Lee County Biography


ALEXANDER HARPER, ESQ., a pioneer of Northern Illinois, and a son of one of the early pioneer families of the State, is a prominent citizen and farmer of Viola Township. A native of this Commonwealth, he was born one and one half miles south of Whitehall, in Greene County, June 1, 1827. His father, Ephraim Harper, one of the earliest settlers of Illinois, was born in Juniata County, Pa. Of his father but little is known, save that he was of Scotch ancestry, and was born either in Scotland or America.

Ephraim Harper was a young man when he left his native State for Ohio, where he was married in the town of Marietta to Christina Kistler, who was also of Pennsylvania birth. He learned the trade of a tanner and currier and concluded to establish himself in business in some more recently settled State in the "Far West." He embarked on a keel boat and proceeded to St. Louis on the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He was somewhat disappointed in that place, as he had expected to find a nourishing village, instead of the collection of huts and small houses that composed the city. He consequently recrossed the river to Milton, IL. This was the year in which this State was admitted to the Union. He stopped in that town a short time, and then took up his abode in Greene County, he being among the first to settle there. He bought a tract of timber land near the present site of Whitehall, built thereon, and established a tannery, which lie operated, and at the same time superintended the improvement of his land. He did important work as a pioneer, and at his death August 17, 1844, his community lost one of its best citizens. His wife did not long survive him, but died in the home that she had helped him to make in May, 1845. They reared four children, named John G., Alexander, Kliza J. and Margaret.

The early life of our subject was passed amid the pioneer scenes of his native county. At that time, Northern Illinois was still occupied by the Indians, and deer and other wild game were abundant throughout the State. There were no railways in any portion of Illinois for many years. The first one that Mr. Harper ever saw extended from Naples, a town on the Illinois River, to Jacksonville, the cars being drawn by horses. The pioneer schools that he attended were taught in log houses, and the furniture was of the most primitive kind, the seats being made of undressed planks, without backs, and the schools were conducted on the subscription plan.

In 1848 our subject and two others started to explore Northern Illinois in search of Government land. He had previously purchased a soldier's warrant calling for a quarter-section, paying the sum of $100 for the same. The little company of explorers found the vast prairies of the northern part of the State Unoccupied, and one of them entered a tract in Tazewell County. In common with many others, Mr. Harper had but little faith that the prairies would ever be of much use as farming land, and he concluded that he would rather have his money than such unprofitable real estate, so on his return he sold his land warrant. He soon after began to learn the trade of a blacksmith at Ottawa, in La Salic County, serving an apprenticeship of three years, and he then did journey-work for a short time. After that he opened a smithy in Earlville, in the same county, and carried on business there very prosperously for many years. In 1808 he bought a farm in Shabbona Township, DeKalb County, and lived upon it two years. In 1870 he purchased the farm that he owns and occupies in Viola Township, and is successfully carrying on agriculture on its well-tilled acres.

Mr. Harper was married March 12, 1853, to Miss Elizabeth Cox, a native of North Carolina. Her parents, David and Phoebe (Jones) Cox, were also natives of that State, whence they came to Illinois in 1835. They spent one year in Kendall County, and then went to Champaign County and were among its early settlers. Mr. Cox bought land two miles north of Urbana, upon which he and his family lived for a time, and then took up their residence in the village. They afterward removed to Earlville, where they died, the father at the venerable age of eighty-two years, on August 29, 1891; the mother passing away February, 16, 1892 at the age of eighty-three years.

Mr. and Mrs. Harper have three children: Lillian G., Annie and Jennie. Lillian is the wife of Rufus Johnson, and they have one son, Guy. Annie is the wife of Clark Butler, and they have two children: Gertrude and Elmer. Jennie married Amzi Van Cam pen, and they have three children: Edith, Arthur and Elizabeth.

Mr. Harper was a Whig until the dissolution of that party, and since then he has affiliated with the Democrats. He has filled various offices of trust, and has always given satisfaction as a conscientious, capable official. He served two terms as Highway Commissioner, two terms as Assessor, and is at the present time Justice of the Peace and School Director, he having been an incumbent of the former office sixteen years. He is justly regarded with feelings of respect and esteem, as he is fair minded, candid and open handed, and has the interests of his neighbors and the community at large at heart, never neglecting an opportunity to forward them where he can.

Lee County Portraits & Biographical 1892

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