Freeport, Illinois — And you thought the parking ticket you received the other day was a problem. Can you even imagine the headline above appearing in a news outlet anywhere in the world we live in today? A Freeport man hung by his toes, receiving 30 lashes and then escorted to the county line? When we think of crime and punishment and citizen involvement today, times sure aren’t anything like they were for the troublemakers back in these days of Freeport history.
In Freeport if you take someone else’s claim you might be hung by your toes, lashed 30 times and escorted to the county line and told, “don’t come back or we’ll hang you”.
And in 1839, in our city of Freeport, (somewhere in this city) that appears to be exactly what happened to a man named John Barker. John was a man, at least in this example, who thought it would be a good idea to ‘settle’ on someone else’s claim, (ie; property, land). Today, that would be like you just moving into someone’s house and starting to live there.
Honey, I’m home.
Turns out the citizens didn’t take too kindly to that, and a fairly new claims organization which was formed brought John before their committee.
Back then, as the story goes, stringent measures were sometimes resorted to and “strong hints” given certain “disturbers and undesirable citizens” to move on to the west.
It’s interesting to note how the author characterizes John in her story saying that Barker was, “a poor student of human nature”. The rest of the story goes as follows;
“A man named John Barker tested the sincerity of the “claims” organization. In 1839 he settled on one of Benjamin Goddard’s claims, now a part of Freeport, and refused to withdraw. He was brought before a committee of which William Baker, the founder, was chairman. The committee, after hearing the evidence decided that Barker was guilty and ordered him to vacate in a certain time or receive 30 lashes. Barker was a poor student of human nature and failed to leave on schedule time, taking a long chance with those stern frontier men. When his time had expired, he was seized, tied up by his thumbs and given the prescribed lashes. He had a change of heart and was willing to obey now, but he was escorted to the county line and advised to keep forever out of the county or he would be hanged. George Whitman had previously been driven out of the county by the citizens because he had been held guilty of stealing horses. This “unwritten law” had two very creditable features it was prompt and effective.”
A Little Freeport History – 1839.
An excerpt from:
HISTORY OF STEPHENSON COUNTY
ADDISON L. FULWIDER, A. M.
S. J. CLARKE PUBLISHING COMPANY 1910