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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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November, 1822. His parents were Charles and
Frances Arnold Conaway. The Conaways were from
Ireland, and among the pioneers in Maryland and

Virginia. The subject of this notice spent his youth
in and near his native town, tilling the soil, and im-
proving his mind so far as a common school afforded
opportunities. At twenty years of age he entered
the academy at Hagerstown, Carroll county, spend-
ing two years there, teaching during the winter sea-



sons. He read medicine, while continuing his teach-
ing, for four years, two with his cousin. Dr. Enoch
Conaway, of Franklin, Harrison county, and two
with another cousin, Dr. Henry Conaway, of Rogers-
villa, Tuscarawas county; practiced five years at
Bakersville, Coshocton county; attended lectures at
the Eclectic Medical Institute, Cincinnati ; gradu-
ated on the 25th of February, 1854; practiced three
years more at Bakersville, and on the ist of May,
1857, reached Brooklyn, Poweshiek county, where
he settled, and where he has been the leading phy-
sician for twenty-one years. He has had a very
extensive ride, often reaching into Iowa county on
the east and sometimes into Tama on the north.
He has a good name wherever known.

The winter of 1866-7 Dr. Conaway spent in New
York city, attending lectures in Bellevue Hospital
Medical College, the Eclectic Medical Institute and
the Ophthalmic Hospital, giving himself a thorough
brushing up in several branches of the healing art,
and increasing the confidence of the people in his
skill. His medical education is thorough. During
the last seven years he has been associated with
Charles D. Conaway, a younger brother, and both
have ordinarily all the business they could desire.

For the last five years Dr. Conaway has been
United States medical examiner for pensions.

He was state senator from January, 1874, to Janu-
ary, 1878; was chairman of the committee on town-
ship and county organizations, and acted on four or
five other committees. While in that body he was
appointed to visit the Hospital for the Insane at
Mount Pleasant.

Ur. Conaway was a democrat until the repeal of
the "Missouri Compromise," and has since usually
acted with the republicans. When elected to the
senate he was nominated and supported by the " Pa-
trons of Husbandry."

He is a Master Mason and an Odd-Fellow. He
is a member of the Methodist Episcopal chujch, has
been a steward nearly thirty years, and is a trustee
of the Wesleyan University, a Methodist school lo-
cated at Mount Pleasant.

The doctor's wife was Miss Mary E. Cunning, of
Rogersville, Ohio; married the 7th of October, 1849.
They have lost three children, and have three still
living. Frances is the wife of O. F. Dorrance, a
merchant of Brooklyn, Iowa; Florence Narcissia is
a music teacher, and Freeman R. is a student in the
State Normal School at Cedar Falls.



facturer, was born near Chester, Meigs county,
Ohio, on the 9th of September, 1835, and is the son
of Isaac A. Webster and Lydia nie Ashton, the for-
mer a native of Connecticut and the latter of Penn-

The Websters were among the earliest colonists
of New England, of Puritan ancestry, and for many
generations have been among the leading minds of
the country. The celebrated statesman and jurist
of the Bay State, as well as the no less distinguished
lexicographer, were both of the same lineage, and
not very remotely connected with our subject.

His father removed to Ohio in r8io, and was
among the early pioneers of "the west," as that
state was then supposed to be, and was familiar with
all the hardships and privations of frontier life, man-
fully battling with the difficulties of the situation.
He became the owner of a tract of heavy-timbered
land, on which he erected mills, which he operated

with fair results, and also farmed the land as fast as
it was cleared. He was an honest, energetic busi-
ness man, of intelligence and high moral principles.
He and his wife were both members of the Method-
ist Episcopal church, and exemplified in their lives
the sincerity and earnestness of their profession.
The mother died in 1857, and the father in 1865.
They had a family of eight children, four sons and
four daughters, of whom our subject was the fourth,
who were all raised in habits of industry and fru-
gality, and enjoyed all the facilities for education
that were afforded by the primitive condition of the
country. They were also taught in early life the
value of money, by being obliged to earn it by work.
In short, this was by no means the least important
part of their secular training, and it has contributed
more to their success in after-life than any other dis-

Wesley W. Webster received what was then con-
sidered a good common-school education, which



was supplemented by a couple of terms at an acad-
emy, where he studied the higher mathematics and
some of the more advanced English branches.
From the earliest period of his career he was char-
acterized by great thoroughness and energy ; what-
ever his hand found to do he did with all his might,
and he has seldom failed of accomplishing his pur-
poses, whatever they may have been : this very fre-
quently in the face of difficulties that would have
disheartened and overcome many a man of greater
age and more robust health, for W. W. Webster was
for many years the victim of feeble health and deli-
cate constitution.

The boundless prairies of the west, of which, dur-
ing the last years of his school life, he had heard
much, had a peculiar fascination for his youthful
mind, and the more so on account of its contrast
with the wooded and hilly country of his nativity,
and he resolved to make a home somewhere in the
valley of the Mississippi. Accordingly, after quit-
ting school in 1856, in company with an older broth-
er, he went on a tour of observation through the
states of Illinois, Iowa and Kansas, and was won-
derfully charmed with the scenery and the pros-
pects, his anticipations being more than realized.
Having completed their tour and laid plans for the
future, they returned to Ohio and spent some two
years in helping to carry on their father's business
and placing it in a shape to be conducted in their
absence ; which completed, our subject, in the au-
tumn of 1859, removed to Muscatine, Iowa, where
he spent two years in learning the marble and gran-
ite-monument business.

In August, 1862, with other young men of his ac-
quaintance, he enlisted in the 126th regiment Illi-
nois Volunteer Infantry, and spent the next two
years in helping to. quell the rebellion, participating
with the sixteenth army corps in the campaign of
the Mississippi, being present at the siege and over-
throw of Vicksburg and at the capture of Little
Rock, Arkansas. In 1864, however, his health, which
was never at any time robust, gave way under the
malarious climate of the south, and he was obliged
to quit the service as the only way to save his life,
although he was very anxious to remain in the field
and share the glory of the final triumph over treason
and aggravated rebellion, but to stay longer in the
south would have been certain death. After quit-
ting the military service he returned to the home-
stead in Ohio, where a year's careful nursing restored
him to health and vigor, and since then he has en-

joyed remarkable immunity from disease and in-

In the summer of 1865 he returned to Muscatine,
Iowa, bought O^t the establishment with which he
had formerly been connected, and has since then
devoted his energies and personal attention to the
marble and granite trade, giving special attention to
monumental works, at which he has attained to
great proficiency and success.

He was brought up under Methodist influence,
and in early life became a member of that commu-
nion, in which he continued until 187 1, when he
transferred his membership to the First Presbyte-
rian Church of Muscatine, with which he is now in
union, being also one of the trustees of the congre-

He has always been a member of the republican
party, and cast his votes against the spread and in-
fluence of slavery.

From the earliest dawn of reason he has been an
unflinching advocate of the principles of total ab-
stinence, and has never in his life tasted intoxicat-
ing drink of any kind nor used tobacco in any shape.
He lends his aid toward the promotion of every in-
stitution and enterprise for the elevation, enlighten-
ment and moral progress of the people. He is pres-
ident of the Citizens' Association of Muscatine, a
member of the board of directors and of the exec-
utive committee of the Muscatine water-works, a
director of the county agricultural society ; has
helped to build up schools and churches, and has
always been a promoter of the best interests of the
city of his adoption.

'In personal appearance, Mr. Webster is tall and
graceful. His manner is pleasant and agreeable ; a
fluent conversationalist, easily forms acquaintances,
and readily remembers faces and names. He is
well posted generally, but more especially in the de-
tails of business. His whole air is that of the agree-
able, quick-witted business man. He is always on
the move, travels a great deal in pursuit of business
and health, both of which are now thoroughly estab-
lished. He also takes pleasure in spending his
money for the good of others,, and is among the
most benevolent and public-spirited of the citizens
of Muscatine. The handsome and creditable mon-
ument which ornaments the court-house square,
and was erected to the memory of the soldiers of
Muscatine county who fell in putting down the
slaveholders' rebellion, is largely the result of his
energy and generosity. He undertook its construe-



tion when no one else could be found to risk the
chances of compensation, and it is strongly sus-
pected that he fell considerably short, of the con-
tract price from the subscription list which was
turned over to him for collection.

Mr. Webster is an example of what industry and
unflagging perseverance may accomplish. Though
yet a young man, he has achieved a success in busi-
ness rarely reached in a lifetime of laborious effort.
Coming to Muscatine as the employe of the only
marble establishment in the place, he soon became
its proprietor, and has so extended and enlarged its
business that it now rivals those of metropolitan

On the 25th of May, 1865, he married Miss Eliza
Jane Galbraith, a native of Pennsylvania, of Scotch

ancestry, who in childhood removed with her par-
ents to Ohio, where her early years were passed.
They have three very promising daughters, namely,
Nola, Alice, Jessie Bell and Inez, all of whom are
being carefully educated for useful and honorable
stations in life.

As a husband and father, Mr. Webster is kind and
indulgent, taking pleasure in ornamenting and beau-
tifying his pleasant home, situated on one of the
choicest sites in the picturesque city of Muscatine,
commanding an extensive view of the great river
and of the country on both sides of it for many
miles north and south. Nor is it too much to say
that his house is one of the most delightful to be
found throughout the length and breadth of the
great valley of the Mississippi.



THE first general mercantile trader in Mount
Vernon was Elijah Dick Wain, who took up
land near the present site of the city in the autumn
of 1841. At that time this part of Linn county was
a wild, unbroken country, with few cabins of any
kind in sight, and quite as many red men as white;
now his present farm is in the corporation, with
twelve hundred neighbors around him. No vestiges
of savage life remain, but in their place are the
most impressive indices of civilized, christianized
society, and an institution for the highest literary

Mr. Wain is a native of Virginia, and was born in
Winchester, Frederic county, on the 29th of Decem-
ber, 1814. His father was Samuel Wain, a farmer
and miller, and his mother was Margaret Dick. One
of his great-grandfathers, John Bonard, a native of
Hesse, has a singular history. At the age of seven-
teen he was drafted into the army of Germany, was
captured by the French and enlisted in their army
in order to get out of prison ; served in the French
army until captured by the English, in whose army
he enlisted to again obtain his liberty. When the
revolution broke out he was sent to this country as
a ''red-coat,'' and while fighting against the colonies
met a brother German, who, in the Teutonic tongue,
enlightened him in regard to our struggle for liberty.
He immediately forsook the British army and aided
the Yankees in gaining their independence. After

seventeen years of age he heard no news from his
relatives in Hesse, excepting that they had left the
old world. At the close of the revolution he set-
tled in Frederic county, Virginia, and died there in
1824, aged one hundred and ten years.

Elijah D. was the eldest child, who lived to ma-
ture years in a family of nine children. At the age
of fifteen years he lost his father, and the widowed
mother and children moved to Pickaway county,
near Circleville, Ohio^ where he spent three seasons
on a farm. When about eighteen he obtained em-
ployment in a store at New Lexington, Highland
county ; remained there one year, and then spent
five years as a clerk in a wholesale dry-goods house
in Cincinnati, at the end of which time he returned
to New Lexington and embarked in mercantile trade
for himself, continuing it until 1841, when he immi-
grated to Iowa. After spending a few weeks at Iowa
City he bought a squatter's claim, and in October of
that year settled near the spot where his present
home is found. There being but few families in the
township he concluded to adopt the occupation of a
farmer for a few years and wait for mercantile op-
portunities to present themselves. In May, 1849, he
opened the first general variety store, and the sec-
ond store of any kind, in Mount Vernon. It stood on
the southwest corner of Main and Jefferson streets,
opposite the brick store built in 1856, which he now
owns and which is occupied by Mr. E. T. Gough.



Mr. Wain retired from mercantile life in i860, and
since then has attended to his farm, besides operat-
ing at times in the insurance business.

He was one of the first movers in the literary en-
terprise projected about 1850 and resulting in the
founding of Cornell College, one of the most pros-
perous institutions of learning in the state. The
first prime movers were Rev. George B. Bowman,
Elijah D. Wain, Jesse Holman and A. I. Willits, the
last named man being the person who laid out the
village of Mount Vernon. The first money raised
for the starting of this institution was paid by Mr.
Wain. He has always been its warm friend, and has
given thousands of dollars toward its grounds, build-
ings and endowment. He was secretary of its board
of trustees for ten or twelve years, cheerfully giving
much time as well as much money.

Mr. Wain was one of the representatives from Linn
county to the general assembly in 1858, and has held
several offices in the municipality of the place. He
is now a member of the school board, and is an ar-

dent worker in educational matters. In politics, he
is a republican, with whig antecedents.

His church connection is with the Methodist Epis-
copal. He has been a class leader and is now pres-
ident of the official board.

On the loth of September, 1836, he was joined in
wedlock with Miss Mary Jane Adams, of New Lex-
ington, Ohio. They have nine children living and
have lost three ; two died in infancy, and one son,
Charles Adams, in his twenty-first year. He was
accidentally killed while getting on the cars at Cedar
Rapids on the 12th of August, 1877. Alonzo T., the
eldest child, has a family and lives in Mount Vernon ;
Melissa J. is the wife of G. W. Hayzett, sheriff of
Black Hawk county; Cinderella M., of Lucas R.
Wilson, of Ehvood, Clinton county; Ann Eliza, of
Henry D. Fullerton, of Wright county; Josephine
R., of Albert C. Powers, of Peoria, Illinois; Sarah
E., of William T. Wright, of Harvey county, Kansas,
and George E., Minnie S. and Edith are single and
live at home.



ONE of the earliest settlers in northeastern Iowa,
a pioneer in what is now Clayton county, and
the first man to turn a furrow there, was John Wooley
Gi.llett, a native of Maryland. He first saw the light
of this world in Worcester county, on the gth of July,
1809, and although he is approaching his seventieth
year, he is quite active. His father, John Gillett, was
a farmer. In 1830 John W. went to Camden, New
Jersey, and worked two or three years for a gardener
who raised fruit and vegetables for the Philadelphia
market. After spending a year in Virginia Mr. Gil-
lett came to the Mississippi river, worked awhile at
the carpenter's trade (which he had picked up) at
Dubuque, Galena, and other points in that part of
the country, and in 1836 located in Clayton county,
then in Wisconsin territory. He settled on three
hundred acres of land one and a half miles north-
east of where Garnavillo now stands. There were
then but two or three families in the county, and the
country was as wild as nature, undisturbed, could
make it. Deer, elk, bears and wild turkeys were
abundant, and now and then a few bison were seen.
Mr. Gillett cultivated his farm for nearly forty
years, until he saw Clayton county everywhere thickly

populated. He was deputy sheriff one term, and
assessor and supervisor several years in succession.
He has always been very robust, and a great driver
of business until quite recently.

In March, 1876, having disposed of his Clayton
county property, Mr. Gillett removed to Cass county,
settling in Atlantic, and purchasing a farm of one
hundred and sixty acres four miles southwest of the
city. He is a good farmer and has the best of crops.
In 1877 he raised seven hundred bushels of spring
wheat on twenty-six acres.

Mr. Gillett has a second wife, his first being Miss
Emma Castle, of Garnavillo, Iowa; married in 1852.
She had eleven children, and died in February, 1875.
Six of her children survive her. In September,
1876, Miss Lizzie Goff, also of Garnavillo, became
his wife. She has one child.

At an early day in Clayton county Mr. Gillett and
a dozen other men tracked some bears into their cave
in a ledge of rocks, where they had taken up their
winter quarters. These brave men debated what
should be. done, for some time, each one deciding
that he was too large to get into the crevice. Finally
they procured four or five gallons of whisky, drank



freely, and then all made up their minds that they
could go in. With gun and lighted candle and long
rope one after another crept in eighty feet, one of
the party at a time, and shot his bear. The experi-
ment was repeated until no live animal was left, each
bear, before being shot, approaching the marksman
a few steps, snuffing and appearing very stupid.
Fastening the strong rope to the dead animals, one

at a time was pulled out, and at length eight full
grown bears lay at the mouth of the cave, and the
residue of the whisky soon disappeared.

Mr. Gillett has had a thorough taste of frontier
life, has a good memory, and a rich store of anec-
dotes of the olden times in " the Turkey river coun-
try," and his reminiscences are decidedly amusing
and interesting.

WILLIAM _w. Mcknight,


ONE of the oldest bankers and most successful
business men of Madison county, Iowa, is
William W^lie McKnight, a native of Washington
county, Indiana. He was born near the town of
Salem, on the i6th of September, 1822, his parents
being Robert R. and Anna Little McKnight. His
paternal ancestors were early settlers in Pennsylva-
nia. His maternal grandfather, Alexander Little,
was a member of both houses of the Indiana legis-
lature, and marshal of the state at an early period
in its history.

William W. aided his father on a farm in his
youth ; supplemented his common-school privileges
with a year's attendance in the preparatory depart-
ment of Hanover College, Jefferson county, Indiana;
taught three years in his native county; spent four
or five years in Marion and Hendricks counties, in
the mercantile trade and in teaching, and in April,
1855, settled in Winterset. Here, after dealing in
land about two years, he resumed the mercantile
business, following it until September, 1864. The
following January he aided in organizing the Na-
tional Bank of Winterset, and became its cashier.
That position he held, with the exception of about
eighteen months, until January, 1877, when he retired
from the bank. During the ten years or more that

he was cashier he had the entire management of the
institution, and there showed his excellent business
capacities. He made it a very popular institution,
and left it firm and sound.

Mr. McKnight owns several large farms near Win-
terset ; is doing an extensive business in the agricul-
tural line, and something also in brokerage. He is
in independent circumstances, and can live at ease
the residue of his days.

Mr. McKnight has avoided public life as much as
possible, and with the exception of acting several
years on the village or city school board (mainly in
the capacity of treasurer), he has kept out of offices
of the least consequence. On that board he did
valuable service to the community, and has been
prominent in other interests of great benefit to the
public. He is whole-hearted and generous, a kind
neighbor and valuable citizen.

Mr. McKnight is a republican, with whig antece-
dents ; a Knight Templar in the Masonic fraternity,
and is now serving his third term as treasurer of the
grand chapter. He is a communicant in the Pres-
byterian church.

His wife was Miss Hannah Likins, of Vermilion
county, Illinois; married in December, 1855. They
have seven children.



THE original proprietor of the site of Mount
Pleasant was Presley Saunders, who made the
purchase of the government at the first fend sale in
what is now the State of Iowa. He is a native of
Fleming county, Kentucky ; was the son of Gunnell

and Mary (Mauzy) Saunders, both Virginians by
birth, and was born on the 12th of July, 1809. His
branch of the Saunderses was of English origin, and
is an old Virginia family, spreading thence westward
into Kentucky. The maternal grandfather of Pres-



ley was a revolutionary soldier, and his father was
in the second war with England.

The subject of this notice lived in Kentucky until
about 1827, farming, with very limited opportunities
for education. At the date mentioned he moved to
Springfield, Illinois, and engaged in farming there
for about seven years within the present corporation
of that city. In 1831 he volunteered in the Black
Hawk war, and served until its close the next year,
Black Hawk himself being captured in what is now
the State of Wisconsin in August of that year.

Two years after the close of this war Mr. Saunders
crossed the Mississippi, entered the so called " Black
Hawk Purchase," about which there had been great
excitement, and in 1834 reached the spot where
Mount Pleasant now stands, then in Michigan terri-
tory. Here he pitched his tent in a wild region
among the Indians before the land had been sur-
veyed. Late in 1835 he drove the first stakes for
the location of Mount Pleasant, where his squatter's
claim was located. At that time there was an In-
dian trading-post at Rome, eight miles farther west,
kept by William Phelps. In 1836 he opened a small
frontier store, and has continued the same business
up to the present time, his being probably the oldest
mercantile house in the state.

Mr. Saunders was on the first grand jury that con-
vened west of the Mississippi river, in what is now

Iowa, it then being in Michigan territory. In 1862
he added banking to his mercantile business ; in
1864 organized the First National Bank of Mount
Pleasant, and has been its president ever since, the
only office he has ever held. He is one of the most
prudent, careful and successful business men of the
place, and has always borne an irreproachable char-

Online Librarypub American Biographical Publishing CompanyThe United States biographical dictionary and portrait gallery of eminent and self made men. Iowa volume → online text (page 98 of 125)