John Jacob Hays was born in New York circa 1770. His family emigrated to North America from the Netherlands in 1720. The Hays family belongs to Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish Congregation in the United States.
John Jacob Hays left New York and settled in Cahokia circa 1790. He was merchant engaged in the trade with Native-American tribes in the Mississippi River Valley. Upon moving to Cahokia, he joined the militia, serving under Francois Saucier and alongside his French neighbors.
When Illinois gained statehood in 1818, Hays was the sole Jewish resident of the New State.
He married Marie Louise Brouillet in 1801 in Vincennes. Little is known of his immediate family. In the 1810 census, the Hays household included three children under the age of 10.
He was appointed as the Sheriff of St. Clair County in 1802, and as a Justice of the Peace in 1806. Hays also served on the county Board of Commissioners when the decision was made to move the county seat from Cahokia to Bellville in 1814. He was appointed Collector of the Internal Revenue for the Illinois Territory by President James Madison in 1814. In 1820 Hays was appointed Indian Agent for the Potawatomi and Miami Tribes in Northeastern Indiana.
In 1823, Hays returned to Cahokia where he died in 1836.
Erected 2019 by Sponsored by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, the St. Clair Historical Society, the Illiniois State Historical Society.