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Capt. Isaac Hill reports on survey mission

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By Linda Hanabarger

Capt. Isaac Hill, accompanied by seven Kentucky Rangers and four Russell Rangers, entered the wilds of the Illinois Territory on a survey mission in 1809.


Under the authority of Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Hill was to “look for salt, iron, plumbago, gold, silver, cannel, salt petre, brimstone, furs, water navigation, lands, fall of rain and days of no frost and to trace the 3rd Meridian from Cahoka line to Ocar, Sangewa and Illinois rivers.”
The expedition was funded by federal dollars, and Capt. Hill was also given leeway to deal with all British citizens south of the Illinois River as he saw fit.
Hill’s ledger, found in his powder horn by his great-grandchildren in the 1860s, not only stated what his contract with Jefferson entailed, but proved that he fulfilled what Jefferson had asked of him.
The first part of Hill’s ledger is taken up with naming those who accompanied him on the journey, Kentucky Rangers Elias Whitten, John Beck, Zeb Harris, John Hill, Henry Hill, Isaac Hill (son of Elijah) and Joshua Renfro. Four Russell Rangers also accompanied the party.
A man by the name of D. Kenton was with them on the expedition from Kentucky because he had been in the area of Shoal Creek as early as 1806, and “had knowledge of savages.” Kenton was an important part of the mission because of prior knowledge of the Shoal Creek area.
Among his notes, Hill tells that the survey trip encompassed three months in 1809, and March 1810 to December 1811.  
The first entry recaps the notes he made for 1810 – 109 days of no frost and ice six-hands thick. They experienced snow from October to April. In the year 1811, there were 128 days of no frost, ice four-hands thick and snow from November to March.  
The next entry recorded an event that took place during the second moon of November 1810, when the ground shook and springs roiled. Hill would learn later of the enormity of the New Madrid earthquake.
Hill records that there was no salt, iron or any mineral or coal on Shoal Creek, and that the Ocar was not fit for navigation. He also noted that there was no rock here, but rock at the Illinois River, with good timber on all waters.
Regarding the “savages,” they found no Indian towns on the Ocar (Kaskaskia),  although there were Indian camps on the Sangamon River and east of the Illinois River.
While he was surveying what became Bond County, he found that Indians had a camp on the east side of Shoal Creek. At this time in our history, the British supplied the Indians with guns and ammunition, and paid bounties for scalps of white settlers.
In summing up what he found, Hill said that the Hurricane lands were good, with no "savages." Hill noted that “Jefferson wants iron, we want land for a long lifetime.”
His ledger then changes suddenly from a report of his findings on the survey to a description of being under attack by Indians at Jones Fort. He writes, “Am beset with savage 7-2 with arms…Will wait here at fort for John and Joshua from north…ball scant,  plenty powder.”
Isaac Hill survived the attack on Jones Fort and returned to Kentucky where he lived out his life. Several of the men who accompanied him from Kentucky as part of the survey party later returned to Illinois and made their homes on the Hurricane lands that Hill spoke so highly of.