Descendants of the migrant Matthew MacConnel
Scotland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado and Missouri




The Name

 N J 



     Murray McConnel was born September 5, 1798 to Judge John and Elizabeth McConnel. Elizabeth died two days later and on October 10, 1798 an infant named Obed McConnel died. It appears that Murray and Obed were twin brothers and that Elizabeth died of complications from their birth. For some years young Murray was cared for by his mother's people until his father re-married in 1801.

     Murray left his home in Horseheads, New York about 1810 when he was only 12 years old. The young boy's travels took him to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri. He farmed for several years in Herculaneum, Missouri, a small village some 30 miles down stream of St Louis on the Mississippi River. He married Mary C Mapes and started a family. About 1821 he felt compelled to leave Missouri because of the "Missouri Compromise" which entered the southern portion of Missouri as a slave state. He moved north and across the Mississippi River into Morgan County, Illinois - now called Scott County.

      Murray studied law and farmed his land, moving to Jacksonville, Illinois when the city was first formed. He served in the Black Hawk War against the "red man" and many references can be found in Illinois history to "General" Murray McConnel. He held elected political office in the Illinois Legislature, had a life long friendship with Stephen A. Douglas, tried a case with Abraham Lincoln (they lost), served as Senator and in the Administrations of Presidents Pierce and Buchanan.

     In April 1925 George Murray McConnel published an article about his father in The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Published in Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

V. 18 m.1 April 1925





By George Murray McConnel

Deeply sensible as I am of the compliment implied in the invitation of the committee of the Jacksonville Centennial to write some reminiscences of my father, Murray McConnel, I rather shirk from what should be a labor of love, because failing eyes for two years have compelled me to depend wholly on memory, not being able to verify a date or read a line from any data nor even see the words I write, but I will try, though without much information to reader and with less credit to myself. My father was born about the end of the 18th century in New York. His mother, a daughter of Noah Murray, a quite celebrated liberal preacher at that time in New England and New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, died in giving him birth and for some years his mother's people cared for him until after his father's second marriage, three or four years after the death of his mother.

Both his father and mother were of clear Scottish descent, the former having descended from among the leaders of one of the Highland clans. His father's home at that time was a farm a few miles from Elmira, New York, where Murray remained until he was 13 or 14 years old, when for reasons convincing to himself, he set out on his life journey alone and unaided. He had received the rudimentary schooling of the time and knew the "three R's," but little more in the way of education, but he was a greedy reader and never even forgot what he read. Unfortunately the reading matter of that day was rare and more rarely within his reach. He set out alone through the woods of Pennsylvania and worked for some time for a farmer, where his father discovered him and tried to persuade him to return home. This he declined to do and set out again alone and without any spoken farewells, this time getting as far as Philadelphia, where he

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remained several months, employed in the management of one of the large "yards" from which huge wagons, drawn by four to six horses carried freight to and from the lake cities. He had always been partial to horses and had an almost uncanny skill in managing them, especially the wild and vicious ones, and this made him peculiarly valuable to the transport workers of that age. For some months he had been so employed when he met an Elmira man in the street (but was not seen by him) and saying to himself "this is too near home, the next thing I know I will meet my father in the street," he persuaded an early release from his employer and set out again with all his "good and effects" in a bundle carried on a stout stick over his shoulder. This time he took the high road from Philadelphia toward the foot of Lake Erie. He had a great variety of experiences on the way but rarely told of them. The one which seems to have given him most thought was that on the first day out he was overtaken by a small party of horsemen, evidently men of good character and social station, who lingered along with him for some time, talking with him and at last rode on with a laughing promise to tell the Pittsburgh people that he was coming. He thought no more of them until the day after he had arrived in Pittsburgh he was surprised by seeing the whole party, with some change of horses, "coming into town." Somewhere on the road he had passed them without seeing them and arrived in Pittsburgh nearly two days in advance of them. This set him to thinking. In some one of his reading he had seen the statement that on a long route as of armies, Cavalry might be ahead for some days but in long marches the footmen would outmarch the horsemen, while they would also be hardened and in better condition than the horsemen. He had sometimes thought when he read this that the writer was wholly ignorant of horses, but had now unwillingly proved to himself that the ignorance was, as he phrased it, "on his side of the fence." He felt that he was still "close to home" and within a few days engaged to assist and to aid a man who had bought a small flat boat on which he was about to float down the Ohio

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river to Louisville, and this carried out to the satisfaction of the owner and his family though he knew little of boating when the voyage began, save what he had gathered along the Susquehanna river near his father's farm. Louisville was a wild place for a sturdy boy to be turned loose in at the time and his adventures here would fit a border story, but had no worse finale than to put him on a larger flat boat, as one of its crew, at Portland enroute to New Orleans, though he had set out from Pittsburgh intending to go to St. Louis. Just when he was in New Orleans, how long he was there or what he did for a living was never touched on in the casual talks in which only, I gathered such scattered facts as I try to recall now, 75 or 80 years later. But after some stay here he joined a party of men, mainly United States men and Mexicans and rode on horseback to the already noted Arkansas "Hot Springs" and then to San Antonio, where he again joined another party of men in some capacity having to do with the "pack train" and the few horses ridden and went North and West. These hunters and trappers gradually dropped off to go to what they thought their best hunting grounds, until he was left with the last pair of them on the banks of a small river, where with full directions for rejoining them if he decided so to do, they left him with the knowledge that a man with a small flat boat loaded with poultry would pass going East and South, and when he did come would be glad of such an addition to his crew.

This small river he was informed was one of the branches or forks of the Platte river leading into the Missouri, which joined the Mississippi a few miles above St. Louis. And he remained alone in a wilderness that seemed endless, for two or three days and nights, with reflections that he said he would never be able to put into words.

The lonely voyager on the Platte did come, was astonished to stumble on a boy there who knew flat boating nearly as well as he himself knew it, was glad of the boyish recruit, and after a long voyage down the Platte, the wild Missouri, and the Mississippi did land him in St. Louis. Take the map

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and look carefully at this long round of voyaging. At that day there was nothing fairly to be called a settlement between St. Louis and Santa Fe. The boy had vague ideas of its extent, but he knew it was inhabited only by wild animals and wilder red men and by this time knew quite well what they were. Think what his meditations were alone, as he later thought, about where the city of Denver, Colo., now stands, and see if they must not have brought into his mind moods more dangerous than all temptations of civilization at that time. Such a long wandering was filled with novelty and incident, but they are referred to merely that one may know something of them in order to fairly estimate the life of his later years.

I never heard him give any reason why he went into the region of Herculaneum, some score of miles from St. Louis, but he did go there, worked more or less regularly on farms for a short term of years, then bought a small farm (probably chiefly on credit, which he made to pay for itself), married and "settled down" as men call it. He seemed to be fairly on the road to becoming a quite "respectable citizen."

But he was a insatiable reader of books of some value and not of dime novels or the like and he had about reached the early growls of the slavery agitation and disturbance that finally culminated in the so-called Missouri compromise, which ended with a seeming settlement in the admission of Missouri as a slave State into the Union in 1821. This decision fastening slavery on Missouri so roused his resentment that he soon sold his farm, for half perhaps of its worth, and with now growing family removed to Illinois, bought a farm in what was then Morgan but is now Scott county.

His thirst for knowledge grew and soon took a course of definite purpose. He made up his mind to become a lawyer and rode on horseback from his farm to St. Louis and back borrowing in that city law books, and some advice from a friendly lawyer there, carrying them back and forth in his saddle bags, studying them mainly at night, and cultivating his farm by day. Some time in 1824 or a trifle later he was

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present when the town of Jacksonville was "staked out," was greatly pleased with its ridge location, with the prairie grass high as himself as he sat on his horse, and going back to his farm continued his strenuous life for a few years, closely watching the growth of the new town and when it became evident that it was to have an intellectual as well as material life, sold his farm and hving secured admittance to the Bar and removing to the town, remained there all his life, one of the most farseeing and active lovers of our popular institutions. Soon after removing to Jacksonville from his farm he became the owner of the Southwest quarter of the land, part of which became as it was then called, "the Public Square" and at once donated it to the public use with thedeclaration that it was so given as a place on which the public might build a Court House.

This was done and the house was so used for many years. When the needs of the town had outgrown the building he took active part in deciding on building a new Court House and delivered a valuable address at the laying of the corner stone of the present building.

He was soon approached by opponents of this enterprise, who held that this abandonment of the purpose of the donation would work a forfeiture of the title and the land would revert to him. His assent would be needed to enforce forfeiture and he was asked for that several times. This was promptly negatived and refused by him, saying in effect that the gift was freely made, the people had acted with good faith, the house had fairly served its purpose, and it was to their credit that they had made the town grow so well that it was no longer adequate and it was their right and duty to answer the demands of the growing community, and he would not assent to or in any wise countenance any effort to impede the act. This effort to divest the people of their title to this ground was often made and as often blocked by his positive refusal to assent. And that was the spirit which he always showed in all effort to improve the town as long as he lived. The effort to give the title back to him - and later to his heirs

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was made again after his death and elicited the same refusal from them.

About the same time the people of the county showed the confidence they already felt in his ability and integrity by sending him to the State Legislature, while the Capital of the State was still in Vandalia. It was the first official political experience that came to him, and while he learned much of official life, nothing I ever heard him say indicated any desire to continue in it, thought interested and active as a citizen in political affairs.

A little later, I thin it was, the North West was thrown into excited tumult by the so-called Black Hawk War. It was once the fashion to ridicule that war, but there was more of real danger in it than many knew. A single marked success by Black Hawk would have gone far toward stirring nearly the whole red race. It is still the fashion of many who do not participate any, to sniff and make light of it. The startling whine of a rifle ball passing through one's hair would be a very effectual extinguisher of this sniff. The story of how my father's soldierly vigilance and swiftness of action when an officer on the staff of the General commanding the national forces, brought the campaign to a close with one decisive blow, has been told in one of the series of annals of early Western history some fifty or more years ago by the Fergus Co. of Chicago, and needs no repetition. Both legislative and Indian war experiences which he had, taught him many things and both were proof positive of his readiness to serve his people even at risk of life, or great loss.

Early in the "thirties" of the last past century, a slender young man with a very large head and a voice in which a little excitement wrought something of the jarring ring of a blast of an earnestly blown trumpet, came into my father's office. He gave his name as Douglas and expressed a wish to complete his legal reading until he could be admitted to the Bar. The two "took to each other" at once and the close friendship in consequence was never broken nor even ruffled as long as either lived. My father was often told that Mr.

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Douglas was only using him and other men as stepping stones for his own, Douglas', ambition. He only laughed and replied sometimes, at least, "No matter, his ambition will probably prove of more worth to the Nation than all our modesty." He was right and lived to see it verified when Mr. Douglas died, worn with strenuous labor in support of President Lincoln, who had won the office because of the split in Mr. Douglas' party, and died in the unselfish service of his country as truly as any of the soldiers who fell in any of the bloody conflicts, whether small or great, of our Civil War.

After the legislative episode of his political venture in Vandalia my father made no trial for office though active in all the varied controversies of the times, until worn by long legal practice and desiring to leave his legal work and place to his eldest son, already conspicuous in both literature and law, he accepted, in 1853, an appointment by President Pierce as one of the Auditors of the Treasury, and administered the matters in his charge with a zeal not as frequent in those departments as it should be, for five years or more. He remained in this place, though always keeping his home in Jacksonville, until near the middle of President Buchanan's administration, when pained and somewhat more, with its want of policy and general laziness, he threw up the office and returned home to wait impatiently until with Mr. Lincoln's first steps to indicate his patriotic purpose at all hazards, he spoke out before his people in earnest support of the new administration.

In these days, the days and nights were ever full of incident, at home and in Washington, that might be used here in ways entertaining to many, but they all point unmistakably to his unflinching and unfading love of his country, and these pages already grown too long.

So when the trumpet call of the Civil War rang through the land, he accepted nomination for the State Senate, was elected and throughout the war, made a record that was without fault as a patriot, while holding fast to his old Democratic party policies. The most noteworthy of his acts probably was his support of the Constitutional amendment abolishing

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slavery. He promptly "went to the front" in the work of advocating and supporting its ratification by the Legislature and made a really impassioned, as well as clear headed and logical argument, it its support and carried with him enough of his party associates in the Illinois Assembly to enable it to be the first State Legislature to ratify the amendment. During the remainder of his life he sought no office or preferment of any kind, was frequently busily engage with no expectation of compensation, in using his knowledge of law and the methods of legislative action, in the work of securing advantageous action by the Legislature in the interest of his country and of his home town. He was in this service when he died under the hand of a brutal assassin in his homely little study at his home, dressed and ready for a trip to Springfield in the interest of Jacksonville.

In one of the early years of his residence in Jacksonville came the dreadful summer of 1833, the cholera years as it was long remembered, a year later than when Eastern regions, or some of them, had suffered from the same scourge. The little frontier town was practically helpless under this horrible visitation. Doctors were few, and that few almost as ignorant of the pestilence and methods of treating it as the ordinary citizen. A few of those who could do so, fled to the country and many of them died where they sought refuge. The trained nurse was not then known on the border. Neighbors had to help each other or die without help. My father and mother told me in later years stories of the horrors of the time, but said little of the part they themselves took, but others who were there told me that went about their work, helping those who needed it, always with calm, hope-inspiring faces and the grim unshaken courage of the soldier sacrificed to "save the day" for others. And they came out of the ordeal untouched and helpful to the last.

The first official position held by my father after his Vandalia legislature experience was that of Commissioner of Public Works (I think that was the title), for the judicial district in which he resided. The State had entered upon the work carrying out the huge system of railways and other works

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which it had made laws to build during the flush times of 1836. One commissioner in each judicial district was "boss" for the State, of all of this work in his district. My father's untiring energy and zeal were known and he quite justified the public expectation. There was no mechanical shop, much less anything like a "railroad shop" within several hundred miles and all his operating outfit had to be bought in New York and shipped by sea from there to New Orleans and thence up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The story of this extraordinary feat in railway construction has been fairly told, in outline at least, in one of the Fergus publications hereinbefore mentioned. My purpose here is to tell of one curious incident of the work which illustrates the complete ignorance of the people of the nature and the effect of the railway on it and the more than merely working problems and difficulties my father had to meet. He had engaged the best help he could find, excellent men, but few with any experience in railway work, and the line from Springfield west to the Illinois river was decided on and laid down almost precisely where the track of the Wabash railway now bears its daily burden of trains. Work had been going on for some time when some of the people of Jacksonville began to talk about my father much as the notorious "grafters" of only a few years ago were talked of in their day. It was said that the purpose of the railway was to benefit the whole town, but McConnel had so contrived the proposed line as to enrich himself more than any one else, because he owned his home and some other lots North of the Square, quite near the surveyors line. He laughed at the story at first, but the talk grew louder, widening its scope so as to assert that he had had this aim in view from the first and had "imported" some of the family relations from New York to serve his purpose. He had called West one of his cousins, not because he was a cousin, but because he was an excellent land surveyor and had some knowledge of the recent railway work done in New England and New York. Presently he caused these troublesome people to be asked what it could be that they wanted, and learned that they said the only way to

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benefit the whole town would be to run the railway on through the middle of the town, along West State St., across the public square and out East State St. It was a rather ludicrous dispute. He was said to have told some of the clamorous "I will not say you are a pack of fools, but only that you are totally ignorant of the effect of running the road here or there, but I have studied the problem more than you have and much prefer to have the trains clattering through the public square, some hundreds of yards away from my home than close under my windows." So the threatened "scandal" as they call such operations in our day ended in an order to the railway builders to swerve the track lying Southward from a so-called Engine House on the line Northwest of the town, bring it through the unoccupied end into West State St. across the ground where the handsome High School building now stands. Thus the primitive railway ran three or four years along the street and across the public square, until the nuisance became intolerable, as he warned them it would be, and the disenchanted populace was more than glad to have it restored to the original line marked out by my father through his engineers, and there it remains to this day.

During all the years between his arrival in Jacksonville to make it his home until near his going into the Treasury in Washington he pursued the practice of law with unfailing attention, commanding the confidence of the people from the first, and rapidly and steadily winning wider and higher respect for his lucid interpretations of the law from both bench and bar. When he began the arduous task, the typewriter had not been dreamed of, short hand was but little more than a useless amusement and printed papers could not be had, in the West at least, and probably would not have been permitted by the Courts and every word of the voluminous papers in every case had to be written out in full, in long hand by the lawyer or a clerk and paid by him. Many times, sleeping in the room adjoining, I woke in "the dead waste and middle of the night" and through the open door saw him sitting at his table, his foolscap light by two tallow candles, one at each

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head corner, writing, writing interminably it seemed to me, with a goose quill pen, whittled out by his own penknife, scratching softly as he wrote. Laborious, indeed, the vocation of the law in that day!

But all the time, while thus apparently confined to one narrow line of thinking and working, his mind always alert and active was reaching out into other fields, into human history, philosophy, science of many sorts, gathering and storing in a retentive memory knowledge and food for thought from everything it reached.

And so, without the aid of any school or any teacher after he was 12 or 13 years of age, he developed himself intellectually into a man quite equal to being chosen friend and companion with some of the learned men of the time, always abreast with them in the hunt for more and more and more knowledge. Sturdy man of very exceptional bodily strength till he was past sixty - a fearless man ready to face anything in his worldly path - a truthful man - a man who ruled his own household firmly, but never with undue severity, always ready to listen to the appeal of reason for or against any of his own views and abide by any decision so arrived at – and as open to all fair appeals to his human affections. A man who had lived from about a dozen years old in nearly absolute independence as boy and man, had lived in the rude life of the frontier where intoxicating drinking was nearly universal and nearly everybody used tobacco in some form - women as well as men - and yet never falling into the practice of either indulgence. And over all this he was a man whose most conspicuous characteristic was his unwavering, unflinching loyalty and love for his native land, the United States "one and indivisible."

And now I sit here with these lines in "rough pencil," not a line of which can I see to read, and look back in memory over the more than ninety years of my life, nearly half of it passed while he was yet living, I am keenly conscious of the crudity of I have written and of how utterly inadequate in

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all I have said to doing justice to the man and helping the world to know him as I knew him.

And feeling this, I am strongly tempted to thrust what seems so vain a bunch of paper into some flam and confess myself wholly unequal to the task I have undertaken.

But, I feel myself honored more than I deserve in the invitation and I try to follow his injunction to "always keep your promise though it may be to your loss."

George Murray McConnel, author of the article on his father, Hon. Murray McConnel, was born in Jacksonville in December, 1833. He entered Illinois College in 1848, and two years later went to Union College, Schenectady, N. Y., where he was graduated in 1852. He studied law with his brother, John L. McConnel, and attended Dane Law School, Harvard University, and afterwards practiced in Jacksonville. In the Union Army during the Civil War he attained the rank of major. From its organization in 1870, he was anofficer of the Jacksonville National Bank, and a little later was made cashier. In 1872 he was elected mayor of Jacksonville and it was during his term that the city's system of water works was established. In 1875 he engaged in newspaper work in Chicago, and for a long period was with the Chicago Times as dramatic and literary editor. The book, "Presidential Campaigns from Washington to Roosevelt," published in1908, evinced his skill as a writer and a keen sense of political and historical values. He himself witnessed seventeen of the thirty campaigns there reviewed. Some of his latest work in the newspaper field was as a member of the editorial staff of the Chicago Chronicle, with which he was connected up to the time when its publication ceased in 1907. For sever years thereafter his home was in Fairhope, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. In 1920 he moved to Indianapolis, his present home.

W.D. Wood.