Biography - Francis McGee

HON. FRANCIS M. McGEE, a merchant and farmer of New Burnside, Johnson County, was born in Graves County, Ky., August 6, 1833, and was brought to Illinois by his parents in 1835. His father, Benjamin F. McGee, who at that time brought his large family to Illinois, was a native of Sumner County, Tenn., in which county he was reared and married. His father was James McGee, of the southern part of Scotland. His wife was of Irish ancestry. They came to America at a very early day, and located at or near Charleston, S. C., but finally settled in Tennessee, where he died on his farm at the age of about ninety years. He was a planter and slaveholder, and reared a large family of children.
Benjamin F. McGee was married in Tennessee to Nancy Armstrong, a native of that State, whose mother bore the maiden name of Aker. Taking his family from Tennessee to Graves County, Ky., he resided there for a number of years, and came thence to Johnson County, Ill., by ox-teams. The point they first selected is now in Pulaski County. The father and brothers of our subject first prospected in Sangamon County, but finding it too malarial in its climate, decided on locating in Johnson County, then the most improved county of southern Illinois. Benjamin F. McGee entered one hundred and sixty acres of land, and though he had but little cash capital and but a small amount of stock, horses, cattle, etc., yet he managed to make a success of his farming and accumulated quite a neat property. He settled in the heavy timber, and built a small log cabin without using nails, as there were none in the country at that time. At that time the Indians had mostly left, but wild animals were still plentiful.
Though Francis M. was then but a small boy, yet he well remembers some striking incidents, such as the crossing of the Ohio River and other events. His father cleared up a farm where he first settled, but some years later he sold that farm and bought another piece of wild land about five miles distant. Here he cleared up another farm, and it was upon this that he died of cholera, about 1850, when he was nearly eighty years of age. His wife survived him for four or five years, and died when she was more than seventy. While they were not well educated, yet they were well informed, and Benjamin McGee served as Justice of the Peace for several years, and also filled the position of County Commissioner. He drew up the petition to make Pulaski a separate county.
Hon. Francis M. McGee was one of thirteen children, of whom one daughter, Polly, was drowned at the age of eight years, the rest arriving at the age of maturity. He was the tenth child and seventh son, there being eight sons and five daughters. He was well educated in the subscription schools of the days of his youth, and at the age of twenty-three he was attending school in Centerville, Iowa. He worked hard on the farm when a young man and up to the age of twenty-one, and he well remembers the hardships of pioneer life. He was a flatboatman on the Ohio, Mississippi, Arkansas and Red Rivers for some years, and in this way made some money, with which he got his first start in life financially, but the hard and incessant toil and exposure were very severe on his health and constitution. He was married October 1, 1857, when twenty-four years of age, to Elizabeth Peterson, daughter of Joshua and Nancy (Spence) Peterson, who were early settlers in Johnson County. Her father died in this county in 1854, in the prime of life. His son, Dr. O. G. Peterson, went into the Union army as a drummer boy, when fourteen years old. He is now a prominent citizen of Springtown, Tex., an able physician, and Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic of Texas. The venerable mother of Mrs. McGee is still living in Vienna, at her daughter's a portion of the time.
Our subject has had a very varied experience in life, having been a school teacher, flatboatman, farmer, merchant and legislator. He was also a peddler for a Dutch Jew on the river at $7 per month. His first farm was in Pulaski County, and contained one hundred and sixty acres. This he bought in the '50s for $1,100. Though he was not a soldier in the army, yet he was active in assisting to send troops to the front, and his family was well represented in the army, there being in all sixteen of his near relatives who wore the Union blue. Among these were his three brothers, William McGee and two sons, Lieut. Patrick Henry McGee, two sons of his brother Hugh McGee; his brother-in-law, Capt. J. F. McCartney; and his brother, Christopher Columbus McGee, a lieutenant; also his wife's three brothers: W. W., T. G. and Owen Peterson; and what is a very remarkable circumstance, there was not a casualty of any kind occurred among all the sixteen persons — not a wound, nor a capture, nor a death.
The first mercantile venture of Mr. McGee was at Caledonia, Pulaski County, in the year 1855, but it lasted for one year only. In the spring of 1865 he sold his farm in Pulaski County for $4,500, and established himself in trade in Reynoldsburgh. While there he was elected to the Legislature from the Fifty-first District, and served for two years. He began business in New Burnside in the year 1875, and has continued there ever since. He and his wife buried two daughters and one son in infancy, and they have two sons and two daughters living: William J., single, and a merchant at Belmont, Ill.; Ardana, wife of W. R. Littell, of the medical college at Cincinnati, Ohio; Ella, now in the Conservatory of Music at Cincinnati, Ohio; and Benjamin F. William J. McGee, the eldest son, spent some time in the Southern Illinois Normal University at Carbondale; Ardana went to McKendree College at Lebanon, Ill.; Ella spent some time at the Danville, at the Jacksonville, and at the Monticello musical colleges, and has made great progress, both in the science and art of music. She is, besides, a very accomplished young lady. The youngest of the family, Benjamin, is thirteen years of age, and is living at home and attending school. Mr. McGee and his family live in a very pleasant home on the hill overlooking the little village of New Burnside, which is nestled in the valley and on the bluffs. The farm cottage, which the family occupies, is on a forty-acre farm, and is most delightfully embowered among a variety of ornamental shade trees, and nearby is a very pleasant little forest. No one could be more pleasantly situated in his declining days than is Mr. McGee.

Extracted 16 Dec 2016 by Norma Hass from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois, pages 495-496.

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