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Promised Land

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If there is a rich heart of the heart of the Illinois prairie, it would be Henry County just south of here. In the first decade of its opening to settlement, the county's rich black soil attracted six separate colonizing groups. It's as if every potential Eastern Moses in the 1830s drew lines across the Appalachian wilderness, all of which converged on the same Promised Land—Henry County.

Moses number one was the Reverend Ithamer Pillsbury, a Presbyterian minister representing the New York Colonizing Association. In 1835, Pillsbury and others laid out the town of Andover in Henry County, using New Haven, Connecticut as an example. Before it could become the great metropolis of the West, however, it was overrun by Swedish immigrants who built here the mother church of the Swedish Synod in America.

Next came the Reverend Caleb Tenny of Connecticut who founded Wethersfield for the purpose of colonizing the whole Mississippi Valley with protestants. Each member received 160 acres and a town lot, but the railroad bypassed Wethersfield, signing its death warrant.

Another New York colony arrived in the spring of 1836 to found Morristown. That same year, a group of easterners, the LaGrange Colony, bought 18,000 acres in Henry County. By 1843, only five families remained.

In the fall of 1836, Congregationalists from Geneseo County, New York, covenanted to go to Henry County and become "a church in the wilderness." They reached Henry County after nine grueling weeks on the road, and founded Geneseo, today a typical Midwest small town.

Colony six was the most visionary. In 1846, the Swedish prophet Eric Jansen came to Henry County to build The New Jerusalem along the Edwards River, from which he planned to restore pure Christianity to the entire world. He was murdered in 1850.

Today, Henry County's corn and beans march in rows over gentle hills. Hogs laze in the summer sun. If this land is, indeed, the Promised Land, it still lies waiting for some future Moses.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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.