of the precinct. There are nearly seven hundred acres of the bottom land that are included in the ponds or lakes. In extreme dry seasons, a portion of this is susceptible of cultivation, and is the best land for corn that the Bottoms contain. These lakes are fed, during high water, from the Mississippi through the bayous, and are, therefore, well supplied with an abundance of the finny tribe, such as buffalo, cat, bass, etc. It is said that in an early day the wild swans, ducks, and geese were so numerous on these. lakes, that it was almost impossible for the people living near them to sleep nights, on account of the quacking and confusion caused by the wild fowls. One old gentleman gives an account of killing twenty-two ducks at one shot, and that it was no uncommon occurrence for a good sportsman to kill and bring home in one day, a French cart-load of wild game.

Like the rest of the American Bottom, the most of the precinct has very meagre drainage. An attempt was made about ten years ago to drain it by means of a big ditch cut through from Spring Lake to Big Lake, and thence into Prairie du Pont creek. The ditch was dug, but it proved of little or no value on account of a lack of fall. Schoenberger creek heads in the bluff and winds around for several miles in the north-eastern part of the precinct, but the people here say that it is so contrary that it runs up stream instead of down.

The first farm was improved by Laurence Schoenberger, who had come to this country in the year 1789. He settled here about the year 1800, and entered his first land on section twenty-five in 1814. He became the largest land-owner in this part of the county; his possessions extended from section twenty-five east, to some distance into the bluff. Laurence Pensoneau settled here about the same time as the above, and located on section twenty-three. His wife's name was Odele Calliot. They brought up quite a family of children, one of whom, Stephen, is now living near the old homestead, and is one of the oldest citizens. He has been twice married. His first wife's name was Adeline Belange, who died in 1848, leaving two children. Mr. Pensoneau afterwards married Miss Barbara Eckman, who is still living. There have been six children born from this union, the most of whom are of mature age. Among other old settlers are, August Trotier, settled on section twenty-six; Nicholas Tourjeant, located on the same section; Joseph Boneau, settled on the Surveys; Baptiste Chartrand, located on section twenty-six; Laurence Gunville, same section; Louis Roulard, Peter Garah, Baptiste Graundine, Baptiste Gainard and Jerry Sullivan, all located on section twenty-three; Joseph Lepage and Joseph Valentine, on the Surveys. The above persons settled in the precinct about the same time, to wit: 1800.

The first mill was built by John Derosch, about 1820, and was owned by Joseph Boneau. It was situated on the old Vincennes state road, now rock-road, and opposite Mrs. Amelia Boneau's present brick residence. It was a two-story frame building, with one run of stone, and was propelled by oxen on the old tread-wheel principle of action. The mill has long since disappeared, and a flourishing orchard is now growing on the old site. The first store was built in 1838, and was situated on what is now the rock-road, not far from the mill. It was a frame building, two stories, and owned and operated by Glode C. Belange.

Joseph Boneau established the first blacksmith shop in 1838. It was a log structure, 14x14, and situated on Mr. Boneau's land in the Surveys, on the Belleville rock-road. The first post-office was established in 1849, on the rock-road, and was called French Village. The first postmaster was John Penn. Glode C. Belange kept the first hotel, and run it in connection with his store.

For the benefit of future generations, we will state here that all there is, or ever has been, of what is known as French Village, (not referring to the precinct) is, in fact, no village at all, but a few houses scattered along for some distance on the Belleville rock-road, and has been, for euphony or convenience, called a village. The most of these are farm houses, interspersed with two or three small shops or country business houses.

The first church was built by the Catholic denomination in 1842, and situated on section twenty-six. It is a frame building, and was constructed under the supervision of Rev. Peter Deturlin, who was its first pastor. The cemetery is situated on the same lot, just east of the church. It is kept in excellent order, as everything in or about it show the marks of thoughtful and careful attention. The first school-house was built in 1829, and situated on the old Vincennes state road, in section twenty-five. John Robinson was the first teacher. A fine brick school-house was built in 1869, and

page 324

situated in section twenty-six, near the Catholic church. The cost of construction was $2500, and it is so arranged that two teachers are employed, and is conveniently operated as a semi-graded school.

There are two coal mines in operation in the precinct at this writing. The first was owned and operated by Joseph Boneau, in an early day, and was situated about a half mile south of French Village. Mr. Boneau was also the first to introduce blooded stock into this part of the county, which was in 1832. Among the early justices of the peace, we find the names of Lambert Boneau, Amanial Trotier and Deno Pellitier. The former was probably the first justice in the precinct.

In early days the people underwent many privations and hardships, but were contented and happy; indeed, to converse with the old settlers, one would feel convinced that their pleasures of long ago, exceeded those of to day. They manufactured everything they wore from cap to shoes. The women wore home-made dresses, colored with sumac bark, and the bonnet was simply a blue handkerchief wrapped carelessly around the head. Before the church was built in this precinct, the people attended church services in Cahokia. Their mode of conveyance was the French cart, usually drawn by oxen, but a few of the more aristocratic were supplied with horses. The cart would take the premium as a first-class curiosity, if placed on exhibition at the present time. It was wholly constructed of wood, the wheels not even being bound with a tire. The axle, where it entered the hub, was six inches in diameter, while the hub was about six feet in circumference. The body or bed was a frame resting on the axle and pole, with six standards placed upright in the frame, and interwoven, wicker fashion, with hazel brush or willows. The horses were harnessed to pull from the haunches instead of the shoulders; while the oxen were yoked at the head as we see in pictures of the olden times. The greasing process was as unique as the vehicle itself. This was done with a bountiful supply of soft-soap.

Land Entries (1)-The first land entered was by Furgeson & Trotier, September 27th, 1814, in section 26, south-east quarter, containing one hundred and sixty acres. Gabriel Marlot entered September 29th, 1814, all of section 24, being six hundred and forty acres. October 1st, 1814, John Hendricks entered one hundred and sixty acres of the north-east quarter of section 36. J, L. Schoneberger, December 23d, 1814, entered the north-west quarter in section 25, being one hundred and sixty acres. One hundred and fifty-five acres in the north-east quarter of section 21, was entered by Louis Jarvis the 24th of December, 1814.

Transportation Facilities-One of the best wagon roads in the state passes through this precinct, and is known as the rock road. It extends from Belleville to East St. Louis, and is in excellent condition, being macadamized with lime stone. The Illinois and St. Louis railroad cuts across the south-western part of the precinct, and takes a north-westerly direction, extending along near the line to East St. Louis. The South Eastern railway passes entirely through the precinct from the north-west to the south-east, entering on section 21, and passes out near the south-east corner of section 36.

Situated on the rock road, after leaving the bluff going west; for perhaps three-fourths of a mile, is what is called French Village proper, and has already been described. At this writing there are the following business houses scattered along the road: A frame two story hotel, kept by John Borgmeyr; one general store, with H. Kaune as proprietor; two blacksmith shops, one of which carries on carriage making in connection with the shop, and is conducted by Louis Fetterer. The other is owned and operated by Augustus Kehr. George Hollinger keeps a boot and shoe shop, and there are also three saloons sprinkled along the line. About half a mile north of the rock road, and situated on what is known as the Bluff road, is quite an extensive malt house. It was erected in 1867, by Thomas Frick, who conducted it for about three years, when it passed into the hands of H. A. Steinnecke, the present proprietor. It is three stories, including basement, and is constructed of brick with stone foundation. Its size on the ground is 40x100 feet, and cost $8090. It is supplied with two tanks, the larger of which is capable of holding three hundred bushels of barley, and the smaller, one hundred and fifty bushels. Its capacity is 15,000 bushels of malt per annum, and gives employment to four hands. The annual value of manufactured material is $15,000. The business is under the immediate supervision of August Frank, foreman. An ice house belongs to the same firm, and is constructed in the bluff near the malt-building. It is about ten feet high by ten in width, and extends into the bluff upwards of twenty feet, and will store thirty tons of ice. A small saloon is situated a little north of the malt house. There is but one physician in the precinct, Dr. Chas. H. Christoffe. James Lepage and Nicholas Boul are the present justices of the peace.

The people of French Village are an industrious and hard-working class, and if they could succeed in obtaining adequate drainage to their farms, they have lands so fertile that they could challenge the world to compete with them in their productions.


FOOTNOTES

(1) These lands are the Public Domain Land Sales (PDLS) which began in 1814. Some lands were granted as Preemption (Squattors’) Rights, grants and donations prior to the PDLS. The Illinois State Archives has an online index to all Public Domain Land Sales in Illinois and can also provide documentation for Preemptions.

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Last update- January 2016