Early Illinois and Ackerman history
Surveying of the area began after 1814. A preemption law was passed in 1813 which allowed men who arrived early to have first chance to buy land which they occupied. Most tracts went for $2 an acre.
In 1820 Congress lowered the sale of smaller tracts to $1.25 per acre and a minimum purchase of 80 acres. This stayed in effect until all government land in Illinois was sold.
In these early years this was a major fur-bearing area, although Canada produced better pelts. In 1816 traders shipped $23,000 worth of pelts.
Statehood arrived in 1818. Before 1830 migration into the state was largely into and through the southern portion, and the population was centered in towns and woodlands. By 1830 settlers were as far north as Marshall and Putnam counties. The state was divided into 50 counties with a population of 157,445.
The fur trading era ended with the Black Hawk War, and the 1830’s brought a major change in the pattern of development. The new settlers lived without fear of Indians and moved directly onto the prairie and became permanent settlers of the first land they occupied.
In mid state farmers were just beginning to realize that it was not true that where the oaks grew tallest, the soil was the richest. The best soil was on the prairie where the fibrous roots of the blue-stem grass for centuries had produced humus of great fertility and the matted prairie sod helped check the leaching of calcium and other materials which were valuable for plant foods. The upland timber soil had only 25% to 50% as much organic matter as the brown silt loam of the prairies or the black gumbo of the flatlands.
Diggers usually found wells not far below the surface for a good water supply. The prairie itself was often too wet for farming until it was ditched and tiled; but a much better plow was needed to break the prairie.
When the Ackerman’s arrived in Spring Bay there was no Woodford County. The Spring Bay area was a part of Tazewell County, and the land and marriage records were recorded in Tazewell. In 1841 Woodford County was formed by taking portions of land from Tazewell and McLean Counties. It’s important to remember the change in county names for sometime it appears that an ancestor moved from Tazewell to Woodford while in reality his residence did not change at all.
Early Spring Bay
Accoding to B.J. Radford’s History of Woodford County, the Spring Bay area was quite primitive in 1831. There were no more than a few rough log houses which had the ground for a floor and rude articles of furniture which had been hewn by an axe. Since horses were scarce for several years, people used oxen for hauling, plowing and sometimes even for riding. Some Indians lived in the area, but if kindly treated they were a help to the settlers.
A ferry kept by David Mathis at the “Narrows” near the Woodford/Tazewell county line (as established in 1841) provided transportation across the river to “Ford Clark” as Peoria was then called.
Before long Spring Bay was a busy place. Steamboats arrived daily at the wharf, which was said to be one of the best steamboat landings on the Illinois River.
When the immigrants arrived in Spring Bay they tended to settle in the woody hilly areas near the rivers and creeks. Not only did these areas resemble the lands from which they came, but they also provided wood for their houses, water to drink and easy transportation by water.
The prairies, which later became such valuable farming lands, were swampy, undrained and covered with prairie grass. When the settlers learned that this land could be drained, they moved onto the flat prairie lands and, with a great deal of effort and primitive plows, broke the ground.
Crossing the Atlantic to Get to America in the 1800’s
Travel by ship across the Atlantic to an eastern U.S. port took approximately six weeks in the mid 1800’s. The voyage was usually undertaken in the spring or summer to insure better weather conditions. If storms were encountered the trip could last two months or more.
It is difficult to imagine the austerity and lack of privacy of such a journey. Often travelers were required to furnish their own food for the voyage. Space aboard ship was minimal. There were few comforts, poor ventilation and much sickness.