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Portrait and biographical album of Whiteside County, Illinois : containing full-page portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States online

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which constituted the most important epoch in the
railroad we might say internal improvement his-
tory of the State. The road was rushed on to com-
pletion, which accelerated the settlement of the in-
terior of the State by a good class of industrious citi-
zens, and by the charter a good income to the State
Treasury is paid in from the earnings of the road.

In 1851 the Legislature passed a law authorizing
free stock banks, which was the source of much leg-
islative discussion for a number of years.

But we have not space further to particularize
concerning legislation. Gov. French's administra-
tion was not marked by any feature to .be criticised,
while the country was settling up as never before.

In stature, Gov. French was of medium height,
squarely built, light complexioned, with ruddy face
and pleasant countenance. In manners he was
plain and agreeable. By nature he was somewhat
diffident, but he was often very outspoken in his con- (Q)
victions of duty. In public speech he was not an
orator, but was chaste, earnest and persuasive. In
business he was accurate and methodical, and in his
administration he kept up the credit of the State.

He died in 1865, at his home in Lebanon, St.
Clair Co., 111.



|:OEL A. MATTESON, Governor
1 85 3-6, was bora Aug. 8, 1808,
in Jefferson County, New York,
to which place his father had re-
moved from Vermont three years
before. His father was a farmer
in fair circumstances, but a com-
mon English education was all
that his only son received. Young
Joel first tempted fortune as a
small tradesman in Prescott,
Canada, before he was of age.
He returned from that place to
his home, entered an academy,
taught school, visited the prin-
cipal Eastern cities, improved a farm his father had
given him, made a tour in the South, worked there
in building railroads, experienced a storm on the
Gulf of Mexico, visited the gold diggings of Northern
Georgia, and returned via Nashville to St. Louis and
through Illinois to his father's home, when he mar-
ried. In 1833, having sold his farm, he removed,
with his wife and one child, to Illinois, and entered
a claim on Government land near the head of Au
Sable River, in what is now Kendall County. At
that time there were not more than two neighbors
within a range of ten miles of his place, and only
three or four houses between him and Chicago. He
opened a large farm. His family was boarded 12

miles away while he erected a house on his claim,
sleeping, during this time, under a rude pole shed.
Here his life was once placed in imminent peril by
a huge prairie rattlesnake sharing his bed.

In 1835 he bought largely at the Government land
sales. During the speculative real-estate mania which
broke out in Chicago in 1836 and spread over the State,
he sold his lands under the inflation of that period
and removed to Joliet. In 1838 he became a heavy
contractor on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Upon
the completion of his job in 1841, when hard times
prevailed, business at a stand, contracts paid in State
scrip; when all the public works except the canal
were abandoned, the State offered for sale 700 tons
of railroad iron, which was purchased by Mr. Mat-
teson at a bargain. This he accepted, shipped and
sold at Detroit, realizing a very handsome profit,
enough to pay off all his canal debts and leave him a
surplus of several thousand dollars. His enterprise
next prompted him to start a woolen mill at Joliet,
in which he prospered, and which, after successive
enlargements, became an enormous establishment.

In 1842 he was first elected a State Senator, but,
by a bungling apportionment, John Pearson, a Senator
holding over, was found to be in the same district,
and decided to be entitled to represent it. Mat-
teson's seat was declared vacant. Pearson, however,
with a nobleness difficult to appreciate in this day of



greed for office, unwilling to represent his district
under the circumstances, immediately resigned his
unexpired term of two years. A bill was passed in a
few hours ordering a new election, and in ten days'
time Mr. Matteson was returned re-elected and took
his seat as Senator. From his well-known capacity
as a business man, he was made Chairman of the
Committee on Finance, a position he held during
this half and two full succeeding Senatorial terms,
discharging its important duties with ability and faith-
fulness. Besides his extensive woolen-mill interest,
when work was resumed on the canal under the new
loan of $1,600,000 he again became a heavy con-
tractor, and also subsequently operated largely in
building railroads. Thus he showed himself a most
energetic and thorough business man.

He was nominated for Governor by the Demo-
cratic State Convention which met at Springfield
April 20, 1852. Other candidates before the Con-
vention were D. L. Gregg and F. C. Sherman, of
Cook ; John Dement, of Lee ; Thomas L. Harris, of
Menard; Lewis W. Ross, of Fulton ; and D. P. Bush,
of Pike. Gustavus Koerner, of St. Clair, was nom-
inated for Lieutenant Governor. For the same offices
the Whigs nominated Edwin B. Webb and Dexter A.
Knowlton. Mr. Matteson received 80,645 v tes at
the election, while Mr. Webb received 64,408. Mat-
teson's forte was not on the stump; he had not cul-
tivated the art of oily flattery, or the faculty of being
all things to all men. His intellectual qualities took
rather the direction of efficient executive ability. His
turn consisted not so much in the adroit manage-
ment of party, or the powerful advocacy of great gov-
ernmental principles, as in those more solid and
enduring operations which cause the physical devel-
opment and advancement of a State, of commerce
and business enterprise, into which he labored with
success to lead the people. As a politician he was
just and liberal in his views, and both in official and
private life he then stood untainted and free from
blemish. As a man, in active benevolence, social
virtues and all the amiable qualities of neighbor or
citizen, he had few superiors. His messages present
a perspicuous array of facts as to the condition of the
State, and are often couched in forcible and elegant

The greatest excitement during his term of office
was the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, by Con-

/-> .Vv

gress, under the leadership of Stephen A. Douglas in
1854, when the bill was passed organizing the Terri-
tory of Kansas and Nebraska. A large portion of
the Whig parry of the North, through their bitter op-
position to the Democratic party, naturally drifted
into the doctrine of anti-slavery, and thus led to what
was temporarily called the " Anti-Nebraska " party,
while the followers of Douglas were known as " Ne-
braska or Douglas Democrats." It was during this
embryo stage of the Republican party that Abraham
Lincoln was brought forward as the "Anti-Nebraska"
candidate for the United States Senatorship, while
Gen. James Shields, the incumbent, was re-nom-
inated by the Democrats. But after a few ballotings
in the Legislature (1855), these men were dropped,
and Lyman Trumbull, an Anti-Nebraska Democrat,
was brought up by the former, and Mr. Matteson,
then Governor, by the latter. On the nth ballot
Mr. Trumbull obtained one majority, and was ac-
cordingly declared elected. Before Gov. Matteson's
term expired, the Republicans were fully organized
as a national party, and in 1856 put into the field a
full national and State ticket, carrying the State, but
not the nation.

The Legislature of 1855 passed two very import-
ant measures, the present free-school system and a
submission of the Maine liquor law to a vote of the
people. The latter was defeated by a small majority
of the popular vote.

During the four years of Gov. Matteson's admin-
istration the taxable wealth of the State was about
trebled, from $137,818,07910 $349,951,272; the pub-
lic debt was reduced from $17,398,985 to $12,843,-
144; taxation was at the same time reduced, and the
State resumed paying interest on its debt in New
York as fast as it fell due ; railroads were increased
in their mileage from something less than 400 to
about 3,000 ; and the population of Chicago was
nearly doubled, and its commerce more than quad-

Before closing this account, we regret that we have
to say that Mr. Matteson, in all other respects an
upright man and a good Governor, was implicated
in a false re-issue of redeemed canal scrip, amount-
ing to $224^82.66. By a suit in the Sangamon Cir-
cuit Court the State recovered the principal and all
the interest excepting $27,500.

He died in the winter of 1872-3, at Chicago.

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. liiB 11.

ernor 1857-60, was born
April 25, 1811, in the
State of New York, near
Painted Post, Yates County.
His parents were obscure,
honest, God-fearing people,
who reared their children under the daily
example of industry and frugality, accord-
ing to the custom of that class of Eastern
society. Mr. Bissell received a respecta-
ble but not thorough academical education.
By assiduous application he acquired a
knowledge of medicine, and in his early
manhood came West and located in Mon-
roe County, this State, where he engaged in the
practice of that profession. But he was not enam-
ored of his calling: he was swayed by a broader
ambition, to such an extent that the mysteries of the
healing art and its arduous duties failed to yield him
further any charms. In a few years he discovered
his choice of a profession to be a mistake, and when
lie approached the age of 30 he sought to begin
anew. Dr. Bissell, no doubt unexpectedly to him-
self, discovered a singular facility and charm of
speech, the exercise of which acquired for him a
ready local notoriety. It soon came to be under-

stood that he desired to abandon his profession and
take up that of the law. During terms of Court he
would spend his time at the county seat among the
members of the Bar, who extended to him a ready

It was not strange, therefore, that he should drift
into public life. In 1840 he was elected as a Dem-
ocrat to the Legislature from Monroe County, and
was an efficient member of that body. On his re-
turn home he qualified himself for admission to the
Bar and speedily rose to the front rank as an advo-
cate. His powers of oratory were captivating. With a
pure diction, charming and inimitable gestures,
clearness of statement, and a remarkable vein of sly
humor, his efforts before a jury told with irresistible
effect. He was chosen by the Legislature Prosecut-
ing Attorney for the Circuit in which he lived, and
in that position he fully discharged his duty to the
State, gained the esteem of the Bar, and . seldom
failed to convict the offender of the law.

In stature he was somewhat tall and slender, and
with a straight, military bearing, he presented a dis-
tinguished appearance. His complexion was dark,
his head well poised, though not large, his address
pleasant and manner winning. He was exemplary
in his habits, a devoted husband and kind parent.
He was twice married, the first time to Miss James,




X f

of Monroe County, by whom he had two children,
both daughters. She died soon after the year 1840,
and Mr. B. married for his second wife a daughter
of Elias K. Kane, previously a United States Senator
from this State. She survived him but a short time,
and died without issue.

When the war with Mexico was declared in 1846,
Mr. Bissell enlisted and was elected Colonel of his
regiment, over Hon. Don Morrison, by an almost
unanimous vote, 807 to 6. Considering the limited
opportunities he had had, he evinced a high order of
military talent. On the bloody field of Buena Vista
he acquitted himself with intrepid and distinguished
ability, contributing with his regiment, the Second
Illinois, in no small degree toward saving the waver-
ing fortunes of our arms during that long and fiercely
contested battle.

After his return home, at the close of the war, he
was elected to Congress, his opponents being the
Hons. P. B. Fouke and Joseph Gillespie. He served
two terms in Congress. He was an ardent politician.
During the great contest of 1850 he voted in favor
of the adjustment measures; but in 1854 he opposed
the repeal of the Missouri Compromise act and
therefore the Kansas-Nebraska bill of Douglas, and
thus became identified with the nascent Republican

During his first Congressional term, while the
Southern members were following their old practice
of intimidating the North by bullying language,
and claiming most of the credit for victories in the
Mexican War, and Jefferson Davis claiming for the 1
Mississippi troops all the credit for success at Buena.
Vista, Mr. Bissell bravely defended the Northern
troops ; whereupon Davis challenged Bissell to a duel,
which was accepted. This matter was brought up
against Bissell when he was candidate for Governor
and during his term of office, as the Constitution of
this State forbade any duelist from holding a State

In 1856, when the Republican party first put forth
a candidate, John C. Fremont, for President of the
United States, the same party nominated Mr. Bissell
for Governor of Illinois, and John Wood, of Quincy,
for Lieutenant Governor, while the Democrats nomi-
nated Hon. W. A. Richardson, of Adams County,
for Governor, and Col. R. J. Hamilton, of Cook
County, for Lieutenant Governor. The result of the

h ^^^ ^<

election was a plurality of 4,729 votes over Richard-
son. The American, or Know-Nothing, party had a
ticket in the field. The Legislature was nearly bal-
anced, but was politically opposed to the Governor.
His message to the Legislature was short and rather
ordinary, and was criticised for expressing the sup-
posed obligations of the people to the incorporators
of the Illinois Genual Railroad Company and for re-
opening the slavery question by allusions to the
Kansas troubles. Late in the session an apportion-
ment bill, based upon the State census of 1855, was
passed, amid much partisan strife. The Governor
at first signed the bill and then vetoed it. A furious
debate followed, and the question whether the Gov-
ernor had the authority to recall a signature was
referred to the Courts, that of last resort deciding in
favor of the Governor. Two years afterward another
outrageous attempt was made for a re-apportionment
and to gerrymander the State, but the Legislature
failed to pass the bill over the veto of the Governor.

It was during Gov. Bissell's administration that
the notorious canal scrip fraud was brought to light,
implicating ex-Gov. Matteson and other prominent
State officials. The principal and interest, aggregat-
ing $255,500, was all recovered by the State except-
ing $27,500. (See sketch of Gov. Matteson.)

In 1859 an attempt was discovered to fraudu-
lently refund the Macalister and Stebbins bonds and
thus rob the State Treasury of nearly a quarter of a
million dollars. The State Government was impli-
cated in this affair, and to this day remains unex-
plained or unatoned for. For the above, and other
matters previously mentioned, Gov. Bissell has been
severely criticised, and he has also been most shame-
fully libelled and slandered.

On account of exposure in the army, the remote
cause of a nervous form of disease gained entrance
into his system and eventually developed paraplegia,
affecting his lower extremities, which, while it left
his body in comparative health, deprived him of loco-
motion except by the aid of crutches. While he was
generally hopeful of ultimate recovery, this myste-
rious disease pursued him, without once relaxing its
stealthy hold, to the close of his life, March 18,
1860, over nine months before the expiration of his
gubernatorial term, at the early age of 48 years. He
died in the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, of
which he had been a member since 1854.



n||:OHN WOOD, Governor 1 86o-r , and
fife** the first settler of Quincy, 111.,
was born in the town of Serapro-
nius (now Moravia), Cayuga Co.,
N. Y., Dec. 20, 1798. He was
the second child and only son of
Dr. Daniel Wood. His mother,
nee Catherine Crause, wag of
German parentage, and died
while he was an infant. Dr.
Wood was a learned and skillful
physician, of classical attain-
ments and proficient in several
modern languages, who, after
serving throughout the Revolu-
tionary War as a Surgeon, settled on the land granted
him by the Government, and resided there a re-
spected and leading influence in his section until his
death, at the ripe age of 92 years.

The subject of this sketch, impelled by the spirit
of Western adventure then pervading everywhere,
left his home, Nov. 2, 1818, and'passed the succeed-
ing winter in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following sum-
mer he pushed on to Illinois, landing at Shawneetown,
and spent the fall and following winter in Calhoun
County. In 1820, in company with Willard Keyes,
he settled in Pike County, about 30 miles southeast
of Quincy, where for the next two years he pursued
farming. In 1821 he visited "the Bluffs" (as the
present site of Quincy was called, then uninhabited)
and, pleased with its prospects, soon after purchased
a quarter-section of land near by, and in the follow-
ing fall (1822) erected near the river a small cabin,

1 8 x 20 feet, the first building in Quincy, of which
he then became the first and for some months the
only occupant.

About this time he visited his old friends in Pike
County, chief of whom was William Ross, the lead-
ing man in building up the village of Atlas, of that
county, which was thought then to be the possible
commencement of a city. One day they and others
were traveling together over the country between the
two points named, making observations on the com-
parative merits of the respective localities. On ap-
proaching the Mississippi near Mr. Wood's place,
the latter told his companions to follow him and he
would show them where he was going to build a city.
They went about a mile off the main trail, to a high
point, from which the view in every direction was
most magnificent, as it had been for ages and as yet
untouched by the hand of man. Before them swept
by the majestic Father of Waters, yet unburdened by
navigation. After Mr. Wood had expatiated at
length on the advantages of the situation, Mr. Ross
replied, " But it's too near Atlas ever to amount to

Atlas is still a cultivated farm, and Quincy is a
city of over 30,000 population.

In 1824 Mr. Wood gave a newspaper notice,
as the law then prescribed, of his intention to apply
to the General Assembly for the formation of a new
county. This was done the following winter, result-
ing in the establishment of the present Adams
County. During the next summer Quincy was se-
lected as the county seat, it and the vicinity then
containing but four adult male residents and half


that number of females. Since that period Mr.
Wood resided at the place of his early adoption un-
til his death, and far more than any other man was
he identified with every measure of its progress and
history, and almost continuously kept in public posi-

He was one of the early town Trustees, and after
the place became a city he was often a member of
the City Council, many times elected Mayor, in the
face of a constant large opposition political majority.
In 1850 he was elected to the State Senate. In 1856,
on the organization of the Republican party, he was
chosen Lieutenant Governor of the State, on the
ticket with Wm. H. Bissell for Governor, and on the
death of the latter, March 18, 1860, he succeeded to
the Chief Executive chair, which he occupied until
Gov. Yates was inaugurated nearly ten months after-

Nothing very marked characterized the adminis-
tration of Gov. Wood. The great anti-slavery cam-
paign of 1860, resulting in the election of the honest
Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, to the Presidency of the
United States, occurred during the short period
while Mr. Wood was Governor, and tiie excitement
and issues of that struggle dominated over every
other consideration, indeed, supplanted them in a
great measure. The people of Illinois, during all
that time, were passing the comparatively petty strifes
under Bissell's administration to the overwhelming
issue of preserving the whole nation from destruction.

In 1861 ex-Gov. Wood was one of the five Dele-
gates from Illinois to the " Peace Convention " at
Washington, and in April of the same year, on the
breaking out of the Rebellion, he was appointed

Quartermaster-General of the State, which position
he held throughout the war. In 1864 he took com-
mand as Colonel of the I37th 111. Vol. Inf., with
whom he served until the period of enlistment ex-

Politically, Gov. Wood was always actively identi-
fied with the Whig and Republican parties. Few
men have in personal experience comprehended so
many surprising and advancing local changes as
vested in the more than half century recollections of
Gov. Wood. Sixty-four years ago a solitary settler
on the "Bluffs," with no family, and no neighbor
within a score of miles, the world of civilization away
behind him, and the strolling red-man almost his
only visitant, he lived to see growing around him,
and under his auspices and aid, overspreading the
wild hills and scraggy forest a teaming city, second
only in size in the State, and surpassed nowhere in
beauty, prosperity and promise; whose people recog-
nize as with a single voice the proverbial honor and
liberality that attach to the name and lengthened
life of their pioneer settler, "the old Governor."

Gov. Wood was twice married, first in January,
1826, to Ann M. Streeter, daughter of Joshua Streeter,
formerly of Salem, Washington Co., N. Y. They had
eight children. Mrs. W. died Oct. 8, 1863, and in
June, 1865, Gov. Wood married Mrs. Mary A., widow
of Rev. Joseph T. Holmes. Gov. Wood died June 4,
1880, at his residence in Quincy. Four of his eight
children are now living, namely: Ann E., wife of
Gen. John Tillson; Daniel C., who married Mary J.
Abernethy; John, Jr., who married Josephine Skinner,
and Joshua S., who married Annie Bradley. The
last mentioned now resides at Atchison, Kansas, and
all the rest are still at Quincy.






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Governor," 1861-4, was born
Jan. 18, 1818, on the banks of
the Ohio River, at Warsaw,
Gallatin Co., Ky. His father
moved in 1831 to Illinois, and )
after stopping for a time in
Springfield, settled at Island
Grove, Sangamon County. Here,
after attending school, Richard joined
the family. Subsequently he entered
Illinois College at Jacksonville,
where, in 1837, he graduated with
first honors. He chose for his pro-
fession the law, the Hon. J. J. Har-
din being his instructor. After ad-
mission to the Bar he soon rose to distinction as an

Gifted with a fluent and ready oratory, he soon
appeared in the political hustings, and, being a
passionate admirer of the great Whig leader of the
West, Henry Clay, he joined his political fortunes to
the party of his idol. In 1840 he engaged with great
ardor in the exciting " hard cider " campaign for
Harrison. Two years later he was elected to the
Legislature from Morgan County, a Democratic
stronghold. He served three or four terms in the
Legislature, and such was the fascination of his ora-
tory that by 1850 his large Congressional District,
extending from Morgan and Sangamon Counties
north to include LaSalle, unanimously tendered him
the Whig nomination for Congress. His Democratic
opponent was Maj. Thomas L. Harris, a very pop-
ular man who had won distinction at the battle of
Cerro Gordo, in the Mexican* War, and who had
beaten Hon. Stephen T. Logan for the same position,

two years before, by a large majority. Yates was
elected. Two years later he was re-elected, over
John Calhoun.

It was during Yates' second term in Congress that
the great question of the repeal of the Missouri Com-
promise was agitated, and the bars laid down for re-
opening the dreaded anti-slavery question. He took
strong grounds against the repeal, and thus became

Online LibraryChapman BrothersPortrait and biographical album of Whiteside County, Illinois : containing full-page portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States → online text (page 12 of 122)