John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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Wha struts and stares, and a' that:

Though hundreds worship at his word

He's but a Coof for a' that;

For a' that and a' that;

His riband, star and a' that;

The man of independent mind,

He looks and laughs at a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may

As come it will for a' that

That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth,

May bear the gree for a' that;

For a' that and a' that;

It's coming yet for a' that,

When man to man the wide warld o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that.

The spirit which inspired these lines was abroad in all lands where Scotchmen
dwelt before it broke forth from the pen of Burns. Only recently have writers
of history begun to trace its influence in the early history of our country.

John Fiske, in his latest historical work, speaks of the Ulster colonists as
"picked men and women of the most excellent sort." As an evidence of their
exceptional intelligence he mentions that a document, signed in 1718 by a mis-
cellaneous group of three hundred and nineteen men, contained the genuine
autographs of three hundred and six of them, and that only thirteen made their
mark. "Nothing like that," writes Fiske, "could have happened at that time
in any other part of Great Britain, hardly even in New England." But as early
as 1650 the Scotch Reformers .had adopted measures for the establishment of a
school, in every parish, and requiring the schoolmaster of every burg and popu-
lous village to be qualified to teach Latin. They further proposed that in every
considerable town there should be a college. After a college course of six or
eight years, students were considered fitted to enter the Scotch universities.
These plans were not at once carried out, but in 1653 every village had its school,
and in most of the country all the children of age could read. These are his-
toric facts which account for the document of 1718, which to a man of wide
historical knowledge denote a remarkable diffusion of the benefits of education
for that early period.

This brief outline of the antecedents of the Scotch-Irish accounts for their
influence in early times in this country. The author we have referred to says
it "affected all the colonies south of Pennsylvania most profoundly, and did
more than anything else to determine the character of all the states afterward
formed west of the Alleghanies and south of the latitude of middle Illinois."
He speaks of the exodus from Ulster to America as "an event of scarcely less


importance than the exodus of the English Puritans to New England, and of
the Cavaliers to Virginia." Their advent in Virginia was the beginning of an
agitation which continued through two generations and finally resulted in the
separation of church and state, complete religious toleration, the abolition of
primogeniture and entails, and other important reforms, all in the direction of
the self-evident truths enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Fiske
says that "without the aid of the Valley population" these reforms would not
'have been accomplished; that if Jefferson was the father of Democracy, the
Shenandoah valley and adjacent regions was its cradle ; and that the beginnings
of Jeffersonian Democracy can nowhere else be so well studied as in the records
of the Presbyterian population of the eighteenth century, in the region of the
Appalachian mountains. He attributes the facts that Kentucky did not secede
in 1861 and that A'irginia was split in two by secession agitation, and that a
large portion of Tennessee was loyal to the flag during the civil war, to the in-
fluence and power of this element of the population of those states. In the
border states it was a bulwark of strength to the Union, but in the cotton states
was untrue to the teachings of the fathers, and of Jackson, the greatest expon-
ent of Democratic doctrines after Jefferson's time. But while the region pointed
out above was the chief seat of this influence, wherever it was felt it left inefface-
able impressions which others beside Fiske mention.

In Butler's Book, the Londonderry settlement in New Hampshire is said
to have been a "remarkable accession to its population, and the one which has
had the best effect on the character of the people ;" and that "the many great
men who have stood out before the country as representative of New Hamp-
shire, were descendants, lineally or collaterally, from these progenitors." To
these testimonials may be added a list of distinguished names connected with our
history. Among them are Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan,
Andrew Johnson and U. S. Grant, presidents of the United States ; and the
Breckinridges, Alexanders, Prestons, Stuarts, McDowells, Calhouns, Pickens
and others of the south ; and Anthony Wayne, General Sumter, John Stark,
George Rogers Clark, Thomas Benton, Sam Houston, Daniel Boone and
hosts of others no less creditable to the ancestry from which they sprang.

Returning to the history of the Irwin family, Andrew Irwin, a grandson
of James, returned to Scotland. His descendants resided in the vicinity of Kil-
birnie and Irvine in the west of Scotland as late as 1871. A letter written by
Andrew's son David, July 21, 1829, to Francis Irwin, of Ballybay, Ireland,
was accompanied by a sketch of the armorial device of the first Scotch ancestor
of the Ulster pioneer known to the family. The writer of the letter signed his
name "Irvine," but addressed it to "Francis Irwin :" they were cousins. Speak-
ing of the sketch, the writer said: "It was the badge of my father; and as you
(Francis) are an Irvine by father, I believe you will think more of the Irvines
'on that account." Francis was the grandson of the James of Acres, who had
a son named Samuel, who also had a son Samuel, who was the father of John
and the grandfather of John G. Irwin. These fragments of evidence, corrob-
orated by family tradition, connect the Irwin family, remotely, with the Irvine


to whom the Bruce granted the forest of Drum in Aberdeenshire. Sir George
Mackenzie, in his Science of Heraldry, says : "The Bruce had for his badge
and device three such leaves (holly) which he gave for arms with the forest of
Drum to one Irvine, who sprang from a very ancient and principal family, and
from whom spring the Irvines in the west of Scotland ; who carried fesse, gules,
between three hollin leaves, vert. Crest : a gauntlet issuing out of a cloud,
holding a thistle aloft. Motto : Dum memor, ipse mei." The antiquity of
the family in Scotland is further attested by the river and town and castle ruins
in Ayrshire named Irvine.

The genealogical data contained in this sketch is taken more largely from
letters written by Thomas Irwin, of Annanice, Ballybay, Ireland, than from any
other source. He still resides upon a "townland" contiguous to the one which
James Irwin occupied, which Thomas fell heir to and owned until a few years
ago. He is the only lineal descendant of the Samuel Irwin branch of the fam-
ily, or perhaps we should say male descendant, now remaining in Ireland. His
brothers and sisters, and the descendants of the four brothers of the first Samuel,
are scattered all over the United States and Canada. The researches of south-
ern members of the family have resulted in the gathering up of quite a volume
of evidence confirmatory of the genealogy above outlined.

The Irvine to whom the forest of Drum was granted was a valiant sup-
porter of the Bruce in his struggle for the crown and for the independence of
Scotland. A century after Bannockburn, lacking three years, Sir Alexander
Irvine of Drum was the most conspicuous of the slain knights whose blood was
shed on the "sair field of Harlaw,"- a battle which historians say "made a deep
impression on the national mind." It lives yet in the ballads of Scotland, and in
The Antiquary. It was one of the fiercest of the battles between the Highlanders
and lowlanders, the former led by Donald, Lord of the Isles, the latter by Sir
Alexander Stuart, Earl of Mar. Sir Alexander Irvine followed the Stuart ban-
ner. Harlaw was the decisive battle for national union under Saxon supremacy,
though the immediate cause of the invasion of the lowlands at that time was a
dispute as to the right of succession to the earldom of Ross.

On both sides of the family line Judge John G. Irwin is Scotch-Irish. His
paternal grandmother was a Gordon, and all his maternal ancestors were of the
same stock. The maiden name of his mother was Elizabeth Powers, and her
mother was Hester Thompson. All his grandparents came from Ireland to
this country excepting his father's father, who died in Ireland when a young

John Irwin, father of Judge John G. Irwin, was a weaver. When eighteen
years of age he came to this country, where he followed his trade, first in New
York city, then in Philadelphia. In 1836 he came to Edwardsville, Illinois,
where for several years he was a partner of Erastus Wheeler in the manufacture
of fanning-mills, then a new and useful invention. In July, 1849, while away
from home on a business trip he died of cholera, then epidemic in this part of
the country. He was a Whig and took an active interest in politics, while in
religious belief he was a Presbyterian. He married Elizabeth Thompson Pow-


ers, of Scotch-Irish parentage and a native of Baltimore, Maryland. She sur-
vived him, and afterward married Daniel A. Lanterman, of Eclwardsville, whom
she also survived. She died in 1874, leaving four children, the others besides
our subject being Samuel P., a resident of Los Angeles, California ; Mary D.,
wife of H. C. Lanterman, of Edwardsville ; and Joseph F., who died in October,
1874, leaving two children, Frank and Clara, of Lincoln, Nebraska. The mother,
Mrs. Elizabeth Irwin, was a woman of great moral strength of character, which
she never failed, to exert upon her family and friends when she thought its use
called for. She was reared in New York and Philadelphia, where she acquired
a good education in public and parochial schools. She always took a keen
interest in all matters of general public concern, and in the controversies which
divided the church of her choice into two denominational bodies in her time.
She had the privilege of attending all the sittings of the general assembly whose
angry debates resulted in the formation of the old and new school branches of the
Presbyterian church. She adhered to the old-school branch, but was not averse
to the most cordial fellowship with the adherents of the new-school branch, or
with members of other evangelical churches. The agitation of doctrinal differ-
ences and of slavery in church assemblies in her day were of great educational
value to those who took the interest in them which she did. She often remarked
that the debate of the Philadelphia assembly was enough to persuade any one
"that ministers were but men ;" but she always held the clergy in high esteem
and found particular pleasure in showing them hospitality that she might enjoy
conversation with them on topics associated with church progress and history,
and listen to and relate reminiscences of its prominent preachers and teachers.
Judge Irwin was born in Edwardsville, Illinois, January 21, 1842, and his
early boyhood antedates the introduction of free schools in Madison county.
He spent several years in attendance upon private and parochial schools, and in
them obtained a thorough rudimentary education. He also attended the old
Edwardsville Academy, similar to the graded public schools of to-day, and
formulated plans for attending college ; but the war came on and like many
other young men of that time he concluded to take a three-years course of study
in a practical military school. On the igth of August, 1861, he enlisted in Com-
pany I, Ninth Illinois Infantry, and remained in the service until August 20,
1864, when he was mustered out, at Springfield, Illinois. His company and
regiment entered the service at Cairo, thence went to Paclucah, Kentucky, and
with Grant's forces participated in the campaign which resulted in the capture of
Forts Henry and Donelson and Pittsburg Landing, the Ninth Illinois taking an
active part in the fore-front of these battles. Its losses in killed and wounded
were among the greatest known to the annals of war. It also participated in the
second battle of Corinth, where it was again in the front of the lines during
the two days occupied by the attack on that place. That was one of the most
important stategic points of the seat of the war,, and the defense was both tri-
umphant and sanguinary. This battle resulted in a disastrous repulse of the
enemy, who greatly outnumbered the Union forces. The Ninth Illinois was
afterward mounted and served until the close of the war as mounted infantry.


During the spring and summer of 1863 the members of this regiment were oc-
cupied in scouting and raiding service in western Tennessee, northern Missis-
sippi and in Alabama, with headquarters at Pocahontas, Tennessee. In the
fall of that year they were transferred to Athens, Alabama, where they remained
through the following winter, and from Athens crossed the Tennessee river in
flatboats and captured Decatur, Alabama, a fortified post of the enemy, remain-
ing there until the opening of the Atlanta campaign. From that time until the
close of the war they were with Sherman's army, taking an active and conspicu-
ous part in the marches, battles and skirmishes of that great movement which
resulted in the fall of Atlanta, followed by the march to the sea, the campaign
of the Carolinas and the final collapse of the Confederacy. Judge Irwin never
missed a duty on account of illness during his three years of service. He was in
all the marches, raids, skirmishes, battles and sieges in which his regiment was
engaged with the exception of the battle of Shiloh, the cavalry engagement at
Salem, Mississippi, and at Moultonville, Alabama. Disabling wounds, received
at Donelson, prevented his participation at Shiloh. When he heard of the bat-
tle, however, and before his furlough had expired, he returned to his regiment
to do what he could for his brother and other comrades of his company, and
relieve the anxiety of friends at home about them. The siege of Corinth fol-
lowed the battle, and in that he participated, resuming his duties as soon as he
arrived upon the field. The engagement at Moultonville occurred while he
was at home on a recruiting furlough in the winter of 1864, and the engagement
of Salem was in progress at a time when he was bearing dispatches of great im-
portance from Colonel Phillips to Grand Junction, Tennessee, the object being
to obtain reinforcements to rescue his regiment, which was in imminent peril of
being captured by a force of the enemy that greatly outnumbered them and was
threatening an attack. This episode illustrates the kind of service in which the
Ninth Illinois Regiment was engaged after it was mounted. Judge Irwin en-
listed when he was only nineteen years of age. He was promoted to the rank of
sergeant and was honored by his superior officers by being chosen for import-
ant confidential service on a number of occasions. Twice was he offered a com-
mission, but both times declined.

In December, 1864, Judge Irwin began the study of law under the tutelage
of Judge David Gillespie. Two years later he was examined for admission to
the bar and on the 3Oth of January, 1867, he was licensed by the supreme court.
During the first year of his practice he was in partnership with Hon. A. W.
Metcalf. He then became a partner of William H. Krome, under the firm name
of Irwin & Krome, which connection continued until April, 1874. In March of
that year a vacancy in the office of county judge of Madison county occurred,
caused by the tragic death of Judge William T. Brown. No nominations were
made to fill this vacancy, but Judge M. G. Dale, a former incumbent of the
office, Judge A. H. Gambrill, of the city court, of Alton, and John G. Irwin,
all became candidates for the office. The last named was elected by two votes,
Judge Dale being second in the race according to the returns. The latter con-
tested the 'election, and in the circuit court the contest was decided in favor of


Irwin, but on an appeal to the supreme court this judgment was reversed and
Judge Dale was declared to be entitled to the office. The contest turned upon the
question of the right of certain students of Shurtleff College, in Upper Alton, to
vote. The fallibility of human judgment, and even of men who would fain be con-
sidered sages and statesmen, is well illustrated by the fact that by the opinion of
Judge Breese in this case men who were married and resided with their families in
Upper Alton, and who after graduating continued to live there, and some of
whom have since died there, and who were born citizens of the United States,
and were over twenty-one years old, were disfranchised for the purpose of that
election, for the sole reason that they were students ; and this regardless of their
sworn declaration that Upper Alton was their home, and of other facts and cir-
cumstances which should have controlled the decision of the court.

While Judge Irwin was the incumbent of the office he gave his time dili-
gently to the settlement of a number of quite complicated estates. Previous to
that the county judge had been not only the judge of the probate court, but pre-
siding judge of the county commissioners' court, to the duties of which posi-
tion more attention had been given than to probate matters. Among the im-
portant cases upon which he was called to pass judgment was the settlement of
the estate of his predecessor, against which the county had filed a large claim
for public funds for which he had not previously accounted. The case was under
investigation for nearly two years, and resulted in a judgment for the claimant
for upward of thirty-nine thousand dollars. Being a case in which the public
interests were involved, a few of the partisan friends of the deceased were at
first disposed to criticise the amount of the judgment, but the law gave an ap-
peal and the right of a trial de novo. An appeal was taken, not on the ground
that the amount of the judgment was excessive, but because of the classification
of the claim, giving it preference on the theory that the claim was for trust
funds. The judgment was affirmed by the circuit court and this ended the case.
A written opinion was filed by Judge Irwin, an examination of which will show
that the estate got the benefit of all contested items of doubtful credits, and that
the judgment could not have been smaller without doing violence to well settled
rules of law. There was no contention as to the amount of money and funds
which had gone into the hands of the deceased, and the burden of proof was
upon his administrators to show what had been done with it. The judgment
represents what they were unable to account for after a long investigation, in
which the representatives of the estate had the best of counsel, who were favored
by the court with all the time they asked in which to do their work, and they
did it as faithfully as it could be done.

Upon his retirement from office the political opponents of Judge Irwin pub-
licly acknowledged that his administration had been impartial and fair in a judi-
cial sense, and his record highly creditable to him in point of ability and integrity.
He passed upon many important cases and there were few appeals from his de-
cisions, none of which were reversed. On leaving the bench Judge Irwin re-
sumed the practice of law, entering into partnership with E. C. Springer, under
the firm name of Irwin & Springer. That connection was continued until 1882,


since which time he has been alone in business. He has had a select practice
and a clientele who show their faith in him by the long terms for which he has
been in charge of their litigated interests. He confines his practice to civil
cases, having an aversion to criminal practice. With this exception he is an
"all-round'' lawyer, and is considered an expert corporation attorney. He has
been one of the most successful practitioners of his district and is wholly devoted
to his profession.

In youth Judge Irwin became an ardent Republican, and voted for Abraham
Lincoln. Until 1872 he considered it unpatriotic and disloyal to his country to
vote any other ticket, but since then has been more liberal in his political views,
although he still believes in the fundamental principles of the government which
gave rise to the Republican party, and is in hearty accord with its record upon
financial and economic questions.

On the 3Oth of March, 1869, Judge Irwin married Miss Nancy M., daughter
of Bezaleel and Hulda M. (Baldwin) Day. She was born in New York, of which
state her mother was also a native. Her father was born in Connecticut, and
her ancestors on both sides came to this country long before the Revolutionary
war. Her parents came to Edwardsville in 1867, three years after she had
taken up her residence here. She had a younger sister, who also resided in
Edwardsville, and died in 1877. The members of the family have all passed
away, but are remembered in this city as devoted Christian people whose exem-
plary lives caused them to be sincerely mourned when they were called to the
home beyond. Mrs. Irwin died in March, 1893, and on the gih of October,
1895, the Judge married Miss Luella Nichols, a daughter of W. H. H. and
Sallie (Nichols) Nichols. Judge Irwin is a member of the Knights of Honor,
the Masonic fraternity and the Grand Army of the Republic. He is a man of
dignified presence, of genial, social nature, fond of good books and old friends,
a successful lawyer and an able judge, and as a citizen is much esteemed and
highly respected.

Hon. Levi Davis was a native of Cecil county, Maryland. He was born
July 20, 1808. His father was a Pennsylvanian of Welsh descent, his mother
a native of Scotland and a descendant of Scotch ancestors. From infancy to
manhood he was a fatherless orphan whose training and development was wholly
under the guidance of his mother. He was educated at Newark Academy, Dela-
ware, and Jefferson College, Pennsylvania. He obtained the degree of B. A.
at graduation, when he was but twenty years old, and immediately began the
study of law under Levine Gale, at Elkton, Maryland. Two years later he was
examined and licensed to practice law, at Baltimore, Maryland, and the follow-
ing spring began his professional career at Vandalia, Illinois, then the capital of
the state. An incident of his life while there was a short period of service as a
volunteer in the Black Hawk war. In 1832 he was married to Miss Lucy Ann
Staph, who died in 1860. Eight children were born to them, but three of whom
survive the father. In 1835 a vacancy occurred in the office of auditor of public
accounts. Governor Duncan appointed Mr. Davis to fill it, and he was twice
elected to'the same office by the general assembly. Upon removal of the cap-


ital to Springfield he became a resident of that place, and continued to reside
there until 1846, when he removed to Alton, which was ever after that his home.

Before going to Springfield he had gained an enviable reputation as a law-
yer. When he was succeeded in office by General James Shields he engaged
in the practice of law in the state and United States courts, at Springfield. At
that time Lincoln, Browning, Butterfield, Norman B. Judd, David J. Baker,
Stephen T. Logan, E. D. Baker and others of equal eminence as lawyers, prac-
ticed in the same courts. Levi Davis was in intimate relations with them as
long as he practiced law in Springfield. He was often associated with them,
and as often their opponents in the trial of cases, and was the peer of any of
them as a lawyer. After his removal to Alton he was for several years the at-
torney of the Chicago & Alton Railroad Company, and was also attorney of the
St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute Railroad Company, and was for a long time
a director of the last named company. His connection with these roads brought
him into intimate relations with business men, lawyers and capitalists who were
among the foremost men of their times in business and political circles.

In one respect he may justly be accorded pre-eminence among all his fel-
lows, and that is for unselfishness, rectitude of purpose, and fidelity to all that

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 12 of 83)