Carroll County Illinois

Mrs. Isabella (Murray) Mackay

The career of this venerable lady, widow of the late William Mackay, of Mt. Carroll, is filled in with incidents of more than ordinary interest, and, as her life was closely identified with that of her husband during the greater part of his sojourn here, it may be well to first give the outlines of his history. He was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, July 13, 1802, and lived there until about 1832 or 1833, when he emigrated to America, and, locating in Maine, engaged in the manufacture of wagons and carriages. Before many years, however, he set out for the Great West, and established himself at Green Bay, Wis., continuing in the same business. Not being pleased with his surroundings there, however, he soon left, and in the year 1837 we find him in this county, and he was about the first white man to settle in Salem Township. His neighbors then were Indians, whom he afterward declared were better to him than most of the white men whom he had met since leaving his native hills.

The present site of Mt. Carroll was at that time simply an Indian village, with two rows of huts. Mr. Mackay was welcomed to the chief's house, and considerable of an ado made over him. He concluded to take up his abode here, and after a time, as there appeared some prospect of other white settlers, he put up a saw-mill two miles southwest of the prospective town, and finally associated himself in partnership with one John George, and they prosecuted quite a thriving trade in lumber.

Mr. Mackay finally abandoned saw-milling, and took up land, making of it a fine homestead; the buildings of which were laid in ruins by the cyclone of May 12, 1886. When first settling here he put up a large square-frame house, but before it was finished had it removed, and prior to his marriage put up a fine brick residence, the best in that region for many years, and which withstood the storms of many seasons, but finally succumbed to the force of the cyclone.

Mr. Mackay, for the first few years, raised wheat and corn in large quantities, which he hauled with teams to Chicago, camping out whenever night overtook him, before the days of regular roads or bridges, and when he followed mostly an Indian trail. In the meantime he effected many improvements upon his land, and was one of the first men to set out an orchard. He split rails and made fences all around his farm, also subdivided the fields. In this manner he improved nearly a half-section, and erected, besides his residence, a good barn, carriage-house, cattle-sheds, two wind-mills and all the structures naturally required for the improvements of the enterprising and progressive farmer.

Although having extensive interests of his own to look after, Mr. Mackay at the same time, watched the growth and development of his township. As people came in, took up land, and opened up farms, the growth of the population necessitated the establishment of schools, and he was one of the foremost men to set about this, and was elected one of the first Directors in his district, which office he held for many years. There was first erected a log school-house, which in 1856 was supplanted by a more modern brick structure, and later the latter gave place to a larger and finer brick building, which is now the pride of the township. Mr. Mackay was also instrumental in inaugurating religious services in that first school-house, assisted liberally in supporting the preaching, and also in the organization of the church and Sunday-school. He at an early day officiated as teacher of a class of young men. He was of a modest and retiring disposition, and declined the honor of Sunday-school Superintendent, which it was desired he should accept. Although keeping himself well-posted upon matters of interest, he avoided mixing in politics; but he voted with the Republican party from the time of its organization.

On the 8th of January, 1856, occurred the marriage of William Mackay and Miss Isabella Murray, and of this union there were born four children, three of whom are living. Jean, born June 11, 1859, was graduated from the Hahnemann Medical College of Chicago, and is now practicing his [sic] profession in Mt. Carroll; William was born July 29, 1861; and Effie, Dec. 22, 1865. They reside with their mother. Margaret, their first child, was born Feb. 23, 1857, and died at the age of thirty years and one month. The family lived at the farm until 1886, and until the disaster heretofore alluded to. There were at that time within the house Mr. and Mrs. Mackay and their daughters, Margaret and Effie--the latter two looking out of the window. Mr. Mackay was lying upon a bed on the opposide side of the house whence the storm was coming. All made an effort to get out of the house, but fortunately did not, as had they done so they would most unquestionably have perished. All that saved them was a beam falling upon a bookcase.

From the shock of this occurrence the daughter Margaret never recovered. She failed in health rapidly and died on the 21st of March following, of consumption. Her sister Effie is suffering in much the same manner. As soon as possible the family sought shelter with a neighbor, and Mr. Mackay shortly afterward purchased property north of the seminary, where his widow and her children now reside.

Mrs. Mackay was born at Melrose, Roxborough County, Scotland, Jan. 22, 1832, and lived there until coming to America, arriving July 15, 1854. They set out at once for Illinois, and, after reaching Freeport, proceeded by teams to this county, taking up their residence at Cherry Grove, where Mrs. Mackay remained until her marriage. For some time after settling here they had to depend for their supplies upon a boat which came to Savanna twice a year, and if that failed them they had to go without that which it would have brought. The father of Mrs. Mackay was John Murray, who spent his entire life in his native country. Mrs. Mackay is a member of the Presbyterian Church, with which her daughter Margaret was also identified. Effie belongs to the Lutheran Church. The family retain possession of the farm in Salem Township.

Portrait & Biographical Pg. 941

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