Who Was Jo Daviess?

By Daryl Watson

Who was Jo Daviess?” many ask, and why was the county named after him? To find the answers we must go back to 1827, when the flow of population into northwestern Illinois, especially into the Galena lead mines, encouraged the state legislature to form a new county. The area started out as part of Peoria County, but following the practice of the time, new counties of more manageable size were created as settlement and population increased.

During house debate, a Yankee representative suggested the name “Ludlow”, intending to honor and perpetuate the memory of a naval hero, who was a native of New England. But the make-up of the Illinois legislature at that time was of a more southern persuasion, primarily Kentuckian. As a result, the name Daveiss was offered, in honor of Col. Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, a prominent Kentucky lawyer and Indian fighter who died in 1811 while leading a charge against Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe, in Indiana.

After further discussion … “Jo” was added to the name because another member of the House had the name Daveiss, and it was thought that people might think the honor for him. The amended bill passed both houses overwhelmingly. Interestingly, a previous clerical error led to the spelling of Daveiss with an “ie” rather than “ei.”

When first established, Jo Daviess County included most of northwestern Illinois, including all or parts of the following counties: Carroll, Stephenson, Winnebago, Whiteside, Ogle, Lee, Henry, Bureau, and Rock Island.

Today, the county is of more manageable size, but it still retains the unique name. Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri also have Daviess counties, named after the same man, but without the first name added. Many visitors ask about the correct pronunciation: In most parts of the county Daviess is pronounced the same as “Davis” with a short “i”. One often hears, however, particularly from those who have not grown up in the county, the long “e”, as in “Daves.”