This information is part of the Champaign County ILGenWeb Project. If you have reached this site by means other than The USGenWeb Project, The ILGenWeb Project, or directly, please visit the main Champaign Co, ILGenWeb site for more information regarding Champaign County, IL ancestors. Information contained here was submitted by Celia G. Snyder. Please do not repost this information without the express written permission of Celia Snyder.

Champaign County, Illinois

Biography - John S. Beasley

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


John S. BEASLEY, who died in 1872, was a prominent resident of Champaign county. The family from which he was descended, formerly lived in Virginia. Nathaniel BEASLEY, his father, was born in Spottsylvania county, Virginia, and was one of the first men to cross the Alleghany mountains, and explore the country now comprised in the state of Kentucky. He was employed by the state of Virginia as an Indian spy, and in that capacity penetrated the wilderness where the foot of the white man had never before trod. He was with Boone in Kentucky, and took part in the adventures which made historic "the dark and bloody ground." He was made a General, and fought in various Indian wars. He was one of the first white men to settle in Ohio, locating in Brown county, when the whole state was the abode of only Indians and wild beasts; he became subsequently a leading citizen of that state, a member of the Legislature, and died in Brown county. Two other brothers emigrated from Virginia at about the same time Nathaniel Beasley went to Kentucky---one going to Tennessee and one to North Carolina. John Sutton Beasley, the subject of this biography, was born in Brown county, Ohio, March 18th, 1807, the fifth of ten children. His mother was Sarah SUTTON. He was raised at Decatur, Brown county. He attended the subscription school which the pioneer settlers established, and afterward when about seventeen, went to Georgetown college, where one William Walls taught the higher branches, and where Mr. Beasley learned surveying---an important accomplishment in that new country. In the fall of the year 1825, when he was in his nineteenth year, the Governor of Ohio appointed him assistant surveyor on the Ohio canal, then being constructed to connect the waters of Scioto and Maunee rivers. He was employed two years in locating the line of the canal and doing other engineering work. The exposure incident to this work along the river bottoms and through swampy country, the men living in tents and enduring hardships of every description, brought on malarial fever which seriously impaired his health and caused his return home. February 18th, 1830, he married Sarah WEST, who was born at Decatur, Brown county, Ohio. Two or three years previous to his marriage he had been at home on his father's farm, and in the winter taught school. In 1831 he engaged in the mercantile business at Decatur, in partnership with his father and brother-in-law, Jack WEST. Mr. Beasley had personal supervision of the store, living in one end of the building, while the stock of goods occupied the other. He attended to the purchasing of these goods and frequently crossed the Alleghanies to Philadelphia, then the nearest market from which the western country drew its supplies. The custom was to ascend the Ohio river in a keel boat to Pittsburg, cross the Alleghanies by stage and to proceed to Philadelphia. It was on one of these trips that he was a passenger on the first railroad ever constructed in the United States, which extended a distance of some ten miles from the city of Baltimore. The firm dealt in a general stock of goods, and received from the farmers grain, bacon, and produce which were shipped down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and there disposed of. His first wife died, March 3rd, 1835. His second marriage occurred, February 25th, 1836, to Emily J. DEVORE. She was born in Brown county, Ohio, June 25th, 1819. The Devore family was originally of German descent and formerly lived in Maryland. Her father, David DEVORE, was one of the first settlers of Brown county, Ohio. Her mother's name was Alice MANN. Mr. Beasley carried on the store at Decatur till 1837, and then removed to Ripley, in Brown county, on the Ohio river. He traded extensively and dealt largely in produce. He loaded flat boats with produce, grain and bacon, and floated them down to New Orleans which afforded a ready, and at that time the only market. His business was generally in the hands of shrewd, energetic men. It commonly proved quite profitable, and many a man made it the foundation for his subsequent fortune. Mr. Beasley often dispatched down the Ohio, eight or ten of these boats in one year, an operation which required considerable capital and business ability. In the year 1832 or 1833 he first visited Illinois, making the trip on horseback. He was satisfied of the future value of land in this part of the state, and made entries in Champaign and Vermillion counties. In 1850 he became a resident of Montgomery county, Indiana, where he followed farming and trading in stock. The present Louisville, New Albany and Chicago railroad was subsequently built through his farm, and in 1852 he erected a large warehouse and began the business of dealing in grain. On leaving Ohio it had been his intention finally to settle in Illinois on the land he had entered, but the country was so new and unsettled he decided to locate temporarily in Indiana. In the spring of 1857, however, he moved to this state, and settled on section 1 of the present Champaign township where he lived till his death. His chief entries of land had been in Champaign and Hensley townships. The land adjoining the city of Champaign was entered about 1852. He also made additional entries, and at one time was the owner of 6000 acres. He began improving a farm from the raw prairie with his characteristic energy. The large brick house which his family still occupy north of the city of Champaign was built in 1857, and at the time of its erection was the largest and finest house in the county, and so remained for a considerable number of years. He improved four different farms. He traded largely in stock, particularly during the war, when his sales to the government amounted sometimes to three hundred mules a year. It is stated by some old residents that he brought the first mules to Champaign county ever introduced for working purposes. He was originally a person of strong and vigorous constitution, he underwent a great deal of exposure, and his life had been one of constant activity. In 1869 his health began to fail, and for two or three years he was subject to bronchial affections. His last illness was ten days in duration. He died on the 25th of May, 1872, and his remains how repose in Mt. Hope cemetery. His three children by his first marriage were Washington W. BEASLEY, now a resident of St. Louis; Nathaniel C., now deceased, and Mary J., now the wife of the Rev. Milton P. ZINK, of the Cincinnati Methodist Conference. By his second marriage he had ten children: Alfred W., now in business in Wall street, New York; Sarah A., who married Rev. Samuel GODFREY of the Northwestern Indiana Methodist Conference, and is now deceased; David H., now farming on the old homestead; John D., and Thomas C., residents of Champaign; James N., living at home; William G., Red Oak, Iowa; Joseph S., New York city; Henry B., deceased; and Charles S., living at home. Mr. Beasley was a man six feet in height and of well-proportioned frame. Nature had bestowed upon him a vigorous mind. He was quick to see an emergency, and quick to devise means of overcoming it. His energy was one of the remarkable traits of his character. He was constantly occupied in devising plans for the future, which his superior executive ability gave him the means to carry out. Nature had designed him for a successful merchant or trader. He was quick to see through a bargain, while his confidence in his own powers and resources gave him courage to make any judicious venture. His cheerfulness led him always to look on the bright side of things, and he never despaired of the future. While his abilities fitted him to acquire money, he was liberal in expending it, his generosity amounting almost to a fault. His heart was open to every appeal for charity. His habits of prompt decision made him a man of earnest and decided convictions. He was one of the earliest anti-slavery men in Ohio. His home at Ripley on the banks of the Ohio, the boundary between a free and a slave state, gave him an opportunity of putting his free soil principles in practice. His connection with the underground railroad was active and well known, and he assisted many a slave in his efforts to escape from bondage, and many a Kentucky negro fleeing for life and liberty across the Ohio looked into his face as the face of the first white man he ever saw on free soil. He was first a Whig and afterward became a Republican. He never held public office, though he was a man who always commanded the respect and confidence of the people. While in Ohio he was prominently connected with the militia organization of that state. At the age of thirty-five he became a member of the Methodist Church, and was subsequently warmly devoted to the interests of religion and the prosperity of his chosen denomination. He was one of the founders of the Methodist church in Champaign, and furnished a considerable part of the means for the building of their house of worship. He was also connected with the Masonic fraternity.

Back to Index

Return to Main Page