Southern Illinois History Page

Rev. John Mason Peck

Pioneer History of Illinois

    DANVILLE, Ill. (1884) — John Mason Peck, the only child of Asa and Hannah (Farnum) Peck, was born Oct. 31, 1789, at South-Farms Parish, Litchfield Co., Conn. He came of Puritan stock, his ancestor Deal. Paul and Martha Peck emigrated from Essex Co., Eng., 1634, and settled at Hartford, Con., of which place he was one of the proprietors and where he died Dec. 23, 1695.

John M. lived on his father's little farm and after his fourteenth year a large share of its cultivation was performed by him. During the winters months a part of his time was spent at a common-school that must have been inferior to the average institutions of that kind then in New England, as he complained that after he was eighteen, and had began to teach school, his own spelling and writing were sadly deficient and he did not pretend to understand grammar. At this age he was brought under a strong religious influence, and soon it became a serious alternative choice with him whether it was his duty to prepare himself for the ministry or remain upon the farm as the chief reliance of his poor and infirm parents.

It was perhaps to reconcile his conscience to the latter choice that he took to himself a wife, and married, May 8, 1809, Sarah Paine, born in Green Co., N.Y., Jan. 31, 1789, who, after her father's second marriage, went to her mother's relatives in Litchfield, Co.; and died at Rock Spring, St. Clair Co., Ill., Oct. 24, 1856. Their children were: Eli Paine, born July 28, 1810, at Litchfield, Con., died near St. Charles, Mo., Oct. 5, 1820; Hannah F., born July 10, 1812, married Ashford Smith of Rockville, Iowa; Harvey Y., born Sept. 28, 1814, died Dec. 17, 1855, leaving a widow and six children; wm. C., born Feb. 11, 188, died Sept. 14, 1821; May Ann, born Sept. 18, 1820, wife of Sam. G. Smith, resides on the homestead in St. Clair Co., Ill.; Wm. S., born Nov. 13, 1823, lives in Iowa; John Q. A., born Au. 27, 1825, lives at Rock Spring; an infant, born Dec. 10, 1827, died sin nomine; Henry M., born May 7, 1829, resides at Rock Spring; James A., born Sept. 21, 1831.

Two years later, 1811, he moved with wife and one child to Windham, Green Co., N.Y., then known as Big Hollow; the six following years were devoted to preaching, school-teaching, and organizing churches and Sunday-schools in that sparsely-settled vicinity; in 1817, with wife and three children, he journeyed by land in a small wagon drawn by one horse to Shawneetown, Ill., arriving late in the fall; thence in a keel-boat, commanded by Capt. Nixon, late of Calhoun Co., Ill., his brother-in-law, to St. Louis, Mo., where, or near St. Charles, his family resided for the next five years, while he traveled through Missouri Ter'y, preaching, organizing churches and Sunday-schools, distributing bibles and other religious matter, except for a short time when he taught school at St. Louis and St. Charles; in the spring of 1822, he purchased from the U.S. sec. 27, T.2, N. R. 7, W., about 3 miles west of Lebanon, St. Clair Co., Illinois, Rock Spring, so named by him from a spring gushing from the cloven rock, near which the same year he built his first double log-house.

In Feb., 1825, he went East and secured funds and arranged for the establishment of a Baptist seminary; with the aid thus secured, together with his personal contributions of money and labor, a two-story frame building with two one-story wings was completed in 1827, near his residence, and with 25 students, soon increased to 100, was opened the "Rock-spring Theological Seminary and High-School," the first institution in the State of a higher dignity than a common country-school. Dr. Peck was professor of theology; Rev. Joshua Bradley, president; and Rev. John Messinger, professor of mathematics; in 1831 it was closed, and was reopened at Upper Alton in 1832 at the Alton Seminary a charter was granted in 1833, and declined by the projectors on account of its restrictions; intermediate legislation in 1835-6 and the session of 1841 repealed the objectionable provisos; Dr. Peck had in the meantime induced Benj. Shurtleff, M.D., of Boston, Mass., to contribute $10,000, in consideration the name was changed and is still known as Shurtleff College.

About 1822, Dr. Peck became the general western agent of the American Bible Society for western half of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; he had strong anti-slavery sentiments and took an active, prominent, and leading part in the struggle of 1823-4 that prevented the introduction of slavery into the State; in 1826, was a year at college in Philadelphia, where he acquired a knowledge of Greek and Latin, the sciences, and something of medicine. April 25, 1829, at Rock Spring, was issued the first number of The Pioneer, Rev. Thos. P. Green, publisher, and Dr. Peck, editor; it was a five-column, single-sheet newspaper, the second established in St. Clair Co.; in the fall of the same year, Dr. Peck, by purchase of Green's interest became sole proprietor; in 1836, The Pioneer followed Rock-spring Seminary to Alton, where it reappeared as Western Pioneer and Baptist Standard-Bearer, Dr. Peck continuing as editor and Ashford Smith, his son-in-law, having charge of the printing; in 1839, it was merged in the Baptist Banner of Louisville, Ky., to which the goodwill and subscription lists were turned over.

In addition to his many and varied duties, besides being a prolific lecturer on agriculture and aboriginal and early Western history he found time to contribute to newspapers and many lengthy and studious articles to magazines, as well as to write the following: "Guide for Emigrants, containing sketches of Illinois and Adjacent Parts. Boston; Lincoln & Edmunds, 1831." "Gazetteer of Illinois; in Three Parts, containing a General View of the State, a General View of each Town, Settlement, Stream, Prairie, Bottom, Bluff, etc., Alphabetically Arranged. Robert Goudy, Jacksonville, 1834." Another, "Second edition, entirely reviewed, corrected, and enlarged; Grigg & Elliot, Phila., 1837" "New Map of Illinois. J. H. Colton, N.Y., 1837." "Life of Daniel Bon," 1846; and edited the "Annals of the West. Second edition. St. Louis, 1850."

While in charge of a Baptist college at Covington, Ky., in 1854, he was afflicted with a fever from the effects of which he never fully recovered, and died four years later at Rock Sprig, March 15, 1858, as he said "literally worn out"; his remains rest beneath a beautiful monument erected to his memory in Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Mo. - H. W. Beckwith, Danville, Ill., July 17, 1884.

John Reynolds. 1852, 2nd ed. 1887, reprint of 2nd ed. 1968. Pioneer History of Illinois. Chicago: Fergus Printing Co. Reprint: Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms. 253-254.

Created Nov. 17, 2000 by Jon Musgrave © 2000