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At the end of the Revolutionary War, the western boundary of the United States was fixed at the
Mississippi River. Through sea to sea land grants from the king of England, Virginia claimed the
Illinois Territory. In 1787, Congress formed the Northwest Territory including the present
The Northwest Territory was divided many times in various ways. On April 27, 1790, St. Clair
became the first county formed from the Northwest Territory, including the present Gallatin
County. On June 20, 1790, territory was taken from St. Clair County to create Knox County
which included the present territory of Gallatin Co. In 1800 Gallatin County became part of the
Indiana Territory and Randolph County. Illinois Territory was formed in 1809, Ninian Edwards
was appointed Governor and Nathanial Pope Secretary.
Gallatin County came into its political existence Sept. 14, 1812, as the result of the following
proclamation by Territorial Governor Ninian Edwards: “By virtue of the powers vested in the
Governor of the Territory, I do hereby lay off a county or district to be called the County of
Gallatin, to be bounded as follows, viz; to begin at the mouth of Lusk’s Creek on the Ohio,
running up said creek to Miles’ Trace; thence along said trace to Big Muddy; thence up Big
Muddy to its source; thence north to the line of St. Clair County; thence down the Wabash and
Ohio, to the beginning. And I do appoint Shawnee Town to be the seat of justice of Gallatin
County”. The County was named for Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas
Jefferson, and James Madison. Many more changes would be made to the size and shape of the
county before its present boundaries were established on Feb. 25, 1847. In 1813, the Territorial
Legislature readjusted the boundaries, and in 1814, 1815, 1816, 1818 and 1847 territory was
taken from Gallatin to create the whole or parts of new counties.
The early history of the county is centered around the Salt licks on the Saline River. Evidence of
the use of salt in Gallatin County is found in the bones and teeth of prehistoric animals which ate
salt at the Half Moon Lick. This lick is in the shape of a horseshoe and is about 300 feet across at
its widest point. Over centuries the rock has been licked down by animals. Indians made salt at
the Half Moon and Lower Lick. They used clay and shell pans in which to evaporate the salt by
the use of sunlight. The pans were placed on a ridge just south of the springs and water was
carried up the ridge and placed in the pans. The French made salt at the lick and had a small for
near the springs prior to the English take-over in 1763.
There was considerable change in the salt-making process when the whites took over operations
from the Indians. Salt was produced in large metal kettles holding up to one hundred gallons of
salt water by evaporation over fires. The kettles, usually sixteen to forty in a furnace, were
organized in a row over a wood fire pit with a chimney at the end to provide a draft. Water was
brought to the furnaces by means of a wooden pipeline. It is believed that this was one of the
earliest pipelines in the nation. The operation required a great number of men. There is evidence
that from one to two thousand men worked these furnaces at one time. The majority of these
workers were slaves. Slavery was sanctioned within the tract of land reserved for the salt works
by the 1807 Indenture Law, and Article VI of the 1818 Illinois State Constitution.
Shawneetown derived the principal benefit from the salt works, by virtue of being already settled
and the gateway to Illinois when the Saline Began operation. Soon, however, the town of
Equality grew up near the Half Moon Lick, and it began to rival Shawneetown for importance.
The struggle for preeminence was most noticeable in regard to the county sear of Gallatin
County. In 1827, the State Legislature passed a bill removing the seat to Equality. This upset the
people of Shawneetown and they would sometimes refuse to hold court or occupy offices at the
new county seat. In 1847, Saline County was formed, and the battle was still raging over the
location of the location of the county seat. In 1851, the State Legislature tried to settle the
problem by reuniting Saline with Gallatin and leaving the county seat at Equality. This act was
declared unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court, holding that this could not be done
without the consent of the voter. An election was held in 1852, in which the voters elected to
keep the counties separate, and the count seat of Gallatin County be located at Shawneetown.
The first known permanent settler of Gallatin County was Michael Sprinkle who built a log cabin
at the present site of Shawneetown in 1800. For many years Sprinkle used his cabin as a trading
post for the Indians and distributing point for settlers in four states. Alexander Wilson
established the first ferry in 1802-03 at Shawneetown, and the settlers erected a fort in 1810 as a
defense against the Indians. In 1816, John Marshall received a charter for the first bank in
Illinois, to be located at Shawneetown, and the first Gallatin County Court was held by the Hon.
John C. Slocum in May 1813. The first newspaper in the county was published by Henry May
1818, and the first railway was surveyed to Equality in 1839. The Rev. David Macklin was one
of the first preachers, and Revs. B. Bruce and J. Bennett was among the earliest schoolteachers.
Early settlers in Gallatin County include John Buck, Michael Sprinkle, William Ellis, Alexander
Wilson, John Marshall, Jacob Barger, John Choisser, Jeptha Hardin, Joseph Logsdon, Robert
Peeples and Ephraim Hubbard. Famous names that are a part of Gallatin County History include
Marquis de Lafayette, Abraham Lincoln, Stephan A. Douglas, Peter Cartwright, John A. Logan,
James Wilson, Michael K Lawler, and Thomas Posey.
With the cessation of salt production in Gallatin County in 1873, agriculture became the leading
industry. More than half of its 324 square miles has rich and productive soils, while the
remainder is dotted with lakes and hills. (Taken from the History and Families of Gallatin
County, Illinois 1812-1988, written by James F. Ralph)
Throughout the years there have been many local “historians” who have chosen to preserve the
ongoing history created here in Gallatin County, Illinois. The Gallatin County Historical Society
was created in 1966 to promote and preserve our local history for future generations. Please visit
our website and Face Book page to learn more: