Lee County Biography

William McMahan




In this gentleman Lee County has one of its best known and most highly esteemed citizens and a representative farmer and stock-raiser. His farming interests are centered in Wyoming Twp., where he has a beautiful farm under a high state of cultivation and provided with the best modern improvements.

On a Pennsylvania farm, located three miles from Danville, in Montour County, our subject first saw the light of day on January 17, 1829. His father, Benjamin McMahan was born in the same county when it formed a part of Northumberland County, while his father, John McMahan, was born in Cumberland County. He was a son of the early Colonial settlers of Cumberland County, who came to this country from the North of Ireland, where he was born of Scotch ancestry. He died in the home that he had reared in the Pennsylvania wilderness. The grandfather of our subject entered the Continental Army on the breaking out of the Revolution, although he wsa then but seventeen years old and served with valor during the whole seven years of the war. Soon after peace was declared, he settled in Northumberland County and did equally good work as a pioneer, clearing a farm from the primeval forests where he lived until death closed his labors. The maiden name of his wife was Jane Murry.

The father of our subject was reared on the farm on which he was born, and always followed farming. When he began his independent career in that line he bought a farm three miles from Danville, the county seat of Montour County and settled there in 1828. There were no railways in that vicinity for many years afterward, and the farmers had to go way to Philadelphia, many miles distant to market their produce. Mr. McMahan lived to see the country well developed, and had a hand in bringing about the great change. He died on his farm at a good old age in 1864.

The maiden name of the mother of our subject was Esther J. Brearley. She was born in that part of Columbia County now included in Montour County, a daughter of Stephen J. and Mary (Marshall) Brearley, who were also natives of Pennsylvania. She lived to an advanced age, dying on the home farm; where her entire wedded life had been passed, in Feb. 1877. These are the 9 children who were born to her and her husband - William, Mary J., James, Margaret, Sarah, Esther, Hannah, Hattie and John. On his mother's side our subject is descended from a long line of ancestors who were of English origin.

The following information in regard to the Brearley branch of the family is from a work published by W.J. Brearley of Detroit Mich. The first ancestor of the Brearleys to come to America was one John Brearley, who was born in the ancient city of York, England and came to this country about 1680, and settled on Spring Grove Farm, five miles from Trenton NJ. He secured a title to a tract of land and died there in 1720. His son John was the next in line of descent, then came his son, John and he was the father of James Briarley who was the great-grandfather of our subject.

William McMahan, of this biography was reared on a farm and obtained a sound education in the city schools of Danville, so that at the age of 17 he was qualified to teach, and the ensuing two years he was engaged in that profession winters and in farming during the summer. At eighteen years he commenced surveying and followed that vocation a part of each year in PA until 1854, when he paid his first visit to IL coming by rail to Freeport and from there by stage to Dixon. He accepted a situation as teacher of a school three miels from Franklin Grove, and taught that winter. In the spring of 1855 he went to the Territory of Minnesota, going by way of Galena, to which he traveled by rail, and from there by steamer to Winona. That region was then very sparsely settled, and Mr. McMahan was engaged by the incoming settlers to survey lands in the vicinity of Winona, Rochester, and St. Charles. In the fall he went to the northwestern part of the territory and was employed in subdividing Government land on the Red River of the North. A part of the time while he was in Minnesota he made headquarters at Minneapolis, when it was but an insignifican village of a dozen or twenty rude dwellings.

On the 1st of Jan. 1856, Mr. McMahan returned to Dixon to spend the winter, and in the spring went back to MN to resume surveying in the vicinity of the head waters of the Minnesota and Sauk rivers. He remained there nearly a year and then spent a few months in St. Paul, and after that passed the greater part of his time at his business as a surveyor in MN until 1860 when he came to Lee County to settle permanently, having previously bought the farm on section 27, Wyoming Township, upon which he now resides. This contains 200 acres of land of surpassing fertility, all well cultivated, and he has erected a fine set of frame buildings of a modern and appropriate style of architecture.

Our subject and his amiable wife entered upon their married life in 1859 and have found much joy and contentment therein. It has been blessed by four children; Hattie E. married Frank McBride; John C. married Maggie Tyerman; Matie E. died in her 13th year; William B has followed in his fathers footsteps as surveyor and is now employed by the Government in Wyoming.

Mrs. McMahan bore the name of Sarah A. Clark prior to her marriage. She was born in Trumbull County OH a daughter of John Clark, who was a native of Lycoming County PA. His father Wm. Clark was also a native of PA and resided there until 1832 when he removed to Trumbull Co. OH and bought a farm, upon which he lived his remaining days. The maiden name of his wife was Mary Long. She was born in PA and died in Trumbull County. John Clark followed his tradeof a blacksmith in PA until 1834 when he settled among the pioneers of Trumbull County, buying a home in Liberty Twp. where he established a smithy and engaged in blacksmithing for several years. In 1849 he sold his holdings in OH and accompanied by his wife and seven children migrated with teams to Ogle County IL which he found in the hands of pioneers. He bought a tract of land in Marion Twp. and while his sons worked it, he gave his attention to his trade and made his home there until his death in 1876. The maiden name of his wife was Euphemia Marshall. She was born in Lycoming PA a daughter of Mathew and Catherine (Shields) Marshall, and her last days were spent with her children, her death occurring in 1880.

A man of much enterprise, Mr. McMahan not only carries on his farm with rare skill, but finds time to branch out in other directions, having control of a good business as the representative of some of the leading insurance companies in the US, and he still does a good deal at his old profession as a surveyor. Besides attending to his private affairs, his services are also in almost constant demand to assist in the management of public interests of township or county, and for many years he has been one of the most valued civic officials, bringing to his work an evenly balanced mind, clear discernment, never failing sagacity, and above all, an incorruptible character. He was elected County Supervisor in 1867 and held that office 17 years. In 1869 he was elected to the County Board of Supervisors and in 1870 was elected Assessor. In 1871 he was again honored by election to the office of Supervisor and represented Wyoming Twp. as a member of the County Board of Supervisors 12 consecutive years, an unusual length of time for any one man to hold that position. He is at present Assessor of the township. His whole life proves that he is entirely worthy of such honor and confidence, which are due not alone to his ability, but in part to the universal regard in which he is held in a community where all speak well of him, and no man has ever said aught against him. In his social affiliations he is a member of Corinthian Lodge No. 205; A.F. & A.M.; Mendota Chapter, R.A.M, and of Mendota Commandery, K.T. Religiously he and his wife are members of the Presbyterian Church. Politically he is a Republican and has ever been loyal to his party.

1892 Portrait and Biographical Record Lee Co Pg 649

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