|EGYPT Judge Andrew D. Duff|
Springhouse discovered this article in The Golconda Weekly of November 23, 1871. That newspaper had "lifted" Duffs prose from the Gazette, a newspaper then published in Shawneetown.
But now to the question, how did Southern Illinois first obtain the name of Egypt? As one of the many yet living witnesses who do know the origin of this term, I will now proceed to state when, where and why we received the name of "Egypt"—And the appellation was indeed given because of a striking coincidence on one occasion between this part of the State and ancient Egypt. A figurative allusion not however like that of Mr. Wheeler, that no man of sense or education would ever have thought of, but a resemblance between this country and ancient Egypt that under the circumstances would probably have suggested itself to all Bible readers. The patriarch Jacob when he heard there was corn in Egypt, said to his sons, "Why, look ye on one another. Behold, I have heard there is corn in Egypt; go you down there, etc." Again, we read from the same good book, that when the famine was over all the earth the storehouses or granaries of Egypt were opened and all countries came into Egypt to buy corn.
Doubtless, there are yet many of the early settlers of this state who remember the remarkable winter of 1830-31, familiarly known as the "deep snow," (this was recently alluded to in the Gazette,) when the snow fell throughout the northern border counties of the state to the depth of three feet. The winter being the longest and severest ever known in Illinois, thus causing an unusual heavy draft upon the supply of corn produced by the farmers upon the central frontier counties, most of whom were new comers of only one, two or three years residence in the state; but this severe and long winter was followed by a remarkably late and backward spring, severe frost being frequent until the middle of May, so that there was little or no corn planted in the state the year of 1831, north of Jefferson county, until in June; this late spring was also followed by a heavy and killing frost on the night of the 10th of September, 1831, which done considerable damage to the late crops throughout the state, and so completely ruined all corn north of the 38th latitude that it was wholly worthless except for wintering cattle. Hence, the year of 1832 was the great "corn famine" in the early history of Illinois; all the prairie counties, in fact, the entire state north of the 38th latitude had not produced sound corn enough the year before to plant their farms in 1832; therefore all their crop for every purpose had to be brought form some other country. Corn was shipped up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and supplied to the adjoining counties at $2.00 per bushel, where it had sold in 1830 for ten cents per bushel. The counties in the extreme southern part of the state, commencing with Jefferson, and the counties east and west of it on the same latitude, and including all the counties lying south of them, owing to the peculiar friable and sandy character of the soil, their southern latitude and the absence of large prairies were comparatively free from the effects of the late spring and early frosts of 1831, their corn crops that year being unusually good. So that while corn in the central northern frontier counties, which were then Shelby, Macon, Montgomery, etc., could only be had in limited quantities at $3 and $4 per bushel, could be bought in abundance in the lower counties at 25 cents per bushel; the result was that from the 15th of April to the last of June, 1832, there were not less than a thousand wagon loads of corn taken from the counties of Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, (then including Williamson,) Gallatin, (then including Saline,) Johnson and other southern counties, into the counties of Clinton, Fayette, Montgomery, Macon, Shelby and other counties in that region. This corn was brought up by such farmers of those counties as had teams sufficient to haul it, and transported in wagons. These corn buyers generally traveled in companies of from three to six or eight wagons together, and as they bought out the corn in one county so as to cause the price to advance to 40 or 50 cents per bushel, the next caravan or company would travel still further south to where the corn was still cheap until many of them penetrated Johnson and other counties then bordering upon the Ohio river.
These good people after travelling such a distance, and finding corn so plentiful to be had for their money and being familiar, as the event shows, with the Bible story of the ten sons of Jacob going down to Egypt for corn, they originated this facetious answer to those who interrogated them as to their destination: " We are going to Egypt for corn," or, "we have heard there is corn in Egypt, and have come to buy for ourselves and little one," (for at that date corn bread was the staff of life in Illinois.) This is the true origin of the term, and the cause of Southern Illinois being called Egypt. I know whereof I speak. In the spring of 1832 I resided upon a public road passing through one of the communities I have mentioned. I saw more than a hundred wagons pass either going for or returning with corn for the upper counties, and I know for myself that those people after the first few weeks seldom mentioned their business down here without making some allusion to the Bible narrative of the people of olden times going to Egypt for corn. But no living man ever heard the term Egypt applied this part of Illinois prior to the spring of 1832. To the people and the incident above mentioned are we indebted for the name Egypt. But little did those pioneer and plain but Bible reading farmers, whose journey down here for corn forcibly reminded them of the sons of Jacob going down into ancient Egypt to buy corn, and who, therefore, first called this part of the state Egypt, because of the abundance of corn to be found here when all other countries (to which they had access) were destitute. I say little did they imagine in thus complimenting this part of the state as the granary of Illinois, they were laying the foundation for a gross slander upon the intelligence of the people of the very country which they, in the goodness and gratitude of their hearts, intended to honor and praise.
From and after the year of 1832, that part of the state south of the large prairies in colloquial conversation was often referred to as "Egypt," meaning the land of corn.
But a few years afterwards the great flood of immigration from the older states set in, and the term "Egypt" was taken up by the new population, most of whom were using it without any knowledge of its origin. Next sectional and political prejudice took up the tern, and in utter ignorance of its origin, and without any regard to the truth of history, sought to attribute its origin to whatever seemed would best subserve the unhallowed ends to be obtained, and in this atmosphere alone did the term first receive its cant or opprobrious character. But as to the foolish and unmitigated slander upon the early settlers of this part of the State, I will not now treat it with respect enough to enter into a refutation thereof.
In 1889, Judge Duff died in Tucson, Arizona. G.D.
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