Lee County Biography

John McKinstry
Nelson Twp.


John McKinstry, one of the prominent men of the county, formerly identified with its mercantile interests, but now living retired, occupies an important place in the history of this section of the State as a founder of Nelson, a Station on the Northwestern Railway, where he has made his home many years. He was born in Livingston, Columbia County, N.Y., May 22, 1821. His grandfather, Col. John McKinstry, was a native of the North of Ireland, and was a descendant of Scotch-Irish ancestry. He came to America when a young man, and was afterwards captured by that remarkable Indian chief, Brant, and was to be burned at the stake, He happily thought of showing that he was a Mason by making the signs of his order, and when the chief noticed his signs he at once interfered with the active preparations that were going forward to roast him alive, and commanded his release. The Colonel and the dusky warrior became fast friends, and often visited each other, It was during the Revolution that this episode occurred, and Col. McKinstry was serving in the Continental Army at the time. He was a valiant and efficient soldier, and received his title and promotion to be one of the leading officers of his regiment on account of his undaunted bravery in battle and meritious conduct. After the Revolution he settled on a farm near Hudson, N. Y., and there lived to be an old man. He was a Protestant in religion, and was a prominent man in his county. He had married before he left his native island - Miss Elizabeth Knox, who was also of Scotch blood and Irish birth, becoming his wife. They reared a large family of children, eight in number, to good and useful lives.

The father of our subject, John McKinstry, Jr., was born in Columbia County, N. Y., August 5, 1777. He passed his early life there, and in his younger days was a sailor for three years. He was married in the county of his nativity to Miss Salome Root, who was born among the hills of Berkshire County, Mass., and came of an old Bay State family. Her father, Joshua Root, was also of Massachusetts birth, and was a patriotic soldier through the Revolution He died in the city of Hudson, N. Y., in the fullness of time, being four- score years of age at the time of his demise. He married Miss A. Catlin, who died in Berkshire County, when sixty years of age, some years before her husband's death occupied. After marriage, John McKinstry and wife spent their remaining years in Columbia County, N. Y., he- dying September 30, 1840, at the age of Sixty-nine years. his wife afterwards came to Illinois with their son of whom we write, and died at his home in 1872, at the age of seventy-eight years. She was naturally rather slender and delicate in physique, but, notwithstanding, lived to an advanced age, was active to the last, and retained her early mental vigor in a remarkable degree until the end. She was a member of the Episcopal Church, while the father was for many years a prominent and active worker in the Universalist Church. He was identified with the Whigs in politics, and his ability and intelligence made him a leader in his community.

Our subject and his brother Sloane, a farmer in Nelson Township, are the only children now living born to their mother. By a former marriage, their father had one son, named Robert, who is one of the largest fruit-growers in the United States, located at Hudson, N. Y. John McKinstry left his early home in 1857 to find a new field for his energies in the great Prairie State, which was then considered to be not far from the Western frontier. He started the town of Nelson as a station on the Northwestern Railway, six and one- half miles from Dixon, it being a mere tract of wild uninhabited prairie at the time, and often during the night the howling of the wolves would salute his ears, while wild game was to be had in abundance not far away. He has lived to see many wonderful changes wrought in the face of the country since he first settled here, much of the land being converted from its original state to smiling farms, while busy, bustling towns have sprung up in all directions where there were but few evidences of an approaching civilization when he first came here to join the pioneer of the early days of the settlement of the county. He has been very active in bringing about the improvements that make it a wealthy and highly developed region, where commerce and manufactures flourish.

Immediately upon locating at Nelson, Mr. McKinstry opened a store,and for many years sold goods here to the farmers of the surrounding country, besides consigning their grain for them at the station, of which he was the agent from 1857 until 1877, a period of twenty years. He established a postoffice here in 1858 for the convenience of the people in the village and outlying districts, and had it under his charge until five or six years ago, with the exception of three years. Besides doing the business for the farming community, he has also helped in the management of public affairs as a member of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, which office he held four years in the interests of Nelson Township. He has never neglected an opportunity to promote the welfare of his adopted county, and has always shown a wise public spirit in lending his influence to those schemes best calculated to advance the highest interests of this section. He possesses a vigorous mind, is well-informed, and is abreast of the times. He is widely and well-known in this part of the country and has many friends.

When our subject came to Nelson he was an unmarried man, but he subsequently contracted matrimonial alliance the 29th of March, 1871, with Miss Hattie Landis, a native of Lancaster County, Pa., and a daughter of Abraham and Maria (Pickle) Landis. Her parents were also Pennsylvanians, and they lived in their native State until after the birth of their children, except the youngest, who was born when they came to Illinois. They settled in Sterling in 1847, and there Mrs. Landis died in 1873, and in 1890 Mr. Landis closed his eyes in death, at the age of eighty-three years. They were people of solid worth, and were members of the Mennonite Church.

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