genealogy trails

Christian County Illinois

Named after Christian County in Kentucky through the influence of emigrants from that county.

Established February 15, 1839 as Dane County (Laws, 1839, p. 104). Name changed to Christian County in 1840.

Portrait and biographical record of Christian County, Illinois : containing biographical sketches of prominent and   representative citizens, together with biographies of all the Governors of the state, and of the Presidents of the United States.  Chicago, Ill. : Lake City Pub. Co., 1893.  Transcribed by Judy Rosella Edwards, 2007.

JOHN WICKLIFFE KITCHELL, one of Christian County's most prominent attorneys, is a resident of Pana, and belongs to one of the honored pioneer families of the State. He is one of Illinois' native sons, his birth having occurred in Palestine, Crawford County, May 30, 1835. His father, Wickliff Kitchell, was born in New York, and came to Illinois in 1818, the year of its admission to the Union. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Elizabeth Ross, was a native of New Jersey, and had a family of eleven children, of whom three daughters are now living, and our subject, who is the youngest in the family, and the only one residing in Christian County.

Wickliff Kitchell removed to Hillsboro, Montgomery County, in 1838. Wherever he resided he at once became recognized as a prominent and influential citizen. He at one time served as Attorney-General of the State, to which position he was appointed by the Governor. He was also State's Attorney, and was Register of the Land Office located at Palestine.

He was, at one time, candidate for Congress. In politics, he was a Democrat until the close of the Mexican War. A firm opponent of the extension of slavery, he was a strong anti-Nebraska man, and became one of the founders of the Republican party in Illinois, and attended the first Republican State Convention, held at Bloomington in 1856.

In 1847, he left Illinois, and spent seven years in Ft. Madison, Iowa, after which he returned, and henceforth was identified with the interests of Illinois.

He was acquainted with all the prominent men of the State, and was intimately associated in law and politics with A. T. Fields, Gen. James Shields, U. F. Linder [ed., Usher Ferguson Linder former Illinois States Attorney], John M. Palmer, O. B. Ficklin [Orlando B. Ficklin], Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull and Joseph Gillespie [ed., State Senator Joseph Gillespie]. He took a very active interest in public affairs, and his influence was widely felt.

He was a man of advanced views, fitted to mould public opinion and to be a leader of the people. He owned a section of land near Pana, Christian County, which he was improving at the time of his death, in 1869, when in his eightieth year. His wife had passed away in October, 1862.

Judge Alfred Kitchell, the eldest son of this worthy couple, was a prominent lawyer of Olney, Ill. He served several terms as State's Attorney, and about 1860 was elected to the Bench as Judge of the Circuit Court. In 1866, he removed to Galesburg, Ill., where his death occurred ten years later.

Edward Kitchell, the second son, residing in Olney, was also a stalwart supporter of the Republican party. In 1862, he enlisted, and was commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of the Ninety-eighth Illinois Infantry, and was afterwards breveted Brigadier-General for gallant service on the field. He was Collector of Internal Revenue for his district, and ran as Republican candidate for Congress, making a strong race. His death occurred in Olney, in 1870.

We now take up the personal history of John Wickliffe Kitchell. At an early age it became his desire to enter the legal profession, and when a young man of seventeen he began reading law with the firm of Miller & Beck, both distinguished attorneys of Ft. Madison, Iowa, the former a member of Congress, and the latter afterwards Supreme Judge for more than twenty years.

After one year's study, he was admitted to the Iowa Bar. He began practice in
Hillsboro, Ill., while still in his minority, being for a time a partner of Judge E. Y. Rice, and he remained in Hillsboro until after the close of the War of the Rebellion, except for one year, which he spent in Charleston, Ill.

In 1854, the members elect of the Illinois General Assembly consisted of Old-line Whigs and Democrats and a few so-called Anti-Nebraska Democrats. The opposition to the Democrats combined, elected the officers, and subsequently Lyman Trumbull to the United States Senate. Mr. Kitchell, then in his twentieth year, applied for a position, and was elected Assistant Clerk of the House of Representatives.

The session was made memorable by a severe snow-storm, which happened during an adjournment, blockading the railroads in the northern portion of the State, and keeping away a majority of the members for many days. The Assistant Clerk went to Chicago, along with others, and his recollections of the return are not the most agreeable, as the train was frozen in beyond Pontiac. A walk of a dozen miles, with the mercury many degrees below zero, and a passage by sleigh the balance of the way to the capital ended that adventure.

The sweeping triumph of the Republican party in the fall of 1860 gave to Illinois its first Republican Legislature, and Mr. Kitchell was for a second time chosen First Assistant Clerk of the House, and performed the duties of Reading Clerk throughout the entire session. After the close of the sittings each day, the clerks had to make up the journals to be read the following day, and this frequently kept them until the small hours of the morning.

Just prior to the final adjournment, on motion of Mr. Church, a resolution, perhaps the only one of the kind to be found on the journals of the Legislature, was unanimously passed, granting to the chief clerk and his first assistant extra pay for work performed after midnight. The session of 1860-61 was doubtless the most important and exciting in the history of the State. S. M. Cullom [ed., Shelby Moore Cullom], afterwards Governor, and now United States Senator, was Speaker of the House, and Church and Hurlbut leaders on the Republican side, and those who heard Gov. Yates' inaugural address, will long remember it.

Remaining after the close of the session to finish up the journals, Mr. Kitchell had the good fortune to be among those who assembled to bid farewell to Mr. Lincoln as he took his departure for Washington, and to hear, from the platform of the car on which he stood, the memorable last words which the President elect uttered at his old home to the throng of anxious friends. The next time he saw Mr. Lincoln was on that sadder occasion, when the body of the martyred President was lying in state at the capitol in Springfield, and when thousands passed by the sarcophagus, Mr. Kitchell being one of the staff-officers detailed for duty as guard within the chamber on that day.

Returning to his home at Hillsboro, only a few weeks elapsed until Mr. Lincoln made his first call for seventy-five thousand troops to aid in crushing out the rebellion, and Mr. Kitchell at once enlisted in the first company raised in Montgomery County. On arriving at Springfield, he resigned his clerkship in the Legislature, and went to Camp Yates with his company. He was chosen First Lieutenant, then appointed Adjutant of the regiment, and afterwards Captain of Company H, and on the expiration of his term was discharged.

At the next most pressing call for troops, in 1862, he was principally instrumental in raising a company, of which he was to have been the Captain, but the sudden sickness and subsequent death of his mother detained him at home until the company was filled and sworn into service and already in the field.

Anxious to do his part in the then desperate struggle, and disappointed in his purpose to enter the service with his companions and friends, he then established and conducted the Hillsboro Monitor [ed., probably the Union Monitor of Hillsboro, Illinois ]. He had previously been engaged in journalistic work, having published the Montgomery County Herald, a nonpartisan paper, for a couple of years, and edited the Charleston Courier, a Republican paper, during his residence in that town. The Monitor took strong grounds in favor of the prosecution of the war, and greatly aided the Union cause, and many copies weekly found their way to the front to cheer the absent soldiers.

When the draft came, in 1864, organizations were formed in the county with the avowed purpose of resisting it, but Mr. Kitchell counseled obedience to the law in every respect. When the drawing was published, his name was found to be among the rest. In pursuance of a vow he had previously made not to furnish a substitute in case he should be drafted, he at once sold out his paper, turned over his law office and practice to Gen. Jesse J. Phillips, who had then just returned from the army, and entered the service as a drafted soldier. He was assigned to one of the regiments then raising, served as a private for some months, and when the war was over was mustered out with the rank of Lieutenant.

Previous to this time, our subject was married, on the 27th of February, 1862, to Miss Mary Frances Little, only daughter of Robert Little, of Audubon [ed., Audubon Township], Montgomery County, Ill. They made their home in Hillsboro until October, 1866, when they came to Pana, which was then a small village.

Mr. Kitchell at once opened an office and began the practice of law. He is now the oldest practitioner of Pana, as well as the most prominent. For a few years he was associated with A. C. McMillen, but during the greater part of the time he has been alone in practice. His abilities, natural and acquired, have won him a high reputation as a lawyer, and have made him extremely successful in practice. A clear thinker, a logical reasoner, and quick at reaching conclusions, he has become widely known as a legal advocate.

In other lines, Mr. Kitchell is also known, for he has been identified with many public interests. Prominent among these has been the effort to develop the coal-fields in the vicinity of Pana. Strongly impressed, in common with many others of his fellow-townsmen, with a belief in the existence of mineral wealth beneath the soil, he took active part as early as 1872, when the first unsuccessful attempt was made to find coal by the help of an old-fashioned drill, at a loss to the citizens of several thousands of dollars. Ten years later, he contributed his time and means towards the more successful search by the use of a diamond drill, which took out a solid core, resulting in the discovery of the long-hoped-for vein of fine bituminous coal, seven feet and three inches thick, at a depth of seven hundred and twenty-three feet.

The borings were carefully kept by Mr. Kitchell, as one of the committee, and selections from these were mounted in a glass case, and are to be found in his office, making an interesting object lesson in geology. The result of this finding was the sinking of a shaft the following year by capitalists from a neighboring county. Subsequently, a business men's organization was formed, called the Pana Improvement Association, with Mr. Kitchell as President. As a sequel to this was the formation, in 1887, of a company to sink another shaft, called the Penwell-Kitchell Coal Mining Co. with J. W. Kitchell as President, and G. V. Penwell, Treasurer. Mr. Kitchell sold out his interest before coal was reached to Mr. Penwell, and m a few months afterwards, in the early part of 1889, in company with D. J. Overholt and others, he organized the Springside Coal Mining Company, and sunk another shaft, he being President and Treasurer, and Mr. Overholt Secretary. He continued in control until after the successful operation of the shaft, and retired from the management in May, 1891.

His faith in the future of Pana was shown in the erection of his residence on East Mound, in the Centennial year, and a block of business houses on Second Street in 1887, and he holds himself ready to assist in all matters looking to the building up and the improvement of the city.

Much of his attention has been given to the reclaiming of a body of swamp and overflowed land a short distance from Pana, which has been thereby rendered highly productive, at the same time adding value to the neighboring lands and removing a source of disease. In these and kindred pursuits, Mr. Kitchell seems to find his time more agreeably, if not profitably, occupied than in conducting litigated suits, and has therefore in a great measure ceased active practice in the courts, confining his labors in law mostly to an office practice.

He is a member of no secret order or society, except the Grand Army of the Republic. He rigidly abstains from all use of intoxicating liquors, and abjures the use of tobacco in all its forms.

In politics, Mr. Kitchell has ever been a stalwart Republican, having cast his first vote for Fremont in 1856. He was candidate for Congress in 1874, his competitor being his former law partner, Judge E. Y. Rice, but on account of the districts being strongly Democratic he suffered defeat.

He is frequently on the stumps during the campaigns, and was a delegate from the Thirteenth District to the Minneapolis Convention in 1892, where he was a firm supporter of Harrison. Mr. Kitchell belongs to a family well known throughout the State, and he has been prominently identified with matters of public welfare as editor, lawyer and politician. His career has been one that has gained him the respect of all with whom he has been brought in contact. True to the Old Flag, faithful in public office, honorable in business, and trustworthy in private life, he ranks among Christian County's best citizens.

NOTE: The Kitchell papers are archived at the University of Illinois

 
 
 

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