This is from the Herald Tribune Newspaper.

(reprinted in the Randolph County Genealogy Society’s Quarterly “Trails”)

Robert Higgins – enjoying more than local fame as a hunter, moved from the vicinity of Kaskaskia to a place about two miles south of present day Sparta, in 1812. He is thought to have been the first settler in that precinct. Others settled near him, and one of the blockhouses was used as a refuge from Indian attacks during the 1811-14 uprisings, was built near his cabin. Other families came to the same vicinity, and in 1820, we find Samuel Nesbit, James Patterson, Major Andrew Borders, Arthur Parks, William Gordon and Samuel Gordon, John and James Baird, James McClurken, and perhaps several others living in the vicinity. To serve this group of settlers, a man named Shannon established a store at a place about a mile south of Sparta in 1828. A year of so later, this store was moved to a building beside Armour’s Mill on the site of present day Sparta. With this as a nucleus, a village soon formed. The new town was named Columbus, but the name of the Post Office remained Shannon‘s Store. Both these names were dropped in 1839, and the name of Sparta, was given to both the village and post office. New industries appeared in the community. McClurken established a cotton gin, castor oil press, and a coal mine. Rosborough, Gaston and Company opened their store, keeping a barrel of whiskey and dipper as a convenience to customers. Cornhill Ballard set up his blacksmith shop, John Armour taught school in the warehouse of Shannon‘s Store, Crother‘s plow shop appeared later. Sparta had become a well-established and prosperous town. Slavery was prevalent during the very early days of Randolph County’s history. Sentiment gradually set against the institution. Numerous persons began actively to aid the escape of slaves, who succeeded in crossing the river from Missouri. Long before the Civil War, a well-established branch of the Under-ground Railroad, operating through Sparta, helped many slaves on their journey toward Canada and freedom. Slavery in early Illinois seems to have been given its initial impetus by Crozat who brought many slaves with him in 1713. Renault brought numerous others in 1719. With successive change of ownership from French to part of the United States, the aspect of slavery changed somewhat. A system of indenture, that in all but name was slavery, later came into use. Bond servants did not disappear from the county until the time of the Civil War. The story of slavery in Randolph County deserves to be more fully told.


Robert Higgins settled northeast of Steeleville in Section 19 in 1812. Since danger of Indian raids was still imminent, he built a two story fort or blockhouse. This fort stood until the 1820’s when farmers hauled the logs away and used them to build barns.

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