James GILL, Birth 1781 in South Carolina, Death 1827 in Grand Tower, Jackson Co., Illinois (age 46).  Married 1st Janette GASTON in 1805 in Randolph Co., Illinois (probably) (age 24).  Two children (#1 & #2).  Married 2nd Sarah COCHRAN Marriage 13 Aug 1816 in Randolph Co., Illinois (age 35), four children, (#3-#6):

  1. George Washington GILL (11 Apr 1811-18 Oct 1893)
  2. Eliza Elvira GILL (1813-)
  3. Napolean Bonaparte GILL (aft 1816-bef 1894)
  4. Noreena Emiline GILL (abt 1819-)
  5. Maria Louisa GILL (abt 1822-)
  6. Nancy Louisiana GILL (abt 1825-)



The following biographical sketch is primarily a commingling of information found in "Jackson County, Illinois, Formation and Early Settlement" and "History of Jackson County, Illinois. With illustrations Descriptive of Its Scenery, and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers"

James Gill came to Randolph County in southwestern Illinois in 1805 as one of it's early American pioneers when he was about 24 years old. Some of the earliest permanent white settlers arrived in the immediate local area about 1802 even though St. Louis, about 70 miles up the Mississippi River, was founded by French traders in 1764 and nearer Kaskaskia, about 35 miles up river, was founded by French traders in 1703.

When James Gill arrived, what is now Illinois was part of the Indiana Territory. The Illinois Territory was formed in March 1809. Southern Illinois was one large county - Randolph. In 1816, Jackson Co. was carved out of Randolph and Illinois became a state in 1818. James Gill was born in South Carolina and, according to one biographer, "left his native state in the days of his youth, and, after some wanderings, settled on Mary's River in the county of Randolph."

He married, in 1805, Janette Gaston, daughter of Alexander Gaston, Sr. Soon after his marriage, he and his wife and brother-in-law, William Gaston, settled in the Grand Tower area at a location known as Devil's Bake Oven on the Mississippi River. One biography notes that he had slaves when he settled at the "Devil's Oven" in 1806. "Here he opened a good farm and built a ferry boat to ply between the Illinois and Missouri shores of the Mississippi. He possessed some property and great energy, and soon had erected a double log cabin of the better class." James Allen, in Jackson Co. Notes, states, "Before the building of bridges most streams that could not be forded were crossed by ferries. One of the earliest ones was established near Devil's Oven by Colonel James Gill about 1806." Another biographer writes, "He had a better education than was common among the pioneers. He was a moral man and possessed the confidence and esteem of his neighbors."

James Gill and his wife, Janette, had two children; George Washington Gill, born in 1811, and Eliza Elvira, born in 1813. One writer in about 1870-1876 notes that George W. was still living in Arkansas. George W Gill died in Drew Co., Arkansas in 1893.

In 1814, Janette Gaston Gill died. "In the years 1813 and 1814 a fatal disease prevailed all over the country, of which many persons died. ... Mrs. Creath died in 1812. Polly Taylor and many others in 1813, old Mrs. Glenn and Mrs. Gill in 1814. This disease prevailed to an alarming extent in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, both in the army and among the inhabitants. (It is understood that this disease was what was popularly known as the "milk sick".)" An internet web page at www.genrecords.com, Names of Old Time Illnesses, states that "Milk Sickness" was "disease from milk of cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds."

"A militia payroll of July, 1811 lists James Gill among 47 privates in Capt. William Alexander's company of Randolph County militia. He acquired his rank of colonel in the War of 1812."

Land records show James Gill either purchased or registered land in 1814 (Twp 10S, Range 4 West, Sec 23 & 24) and in 1815 (Twp 10S Range 4 West, Sections 13 & 14). These land sections appear to have been on the shores of the Mississippi River in the Grand Tower area.

In 1816 Col. Gill married a widower, Mrs. Sarah (Cochran) Laughlin. She and James had one son, Napolean Bonaparte Gill and several daughters; Noreena Emiline, ca. 1819; Maria Louisa, ca. 1822; and Nancy Louisiana, ca. 1825.

"When Jackson County was organized [1816] he was one of the commissioners appointed by the territorial legislature to select a county seat for the new county. He was appointed justice of peace for the new county in 1817, and served on Jackson County juries in 1824 and 1825. He is reported to have had the first cooking stove in the county, which was an object of great interest, and no doubt many were the excuses made to visit the Gills to inspect this new appliance."

In 1818 a census was conducted as a requirement for Illinois to enter statehood. James Gill appears as head of the household with eight other white inhabitants and one slave for a total of ten people. The 1818 Jackson Co. Illinois Census shows that 240 families or "heads" were in Jackson County with a total population of 1,386 persons. The population consisted of 325 white males 21 & up, 1,009 all other whites, 0 free blacks and 52 slaves. The 52 slaves were owned by 28 of the families.

The 1820 Jackson Co. Census shows for the James Gill family:

2 - white males under 10; 1 - white male 10 & under 16; 1 - white male 26 & under 45;

2 - white female under 10; 1 - white female 10 & under 16; 1 - white female 26 & under 45;

0 - blacks


The will of James Gill obtained from the Jackson County (Illinois) Historical Society internet web site.on 14 Sep 1999. Mentioned in the will are Garland and Samuel Laughlin who are probably the sons of his second wife, Sarah Cochran and her first husband Henry Laughlin. Elisha Cochran, designated as an executor in the will may have been either a brother or the father of Sarah Cochran. Jame's Gill's first daughter, Eliza Elvira, married a John Hirst who is also named as executor of the estate. The will mentioned a Cynthia Hirst, but it is not known yet if this was a daughter of Eliza Gill or perhaps a step daughter since Eliza appears to have been only about 14 or 15 years old at the time of James Gill's death in 1827.


1827 In the Name of God Amen

I, James Gill, of the State of Illinois, Jackson County, Do make and ordain and declare this instrument to be my last Will and Testament revoking all others.

First: All my debts of which there are ...... are to be punctually paid and the Legacies hereafter bequeathed are to be discharged as soon as circumstances will permit in the manner directed.

Second: To my dearly beloved wife Sara Gill I give and bequeath the land that I own in the State of Missouri opposite this place I now reside on in Illinois and all the household and kitchen furniture and as much of the stock as she thinks proper to keep viz: horses, cattle and hogs, sheep, fowls etc during her natural life. The balance of the stock if any it is my Will to have them sold and the profits be evenly divided among the heirs Cynthia Hirst, Garland Laughlin, Samuel Laughlin, George Washington Gill, Eliza Elvira Gill, Narcena Emaline Gill, Napoleon Bonaparte Gill, Maria Louisa Gill and Nancy Louisiana Gill.

Third: It is my will that sixty acres of the place that I now reside on be laid off in town lots and to be disposed of in the manner herein after directed. First to Cynthia Hirst I give and bequeath one lot, the lot of John Hirst Store, house ...... (smeared). Second to Garland Laughlin I give and bequeath one lot. Third to Samuel Laughlin I give and bequeath one lot. To George Washington Gill I give and bequeath two lots. To Eliza Elvira Gill I give and bequeath two lots. To Narcena Emaline Gill I give and bequeath two lots. To Napoleon Bonaparte Gill I give and bequeath two lots. To Maria Louisa Gill I give and bequeath two lots. To Nancy Louisiana Gill I give and bequeath two lots. Second - The balance of the lots it is my will to be disposed of in the manner hereinafter directed that is sold to the highest bidder. First it is my will to by Cyntha Hirst's part of a quarter section of land lying at the edge of the main bluff which Wm. Edwards now cultivates her part is the third of two thirds of the half of two hundred and eighty two acres and ninety one hundredths of an acre. That land is the north half of Section one in Township nine, South of Range four West containing one hundred and sixty acres be it more or less I give and bequeath to Garland and Samuel Laughlin to be equally divided between them and I hold two lots in the Town of Brownsville No. 64 and 65 which I give and bequeath to Garland and Samuel Laughlin one to each and my blacksmith tools I give to Garland and Samuel Laughlin one half to each. And my rifle gun I give and bequeath to George Washington Gill.

My silver watch I give and bequeath to Napoleon Bonaparte Gill. The balance of the land that I own in the State of Illinois and Missouri I give and bequeath to my two sons, viz. George Washington Gill and Napoleon Bonaparte Gill to be equally divided between them after the death of my dearly beloved wife Sarah Gill.

And it is my will that my dearly beloved wife Sarah Gill keep the negroes and if she cannot command them she can hire them out in the State of Missouri during her natural life. If however the Negro woman named Lear proves so refractory in consequence of her suffering of reason and mind occasionally being in a State of alienation of mind and reason at times, that she my dearly beloved wife is distressed and harassed by said Negro woman she is at liberty to sell her to some humane and discreet person, who will not abuse her, but take good care of her. After the death of my dearly beloved wife it is my will that the Negroes be as equally divided among my children as circumstances will permit. That is George Washington Gill, Elisa Elvira Gill, Noreena Emaline Gill, Napoleon Bonaparte Gill, Maria Louisa Gill and Nancy Louisiana Gill. The negroes I do not wish to go out of the family because I am opposed to Slavery but as I have them it is my wish that they shall be well taken care of, that is well fed and clothed.

Lastly I constitute and appoint my dearly beloved wife Sarah Gill, John Hirst, and Elisha Cochran, Executrix and Executors of this my last will and testament and it is my Will and direction expressly that all disputes If any should arise shall be decided by three impartial men, Two to be chosen by the desputants, each having the choice of one, and the third by the two, which three men thus chosen shall unfettered by law or legal construct ...... declare the sense of the testators intentions, and .......-ion is to all intents and purposes to be as binding ...... as if it had been given in the Supreme C...... the United States. In witness of all and ...... herein contained. I have set my hand and ...... year of our Lord eighteen hundred and twenty seven.

signed: James Gill

Witness Thos. Jenkins


State of Illinois

Jackson County

I Samuel Legate, being duly sworn deposes & says that he was knowing to and did see and read frequently a will signed by James Gill on record in the Probate Office at Brownsville during the years 1836 and 1835 and that the within is a true copy of the same according to the best of his recollections and according to notes and memorandums taken at different times (now in his possession) from and of said Will and further that the Estate of the Testator has been settled thus far according to the within instrument satisfactory ...... and all concerned so far as he the said Legate had knowledge of the said settlement and further that he has had good opportunity by doing much business for the widow and heirs concerning the estate amongst themselves and with each other. to know the within is substantially and in all things the Will of James Gill made in 1827 and recorded as above and that the estate has as before said been thus far settled exactly ...... the principles of the within instrument.

In witness thereof I have hereunto set my hand on May 15th 1843

Signed:Samuel Legate

Subscribed and sworn to before

the Board of Investigation for

Said county May 15th 1843

D.H. Brush, Secy.


"After her husband's death, Sarah continued to operate the ferry for some years and it was invariably referred to as "Mrs. Gill's ferry," in the county court proceedings. She appears in the 1830 Jackson County census with her children but not in that of 1840. She is on record as paying a ferry tax of $5.00 for her Mississippi ferry for the year from June, 1838 to 1839, as well as $10 for the two preceeding years for which apparently the clerk had neglected to make an assessment. (It may be that clerk Daniel Brush had deliberatly chosen to spare her this expense). Sarah survived her husband for over thirty years, spending her last years with one of her children. James' son, George Washington Gill, moved to Arkansas, and Sarah may have gone there. He [George W.] is not to be confused with another George Washington Gill, son of William Gill, who moved to Perry County."

Three additional references about James Gill were found in "The Territorial records of Illinois":

page 15: July 2nd, 1810,

"The Governor appointed . . . and James Gill, Ensigns in the First Regiment (of the militia).

page 44: January 14th, 1817,

"Governor appointed James Gill Justice of Peace of Jackson county"

page 50: July 9th, 1817,

". . ., James Gill, Ensigns, in the 8th Regiment"

Two other Gill families were in Jackson County, Illinois at the time of James Gill. There was one "James Gill (Beaucoup)" who appears on the 1818 census with our James Gill, but little is known about this person or his family. Another Gill, William Gill, came to Illinois from Tennessee in 1813. His family is well known and his many descendants in Illinois are well documented. William Gill also had a son named George Washington Gill, 1811-1863, who is reported to have married a Martha Grisham and moved from Jackson Co. to Perry Co., Illinois.


Benningsen Boon, writing in about 1870-1876, recalls life in Jackson County during the times in which James Gill settled in Illinois. His memories and biographical sketches are included in "Jackson County, Illinois, Formation and Early Settlement" published by the Jefferson County Historical Society. This condensed article is extracted from his longer original writings. Added comments are in [brackets].

"When these first settlers settled in the country there were no roads, only as they made them. The country was in a state of nature; wild game was abundant, snakes were super-abundant. The settlers first located on water courses and at springs. They put up their cabins all of wood - not a nail nor a particle of iron in their construction. The floor was constructed of puncheons, or often the earth only, with nothing upon it, and such was their home. Every family had a grater, or a mortar and pestle, with which they made their meal and hominy. The nearest mill was John Edgar's, near Kaskaskia. To it at times they all went. The nearest and only place where they could get calicoes or domestics, or axes, drawing knives or hoes, etc. was at Kaskaskia, a distance of some 35 or 40 miles."

"Irish and sweet potatoes did well and supplied the place of bread in a measure. They made a beautiful supply of sugar from the sugar-tree, and wild honey was in abundance. For shoes they used moccasins until they tanned their own leather. Most of the families dug a trough from a large log and put oak bark in it with the hides and thus made leather. They curried it with a drawing knife and greased it with o'possum, coon or bear grease. There were no shoemakers and every family made their own shoes."

"The people were social and friendly, each being a protection to the other against the Indians. They would come a long ways to a house raising or a log rolling or a corn shucking. Every man would bring his wife and the larger members of the family for the inevitable frolic which was to take place when the men had finished their work. There was no money, or very little, but at Kaskaskia there was a ready market for bear skins, deer skins, muskrat skins, coon skins, etc. Through this source they could get their ammunition and guns, for they absolutely stood in need of them. Every man had his rifle kept in order, his flints, bullets, bullet molds, screwdriver, awl, butcher knife and tomahawk, and all were fastened to the shot pouch strap or to the belt around the waist. The men and boys wore pants of dressed deer skins. The men also had leggins of the same material, also the meal sacks were of the same. The families raised their own cotton and carded, spun and wove it at home. Cards, wheels, looms, etc. were as necessary to the women as rifles were to the men. Every family had them, and the women made their own dresses, and shirts for the men and boys."

"Their tables were rudely made from a puncheon, with legs. Their chairs were three or four legged stools. Knives and forks were as it happened. Those who had brought them with them used them. The butcher knife and jacknife were quite as commonly used as table knives. Their dishes were of pewter, their cooking utensils were generally an oven and lid, a pot and a frying pan. Their bedsteads were of the rudest construction and very simple, requiring nothing to frame them but a five or six quarter augur and an ax. The bottom was laid with split boards, and over this was laid a bear skin, or another kind of skin."

"After war was declared [assumed to be the War of 1812] and the ranging service [militia?] authorized, nearly all of the young men and many of the older ones, joined the service. The volunteers had to furnish, or did furnish, their own rifles and fixtures, their own clothing, horses, saddle and bridle, and to be ready to go at a moment's notice. The government furnished the necessary ammunition, and to each man a pair of holster pistols. Scouts were constantly kept out watching for Indians and their signs, and this was kept up until the Treaty of Peace at Fort Ash."

"The old settlers lived temperately, that is, they used very little whiskey, for they could get it only at Kaskaskia, which was 40 or 50 miles away. But after the war was over and the troops were paid off, and money was in every man's pocket, it begat a restlessness, and extravagance was manifest. Some bought whiskey and brought it in kegs on horses, thus insidiously many became intemperate. Many of the staid, firm men of the country became drunkards, and died as such. But many saved their money and bought their farms when the same was in market. [James Gill purchased his land in 1814 and 1815]. During all these years, from 1816 on, musters were closely attended to. Company, regimental, battalion and general drill or musters were kept up every year for many years. The musterings were not located at any one place, but at different places in the country. Every able-bodied man was enlisted, enrolled and had to attend the different musters, or he was fined. Liquor was generally on hand and when the drill was done many fights would ensue. These musters were a common fruitful source or school of intemperance and profanity. There being no common enemy, either in existence or in prospect, it was doing more harm than good to the community at large and it was finally dispensed with on the recommendation of President Andrew Jackson." [The rowdiness and brawling of the musters has been attested to by at least one other pioneer memoir.]

"All general elections were for many years held at the county seat and the voters voted viva voce. Every voter had to go there to vote, or not vote at all in that election. No newspaper was published nearer than Kaskaskia, Edwardsville, or Shawneetown, and but few were taken in the country. The United States mail was conveyed by horseback."

"I thus close my sketches up to 1823." Ben Boon


1. Cheryl F Luginbill of Midland, Texas in emails to Paul Groneman, January 1999. She quotes extensively from "History of Jackson County, Illinois", published 1878, by Brink, McDonough & Co. of Philadelphia.

2. The Territorial Records of Illinois, Publication No. 3 of the Illinois State Historical Library, published 1901.

3. Internet Web Sites. //www.usgennet.org/~iljacksn/1818census.html - The 1818 Jackson Co., Illinois Federal Census.

4. Ibid. //www.usgennet.org/~iljacksn/1820census.html - The 1820 Jackson Co., Illinois Federal Census.

5. Jackson County, Illinois Formation and Early Settlement, John W D Wright, Published by the Jackson County Historical Society, P.O. Box 7, Murphyboro, Illinois 62966, copyright 1983.

6. Jackson Co. Notes, by John W. Allen, copyright 1945, as quoted by Nancy Attey (nattey@prodigy.net) in email to Paul Groneman in Jan. 1999.

7. Internet Web Sites. //www.usgennet.org/~iljackson/wills3.htm.

8. Will of James Gill, 1827, Jackson Co., Illinois.

Prepared by:
Paul F.Groneman
202 South Ridge Circle
Georgetown, Texas 78628-8222
(512) 863-0061


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Copyright ©1999, Paul F.Groneman. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.