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Champaign County, Illinois

Biography - Mark Carley

SOURCE: "History of Champaign County, Illinois with Illustrations," 1878


MARK CARLEY was born in the town of Hancock, Hillsboro county, New Hampshire, on the 24th of August, 1798. His native county is that which gave birth to Horace Greeley, whom Mr. Carley resembles in many respects. With the history of his ancestors prior to his grandfather, Mr. Carley is not familiar. His grandparents, on his father's side, were born in Massachusetts, the cradle of liberty, and were of English extraction. The birth of his grandfather, Joseph CARLEY, occurred on the 17th of February, 1718, and that of his grandmother, Sally WASHBURN CARLEY, September 1, 1729. His grandmother was connected with that numerous family of Washburns who have since filled so large a space in state and national affairs of this country. The father of Mr. Carley was Elijah CARLEY, the youngest of the family, who was born in Massachusetts, May 21, 1771. His mother was, before being wedded, a Miss Agnes GRAHAM, and was born in New Hampshire, July 18, 1772. Some of Elijah's elder brothers - Mr. Carley's uncles - were soldiers in the revolutionary war, and one of them, (Jonathan) has left behind him a soldier's discharge, signed by the hand of Washington himself, that is now carefully preserved among the papers of the family. But, although Mr. Carley's father was too young to take a hand in the revolution, he and one of Mr. Carley's older brothers served in the war of 1812, first in the dragoons and afterwards in the heavy artillery, and Mr. Carley has now in his possession one or two articles of uniform worn by his father during that term of service. While yet a boy, in 1810, Elijah CARLEY removed from New Hampshire to Vermont, and the son went with the family, remaining with it until 1816. In 1815 he commenced work as an apprentice to the house-carpenter and mill-wright business. Mr. Carley's advantages for receiving an education were very limited, as his school days were few; but in after life, by diligence, he garnered up in the store-house of his mind such an amount of knowledge as has been of great service to him in all the practical details of life. When he was but 20 years old, the spirit of self-reliance which served him so well in after life began to assert itself, and he resolved to see more of the world. Accordingly, in 1819, he went to New Brunswick. After remaining there several months he concluded to go to New Orleans by sea, and about the first of January, 1820, sailed from the mouth of the Penobscot river for that destination. While off Cape Hatteras the Bowsprit of the vessel was carried away in a gale, his ship sprung a leak, and, after pumping twelve days and nights, he succeeded in reaching the port of Savannah, Georgia, where, after stopping for repairs, he again embarked for Havana, Cuba. Spending a few days in Havana, he sailed for New Orleans, where he arrived on the 24th of April, 1820. On reaching the mouth of the Mississippi, in his voyage from Havana, he had a narrow escape from drowning. His vessel ran on a sand bar, and the mate, himself and three others got into a small boat, which was capsized, and the mate drowned. Mr. Carley was only saved by clinging to the boat and getting astride of its inverted bottom, on which he floated some four miles before he was taken off. After stopping in New Orleans only a short time, he went to Lafourche, and commenced work at $1.00 per day, with board, at his business of building mills and cotton-gins. Here he spent his summers for three seasons, returning each winter to New Orleans. In 1823, he went to the parish of Felciana, where he stayed until 1837. In Louisiana Mr. Carley seems to have found a climate and people suited to his taste, for it was there that he continued to live, with occasional visits north, for a period of seventeen years. During his stay there, however, he made two visits to Ohio and Vermont, during one of which, on the 27th of April, 1830, he was united in marriage to Miss Abigail W. STEVENS, daughter of Silsby STEVENS, of Springfield, Vt. Locating his family in Clermont county, Ohio, he returned to the field of his labors in Louisiana, to accumulate something for his future support and comfort. In 1837 he joined his wife in Ohio, and from that time until 1850 was engaged in farming and boating wood down the Ohio river to Cincinnati. In 1850 he was attacked by the prevailing California fever, and in the spring of that year, started by way of the Isthmus for the gold fields of the Pacific coast. During the passage from New Orleans to Chagres, owing to adverse winds the vessel stopped at Grand Camar island in the Carribbean sea, which he found inhabited by the descendants of the old buccaneers, with an English resident governor. From Panama the vessel went to Cocos island for a supply of water. While there Mr. Carley saw chiseled in the rock the names of the three small vessels commanded by Capt. Cook in his first voyage around the world, together with the day and month of his landing. After arriving in California, Mr. Carley soon won the confidence of the miners to such an extent that he was chosen one of the judges of the mining region, a most delicate and responsible position, requiring great prudence, good judgment and discrimination, where no statute or common law was in force, and the judge held in his hands the lives and property of all concerned. Mr. Carley remained in California until the fall of 1851, when he returned to Ohio, remaining there until 1853, when he removed to Urbana, Illinois, and in the following year to what is now Champaign city, but then a raw prairie, dotted only with a farm-house or two. Immediately on his arrival in Champaign, he began to aid in building up the town. He erected the first dwelling-house, on the ground where C. Hesse's brick dwelling now stands, on State street, which was afterwards removed to Randolph street, where it may still be seen on a beautiful elevation embowered in shrubbery, much of which was planted by Mr. Carley's own hands. He also erected the first grain warehouse in Champaign, and put in the first steam engine to operate a corn-sheller and elevator. This warehouse was burned down in the fire of August 24th, 1872. But his more substantial and permanent improvements consist of his beautiful homestead on Church street, erected in 1861, at a cost of about $5,000; his large two-story agricultural warehouse on the corner of Main street and the I.C.R.R. right of way, and his large and substantial brick livery stable on Market street, built in 1874. In addition to his Champaign improvements, Mr. Carley in 1857 purchased lots on Tolono, and erected the first warehouse and put in the first steam engine and side track there. Mr. Carley has had a family of eleven children, but death has invaded its circle and taken many from its number. Three still remain, however, Mary H., the eldest (Mrs. KINCAID), Graham and Isotta, now the wife of H. W. MAHAN, City Clerk of Champaign. On the 12th day of November, 1871, Mrs. Carley followed those who had gone before, and her remains now repose in the family vault in Mount Hope Cemetery, near the city. As might be expected, Mr. Carley's life of industry and frugality has not left himself and family without the means of enjoying the comforts and luxuries of life. In his domestic relations he is affectionate and indulgent, and his children have had all the advantages of education and travel that wealth could produce. During the summer of 1875 two of his daughters and one grand-daughter made the tour of Europe. In his social and business relations Mr. Carley has enjoyed to an unusual degree the confidence and esteem of all with whom he has ever been connected. In religion he is extremely unorthodox, and does not accept any theory or system of faith that starts out with a direct assault upon the reason, or is in conflict with the established truth of science. Huxley, Tyndall, John Stuart Mill and Ingersoll are much higher authorities with him that some of the orthodox writers on the Trinity and Final Resurrection. In politics Mr. Carley is equally pronounced, being in favor of cheap and honest government and opposed to political corruption and dishonesty whether practiced by one party or another. In former times he was a Clay Whig, but when the rebellion broke out he gave his sympathies warmly to the northern cause and affiliated with the republican party until 1872, when believing that the republicans were mismanaging the government he joined the opposition, and is now ranged on that side.

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