In March of 1823, county commissioners issued a license to John Burnett to run a ferry to Louisiana, Missouri from here. The ferry had previously been run by James McDonald, but he had been murdered at the landing the year before, so there was an opening. To get the license, Burnett had to pay a $5 tax plus clerk’s fees. He also was required to publish a fee schedule: a single person or horse would be charged 25 cents; a wagon would cost 50 cents for the crossing, while a two-wheeled carriage would have to pay 75 cents.
The community, like the county, was named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who was sent on a mission to explore the Upper Mississippi around the same time that Lewis and Clark went west along the Missouri River. Pike’s mission wasn’t the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but that didn’t stop folks from naming places after him.
Pike County was organized in 1821 and included far more land than it does today. Much of the land in the county was deeded by the federal government to veterans of the War of 1812, but many chose to sell it rather than settle on it. The early group of Europeans to arrive in the county was a pretty mixed bunch: Yankees (especially from Massachusetts), Southerners (particularly from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee), plus new immigrants from Europe (British, Irish, Germans).
Early Pike County was pretty remote, and the folks who lived there weren’t seen as especially sophisticated, which may be part of the reason that Pike County became “…a generic term for the outréism of the unsophisticated, outspoken, and outlandishly frank westerner…” (from The Boyhood of John Hay, by A.S. Chapman; Century Magazine, July, 1909; p. 449)
The county, like many others on the frontier, had a burst of activity that included a whole bunch of false starts. Between 1834 and 1837, twenty-three towns were platted; only Atlas had been platted prior to that. Much of this activity was fueled by speculators eager to profit from the new Illinois-Michigan Canal that connected the Great Lakes to the Illinois River (and the Mississippi); many of the towns never developed, though.
Before the Civil War, Pike County had four Mississippi Landings: Douglasville (across from the river from Hannibal), Cincinnati Landing (in Pleasantvale Township), Gilgal Landing (in Atlas Township), and Odiorne Landing (1 ½ miles downriver from Gilgal Landing). Cincinnati Landing was the busiest of the four, but, like the others, it couldn’t survive repeated flooding and the arrival of the railroads.
At the dawn of the Civil War, the hottest issue in the county was whether or not pigs should be confined (they roamed freely around the streets of every village and some people thought they were a nuisance). In May 1860 the free-range hog lobby carried the day on the ballot. The Pike County Journal the following week proclaimed:
…the anti-shut-up-hog ticket carried by 35 majority. The momentous question is now settled. The hogs are free and the Union is safe.
Copperheads, Black Republicans, and Bushwackers: Pike County, Illinois and the Civil War. Walter S. Waggoner; 1999; p. 8.
In the presidential race of 1860, the county supported Douglas over Lincoln (the strongest support for Douglas was in the townships along the Mississippi River). Even though county residents had divided loyalties, Pike County still sent over 3,000 men to serve in the Civil War, or about 10% of the county’s total population.