Finding the Prairie in 1849

The location of places whose names may be less than official can sometimes be difficult.

In “Newspaper May Give What the Marriage Record May Not,” a place name of Prairie Precinct was given as the location for the 1849 marriage of Asa Landon and Mary Sargent in Winnebago County, Illinois. Marriage licenses in Illinois were county-specific in 1849, so the reference to Prairie Precinct should be to a location in Winnebago County.

At this point, I’m not certain if the reference to Prairie Precinct is to an actual location with clearly defined boundaries or to a general area without boundaries that was referred to as “Prairie Precinct” by the locals. What I need is a directory of place names for Illinois on my reference shelf (either Place Names of Illinois [University of Illinois Press] or Illinois Place Names [Illinois State Historical Society]). The problem is that some “places” are informal ones that are not easily located in any printed reference. That may or may not be the case with Prairie Precinct. It could be that it is a governmental unit that existed in 1849 but does not exist any longer. It may or may not be easy to find on a printed map. It could also be a mailing address of sorts and records of post offices from the National Archives may help.

As an exercise, I searched for “Prairie Precinct” in newspapers at  GenealogyBank to determine if I could find any other reference to the location in newspapers from Rockford, Illinois, around the time that Asa Landon and Mary Sargent were married.  There were several.

One was for a stray cow that had been lost by a Jonathan Page whose is styled as a “subscriber in Prairie Precinct.” His ad appeared in the Rockford Forum on 7 November 1849.

Asa Landon, Hiram Lake (who married Landon) and Jonathan Page are all enumerated in Owen Township in the 1850 census for Winnebago County, Illinois.  Lake and Landon are on the same census page and Page is listed a handful of households later. I still don’t have a precise location of where Prairie Precinct is, but it would be reasonable to conclude that it includes all or part of Owen Township.



I still have work to do and would like to locate a map, but the newspapers combined with the census has given me a good start.

The place name books referenced above may end up being helpful and I still need to look for a contemporary map. The problem is that often maps for this era can be difficult to find and, as mentioned earlier, it’s possible that the “Precinct” was really an area with fluid boundaries known only to locals.



7 thoughts on “Finding the Prairie in 1849

  1. I found the following information about “La Prairie Precinct” from an article posted on the Seward Historical Society page on Facebook:
    “In 1839 the western area of the county detached from the Rockford and Kishwaukee precincts and chose to be a separate precinct know as “La Prairie”. The home of David Holt was the first election place. Fourteen votes were cast at the first election for thirteen different candidates up for office as justices of the peace and constable. In 1843 the voting place was changed to Duty Hudson’s house, and the precinct name was changed from La Prairie to Westfield. In 1849 townships were formed from the old precincts and by a misunderstanding the name of Elida was given to Westfield. Petitions in 1855 affected the change from Westfield township to Winnebago township. This makes my story even more confusing since we now have a town of Winnebago, a township of Winnebago, and a county of Winnebago.”

    Monday Club
    October 14, 1974
    by Mildred Geddes

    • Thanks for sharing that Lynda. 1849 was apparently the last year for the precincts as the county appears to have changed to township organization in that year (at least according to the post you found). If that’s the case, finding a map may be difficult given the time frame.


    • The name Asa Landon in this example caught my eye, since my late husband descended from Asa Landon, Sr. (1736-1814) of Salisbury, CT, then Augusta Twp. in Grenville Co., Upper Canada, and his son Asa Landon, Jr. (b 1766-1822) of the same places. There were many Asa Landon named descendants, also.

      • Thanks. I will have to make a note of that. The Asa Landon in the example is my step-ancestor. He moved back to Ontario with his two youngest children during the Civil War.

  2. I would go to Winnebago, Il genweb. I would post on every on line forum you can find. I would search rootsweb for that area. I would look for an 1840 map.

  3. Information about the townships r very helpful. Gives me new areas locally and in other states where people lived & facts that they could have name & areas changed bigger, littler or ctossed over. Thank u.

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