Bitter over Belleville politics? It's just a city tradition

News-DemocratMarch 3, 2014 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

The cover is loose and pages are yellow, but the "Revised Ordinances of the City of Belleville, 1862," turned out to be a much more interesting than I thought it would.

For one thing, it was not very flattering to George Blair, Belleville's founder.

The front pages of the book contain "A History of Belleville," written by the fourth governor of Illinois, John Reynolds, 1830-34. He also was a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, a U.S. Representative and an Illinois Representative at times.

Reynolds died in 1865 but not before he gave his view of the history of our city.

He wrote that "...the public may rest assured that the statement of facts contained in the following pages will be true and correct, so far as I am able to present them."

But that didn't stop him from having some obvious viewpoints. While he was a promoter of Belleville, he was not a fan of George Blair, the man who donated the land for the city square and gave Belleville its French name meaning "fair or beautiful city."

Reynolds goes to quite a length to rip Blair as a man who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

"George Blair is magnified into some notoriety and fame by his connection with the city of Belleville, and the same is carried out without much of his agency or talents. He is made conspicuous and distinguished amongst men by force of circumstances -- a destiny which he did not control," Reynolds wrote.

"He was an ordinary man; but he owned the land on which this city was founded, and by thus riding on the back of Belleville, without any great merit, his name will be transmitted to late posterity."

Late posterity -- that would be us celebrating the city's 200th anniversary today.

Reynolds noted that Blair lived in a log cabin and had a small farm, not well-cultivated, when they first met.

"This log cabin and this man were somewhat similar in their humble positions at this time, in 1806, and were the primitive specimens of men and houses that then appeared in Belleville."

Blair didn't seem any better to Reynolds eight years later.

"Mr. Blair was a man of medium size and middle age in 1814, and possessed nothing attractive about him. He was not wealthy at the time; but he had purchased two militia rights of one hundred acres each, and located them on the land whereon Belleville is built."

In case there was any doubt about Reynold's feelings for Blair, he continues in the same vein.

"Mr. Blair, like many other persons, had a natural and inborn hatred to work, and scarcely ever permitted his peace of mind to be disturbed by any kind of labor whatever.

"He was no scholar, but supposed he was, and he had the imprudence on all occasions, in and out of order, to use words of wondrous length, and mostly inapplicable."

Reynolds did grudgingly give Blair some credit.

"Although he was idle and indolent, he contracted no immoral habits so far as I saw in him," Reynolds conceded.

And Reynolds did patronize Blair's hotel but in so saying he managed to blast Blair's wife as well.

"I was always a guest of Mr. Blair's hotel, when there was no other; and I can testify that the landlord was blessed with a good nature and a benevolent spirit; but 'mine hostess' was pretty much the reverse of her husband, as the trust of history will not permit me to call him 'her lord and master.'"

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com.

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