Friday, September 18, 2009
Daniel Wright - County's First Settler
Daniel Wright (1778-1873) is considered Lake County's first settler. I like to qualify that further by saying he is the county's first permanent non-native settler. The distinction is important, since native peoples lived in this region for thousands of years, and French and British fur traders were seasonal inhabitants from about the mid-1600s.
Wright was born in Rutland, Vermont in 1778. He was a farmer and served in the War of 1812. Although he was known as "Captain" he served in the war as a Lieutenant with the 1st Rifle Company, 3rd Regiment of the Vermont Militia.
In 1814, he moved his family to Ohio, and in 1832 began to explore land in Illinois. Rumors of good, cheap farm land led Wright to Fort Dearborn (later known as Chicago) where trappers told him of good hunting along the Des Plaines River near what would become Half Day (later Lincolnshire).
Wright was the first of the American newcomers to stay year-round in what would become Lake County, Illinois. Though many of the county's history books note that Wright arrived in 1834, in a letter to the Waukegan Weekly Gazette in 1868, Wright stated that "the native tribe of Potawatomi... helped me raise my first rude log cabin in June 1833."
This public statement is significant when put into the context that the Spring 1833 date puts Wright's arrival prior to the signing of the Treaty of Chicago on September 26, 1833. In this treaty, signed between the U.S. Government and the United Nation of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians, the tribes relinquished their last tracts of Great Lakes’ land, and the land was opened to non-native settlement. Accordingly, the trickle of settlers began in the spring of 1834.
Shown here is an artist's rendering of Wright's cabin. Wright stated that in the fall of 1833, a prairie fire swept through the area burning his crop of hay and forcing his family to find shelter along the Des Plaines River bank. Fortunately, the cabin was unharmed since it had been built with green timber.
Wright never purchased the land he settled on, but his grandson, William Whigham, did. Wright farmed the land along the Des Plaines River until his death in 1873.
In 1909, the Lake County Historical Society placed a memorial rock near the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and Aptakisic Road just west of the Des Plaines River where Wright had settled.
The rock was from the site of today's St. Mary's of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, and taken by wagon on dirt roads to Half Day by the Bairstow Company of Waukegan.
The "X" marked in ink on the photograph on the left side of the rock, denotes the location of Wright's cabin. In his golden years, Wright lived with his grandson in a woodframe house on the southwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Aptakisic Road, now the site of a commercial development.
In 1996, the Illinois Department of Transporation determined that the rock needed to be removed from the road right-of-way. They contacted the Lake County Discovery Museum to assist with finding an appropriate location. The Friends of Ryerson Woods and the Lake County Forest Preserve District agreed that the rock should be placed on public land where it could be enjoyed by all. With this in mind, and the fact that much of the land now preserved in the Ryerson Conservation Area was once owned by Wright's descendants, Ryerson Woods was chosen as the location. Photo of the Daniel Wright memorial rock at the Ryerson Conservation Area.