John M. (John McAuley) Palmer.

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Dorston. The father was of German descent and the mother was of Scotch ex-
traction, a cousin of ex-Governor Asa Packer, of Pennsylvania. About 1850, the
family removed to Kendall county, Illinois, where the father was recognized as
a leading and prosperous agriculturist. In his early childhood he manifested a
love of study and gave evidence of the possession of a very retentive memory.
When about thirteen years of age he accompanied his parents to Illinois, and
being unable to engage in manual labor he eagerly perused all the volumes of
his father's scanty library and those he could obtain in the neighborhood ; for
books were not then plentiful. Acquiring an education and much greater pro-
ficiency than most youths of his years, at the age of sixteen he began teaching,
which profession he followed through the winter seasons until he continued his
own education as a student in the Rock River Seminary, at Mount Morris, Illi-
nois. He was graduated in that institution in the spring of 1858, and immedi-
ately afterward entered upon a course of law reading in the office of Hon. John
R. Crothers, of Oswego, Illinois. The following year, in Ottawa, Illinois, he
was admitted to the bar, having successfully passed an examination conducted by
Hon. John D. Caton and Sidney Breese, of the circuit court, and Judge P. H.
Walker, of the supreme bench.

Judge Van Dorston had practiced law but a short time when in response to
his country's call for troops he enlisted in the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, com-
manded by Colonel T. Lyle Dickey. He was promoted adjutant of the first
battalion with the rank of lieutenant, and participated in the battles of Fort Henry


and Fort Donelson, in the. latter having charge of the picket guards known as
the "right wing of the army." On account of illness and a wound in the foot.
Lieutenant Van Dorston was forced to resign after the capture of Fort Donelson,
and in the fall of 1863 received an honorable discharge.

As soon as able to travel he proceeded to Centralia, Illinois, where he en-
tered upon the practice of law in connection with the late Judge Nelson, who
thinking it would prove profitable to establish a branch office in Vandalia soon
sent Mr. Van Dorston to this place for that purpose. Here our subject entered
into partnership with George R. Fitch, then the only Republican lawyer in the
town, with whom he was connected until Mr. Fitch's death, about a year later.
In the fall of 1865 Mr. Van Dorston was elected county judge on the first Repub-
lican ticket ever elected in full in Fayette county. His career on the bench
was one which demonstrated his ability to successfully handle the intricate prob-
lems that come up for settlement in a court of that character, and his able admin-
istration made him the choice of his party for still higher honors. In 1868 he was
elected to the state senate, and resigning his position on the bench became a
member of the general assembly, where his influence was soon strongly felt. He
was one of the working members of that body, and his forcible, eloquent and
logical arguments showed careful consideration of the problems affecting the wel-
fare of the state and won him the commendation and gratitude of the Repub-
lican forces and even the respect of the opposition. He was afterward spoken
of in connection with gubernatorial honors. On the 22d of June, 1874, he was
appointed United States district attorney for southern Illinois and conducted the
trial of many important cases, including the Driggs counterfeit case, in which he
was opposed by many of the ablest lawyers of Springfield, who were employed for
the defense. Judge Van Dorston succeeded in gaining his suit and won high
complimentary mention from Judge Treat, who spoke of his legal worth, saying
he never in all his experience saw the equal of Judge Van Dorston in his ability
for preparing papers without reference to books or authorities. He seemed
almost intuitively to grasp the strong points of law ; no detail seemed to escape
him ; every point was given its due prominence, and the case was argued with
such skill, ability and power that he rarely failed to gain the verdict desired. In
February, 1876, he resigned his position as United States district attorney and re-
turned to Vandalia. It vjas his purpose to remove to Chicago with a prospect of
being elevated to the supreme bench, but on the I3th of April, 1880, death
terminated his labors and ended a judicial career which shed luster on the bar
of Illinois. He met in forensic combat the ablest members of the bar of his
district and won their highest respect and confidence by his extreme fairness.
He cared not for the laurels if they must be won by debasing himself, debauch-
ing public morality or degrading the dignity of his profession, but stood as the
defender of the weak against the strong, the right against the wrong, the just
against the unjust.

The Judge was married June 22, 1864, to Miss Alice M. Coffin, daughter of
Frederick and Dolly M. (Rhines) Coffin. On her father's side the ancestry can
be traced back to an old Norman family that went with William the Conqueror to


England, whence his descendants emigrated to Nantucket island. Members of
the family were prominently connected with the establishment of leading educa-
tional institutions in this country. The father was born in New York, and at the
age of thirteen went to Chicago, where he resided when the village was incor-
porated. He served as clerk in the historic Mark Beaubien Hotel, and later en-
gaged in merchandising. His wife represented an old German family, whose
lineage through one hundred and twenty years was given in an old family Bible.
She was born in New York and was a lady of high literary attainments. Her
brother was Henry Rhines, the first deputy sheriff of Chicago, a man of sterling
worth, who was proprietor of the early hotel in which John Wentworth, S. B.
Cobb and other prominent men were entertained in pioneer days. Frederick
and Dolly Coffin were members of the famous old Calumet Club, of Chicago, and
of the Methodist Episcopal church.

Judge Van Dorston and his wife established their home in Vandalia, where
they entertained the most prominent lawyers and statesmen, including Generals
Oglesby, Palmer and Logan. In politics the Judge was always a stanch Repub-
lican and his influence was strongly felt in the councils of his party. His
superior intellectual endowments, fidelity to his honest convictions and his genial,
courteous manner made him well fitted for leadership, and he was very popular
in all circles. He served as presidential elector in 1872, and was an honored
member of the United States Bar Association. At the age of twelve years he
joined the Methodist church on probation and always continued his connection
with that denomination. He had a very sensitive nature and suffered keenly
from the opposition and unwarranted attacks of political or business enemies.
His disposition was sunny and his circle of friends was very extensive. Friend-
ship was to him inviolable, and every confidence reposed in him was considered
a sacred trust.

"His life was noble, and the elements so mixed in him
That Nature might stand up and say to all the world,
'This was a man.' "

Judge William M. Farmer, circuit-court judge in the fourth judicial district
of Illinois, and a resident of Vandalia, was born on a farm in Fayette county, this
state, on the 5th of June, 1853, and is a son of William and Margaret (Wright)
Farmer. His paternal grandparents removed from North Carolina to Ken-
tucky, and in 1829 William Farmer, leaving the latter state, became a resident of
Fayette county, where he spent his remaining days, his death occurring in June,
1888, at the age of eighty years. He had but limited advantages for acquiring an
education, but was a man of strong common sense and great force of character,
and his sterling worth and fidelity to duty won him the confidence and respect of
all. He enlisted in the Black Hawk war in 1832 and remained in the service until
hostilities had ceased, when he returned to his farm. He held a number of public
offices in his county and township, and throughout his life was a stalwart advo-
cate of the Democratic party. He and his wife both belonged to southern fam-
ilies who owned slaves, but they favored the abolition of slavery and at the time of


the civil .war Mr. Farmer was an ardent supporter of the Union cause. Mrs.
Farmer, whose people were from Georgia, was a lady of culture and literary ac-
complishments, and although the Judge was only twelve years of age at the time
of her death her teachings and influence did much in forming his habits and tastes
in life.

Judge Farmer acquired his preliminary education in the district school and
later was for three years a student in McKendree College, pursuing the classical
course to the sophomore year. He then entered the Union College of Law, in
which institution he was graduated in June, 1876. Perhaps one of the influences
that led him to adopt the legal profession as a life work came through his interest
which was aroused by the trial of cases before his father, who held the- office of
justice of the peace. In those days very important controversies were often
settled in the justice courts and the trials would be conducted by the best legal
talent the county-seat afforded. Although but a boy Judge Farmer took great
delight in sitting by his father and watching the progress of the trial, hearing the
discussions of the opposing counsel as each labored earnestly in behalf of his con-
stituents. He thought at the time that he would like to become a lawyer, but dur-
ing his youth his time was largely taken up with the work of the farm until he
went away to school. His first step after leaving McKendree College was to en-
gage in teaching for ten months, and during that period he also read law, pre-
paratory to entering college.

In June, 1876, Judge Farmer was admitted to the bar, and in July opened an
office in Vandalia, where he has since engaged in practice. He formed a part-
nership with a man named Chapin, a college "chum" and classmate, under the
firm name of Farmer & Chapin, and later they entered into partnership relations
with B. W. Henry, an old-established practitioner who had been Judge Farmer's
preceptor before his entrance into the law school. The firm name was accord-
ingly changed to Henry, Farmer & Chapin, and thus continued until the death of
Mr. Chapin in 1880, after which the firm of Henry & Farmer continued to prac-
tice at the Yandalia bar until 1882. The junior member then formed a partner-
ship with J. J. Brown, a young man about his own age, and the firm of Farmer &
Brown won and maintained a position of distinct prominence until June i, 1897,
when Mr. Farmer was elected to the bench and the business relations were neces-
sarily discontinued. He was elected in 1880 to the position of state's attorney
for Fayette county and served one term, and is now the efficient and popular
circuit judge of his district. As a lawyer Judge Farmer was prominent and suc-
cessful, because he was fully equipped for the difficult work of his profession.
With natural talent of a high order he bent his energies to the task of mastering
the science of law, and he did it with the natural result of achieving a proud posi-
tion in the profession and winning an extensive clientage. Wide research and
provident care mark his preparation of cases, and his logical grasp of facts and
principles and the law applicable to them was another potent element in his
success, together with his remarkable clearness of expression and an adequate
and precise diction which enabled him to make others understand not only the
salient points of his argument, but every fine gradation in the significance of his


statement. As a judge he has commanded uniform respect and general confi-
dence, and the community rests in perfect content while the administration of law
is in such hands as his.

Judge Farmer views the political situation of the country from a broad
standpoint, and mature deliberation guides his political work. Believing firmly
in the principles of the Democracy, he always votes with that party, and in 1888
was elected on its ticket to the house of representatives of the general assembly.
On the expiration of his two-years term he was elected to the state senate, where
he enjoyed the distinction of being one of the famous "101," who in 1891
elected ex-Governor Palmer to the United States senate. During the session of
1893 he was chairman of the judiciary committee and took an important part in
framing the laws of the state. In 1892 he was a delegate to the Democratic
national convention and has contributed in all possible ways to the success and
growth of his party.

Judge Farmer was married in Hagarstown, Illinois, December 23, 1875, to
Illinois V. Henninger, and they have three children : Mabel, who was born
December 17, 1878, and is now a student in the Illinois Female College, at Jack-
sonville; Virginia L., who was born February 20, 1886; and Lucia Gwendolen,
born August 21, 1892. The Judge is a member of the order of Knights of
Pythias, and in social circles is a very companionable gentleman, whose courtesy
and geniality have won him a host of friends. On the bench, however, he fully
upholds the majesty of the law and maintains the dignity of one who believes
that the highest title that can be bestowed is that of an American citizen.

Samuel Alexander Prater, upon being admitted to the bar of Fayette county,
fifteen years ago established himself in the practice of law in Vandalia, where he
is still a resident. As in nearly every walk in life he has been alone and thor-
oughly independent, so in this he has preferred to practice alone, and has never
been in partnership with any one. In September, 1882, he was appointed to the
office of master in chancery of the Fayette circuit court by Judge C. S. Zane, and
two years later was reappointed to the position by Judge W. R. Welch. After
an interval he was honored by another appointment to the same office, in Feb-
ruary, 1893, and has acted in this capacity for three successive terms, each time
being the choice of Judge Jacob Fouke. His practice is almost exclusively
chancery and probate business, in which lines he is particularly successful.

The paternal great-grandparents- of S. A. Prater were natives of Virginia and
were of Scotch-Irish extraction. About the beginning of this century they re-
moved to Tennessee, and within a few years proceeded onward to Illinois, where
their descendants have since dwelt. The maternal grandparents came to Illinois
from Kentucky, and thus it may be seen that southern blood flows in his veins,
which fact in a rneasure accounts for the deep sympathy he has felt for the south.
While bitterly opposed to slavery, his study of the causes which led up to the
war has strengthened, rather than lessened, his belief that the south was not
entirely in the wrong in the position it took in regard to "state sovereignty." At
the same time he appreciates the benefits of an undivided Union, and does not
regret the issue of the terrible conflict which cost both sections of this country


such a fearful sacrifice of lives, all equally devoted to the principles in which they
had been reared.

The parents of S. A. Prater were Holloway S. and Siner (Casey) Prater.
His father was a farmer by occupation and owned and cultivated a good home-
stead in the northwestern portion of Fayette county, Illinois, for many years.
Settling there in 1831 he was a continuous resident of that county for over half
a century, or up to the time of his death, June 9, 1884. He was a hero of the
Mexican war and was with General Scott at the bombardment of Vera Cruz
and at the taking of the city of Mexico. From 1875 to 1877 he served in the
capacity of county treasurer of Fayette county, and for years was an important
factor in local Democratic politics. By his straighforward, manly life he won the
respect and admiration of all who knew him.

The eldest child of H. S. and Siner Prater, our subject was born on the old
homestead in this county, December 10, 1853, and until he was eighteen years of
age had no school advantages save those which the district schools offered. De-
siring to equip himself more thoroughly for the duties of life, he attended the
Normal School at Normal, Illinois, for one term, and during the winter and
spring of 1872-73 was a student at the National Normal at Lebanon, Ohio. He
had always been a great reader, eagerly devouring all the literature, books and
papers which came within his reach, and thus was well informed on a variety of
topics of general interest and importance at an age when his friends of the same
age spent their leisure almost entirely in youthful society and athletic sports. As
for himself, he desired no better friend than a good book, and to this day he has
kept up his love for deep, scientific and philosophical studies. He is a disciple of
the school of agnosticism, agreeing with many of the theories of Huxley and
Spencer and admiring the ethical teachings of Felix Adler and O. B. Froth-

At the age of nineteen Mr. Prater began teaching and was thus occupied for
three terms. For several years he devoted more or less of his time to agricult-
ure, but in December, 1876, he left the farm and for about one year gave his time
to the study and practice of telegraphy, being located in Janesville, Wisconsin,
and Chicago, Illinois. Returning to this county at the close of 1877, he was
elected township assessor soon afterward, and resumed farming in 1879. Owing
to asthmatic trouble he decided to abandon the farm and about the first of Oc-
tober, 1880, he commenced the study of law in the office of Henry & Farmer,
of Vandalia; was admitted to practice June 12, 1883, and has since been engaged
in professional business in Vandalia. He has been very successful and stands
well in the estimation of the local members of the bar. Politically, he is a

January 30, 1896, Mr. Prater married Miss Mary Todd, a daughter of Rev.
Hugh Wallace Todd, who was born in Scotland and was the pastor of the Van-
dalia Presbyterian church from 1876 to 1897. He then resigned and has since
enjoyed a quiet, retired life, free from the many cares and anxieties which always
attend the. pathway of an earnest, sincere minister of the gospel.

Beverly Walter Henry, one of the historic figures at the Illinois bar, for


more than forty years has actively engaged in practice in Vandalia. His career
forms an important chapter in the history of jurisprudence in this state, for he
has been connected with much of the most important litigation in southern
Illinois through more than four decades. Long since he attained an eminent
position among his professional brethren, and that place he has never forfeited,
but through the passing years has had a distinctly representative and extensive
clientele that plainly testifies to his superior merit, his comprehensive knowledge
of the law and the successful application of its principles to the points in liti-

Mr. Henry is one of Illinois' native sons, his birth having occurred in
Shelby county, on the 28th of May, 1834. He is descended from one of the
heroes of the Revolution, his grandfather, Fontleroy Henry, having served as a
soldier with Virginian troops in the war for independence. The father of Judge
Henry was Bushrod Washington Henry, a native of Culpeper county, Virginia,
who on attaining his majority married Miss Elizabeth Hutson, a native of the
same county, their wedding being celebrated in Culpeper Court House in 1826.
The former belonged to the same family of which Patrick Henry was a repre-
sentative, and the latter was a member of the prominent Mason family of Vir-
ginia, her mother having been a Mason. That family furnished to the Old
Dominion a number of her prominent ministers and statesmen, including Senator
George Mason, of "Mason and Slidell" notoriety. In the year of his marriage
Bushrod W. Henry emigrated with his bride to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and
thence to Shelby county, Illinois, in 1829, locating on a farm near Shelbyville.
He was a minister of the gospel, first in the Baptist church and afterward in the
Christian church. The present Christian church in Shelbyville was established
by him as a Baptist church, but becoming convinced that the doctrines of the
Christian church were those taught by the Saviour, in 1835 he withdrew from the
Baptist denomination to identify himself with the Christian church and took with
him all of his congregation with the exception of three members. He was a
man of strong personality, a logical and aggressive speaker and a man of great
eloquence who exercised an ennobling influence among those with whom he
was associated. Almost twenty years have joined the silent march of the cen-
turies to eternity since he passed from this life, but the impress of his individuality
and Christian example is still felt throughout the counties of Shelby, Moultrie,
Coles, Macon and Christian. His wife passed away in 1835, and they lie buried
side by side in the cemetery of Shelbyville.

Judge Beverly W. Henry was reared on his father's farm, situated a few
miles north of Shelbyville, and from the time of early planting in the spring until
the harvests were gathered in the late fall assisted in the labors of the fields.
Through the winter season he attended the district schools of the neighborhood,
until eighteen years of age. The Bible, a hymn book and a few school-books
comprised the library of most of the country people in those days, but the Rev.
B. W. Henry was the possessor of what was then considered a voluminous
library. The volumes which he owned consisted of Goldsmith's Ancient His-
tories of Greece and Rome, Hallam's Middle Ages, Prescott's histories, Weems'


Lives of Washington and Marion, and Plutarch's Lives. While the students
seldom advanced beyond "the double rule of three" (nowadays called "compound
proportion") in Pike's Arithmetic and knew little or nothing of grammar, Judge
Henry pored over his father's library with great delight, and, as every one must
who engages in the perusal of the best literature, found it an educational train-
ing much superior to that of the school-room. When eighteen years of age,
however, he removed with his father to Sullivan, Moultrie county, where, in the
fall of 1852 he entered the Moultrie County Academy, in which institution he was
graduated in 1855. He afterward engaged in teaching in that academy, and also
took up the study of law under the supervision of the Hon. John R. Eden. In
the spring of 1857 he was admitted to the bar, but not content with his prepara-
tion for practice he went immediately to Lebanon, Tennessee, where he entered
the law department of the Cumberland University. He was graduated in the
spring of 1858 and among his classmates were Judge L. B. Valliant, now of the
St. Louis circuit bench, Judge Battle, of Arkansas, and Ben Yancy, son of the
celebrated William L. Yancy, of Alabama.

On leaving the university Judge Henry returned to Sullivan and opened a
law office, but his was the same old experience of the prophet that is never
without honor save in his own country, and leaving that town he came to Van-
clalia, on the ist of January, 1859. Early in the morning he left the train at this
point, umvelcomed by a single friend. His capital consisted of seven dollars and
a half, borrowed money, in addition to which he had a scanty wardrobe and a few
standard text-books. He had no experience; but, full of hope, determination
and courage, he joined the Vandalia bar, then composed of such men as the Hon.
Daniel Gregory, Joshua W. Ross, Tewis Greathouse, Jacob Fouke, John Mcll-
wain and R. C. Lewis. With resolute purpose and commendable ambition he
resolved to win a name and a place for himself at this bar. A lack of energy,
perseverance and broad knowledge of the law would not deter him in this under-
taking, and such qualities always win success sooner or later. Mr. Henry's case
was no exception to the rule. Daniel Gregory, who about that time retired
from the bar, became his stanch friend and used his influence in behalf of the
young man. He also won social recognition from the best people of the town,
but it needed money also to support the struggling young lawyer. In order to

Online LibraryJohn M. (John McAuley) PalmerThe bench and the bar of Illinois : Historical and reminiscent (Volume v.2) → online text (page 36 of 83)