The first step to organize the county was made by the General Assembly, which convened in November, 1842. By the first section of this act "to define the bounds of Scotland County, and for other purposes (approved January 6, 1843), it was provided that "all that part of the county of Scotland south of the township line dividing Townships 63 and 64 is hereby constituted and established a distinct county, to be called and known by the name of Knox County." Another section provided that Knox should be attached to Scotland, "until such time as said county of Knox shall become fully organized."
The county was named in honor of Gen. Henry Knox, the Boston bookseller who became Washington's chief of artillery during the Revolutionary War...He was the first Secretary of War of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1795. A number of other counties in the Union were named Knox.
The county remained as an attached part of Scotland until in 1845, when it was fully organized, "with metes and bounds as at present", by an act approved February 14, 1845. At the same time, andin the same act, the organization of the counties of Atchison, Dunklin, Harrison, Hickory, Mercer, Mississippi, Moniteau, Nodaway, Oregon, Schuyler and Texas were erected...This territory, from the time it was settled--the only period worth considering--belonged to Lewis County until the organization of Scotland, when it formed the south half of that county...
By the terms of this act the first county court judges of Knox County were Edward Milligan, Melker Baker and Virgil Pratt, who were ordered to meet at Edina on the first Monday in April following, and put up the political machinery of the county and set it in motion.
The first term of the Knox County Court convened at Edina, April 7, 1845...The first business transaction transacted after the selection of an elizir* was the appointment of Thomas Ferguson, John Black and Louis Fox, commissioners to view a road petition for and by John Black and others, and designated to run from somewhere on the South Fabius "to the road between Quincy and Kirksville"...About the only other business transacted at this term was the appointment of other road viewers...and the division of the county into four municipal townships: Benton, Center, Fabius and Salt River. (--Knox County, 5554, 555, 556.)
* Elizor -- Elisor Electors or chosen persons appointed by the court to execute Writs of Venire, in cases where both the sheriff and coroner are disqualified from voting, and whose duty is to choose--that is, name and return the jury. (--Black's Law Dictionary, Henry Campbell Black, M. A? 467.)
Locating the County Seat
From the first it was generally understood that Edina was to become the capital of Knox County. It would seem, however, that no official action was taken in the premises until May 7, 1845, when the county court appointed three commissioners "to select the permanent seat of justice for the county of Knox"...The commissioners made their report, locating the county seat at Edina, on the second day of October, following, and were allowed $36 for their services...
It has become to be pretty generally accepted as a fact that the first settler in Knox County was Stephen Cooper, who is reported in the atlas sketch and in Campbell's Gazetteer to have located in the northern or northeastern part of the county in the fall of 1832, and built a cabin a mile and a half west of Millport. A thorough investigation of the subject demonstrates the incorrectness of this assertion. Stephen Cooper settled in Lewis County, a mile west of La Grange, in 1829. Here he resided until the fall of 1833, when he sold his land to Judge William Hagood...and who stated that Cooper did not leave Lewis County for some months after he had sold out.
Cooper did not come to what is now Knox County until some time in the fall of 1833. He located in the northeastern part of this or Scotland County, and was the founder of what became to be known as Cooper's settlement, which includes lands in both counties. In March, 1834, he was joined by James and Willis Hicks, who located in what is now Scotland County. Willis Hicks stated that Cooper and John E. Cannon came to Knox County in the fall of 1833, and that Cannon settled in the northeastern corner of Benton Township (southwest quarter of Section 1, Township 63, Range 11)...and that Cooper's location was on a tract adjoining...In a few years, say in about 1839, Cooper and Redding Roberts began the erection of a mill at Millport, which was completed the same year.
Stephen Cooper was probably a native of Kentucky. He was a son of Captain Sarshel Cooper, who with Col. Benjamin Cooper and others, came to Howard County, Missouri, prior to the War of 1812, and was killed by the Indians in 1815.
Perhaps the first bona fide settler in the territory now included within the metes and bounds of Knox County, was James Fresh. It is quite certain that he entered land a mile west of Newark, (Section 22, Township 60, Range 18) in October, 1833, and that a few days later he took up other lands in the same neighborhood. It was reported by certain old settlers that Fresh began the improvement of his first claim even before he had entered it. He had come from Maryland to Missouri and made a temporary location in Marion County until he could secure for himself a permanent home to his liking.
The fact that Mr. Fresh entered his land in the fall of 1833, that he built a mill in the early spring of 1834, and that the exact location of Stephen Cooper can not be determined, indicate, if they do nor prove, that Fresh's settlement in the county antedated Cooper's. It may be that the two pioneers came about the same time, each in the fall of 1833, but it is proper to call attention to the recorded facts. (--569.)
After the creation by the Lewis County Court, of Benton Township (in 1834) and of Allen Township (in 1836), which was the first political division of the territory afterward constituting Knox County, important to be noticed, a correct map of Knox County would have been interesting. (--592.)
In February, 1840, while the present territory of Knox formed a part of Lewis, the population here was sufficient to warrant the creation of a distinct municipal township, and upon the petition of a number of the inhabitants, one was formed. This township was called Central, and its boundary line began at the northeast corner of Township 62, Range 11, and ran west to Range 14; then south on the range line to Township 61; thence east to Range 10; and then north to the beginning. The territory south belonged to Allen, and that north to Benton.
Upon the organization, at the first session of the county court, in April, 1845, the county was divided into four municipal townships, Benton, Center, Fabius and Salt River, whose metes and were as follows:
Benton - Beginning at the northeast corner of the county; then south to Congressional Township 61; then west to Range 11; then north two miles; then north to the county line; then east to the beginning.
Center - Beginning on the line between Townships 61 and 62, where the line between Ranges 10 and 11 crosses; then west to the Adair County line; then north to the northwest corner of the county; then east to Range 11; then south seven miles to Benton Township; thence east and south with the line of Benton to the beginning.
Fabius - Beginning at the southeast corner of the county; then west
to the center of Section 32, Range 11; then north to Township 62; then
east to the Lewis county line; then south to the beginning. (--740.)
Springfield-Greene County Library