(This story was written by reporter Geoff Norfleet)
This year marks the beginning of the War of 1812, and Western Illinois Museum curator Sue Scott says although there were no major battles in what was then known as the Illinois Territory, the area does have its connections to the War.
For example, Western Illinois was known as the Military Tract. Millions of acres of land had been set aside to be given to the veterans of the War of 1812. Each vet was eligible to receive 160 acres.
But, said Scott, "Not a whole lot going on here, just prairie land. So, a lot of them actually sold it to speculators, and the speculators kind of sat on it because it was a hard sell."
The soil was rich, but it was covered with tall, deeply rooted prairie grass. You'd need heavy equipment, maybe even oxen, to cultivate the soil. The region was not actually settled until several years later.
One of the counties formed from the land was named after one of the war's heroes, U.S. Navy Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough. He had led an important defeat of the British on Lake Champlain at New York in 1814.
Macdonough wasn’t the only name that came to be associated with Western Illinois.
Scott said Macdonough had a resourceful counterpart on the ground, where the forces were out-numbered about ten-to-one. Those forces were led by General Alexander Macomb.
"He gets his men to build these sort of fake roads,” Scott explained. “So, he conceals the roads that actually lead to the American forts, and the British fall for it. And so, they actually go down these little roads, get totally lost, and they become pretty much sitting ducks for the Americans."
The City of Macomb celebrated General Macomb’s 230th birthday on April 3. The festivities included the singing of "Happy Birthday" led by Ukulele Macomb. The reception was held in Chandler Park, roughly forty feet from the monument that recognizes both Macomb and Macdonough.
The plan is to make General Macomb's birthday an annual event.
By the way, Macdonough's birthday is in December. He'll be 229.