Montgomery County – Its Early Officers and Citizens
By A H H Rountree, in the Hillsboro Democrat, February 12, 1873
Joel Wright, our first sheriff, came from one of the Eastern states, perhaps Massachusetts, under the auspices of John Tilson, with whom he lived and in whose employ he was mostly. He was here at the formation of the county, and how long before we cannot tell. He was elected sheriff in 1821, and served until 1826, probably three terms. He was unmarried while here but afterwards removed to Fulton County, we believe, where he married and raised a family and attained wealth and honors, having represented his county in the legislature. He is now dead.
Perhaps it would be well to say just here, to prevent confusion, that at that time there were three families of the name of Wright who were of no kin, and yet all were prominent, good and useful men. Joel Wright, who came from the east, never had any relatives here, we believe.
Joseph Wright spoken of as one of the commissioners to locate the county-seat, came from one of the Southern states, and had one brother, Charles, here, who like him made a settlement on the Hurricane; both of whom raised families in the county, and their descendants now reside mostly on the Hurricane, but we believe not all in our county. We referred to the children of Joseph Wright; we would name the children of Charles Wright, but are not certain that we have their names, and residences all right. We will refer to them at another time.
James Wright, who was one of the first constables, was a son of an elderly widow lady usually called “Granny Wright”, who at one time lived in a cabin in Hillsboro, on the spot now occupied by Henry Haller. Uncle Billy Witherspoon, we believe, lived in her veritable cabin when he first lived in Hillsboro, and we believe, he tore the cabin away for the purpose of building the Haller house.
Granny Wright was, we think, mother, or at least kinswoman of the wife of Jarvis Forehand, and was an estimable woman, of strong good sense and ardent friendships. It was an old story told of her that she always had corn to sell, and would demand a very high price for it; but in measuring it up she always told them to heap it up, to heap it up as long as it would lie on: “That if the “old boy” ever got her it should be for high prices, and not scant measure”! the manner of measurement after all really made the price about right.
Her son, James Wright, acted as constable for some years, and finally about 1827 or 1828, the whole family moved into Peoria or Tazewell County, where he died a few years since.
There have been, and still are several other families in our county of the same name, but we think of no relation to either of the pioneer families. Our readers seeing the necessity for this digression can readily pardon us.
John Tilson, our first County Treasurer, emigrated while a bachelor, from Boston, and settled the farm known now as the Scherer place, some three miles southwest of Hillsboro. He brought on the first store in the county, and opened it at that place. He married his wife, Christiana Holmes, in Boston, in 1822, and took her to that place, and there resided until after Hillsboro was made the county seat, when he built the first brick house in Hillsboro. The brick, we believe, were made by John Dickerson, who with David Eddy, who recently died near here, built the house. John Dickerson removed to Wisconsin at an early day and died there. The brick were molded, we think, by a colored man, the first husband of Aunt Edy, the first wife of uncle Tom Whitten. His name was Isaac Horner, a very intelligent Negro, raised as a slave in Maryland, and set free by his master, all of whom are now dead.
This brick house was a large massive two-story house, the brick were not good, and consequently the house was not thought to be a success, though it stood for many years, and finally was torn away by the late R W Davis.
Mr. Tilson removed his store to his house in Hillsboro, which was also the first store here. Mr. Tilson engaged largely in land speculations in this as well as other counties in the state, and handled large sums of money, and was quite a prominent man not only in our county, but throughout the state. He was the first post-master here in Hillsboro, and was one of Hillsboro’s most energetic and useful citizens. He was the first male member of the Presbyterian church, and contributed very largely to the erection of the first Presbyterian church building. He also was the largest contributor towards the erection of our Academy, and guaranteed its success for years. He exercised a large influence towards advancing the cause of education and elevating its grade. Mr. Tilson was largely interested also in the prosperity of Quincy, where he built, at an early day, what no doubt at that day was the finest hotel in the State.
The early struggles of our state to build railroads proved disastrous to Illinois finances. Mr. Tilson was one of the fund commissioners. He prospered well until the great financial panic in 1837, from which he never fully recovered. By that he lost very largely, and we believe, at or about that time he disposed of all his landed interests in our county and never was more identified with us. He raised quite a family who were mostly raised here. His children were Charles H, who recently died in Minnesota after a residence of many years in St. Louis, where he was for many terms elected as one of the city council. He never married. John still lives in Quincy where he married a daughter of ex-Gov. Wood. He was a general in our civil war, where he rose to distinction. We understand that he is very prosperous. Robert, Hiram, and his daughter Lucia, we believe are unmarried. Mr. Tilson died very suddenly in his bead at a hotel, in Peoria, of apoplexy. His widow died not long since. There are many now living that will think of John Tilson with great kindness. He was a kind, good and just man. Nearly all our early settlers will remember his young brother-in-law, who he raised, the mischievous, fun-loving, John Martin Holmes, who married Sophia, daughter of the late Col. Wyman, and nearly every one can tell of some of his tricks and escapades; smart, quick-witted, ready in repartee, an active business man. One of his tricks he played on the early Jackson men. When Gen. Jackson vetoed the United States Back bill, our people were called together to consider the question. John Martin (an Adams man), was appointed secretary. The meeting agreed to call a mass convention of the people, and ordered him (the secretary) to advertise a call for a Jackson meeting, but he being not of that faith, could not resist the temptation to have a little fun, instead of calling a Jackson meeting advertised for a Jack-ass meeting. When called to account for it he very demurely said that when he tried to write Jackson, his pen would slip around and make it Jackass, and it made no difference, no how, as it was all the same thing.
John Martin was postmaster in Hillsboro for some years, and after his marriage he removed to St. Louis, where he died some years ago; his widow is now the wife of Rev. Mr. Rudd, Presbyterian minister of Upper Alton. One son, George, lives at Glasgow, Missouri, both unmarried. One daughter, Fanny Gardiner, also lives in Missouri, and one daughter, Ellen, is the wife of Hon. Hiram P Shumway, of Christian county, one of our Representatives in the legislature.
Charles Holmes, one of Mr. Tilson’s brothers-in-law, also merchandised in Hillsboro for several years. He lives now in St. Louis, having accumulated an ample fortune.
Hiram Holmes, who built the first mill at Audubon, and was one of its first citizens, no resides, we understand, near Peru, Illinois.
These men, while being brothers-in-law of Mr. Tilson, were also identified with him in interest.
It was Mr. Tilson who built the first steam mill in Hillsboro. It was originally started by D.B. Jackson, as an ox treadmill for sawing lumber, but afterwards enlarged and steam applied and made a flouring and sawmill, and was of great utility. It burned down about 1840.