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The Reverend John Peck

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The thousands of immigrants who flooded into Illinois in the decades after it became a state in 1818 have cause to give thanks that John Mason Peck was as religious as he was. Otherwise, they may have ended up in Wisconsin without knowing it.

Peck was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, and raised in a strong Puritan Congregationalist family. Not strong enough, however. In his early twenties, he became a Baptist, was re-baptized and ordained a minister.

By 1871 he was serving as a Baptist missionary in the Mississippi Valley at St. Louis, St. Charles, and across the river near Belleville. He travelled widely in his missionary duties, more widely when he became an agent for the American Bible Society in three states, and wider still in his passion for establishing Sunday schools on the frontier and preaching for the abolition of slavery. After he established the Rock Spring Theological Seminary—the first institution of higher learning in Illinois, he traveled even more widely to raise money for the school.

All of Peck's travels on behalf of religion and education made him an authority on much of the state of Illinois. He used this expertise in 1831 to publish A Guide for Emigrants, which became the bible for many settlers heading for new Illinois land which opened up following the Black Hawk War. Peck followed this with a companion, A Gazetteer of Illinois in 1834, a small, general map of Illinois and part of Wisconsin Territory, and then an expanded emigrant guide.

With his reputation now firm and widespread, Peck was approached by a publisher to make a detailed map of Illinois. In 1836, together with a mathematics teacher at Rock Spring Seminary, Peck published The New Sectional Map of Illinois, the first really useful map of what was where in Illinois, and a reference against which to judge all future Illinois maps.

John Peck's name today is seldom associated with things religious. He turned out to be much better in guiding pilgrims to Illinois than to Heaven.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Community
Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.