Prominent Citizens and Their Contributions
In the century of its history many men and women have contributed to the progress and stability of Moultrie County. The names of some weave in and out through the official records; others worked at their business or profession with little or no public mention, yet were the very backbone of the community structure. As in every community some names stand out above the others, for good or ill, and are remembered long past their own generation. Only a few of these can be mentioned within the confines of this brief sketch. Among the early comers were the Whitley family who gave their name to the county's first settlement, and perpetuated it in Whitley Creek and Whitley Township. There was the Waggoner family from the same neighborhood, whose members served the county in one capacity or another from the time that Amos Waggoner was elected justice of the county court in 1853, almost to the turn of the century. Joseph Waggoner, born shortly after the family settled on Whitley Creek, held the office of circuit clerk for sixteen consecutive years, from 1864 to 1880. There was Abraham Kellar, whose efforts, both within the district and at Springfield were largely instrumental in the creation of the county. He was a member of the county commissioners' court during its entire life, from 1843 to 1849. It was he who was asked to act as arbitrator in the Mormon troubles of 1842, to negotiate a settlement in the family dispute over the defection of Mrs. Souther. (212) There was John A. Freeland, many years county clerk, doubling in the office of recorder, and for a term school commissioner; and James S. Freeland who originated and managed the old Sullivan Academy. There was Charles L. Roane from Virginia, who ran a general store in Sullivan at the same time that he was county clerk (1857-61) and that he represented Moultrie, Shelby, and Effingham counties in the legislature. There was also John Ferryman, a name as well known in Shelby as in Moultrie County, who was the first school commissioner, and whose interest in education never wavered. He was treasurer for a time, and clerk of the circuit court from 1848 to 1852. And there was Arnold Thomason, for whom the courthouse was virtually home for thirty years. He struggled with the county accounts as treasurer from 1849 to '55; he was circuit clerk from 1856 to '64, and from 1865 to '77 sat on the bench as county judge.
One of the colorful personages of the county was James Elder, judge of the county court from 1849 to 1861. He was a hospitable soul, and one of the friends who frequented his home was Abraham Lincoln. It was during one of these visits that the incident of the clash between the Lincoln and Douglas factions in Sullivan took place.
The Edens, Joseph and John, were outstanding men in the county through many years. Joseph was the first to arrive, opening a general store in Sullivan in 1853. Later he became proprietor of the old Eden House. Like most business men in the county towns, he also had farming and stock-raising interests. In 1861 he followed Judge Elder on the bench of the county court. It was through his vigorous activity in the sale of the swamp lands that funds were secured to build the new courthouse after the fire of 1864; it was also through his efforts that land was secured for the poor farm. His brother, John R. Eden, moved up from Shelbyville, where he had been practicing law, late in 1853. Sharing his brother's interest in the swamp-land situation, he acted as attorney for the committee appointed by the court to secure reimbursement from the Federal government for the swamp lands granted to the Illinois Central Railroad. (213) His leadership soon extended beyond Moultrie County; he was elected to Congress as Representative from Illinois, and served four terms, including the difficult years of the Civil War.
A second member of the swamp-land delegation to Washington was Jonathan Meeker, likewise a lawyer. The report of the success of the mission carries his signature. (214) When Moultrie County instituted township government in 1867, Meeker was elected supervisor for Sullivan Township, and became chairman of the board. In 1870, ho was elected to the house of representatives at Springfield, and in 1877 succeeded Arnold Thomason as judge of the county court, where he presided for nine years.
Another of the galaxy of young lawyers practicing before the Moultrie County bar was Richard J. Oglesby, who opened his office in Sullivan immediately upon his admission to the bar in 1845. His stay was short, however, for the next year he enlisted in the Mexican War. An adventuresome spirit, he joined the forty-niners' gold rush to California, and later traveled around the world. Returning to Illinois, he was elected to the state senate, but from Macon County rather than Moultrie. He served brilliantly in the Civil War, and came through with the rank of Brigadier-General. Elected Governor in 1875, he resigned to take his seat in the United States Senate. In 1885 he was again elected to the governorship, and this time served four years.
A prominent lawyer of the county of a later period, whose early career presents considerable contrast to Oglesby's, was W. G. Cochran of Lovington Township. A farmer by training and a soldier by necessity, he had so little education in his youth that his enlistment papers carry only his mark for signature. By hard work, he mastered the law and was admitted to the bar in 1879. He was sent to the legislature where he became speaker of the house for the term of 1888, and later served' in the senate.
Following in the footsteps of these men of the law was F. M. Harbaugh, who had a long and influential career in the county, ending only with his death in 1930.
Not all the persons who have made significant contributions to the life of the county have followed the law. There have been many other professional men, physicians—Dr. Eleazer Pyatt of Bethany, who had served as an assistant surgeon-general in the (Confederate Army, and Dr. D. D. Grier who practiced for many years in the southern part of the county, to mention but two—preachers, editors, teachers, whose names and contributions would make a long list. And besides these are merchants and business men, farmers and stock-men and industrial workers, whose names may appear only in the records of marriage, death, and birth or in the local columns of the newspapers, who, nevertheless, without limelight of public office, have contributed of their thought and their work to the building of a sound community structure on the foundation laid by the county's pioneers.
212. See p. 42.
213. See p. 33, 34.
214. Court Record, v. 11. p. 147.
Inventory Of The County Archives of Illinois
Prepared by The Illinois Historical Records Survey Project No 70 Moultrie County 1941