The story of Illinois' first governor

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By Linda Hanabarger

The first governor of Illinois, Shadrach Bond, is an interesting fellow. He was inaugurated on Oct. 6, 1818, before the state was admitted to the Union.

When the capitol moved from Kaskaskia to Vandalia, so did Shadrach Bond. His wife, Achsah, a strong pro-slavery advocate, did not come with him, but remained on their farm in Monroe County with their slaves.

Shadrach Bond was a delegate to the 12th and 13th congresses from the Illinois Territory during the stirring times of 1812-14, and had previously served several terms as a member of the general assembly from the Illinois Territory.

No provisions were made for a governor’s house in Vandalia, and Gov. Bond boarded with his niece, Isabella Bond McLaughlin, and her husband, Robert, Illinois’ first state treasurer.

From the late Mary Burtschi, I learned that Gov. Bond was very interested in education, having recommended that a “seminary of learning” be located at Vandalia and had the honor (or burden) of organizing the state government.

Until recently, this was the extent of my knowledge of Illinois’ first governor.

Then I read a brief history of the family in an early issue of the Bond County News, the genealogical quarterly of the Bond County Genealogical Society, that made Shadrach Bond more than a name from our historical past.

Written in 1900 by Napolean J. Bond of Ventura, Calif., for his cousin, Arametta E. Bond, of Bond County, the article was published in The Greenville Advocate on Oct. 3, 1918.

From the paper, I learned that three brothers of the Bond family came to America in 1734 with Cecil Calvert (Lord Baltimore). They afterwards settled in three separate counties in Maryland – Baltimore, St. Mary’s and Hartford.

Shadrach Bond Sr., also known as Judge Bond, from the Baltimore County Bond family, came to Kaskaskia as a civilian scout for George Rogers Clark in 1781 and was one of the first English speaking frontiersmen to make a home in the American Bottom.

In 1793, there was a big flood in the Mississippi River basin, and Shadrach took his pony and gun and rode from Kaskaskia to Alton, a distance of 100 miles. At Eagle Prairie, near the home of Col. Moredock, the Indian fighter, he found the largest body of dry land, and he took up and secured 1,800 acres, opposite the mouth of the Meremec River.

Three of his nephews, Shadrach Jr., Nicodemus and Joshua, all born in Baltimore County and sons of Nicodemus and Rachel Stevenson Bond, were connected with the early history of our state.

Shadrach Bond Jr., with wife, whom he married in 1810, was the first of the brothers to head west. This was about 1812.

On his leaving Maryland, the family and neighbors for miles around called to bid them goodbye, never expecting to see the family again as they looked upon Illinois as being out of the world.

The party left Baltimore crossing the Allegheny Mountains with a team. They descended the Ohio River in a flatboat until they reached the holes in the rocks near Shawneetown, when the Indians began to get too plentiful and it was thought dangerous to proceed further down.

From this point, it was about 75 miles across the country to Kaskaskia, their objective, so they concluded to make the journey on foot.

Taking a few things they could carry with scant provisions for the journey they started, the party of eight or 10, being Uncle Shad, wife and family, including two or three slaves.

The second day out, they got lost and wandered along for several days when they came across a hunting party of Kaskaskia Indians.

Their provisions about exhausted, they concluded to make themselves known to the Indians.

They did so, and the Indians, proving to be friendly, took them to their camp, fed them, kept them overnight and the next day accompanied them for half a day, when they marked out the road with a stick on the ground and made it so plain that the little party had no trouble finding the way.

These Indians had never seen a black man, and, of course, the Negro slaves were a big show to them.

One of the men in the party had on a cap that the Indians fancied. One of them took it off and put it on his head, which so angered the man that he knocked the Indian down and took it away from him.

To punish him for it, the Indians took him out and tied him to a tree. They would stand off a few yards and shoot at him with bow and arrow to see how close they could come to him.

The little party reached Kaskaskia without further adventure.

The family settled in the New Design District, Monroe County. When her husband was elected a delegate to Congress from the Territory of Illinois, Achsah, with the assistance of her Negro servants, sheared some sheep, washed, carded and spun the wool, and wove it into broadcloth and made him a suit of clothes. She accompanied him to Washington on horseback, the journey taking six weeks.

Shadrach Bond died of pneumonia on April 12, 1832, and was buried in the homestead cemetery near Kaskaskia, with his wife surviving him by 12 years.

Their graves were removed to Evergreen Cemetery at Chester in 1879, two years before the Kaskaskia and the Bond farm were swept downstream when the flooded Mississippi River changed its course.