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The United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume online

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own unaided energy, industry and perseverance,
made for himself a fortune. But few men have a
better record, or have achieved more grand results
from a small and discouraging beginning. He is
known as a man of sterling integrity, decided char-
acter and untiring energy, and receives and merits
the esteem and confidence of his fellow-citizens.



THE ancestors of him whose history is outlined
in this sketch were among the early settlers of
New England. His maternal great-grandfather, An-
drew Lord, was born in 1697. His grandfather, Mar-
tin Lord, was born in ^742, and settled in North Kil-
lingworth, Connecticut. A man of great force and
dignity of character, patriotic and energetic, he was
truly one of "nature's noblemen." He married the
daughter of Rev. William Seward, of North Kil-
lingworth. They reared a large family of children,
of whom Huldah, the fifth, born in 1776, was the
mother of our subject.

His paternal grandfather, Abel Wilcox, was of
good Puritan stock, and for thirty-three years held
the office of deacon in the Congregational church
at Killingworth. Of his eight children the two
youngest, born in 1771, were twins. Their history
is very remarkable. Their resemblance was so
striking that it was with difficulty that their nearest
friends could distinguish them. They were of fine
personal appearance and dignified' manners. They
married sisters ; were merchants by occupation and
at one time very wealthy, owning vessels engaged in
the West India trade, woolen factories and stores.
They were pious men, rigidly orthodox in their be-
lief, and reared their large families in strict Puritan
style. They were named Moses and Aaron. Moses,
the father of our subject, was a fine reader, and in
the absence of the minister was called upon to read
the sermon. He was once a member of the Con-
necticut legislature. Meeting with many reverses
of fortune, the twins, in 1824, removed to Summit
county, Ohio, where they had taken up a tract of

four thousand acres of land. Arriving at their des-
tination, after a wearisome journey of forty, days by
canal and Lake Erie, and thence through the wil-
derness by marked trees, they called the place
where they settled "Twinsburg." They lived, how-
ever, but two years after reaching their new home,
both dying upon the same day of the same disease,
after a few hours' illness. Each left a widow and
large family, with small means but brave hearts, to
face the hardships of life in a new country.

Our subject, the youngest of nine children, was
born on the 6th of December, 1820, his mother's
forty-fourth birthday. He was the darling of her
heart, and remarkable for his filial devotion and
love. He was seven years old when his father died.
He had very limited educational advantages at the
village academy, and when not in school was em-
ployed upon the farm, and when old enough en-
gaged in teaching during the winter months. His
youth was marked by energy and enterprise, and
being of an inquisitive mind, fond of investigation,
he often perplexed his pious mother with questions
upon what she considered sound theology, which
she could not answer. She said to his wife in her
old age, " I never could coax Phineas to join church,
but I do believe he is the best christian in the

Finding farm-life ill suited to his tastes, he, at the
age of fifteen, went to Painesville and engaged as
clerk for Mr. Henry Williams, his brother-in-law.
In 1 841 he became a partner of Mr. Williams, and
carried on a successful mercantile trade. In 1845
he was married to Miss Augusta C. Smith, of New


London, Connecticut. Hearing of the excellent
business chances offered in the west, he. became im-
bued with a spirit of speculation, and in 1856 re-
moved to Independence, Iowa.

During the financial crisis of 1857 his business
was greatly interrupted, but his native energy, his
patience, perseverance and financial ability carried
him through. He began a mercantile trade entirely
upon his credit, saying that the " earnings of his
former life were safely invested in mother earth ;
that he should live to pay all his debts, and the
lands would be left for his children." His prophecy
was fulfilled ; he paid his debts, and by strict atten-
tion to business accumulated a handsome property.

His fellow-citizens finding his abilities such as
eminently fitted him for official positions, in the fall
of 1865 elected him to the general assembly of Iowa,
and reelected him in 1867. His ability was soon
recognized, and he was made chairman of the com-
mittee on ways and means. Acting with Messrs.
Donnan and Weart, he was largely instrumental in
locating the insane asylum at Independence.

He was very active in public enterprises, and
had just begun carrying out a long-cherished plan
of improving the business localities of his adopted
city when his life and plans were suddenly cut off.
He died of apoplexy on the 6th of December, 1868,
and was buried on his forty-eighth birthday. His
death was to his family, a wife and four children, a
blow, crushing and terrible, and brought sorrow to

the hearts of hundreds who had known him person-
ally and enjoyed his friendship.

Mr. Wilcox was a man of large stature, strong
muscular frame, with dark hair, large dark eyes and
a massive head, and weighed over two hundred
pounds. He was a man of very few words, but
with his immediate friends was exceedingly social
and friendly. He was a man of intense likes and
dislikes, loving his friends devotedly and never pre-
tending to be saintly enough to love his enemies.
He hated shams, and utterly despised hypocrisy and
deception. A thorough reader of human nature,
generous hearted, of sound judgment and invincible
courage, he fought life's battles successfully. , Few
men have passed through the varied walks of life
with less of ostentation or more satisfactory results.

" His life was a grand success, and at every step reflected
the grandeur, the honor and the dignity of labor; through
all the intermediate garden of hope and doubt, embarrass-
ment and success, he finally gained the prize and the golden
wedge lay at his feet. His life was no speculation ; it was a
life of trial, a stern and determined battle for desired results.
The battle was long and severe, but he more than won —
he conquered. In all his intercourse with the world he
never violated the laws of truth, and duty and manhood.
While others professed with their lips, he practiced in his
daily life, the most sacred requirements of the gospel."

In religion, he chose to make his profession of
faith silently before God, and we are content to
leave him in silence before the great Creator.

A noble and true man, his work lives after him,
and the influence of his example has left its impress
upon the lives of all who knew him.



SHUBAEL PRATT ADAMS, a native of Med-
fieid, Norfolk county, Massachusetts, was born
on the 5th of February, 1817, the son of Nehemiah
Adams and Mary (Clark) Adams. His great-grand-
father, John Adams, was born in Crediton, Devon-
shire, England, in 1685, and while a lad was seized
by a press-gang, and forced to serve as cabin-boy
on board a ship of war. When the ship came into
Salem, Massachusetts, he deserted; was afterward
captured for a reward, and while on his way back
to the ship escaped and fled to what is now Frank-
lin, in Norfolk county, Massachusetts, becoming one
of its first settlers. He subsequently purchased a
farm, which he occupied during his life and left to
one of his descendants, who still lives upon it. Two

of his grandchildren were revolutionary soldiers, and
one of them, Nathaniel Adams, fought at Bunker

Peter Adams, the grandfather of the subject of
this sketch, succeeded to the ancestral estate, shared
in the public duties of the town, represented it on
one occasion in the legislature, and died at the age
of eighty years. AVhen but two years old Shubael
P. removed with his parents to a farm in Union,
Lincoln county, Maine, where his mother died two
years later. In accordance with her dying request,
the boy went the next year to live with a relative
in Winthrop, Kennebeck county, where he remained
ten years. In 1835, when eighteen years old, he
went to Waltham, Massachusetts, to learn the ma-



chinists' trade, at which he worked, with the excep-
tion of about two years spent at school and in the
study of medicine, until 1842, when he went to Low-
ell, Massachusetts. There he worked at his trade
and studied medicine alternately, and later attended
medical lectures in Boston, Brunswick, Maine, and
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, receiving at the last-named
place, in 1845, the degree of M.D. Having turned
his attention from the medical profession, he began
the study of law in Lowell, and was admitted to the
bar in Middlesex county in 1849,

Mr. Adams represented Lowell in the legislature
in 1845 ; was a member of the constitutional con-
vention of 1853, and of the legislature in 1857. In
the early part of that year he resigned the office of
representative, and removing to the west, settled at
Dubuque, Iowa, and continued the practice of the
law until he was appointed provost-marshal for the
third congressional district of the state, with the
rank of captain of cavalry. He held this position
till the close of the war, discharging its duties with
marked promptness and fidelity. In t866 he was

appointed on a commission to lay out a reservation
for a band of Chippewa Indians, two hundred and
fifteen miles north of St. Paul, Minnesota, and spent
the summer, autumn and early part of the winter of
that year in that country. Since that time he has
been engaged in his profession in Dubuque with the
usual assiduity, during the last six years as attorney
of the Chicago, Dubuque and Minnesota and Chi-
cago, Clinton and Dubuque railroads.

Mr. Adams has been a member of the Congrega-
tional church sixteen years.

Until recently he was a republican in politics, but
at present is not fully identified with any political
party. He was very active in the free-soil move-
ment in Massachusetts in 1848, and during that
year was an influential canvasser, speaking in most
of the large towns in eastern Massachusetts. At
times he has done good service for his party on the
stump in Iowa and other western states.

He has been twice married: in 1844 to Miss L.
E. Stetson, of Scituate, Massachusetts, and in 1853
to Miss D. R. Taylor, of Lowell, Massachusetts.



of Robert Thompson and Susan nee Johnston,
was born at Goshen, Orange county. New York, on
the 26th of April, 1820.

This branch of the Thompson family is descended
from William Thompson, a native of Edgeworths-
town. County Longford, Ireland, of Scotch lineage,
who was born about the year 1695, married Ann
Jenkins in the year 1717, emigrated to America and
settled in Goshen, Orange county, New York, in the
year 1737. The following is a copy of their certifi-
cate from the church of which they were members
when in Ireland, the original of which is still pre-
served in the family archives :

William Thompson and his wife Ann have lived many
years in this neighborhood, and all along have behaved as
it becometh Christians; have been orderly members of the
Protestant dissenting congregation, and may be received
into Christian communion wherever Providence may cast
their lot; and their children have behaved soberly and

Certified at Cork Bay, County Longford, Ireland, May
12, 1737. James Bond.

William Thompson was the father of George
Thompson, born in Ireland in the year 17 19, emi-

grated to America with his parents, and settled
in Orange county. New York, where, in the year
1753, he married Elizabeth Wells, and raised a
family of four sons and one daughter. He died
in the year 1782, in the sixty-third year of his age.
William Thompson (grandfather of our subject),
eldest son of George and Elizabeth Thompson, was
born in Goshen, New York, on the 29th of July,
1756; married Mitty Hudson (daughter of John
Hudson and Hannah Coleman) on the 20th of
March, 1783, and had four sons and two daugh-
ters. He died on the 29th of February, 1836, in
the eightieth year of his age. Robert Thompson,
second son of William and Mitty, and father of
our subject, was born on the 24th of March, 1787.
Married Susan H. Johnston, of Blooming Grove,
Orange county. New York, on the 2d of June, 1810;
had two sons and four daughters, of whom Benjamin
W. is the eldest son. He died in November, 1872,
in the eighty-sixth year of his age. His widow
(mother of our subject) is living in Middletown,
New York, in the eighty-eighth year of her age, and
can see to darn stockings without the aid of glasses.



The family, which is still largely represented in
that celebrated pastoral region (Orange county,
New York), have been all tillers of the soil in time
past, — men of substance and high character. The
grandfather of our subject (William Thompson) was
a captain of light dragoons under General Wash-
ington during the revolutionary war. His sword
and suit of captain's uniform, together with a grape
shot fired from the enemy at the battle of Fort
Montgomery, which plowed up the ground under
the captain's feet, are now heirlooms- in the family
of our subject. Robert (the father of the doctor)
was a soldier in the war of 1812, and a member
of Captain Denton's company. He was a plain,
plodding farmer, dealt largely in stock, was a good,
honest business man, very highly esteemed in the
community, but of a retiring disposition, and rarely
went into company. His wife was a most energetic
and industrious woman, who in her early days was
accustomed to manufacture fabrics from flax and
wool, and afterward make them up into garments
for her family, first spinning the flax and wool into
yarn, then weaving it into cloth, and afterward
manufacturing it into garments — all with her own
hands. She was, moreover, a most exemplary chris-
tian woman, and lives in the love and veneration of
her children and a large circle of devoted friends.

Benjamin W. Thompson was raised on his father's
farm and received his preliminary education at the
Farmer's Hall Academy, Orange county, then under
the charge of Nathaniel Webb and James McMas-
ter, the latter being now editor of the " Freeman's
Journal," New York. Here he studied the usual
English branches, the higher mathematics, and the
Latin language.

At an early age he conceived a desire to become
a physician, but his father demurred, preferring that
his son should follow in his steps. Finding, how-
ever, that the youth was bent on a profession, on
the latter's agreeing to defray the expenses of his
education he yielded his consent. Accordingly, at
the age of twenty years, he entered the office of
Dr. James Horton (now of Muscatine), at Goshen,
as a student, where he remained till 1844. Mean-
time he attended the usual courses of lectures at
the medical department of the University of New
York, being under the special direction of Dr. John
H. Whitaker, then demonstrator of anatomy in the
University, being himself a graduate of the Edin-
burgh, Scotland, Medical College. The other mem-
bers of the faculty at that time were Dr. Valentine

Mott, professor of surgery and clinical surgery; John
H. Revere, professor of theory and practice of med-
icine and clinical medicine ; Granville S. Patterson
(also a graduate of Edinburgh Medical College),
professor of anatomy; Martin Pain, professor of ma-
teria medica and institutes of medicine ; G. S. Bed-
ford, professor of obstetrics, etc.; John W. Draper,
professor of chemistry, etc. From this institution
our subject was graduated in 1844, and immediately
commenced the practice of his profession in his
own home, being then some twelve hundred dollars
in debt for his education. He soon after purchased
the office and practice of his preceptor, Dr. Horton,
retaining the latter in partnership for one year, at
the end of which time Dr. Horton removed to Mus-
catine, Iowa. Dr. Thompson at once took charge
of the large practice of his predecessor, which ex-
tended over a radius of twelve miles from the vil-
lage, employing four horses in the discharge of his
duties. This he continued for ten years without
intermission. In 1854 he sold out his practice to
his cousin, Dr. John H. Thompson, who had studied
in his office, and followed his old friend. Dr. Horton,
to Muscatine, Iowa, where he has since resided, be-
ing now one of the oldest practicing physicians in
the city. His contemporaries in the practice some
twenty-three years ago were Drs. Reeder, Schok,
Waters and Johnson — the two former since de-
ceased — Dr. Horton having relinquished the prac-
tice on moving to the west.

Dr. Thompson soon built up a large and lucrative
practice, established himself in the confidence and
esteem of the people, and was always prompt in
responding to the-calls of duty, whether the patient
was able to pay for professional services or not,
being anxious only to relieve suffering; hence he
was called "the poor man's doctor," a title that
speaks more in his behalf than pages of fulsome
adulation could do.

His specialty, if he has any, in the practice is
surgery, at which from the incipiency he developed
a remarkable talent, his preceptor. Dr. Horton, be-
ing accustomed to hand him the knife and look
on while his pupil performed some of the most
critical operations with a dexterity rarely surpassed
by the most experienced surgeons.

In politics, the doctor has always adhered to the
Jefferson school, but has meddled little in political
affairs, nor held office, except that of Alderman of
the city of Muscatine. During the years 1856,
1857 and 1858 he held the position of surgeon to



the Orange county poor-house, small-pox, cholera
and fever hospitals, and lunatic asylum.

He was raised in the communion of the Pres-
byterian church, and attended Sunday school till
the age of twenty, but never united with the church.

On the 29th of October, 1846, he married Miss
Elizabeth, daughter of Hon. Stephen St. John, of
Port Jervis, New York, one of the best and noblest
of her sex, an exemplary member of the Episcopal
church, and a promoter of every good and excel-
lent work within the sphere of her influence. She
died quite unexpectedly on the 12th of September,
1877, in the fifty-fourth year of her age.

They have had two children, sons. The eldest,
Stephen St. John, is captain of a river steamboat,
and the youngest, Robert Edwin, has adopted the
profession of his father, and is a graduate of the
College of Physicians and Surgeons, of New York
city, and is a gentleman of considerable promise,
especially in the line of surgery, in which he rivals
his father.

They have had no daughters, but raised an or-
phan girl named Annie Mautche, whose parents
died of cholera in the year 1857, and educated her
as their own daughter. She is now the wife of
Clarke Sheckelford, Esq., of Des Moines, Iowa.



JOHN DOUGAN WALKER, attorney and coun-
J selor-at-law, was born in Wayne county, near
Richmond, Indiana, on the 14th of October, 1818,
and is the son of Samuel Walker and Rebecca nde
Dougan. His ancestors on both sides were of Scotch
origin, of Covenanter faith, and were driven out of
their native country to the north of Ireland by the
persecution of the Stuart dynasty in the sixteenth
century, from whence the great-grandfather of our
subject immigrated to the colony of Virginia pre-
vious to the revolution. Both his grandfathers
fought through the revolutionary war, and after-
ward settled in Kentucky. In the year 1795 his
grandfather Walker made a trip with General Clark,
in pursuit of the Pottawatomie IruJians, as far north
as Lafayette, Indiana. His report of the country
explored in this expedition induced his son — the
father of our subject — to immigrate from Kentucky
to Wayne county, Indiana, in the year 1808. The
country was then an unbroken wilderness, inhabited
only by the aborigines and a few straggling, advent-
urous pioneers. He served through the war of 181 1
and 1812 on the immediate frontier, and afterward
settled down to the occupation of farming.

J. D. Walker received but a limited education in
the primitive schools of his native place, which were
then in the most crude condition and barely toler-
ated by the Virginia and Kentucky settlers, who
carried with them the strong prejudices against
popular education which to a great extent still con-
trol the masses of the southern people. But young
Walker was ambitious, obtained books where he

could find them, and was a diligent student at home.
At the age of fourteen he removed with his parents
to Fountain county, Indiana, on the Wabash river,
where the family remained about five years, and
from thence removed to Hendricks county, twenty
miles west of Indianapolis, where they remained
five years more; and in the autumn of 1842 the
parents removed to Cedar county, Iowa, where they
commenced farming, but our subject remained in
Indiana, intending to teach school and study law.
But in the following year (1843) the father died and
left the family in straightened circumstances, and J.
D., being the eldest son, was obliged to join the
mother and younger children in Iowa, and render
what aid he could in providing for their mainte-
nance. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1844, he set-
tled down to farming in Cedar county, where he
remained until 1855, reading at intervals such ele-
mentary law-books as he was able to procure. In
the spring of the latter year he quitted the farm, the
younger children being now able to carry it on, and
removed to Rochester in the'same county, where he
was engaged in business. In the fall of 1856 he
removed to Wilton, then only laid out on the Mis-
sissippi and Missouri railroad, now the Chicago,
Rock Island and Pacific railroad, and, in com-
pany with Mr. Adam Bair, erected the two-story
building now occupied by the post-office, and
opened a country store, which was conducted with
varying success until the financial crisis of 1857,
when they were obliged to discontinue business.
This ended the mercantile career of Mr. Walker.



For the next two years he devoted himself industri-
ously to the study of law on his own responsibility.

In the autumn of i860 he opened an office in
Wilton, and obtaining the appointment of notary
public — a position which, with the exception of a
short intermission, he has held ever since — com-
menced the practice of law. In 1862 he was ap-
pointed postmaster of Wilton under President Lin-
coln's administration, which he held until 1866,
when he was discontinued by Andrew Johnson. In
the autumn of 1868 he was elected clerk of the dis-
trict and circuit courts of Muscatine county, and
was reelected in the autumn of 1870, and in Janu-
ary, 1873, resumed the practice of his profession, to
which he has since mainly devoted his attention,
with/very flattering success.'

He was one of the original incorporators of the
Wilton Seminary in 1866, a high-class academic in-
stitution, which has since been in successful oper-
ation, and was a member of the first board of trus-
tees, and superintended for a time the erection of
the seminary buildings. He was a member of the
board of school directors in 1875, when the present
magnificent public school building was erected in
Wilton, and gave his influence to the enterprise.

He became a member of the Independent Order
of Odd Fellows in 1849, and has remained in con-
nection ever since. He has passed all the chairs
and held all the offices in the order up to represen-
tative in the grand lodge of the state. He has also
been a prominent member of the Sons of Temper-
ance, of the Temple of Honor, of the Good Tem-
plars, and has given his influence to every enterprise
and organization of his day tending to promote the
best interests of the community.

His religious views are orthodox, though he is not
in communion with any church organization.

In politics, he was originally an old-line whig, his
first vote being cast for William Henry Harrison for
President in 1840. On the dissolution of the whig
party he united with the republican, with which he

Online Librarypub American Biographical Publishing CompanyThe United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume → online text (page 20 of 125)