Livingston County is located in northern Missouri north of the Missouri River that borders the Grand River. The land has several small streams with even smaller twisting water branches that flow southeast and drain into the Mississippi river. The Grand River is a larger stream that has numerous channels that run into the state of Iowa and empty in the Missouri River. Grand River was the best location for many indigenous nations to settle on the river as their hunting grounds. In the county, the Missourias camped near the river around 1724 until the northern indigenous nations attacked them. Other tribes of the Chippewas, Sacs, Foxes, a few Pottawatomies, Iowa, and Kickapoo Indians were found in the region and surrounding counties. By 1830, the treaty of the Indian Removal Act displaced several of the indigenous nations, and the Ioways moved further south of the Grand River. Missouri remained a French territory until its surrender to the United States in 1802.
The Chillicothe township forms in the shape of the letter “L,” which involves three prior townships of the town. The site was originally called Medicine Creek, about four miles north of the present site of Chillicothe. On August 12, 1836, three Boone county residents purchased 160 acres of land on the north side of Grand river, about four miles southeast of Chillicothe. On November 24, they planned on using about 25 acres to build a river town for transporting goods on steamboats, which was named Jamestown, but was later changed to “Jimtown.” Commissioner John Graves was against the location but he soon influenced the decision of where the county seat was placed. The town did not flourish as it was expected. The land was previously part of northern Carroll county, which is now Livingston county.
While the Mormon Wars were beginning, the Missouri state legislature approved the organization of Livingston County on January 6, 1837. The name of the county especially draws attention to Edward Livingston, of Louisiana, who was Secretary of State under President Jackson. The town was named after Chillicothe, Ohio, the county seat of Ross county. Chillicothe was originally spelled Chillicoathee, laid out in 1796, and named for an old Shawnee Indian town in the area. The origin of the name is in the Shawnee language which symbolizes the "big town where we live," or "our big home." Some bands of the Shawnees had a little town and the big town was called Chilliacoathee, which existed as early as 1774. The first term of the County Court was held April 6, 1837, at the residence of Judge Joseph Cox, the first white settler in Livingston county in 1833, that had been assigned as the temporary seat of justice of the county.
The founder of the township, John Graves was selected to sell off the land of Chillicothe into lots on August 7, 1837, which was ordered to be surveyed into twenty blocks before September 4, but on that day Graves resigned, and Nathan H. Gregory was appointed commissioner and trustee. Mr. Gregory surveyed and platted the region for the town. The first lots sold were on October 16 and 17. That same month, the construction on the first courthouse-framed structure began. When it was completed, the first county court held a session in May 1838. On July 15, 1839, the name of the town Chillicothe was chosen as the county seat of Livingston county, although it had served as the county’s capital for some time. That same year, the land in the northern part of Chillicothe is now officially open to be part of the town. In June 1843, James H. Darlington established the first newspaper in the county, the Grand River Chronicle.
About two-thirds of the citizens petitioned for the result of Chillicothe to be incorporated as a town by the county court on August 16, 1851. By an act of the legislature, Chillicothe was approved as a city on March 1, 1855. On Feb. 26, 1869, by an act of the legislature, the town was constituted a corporation by the name and style of the City of Chillicothe. At this time, the city government organized a mayor, a head councilman, and each ward of the city had an alderman for the community. From 1852 to 1856, the outlook on businesses improved with news of the building of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, which was completed in 1859. The population of the city had risen from 1,000 people in 1859 to almost 2,000 people by January 1861. In 1870, the number of total people in Livingston county was 16, 730 and 956 African Americans. In 1880, the population of Chillicothe increased to 4, 078.