Mount  Pulaski  Tri-Founders

JABEZ CAPPS - DR. BARTON ROBINSON - GEORGE W. TURLEY

Mt. Pulaski House
H. J. Wible Photography Collection

1913 Horse Show on South Side of Square
H. J. Wible Photography Collection

MP Courthouse - mid-1800's                MP Township Historical Museum

 

       The hill that became the site of the town of Mount Pulaski was noticed by a traveling medical practitioner, Dr. Alexander Shields, who passed on this information to Dr. Barton Robinson and Jabez Capps of Springfield in early, 1836.  Capps and Robinson traveled over to the area and met George W. Turley, who owned most of the land in the Lake Fork region.  They convinced Turley that the best place for a new town would be on the mound, not at his Georgetown settlement north of Lake Fork-that a town on the mound would be so much more visible from a distance.  They all realized that such a settlement on a high mound would "capture" the travelers going through the valley area.  They invited Turley to join them in this new venture.  They proceeded to the hill and agreed that this would be the place for a new settlement – located 20 miles NE of Springfield (3½ miles NE of Lake Fork and 2½ miles south of Salt Creek) in a vast raised region or plateau...” vast extent of the prairies or natural meadows.”  Turley placed much of his land holdings into the Land Management Company that was being formed, to be headed by Capps, Robinson and himself.

       It was rich prairie land ideal for farming and raising cattle – with its “black mucky soil penetrating below yellow clay at a depth of 16 or 18 feet.”  Rising above this plateau would be the hill town of Mount Pulaski, “a city set upon a hill, whose light cannot be hid.”  It was immediately obvious to Capps and his friends that, during the heavy rains, this new town would not become the muddy, smelly and mosquito-ridden bog of Springfield.  The township of Mount Pulaski extends 10 miles north and south, and 8 miles east and west - 60 square miles in area.  The highest point on the hill rises 65 feet above the level at the bottom of the hill.  This highest point where the courthouse stands is 703 feet above sea level.

       Jabez was from a large English family, born on Sept. 9, 1796, in London, England.   Charles, his father, was a clothier.  He tailored for government and Royalty officials.  Upon his retirement, he handed over this business to his son, Thomas (younger brother of Jabez), who eventually retired a multi-millionaire.  The London Thomas house is now a hotel, with TC etched in stone above a doorway.  This tailor business was in Westminster on a street named "Threadneedle".   Eventually, all but one of Jabez’s brothers and sisters, along with his mother following her husband’s passing, moved to America and settled in central Illinois. 

       Jabez continued the family tradition of excelling in merchandizing, when he set up one of the first trading posts in Springfield in 1824.  He also became the first postmaster of Springfield at this time.  He taught school for a short time as well. 

       Jabez Capps, Springfield’s “…first regular shoemaker…”, with his first wife [Prudence Stafford] and family lived near a “… log-cabin courthouse, the first county seat of Sangamon county…” near the north side of Jefferson Street between First and Second, where he had “… located his shop and store”.  Jabez disposed of his own valuable property in Springfield before moving to Mount Pulaski -- including two significant Springfield landmarks:  the property upon which the present state capitol is located, which he traded for a cook stove, and the lot on the public square, which he traded for a side-saddle!   This land involved Jabez in a lawsuit and Abraham Lincoln was his attorney. 

        Dr. Barton Robinson was born in 1819 in New Malton, Yorkshire, England, and in due course graduated from a medical school in London.  He came to America, joining his brother, James T., at Buffalo Hart Grove in Sangamon County in December of 1831.  He married Mahala Barber and moved to Mount Pulaski in 1836, where he practiced medicine for many years.  Dr. Barton Robinson moved his family, wife Mahala and two sons, Herbert and James to Mt. Pulaski in 1836, upon his founding of Mt. Pulaski along with his two associates, Jabez Capps and George W. Turley.  Dr. Robinson, with his brother James, along with Capps, Turley and five others, formed a company, hired Thomas Skinner (Sangamon County Surveyor) to survey the 160 acres that he had entered at the Sangamon County Land Office on July 5th (Logan County had not been formed, yet – that would be in 1839).  “The certificate of entry was dated July 5th, 1836; recorded in Entry Book; entered – the S.W. ¼ township 18 North, Range 2 West of the 3rd P.M., containing 160 acres.  Entryman:  Barton Robinson.”  Dr. Robinson’s two other sons, Herbert and Fremont, were born in Mt. Pulaski.  “Dr. Robinson worked hard to make this new town a success, but he must not have found what he wanted there, because he moved his family to Linn County, Kansas, in 1858.  Here he resumed his medical practice among the communities of Goodrich and Parker.  He acquired an interesting library and museum pieces that were lost in a tornado in 1902.  Some of his heirs are still living on a portion of the 1,000 acres of land he and his sons homesteaded between Farlinville and Parker, Kansas.  His oldest son, Herbert was a Captain in the Union Army and in 1874 was a Representative in the Kansas State Legislature.”

       George W. Turley was born in 1798 near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.  In 1820,  he moved with his parents, James and Agnes, and his family to Sangamon County, settling in the Lake Fork region.  James had 80 acres and continued to purchase land throughout his life, as did his children.  Since there was no land office, James was unable to file his 1820 land purchases until 1824, when the Sangamon County Land Office was opened in Springfield.  James' son, George, became Justice of the Peace from the beginning of the creation of Logan County in 1839 to the time of his death on February 28, 1865, serving as the local authority on legal matters for the early settlers before lawyers began to trickle into the Logan County area.  He actually served in this office in Sangamon County prior to 1839.  He was friendly with the local Indians, and it has been reported that he helped to avert skirmishes between the settlers and the Indians.   George taught school for a time, too.

       From a shuttered town site nearby [Abany, “…as surveyed by me.  A. Lincoln, for T. M. Neale, S.S.C.; Surveyor of Sangamon County Jan. 16, 1836”],   Capps moved a structure to his purchased lot in Pulaski:  “lot 10, block 14, on the west side of the square.  In 1838, this building was enlarged and made full two stories, Mr. Capps and family moving into the upper story and the store being conducted in the lower story.  The stone for the foundation came from Rocky Ford, 16 miles away.  The building was 30 feet square, with attic and cellar.  For many years, it was known as ‘Capps Headquarters’.  It was torn down in 1867 to make room for a more pretentious structure.”  Settlers from miles around came to Capp’s store to purchase their goods, often with “peltry of various kinds which Mr. Capps took to Springfield and exchanged for goods”.  However, most of Jabez’s purchases were in St. Louis.  These were shipped up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Pekin, where he hauled them onto Mount Pulaski in wagons. 

      Jabez was elected Recorder of Logan County in 1839 when it was organized and separated from Sangamon County that year, a position he held for eight years.  He was also appointed postmaster of Mount Pulaski on March 2, 1838, serving in that capacity until January 7, 1854.  Capps continued his mercantile business until 1858, when he retired and went into a nursery venture with his son, Charles C.  

       After all these years, it is difficult to ascertain exactly who was the prime mover - the catalyst - for the founding of Mt. Pulaski.  New information has come to light which indicates that all three of these men worked together to make the founding and success of Mt. Pulaski a reality.  Indeed, it now appears, all three were the "prime movers" and each served well as a "catalyst" for this new venture in the wide-open prairie rather far away from the much larger towns of Springfield, Decatur, Pekin and Bloomington.   Dr. Robinson, from exciting reports of his friend, Dr. Alexander Shields, was quickly joined in the "vision" by his land-lord, Jabez Capps.  Evidently, Robinson had some ready cash, for he was the one who traveled to the Sangamon Land Office to obtain the title for the town of Mt. Pulaski - July 5, 1836.  Of course, George Turley had recorded much of the land - he knew the landscape and, notably, he had valuable experience with the local Indians.  But, most importantly, it was Turley's offer of land that evidently got the Mt. Pulaski Land Management Company off and running.  And, it was Turley who offered the name of this new town:  Pulaski, after his father Jame's compatriot (General Casimir Pulaski) of the Revolutionary War.  It has also been recorded that Turley put forth the initial start-up capital for Capps' merchandise and sent him to St. Louis to order the first shipment.  This order may have been picked up in St. Louis, but we do know that later shipments were picked up at Pekin (on the Illinois River) for a much shorter over-land wagon travel back to Mt. Pulaski.

       Jabez, we know, outlasted both of them.  Dr. Robinson and his family move away in 1858.  Turley died in 1865.  On the other hand, Jabez spent much of his remaining sixty years serving Mount Pulaski in various capacities.  He died on April 1, 1896, in his beloved and now sprawling town of Mount Pulaski, lacking just five months of being a century old.

     by phil bertoni - 2010

[sources:  Lawrence B. Stringer: History of Logan County (1911), Elizabeth Lushbaugh Capps (letter-1910?), Roger Capps:
 (Capps family history, interview), Carl Sandburg: Vol. I., Sharon Stone-Cook (
Certified Genealogist and Lineage Specialist, Interview),
Paul Beaver: Abraham Lincoln in Logan County, Illinois 1834-1860 (2010)

History of Mount Pulaski 1911
by Judge William Stringer

History of Logan County 1911
by Judge William Stringer