Early settlers of Illinois from the east and south often followed and settled along waterways. Many settlers in Adams County had come down the Ohio River, then up the Mississippi to Quincy. Others came overland. But before the Ohio River was controlled by locks and dams or crossed by bridges, much of the year a family could use a small boat or raft or even walk across it from Kentucky to Illinois, as Abraham Lincoln’s family did. Several founding families of Clayton Township in the northeast part of Adams County came from Kentucky.
In “Quincy and Adams County History and Representative Men,” edited by David Wilcox, Obediah Hicks is credited with being the first pioneer to settle in Clayton Township. He is said to have arrived in 1829 and settled in Section 23, east and a little south of the center of the township. The atlas titled “Adams County 1872,” however, stated that John Nicks was the first white settler in the township in Section 34 in 1831.
The 1905 Collins and Perry county history states that Obadiah Nicks was the first settler. Neither Hicks nor Nicks graves are identified in Clayton cemeteries. John or Obadiah Hicks or Nicks apparently moved on.
Some of the first settlers stayed. In April 1830, David and Jane Campbell came from Kentucky with their possessions in an ox cart and settled in Section 21. David built a 16 by 16-foot log cabin, which the family occupied and also used as an inn.
In one four-week period in 1832, while David returned to Kentucky, Jane’s guests paid her enough cash to purchase 40 acres of land. The Campbell children had to walk 5 miles each way to attend school east of Clayton Township in Brown County, but when more families came, David became the first teacher in the area. The first school was built on Section 24 in 1836.
In the fall of 1830, the Rev. John Curl from Shelby County, Kentucky, settled in the southeast corner of the township. The first wedding joined his daughter, Malinda, and Josiah Gatz, spelled Gaunt in most records. Like many other early Clayton settlers, the Gaunts continued to move west. Josiah died at age 85 in Livingston County, Mo., and Malinda at age 75 in Blakeman, Kan.; but a D. Curl still owned land in Section 31 in 1872. In 1831, Daniel Pile and Jacob Pile came. Soon the public land along Little Missouri Creek was rapidly being purchased and settled.
In the summer of 1834 three brothers from Kentucky arrived: Charles, Reuben and John McCoy. They purchased land near the center of the township in Section 34 and laid out the village of Clayton. Reuben, a Presbyterian minister, built the town’s first house and held church services there. The church was formally organized in April 1836. Charles, who named Clayton after Henry Clay, the American statesman from Kentucky, established the first store.
The Rev. Reuben McCoy traveled and started Presbyterian churches throughout the area. He is credited with discovering and naming Siloam Springs on Quincy Burgesser’s unexplored land south of Clayton Township in McKee Township. For the rest of his life his longest absence from his Clayton church, however, was for his six months as chaplain of the Third Regiment of Missouri Cavalry during the Civil War.
Daniel McCoy, father of the three brothers, moved from Kentucky to Clayton to be near them, and another son and a daughter who had also moved there.
A Methodist church was organized in 1836 and met in homes and the schoolhouse. Daniel Pile was elected as the first justice of the peace in 1837.
David Campbell opened Clayton’s first hotel in 1835 and operated it for five years. He built a large two-story house on the same lot. About 1840 he decided to move the house to his farm 1.5 miles northwest and return there to live. Wilcox was reported that when a deep snow lay on the ground, “Mr. Campbell, fastening long timbers under the house to serve as runners, collected a battery of nineteen yoke of oxen and gave the word to start the building on its journey. It was an occasion of great excitement and the whole neighborhood turned out to witness the remarkable feat of engineering.”
More settlers bought farms in the township, but the town did not thrive. Other structures besides the Campbells’ house were moved out of town to outlying farms, and Clayton was nearly abandoned. Then, in 1856, the railroad came, and the town was rejuvenated. The Methodists had built a church in 1850 and replaced it with a brick building in 1875. In 1855, a small group of Disciples of Christ had built a church, then replaced it in 1906 and remodeled it in 1912. A two-story brick school was built in 1877 and a town hall in 1887. The first newspaper, the Clayton Enterprise, was founded in 1879. The Bartlett & Wallace State Bank was established in 1887 and the Clayton Exchange Bank in 1905. There was taxi service between the railroad station and the Forest Hotel, a tourist destination in the village of Siloam Springs, a few miles south.
By 1919, Clayton boasted H.J. Laurie’s flour mill, the Smith Brothers’ feed mill and coal yard, and F. W. Burgesser’s stockyards and elevator. Daniel Shank operated the Missing Link Apple Co., and Charles Shank owned a nursery and greenhouse. There also was a cigar factory and two egg and poultry businesses. Twenty acres on the southeast corner of the community hosted the Experiment Station of the Illinois University. The Disciples of Christ church had a membership of more than 350. Societies such as Masons, Order of the Eastern Star and Independent Order of Odd Fellows were strong.
In the 1920 Census, the thriving town of Clayton boasted a population of 1,038, and Clayton Township had 701 additional residents. Many had come and moved on, but many had stayed in Clayton.
Linda Riggs Mayfield is a researcher, writer, and online consultant for doctoral scholars and authors. She retired from the associate faculty of Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing, and serves on the board of the Historical Society.
"6th Annual Old Settlers Reunion." Quincy Whig, September 4, 1874.
Cemeteries in Clayton, Illinois. Find a Grave. findagrave.com/cemetery-browse/USA/Illinois/Adams-County/Clayton?id=city_41089
Clayton Township (map), 1872. Adams County 1872. Andreas Lyter and Co.
David F. Wilcox (ed.), 1919. History of Clayton and Golden, IL. "Quincy and Adams County History and Representative Men." Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago.
FGS--Josiah Gaunt and Malinda Curl. Adams County ILGenWeb. adams.illinoisgenweb.org/fgs/family_gaunt_curl.html
Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920. Bulletin. Department of Commerce. ftp://ftp.census.gove/library/.../1920...
Harris, C. Leon (ed.). Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters. Pension Application of Daniel McCoy S36083. http://revwarapps.org/s36083.pdf
Josiah Gaunt. Find a Grave. findagrave.com/memorial/19489243/josiah-gaunt
Malinda Curl Gaunt. Find a Grave.
Reuben Kemper McCoy. Find a Grave. findagrave.com/memorial/119210201/reuben-kemper-mccoy
The History of Adams County Illinois: Containing a History of The County--Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Chicago IL: Murray, Williamson, and Phelps, 1879
William Herzog Collins, Cicero F. Perry, (1905). Past and Present of the City of Quincy and Adams County, Illinois.