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Champaign County, Illinois

Biography - Judge William M. Phillips

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


Judge WILLIAM M. PHILLIPS. Among the leading citizens of the northern part of the county, the name of Judge William M. PHILLIPS is one of those which most deserves mention in a work of this character. He is an active and enterprising farmer; a man of intelligent ideas, liberal views, and pronounced opinions of his own; of strict moral worth and undoubted integrity; while the confidence reposed in him by the people of the county, has been manifested by the prominent position he held on the Board of Supervisors, and his election as representative to the legislature.

He is a native of Illinois, and was born in Washington county, September 24th, 1819. His ancestors in the previous century lived in Pennsylvania. John PHILLIPS, his father, was born in that state, and in the year 1804 emigrated to East Tennessee. There he married Sarah WHITTENBERG, and the oldest of the nine children of which this union was productive, was William M. Phillips whose name appears at the head of this sketch. In the year 1819, John Phillips decided to leave the mountainous districts of East Tennessee, and build a future home on the broad prairies of Illinois, reports of whose beauty and fertility came back to the Tennesseeans from those who had visited or settled on this, at that time, frontier of civilization. In May, 1819, the family emigrated to this state and settled in Washington county. At the time of Judge Phillips' birth, no house had yet been built for the accommodation of the family, and the Judge was born in a tent. The family was among the early settlers of Washington county. John Phillips, his father, was a man of considerable prominence and influence, and during the forty-six years he resided in that part of the state enjoyed the confidence of his fellow-citizens. He had been in the war of 1812, under General Jackson, and was one of the commissioners who located the seat of government at Vandalia, at the time of its removal from Kaskaskia. He lived in Washington county till his death, in the year 1865.

Judge Phillips grew up to manhood in the county of his nativity. A log school-house near his home afforded all the educational advantages he ever enjoyed. He was the oldest son, and it naturally devolved on him to assist his father in the improvement and cultivation of the farm, so that his chances of going to school were limited and irregular. But he possessed a quick mind, well adapted for acquiring and retaining information, and his own individual efforts to improve his mental faculties, supplied what lack there was in school instruction. He resided at home with his father till his marriage in May, 1843, to Paulina GOODNER, who was born and raised in St. Clair county, of this state.

His strong traits of character, early made him a man of more than ordinary mark in the community. His active mind, and habit of forming his own opinions, caused him to take a decided stand on the political and other questions, which agitated the public mind. He gave his adherence to the principles of the old Democratic party, as those which he believed to be most in harmony with our national system, and when in 1840, he became of age sufficient to entitle him to a voice in the affairs of government, be cast his first vote for President, for Martin Van Buren. He was regarded as a leading Democrat in the county, and positions of trust and honor were conferred upon him. In 1853 and 1854 he represented Washington and Perry counties in the Legislature, and performed the duties of that office in an honest, trustworthy and creditable manner. He remained a member of the Democratic party till during the excitement and agitation, which preceded the war.

He plainly saw that the purpose of the Southern leaders was to disrupt the government, provided they were denied power to control it in the interest of their favorite institution---slavery. He then became a Republican, and in 1860, voted for Lincoln for President. When at last the rebellion was inaugurated, he was a warm and ardent supporter of the administration in its efforts to preserve the country from division and destruction. His course was fully approved by the citizens of Washington county, and in 1861, he was elected judge of the county court, and serving a term of four years was re-elected to the same position in 1865.

The death of his first wife occurred in 1860. Mrs. Mary McKEE, whose maiden name was Mary COX, became his second wife in 1862. Mrs. Phillips, is a native of Kentucky. He has five children by his first marriage living. The oldest child Lucy, is now the wife of Samuel WEST, of Jackson county, Illinois; Franklin, the oldest son, is married and living near his father; Richard has studied medicine, and is now engaged in fitting himself for the duties of his profession. His two daughters, Sarah and Mattie, are at home. His oldest son, James P. Phillips, in the beginning of the rebellion, enlisted in the 49th Illinois Regiment, commanded by Col. William R. Morrison, when only sixteen years of age. His regiment served in the Mississippi valley. He was in the battles of Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, at Memphis, in General Bank's Red river expedition, was at the siege of Vicksburg, and was drowned in the Mississippi river in September, 1863.

In 1867, Judge Phillips determined to remove to a more northern section of the state, and purchasing his present farm, he arrived in Champaign county on the 9th of November, of that year. His residence is in section 29, township, 22, Range 10. His farm, which is the oldest settled in Harwood township, embraces 560 acres, and is one of the finest improved and best cultivated tracts of land in that part of the county.

Since coming to the county, he has held an honorable position in the respect of his fellow-citizens. He was elected the second supervisor from Harwood township, and for two years was chairman of the Board. He was elected to the Legislature in the fall of 1874, and made a useful member of that body. He is one of the leading Republicans of the northern part of the county, a man who is known for his integrity, and who personally enjoys the confidence of the people. He has been an active supporter of every movement, having for its object social and religious reform, has especially interested himself in Sunday-school matters, and has charge of one of the best Bible classes in the county.

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