Lee County Biography


JOHN THARP LAWRENCE, a resident of Palmyra Township, is the oldest son of the late John Tharp and Julia (Ricketts) Lawrence. His father was born in London, England, March 26, 1791, and was educated at the school of the celebrated Dr. Burney. He entered the British navy as a midshipman at fifteen years of age and saw first service m the great battle of Trafalgar. He served through the Anglo-French War of 1811, when, during the temporary peace of that year, his elder brother's death gave him pos­session of the family property in England and the estate of Hazelymph Island of Jamaica. He resigned his commission in the navy and on September 11, 1818, was married at Elizabeth, N. J., to Julia, daughter of James Ricketts, Esq., of Abyssinia, N. J., and Ridgland, Jamaica. From this marriage were born eleven children, of whom three survive, the subject of this sketch; James Ricketts, a retired merchant of New York City, and Frances, widow of the late Maj.-Gen. James B. Ricketts, of Washington.

After his marriage, Mr. Lawrence continued to reside on his Jamaica plantation, which was then valued at £48,000, with three hundred and six slaves, until 1827, when a law suit, by which the estate was thrown into chancery, and the approaching emancipation of the slaves by the British Government, led him to sell out his Jamaica property and remove to Elizabeth, N. J., where he continued to live until 1833, when, from the carelessness of a sailor and the prodigality of a West Indian, his means were somewhat reduced, so that he found it necessary to obtain some employment. He then removed to Jersey City, and for a short time held a situation in the New York Custom House, and was then induced to embark the remainder of his property in a com­mission and importing business in New York.

In the disastrous years of 1837 and 1838, amid the general failure of New York merchants, Mr. Lawrence also failed, and then removed his family in 1840 to Illinois, where he bought a squatter's title, as it was then called the land not being yet in market—to seven hundred acres of land, part of which is still the present home of his son. At that time there were in this part of Illinois neither churches, schools, nor comforts of any kind, in addition to which the country was extremely sickly, rendering it a very unfit abode for women and children delicately brought up. For these reasons, added to the loss of one child, and the dangerous illness of others of the family, Mrs. Lawrence re­turned in the fall of the same year, 1840, to New York, with all the younger members of the family, and for their support and education opened a boarding-school in that city, which became sufficiently remunerative, her boarders being mainly the daughters of Southern planters. Mr. Lawrence, with his two elder sons, remained for some time longer in Illinois, but finally he and his second son joined Mrs. Lawrence in New York, where he died in 1847. His widow survived him until 1886, when she died aged eighty-five, at the home of her son-in-law, Gen. Ricketts, in Washington, and was buried in the old family vault at Elizabeth, N.

John Tharp Lawrence, son of the above, was born at Hazelymph estate, St. James Parish, Jamaica, September 25, 1819, and was educated in the grammar department of the Columbia College, N. Y., under Prof. Charles Anthony, L. D., the celebrated Greek scholar. In addition to private tutors in French, Spanish and mathematics, he was a cadet at West Point for one year, in 1836, being a classmate of Gen. Sherman, distinguished in the war for the Union. He was for a short time a pupil in the law-office of the well-known Lyman Trumbull, who was lost at sea in the ill-fated "Pacific." He also practiced surveying for a time, being employed in the survey of the first railroad projected in New Jersey, from Springfield to Easton, Pa., and assisted in laying out Greenwood Cemetery, L. I. He came to Illinois as a pioneer in advance of his family, 1839, where he has resided as a farmer on the same land ever since. He was married June 9, 1845, to Elizabeth, the third daughter of Capt. Hugh Graham, of the American Merchant Marine service, and Mary Patterson, his wife. Mr. Lawrence has six children, five daughters and one son, namely: Julia,wife of Harry Eldred, residing in the State of Washington; John Tharp, who married Florence Hubbard, daughter of Thomas S. Hubbard, of Kansas; Elizabeth married Charles L. Guyot, an architect and builder, of Denver, Col. Three unmarried daughters, Lilias, Maiy, and Frances, reside with their father.

Capt. Hugh Graham, mentioned above, was the son of a Belfast, Ireland, merchant, born in 1775. He entered the British navy as a midshipman, but soon left it for the merchant service at the early age of nineteen, commanding a vessel which ran to New York. He was a packet master for a number of years in the trade between New York and Liverpool. He removed with his family to Illinois in 1838, and died in New York, whither he had gone on a visit, in 1854. His wife died in 1845, at the residence of her son-in-law, the late Chief-Justice on, of Wisconsin, then living at Racine. William Graham, son of the above gentleman, having come to Illinois in the spring of 1837, with his friend Charles Hubbard, on a hunting expedition, was so pleased with the country, that he induced his father and many friends and acquaintances to join them. Through him the neighborhood of Dixon received many settlers, with considerable means and more education than the general run of pioneers to a new country, and who were of great advantage in building up this part of the State. Major William Graham, who traveled extensively in the Lake Superior country, California and Montana, died at the Montana Silver Mines in 1878.

In a country like England, which has suffered so little from foreign invasions and domestic wars, the records have been but little disturbed, and it is easy to trace family histories, particularly those of large landed proprietors, from the registers of deeds and wills, and the records in old churches. From these records a history of the Lawrence family has been drawn out, from which it appears that the first of the family of whom there is any record is the crusader, Sir Robert, who accompanied Richard Coeur de Leon to Palestine, and for services there (1191) was created Knight Baronet, granted lands and a coat-of-arms—a red cross, in the jargon of heraldry called a cross reguley gules, on a field azure, and the motto, In Cruce Salus—Salvation in the Cross; this has ever been the totem, as the Indians would call it, of a large family. James Lawrence, of Ashland Hall, Lancashire (1153) married Matilda, daughter and heiress of John de Washington, of Washington, Lancashire, England, and quartered the heiress's arms with his. Thus the Lawrence arms contain the stars and bars from which the American flag was taken. Sir Henry Lawrence (1623) of St. Ives, Huntingdon, was president of the Privy Council to his friend and neighbor, Oliver Cromwell. On the restoration of Charles II one of his sons settled in Huntingdon, L. I., and is the ancestor of the many prominent New York Lawrence; another son, John, emi­grated to Jamaica in 1675, where he obtained large possessions and is the ancestor of the Jamaica Lawrence. His will is dated May 10, 1690. The estate of Fairfield, where he first settled, is still in the hands of the English branch, now represented by Hon. William Frederick Lawrence, of Cowesfield House, member of Parliament for Liverpool. The Lawrence are thus identified with the earliest English settlement of Jamaica.

On the mother's side Mr. Lawrence is also connected with the earliest settlement of Jamaica, Capt. John Ricketts, of Crornwrell's army, having accompanied Admirals Penn and Venables in the expedition sent by Cromwell (1655) against Jamaica and took part in its capture from the Spaniards. For his services he received a large grant of land and the estate of Ridgland, the earliest home of the family, remained in their possession until 1826. For his father's services in this expedition,William Penn, after suing many years at court, in curled locks and velvet doublet, received from James II the grant of Pennsylvania. Col. William Ricketts, son of the Capt. John above mentioned, went to New Jersey about 1670, where he married Miss Ogden, daughter of the first patentee of Elizabethtown, and became possessed of a large property there, on which his descendants resided until 1840. Elizabethtown, in the early part of the present century, was a very gay and fashionable place, many of the leading inhabitants having been prominent in military or civil employments during the Revolutionary War, and the town was a favorite city of refuge for the French emigrants. In the old church yard of St. Mathew's Church, there are still to be seen the tombstones covering the graves of many of the noblest names of France.

Mr. Lawrence's grandfather, James Ricketts, married Sarah, daughter of Peter VanBurgh Livingston, fourth Lord of Livingston Manor, New York, and his wife, Sarah Alexander, a sister of Lord Stirling. Mr. Livingston was the elder brother of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and William Livingston, for many years Governor of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. The first President Harrison made a runaway marriage with a granddaughter of William Livingston. The Livingstons are connected by marriage with most of the New York families prominent in the early history of the country, , and were themselves ardent patriots, VanBurgh Livingston having sacrificed a large part of his fortunes in the struggle for Independence. Mr. Lawrence's family history is thus connected with the early history both of the United States and Jamaica.

Personally, Mr. Lawrence is a highly educated and refined gentleman, a worthy descendant of his renowned ancestors. He is of a literary turn of mind and has written extensively for various periodicals, one of his articles on practical farming securing a valuable prize offered by an agricultural paper. '

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