HARRIS, John, the oldest resident of Bushnell, McDonough County, Ill., and a member of the prominent pioneer family which gave its name to Harris Township, was born in Licking County, Ohio, March 22, 1815. His father and mother, John and Katie (Myers) Harris, were pioneer settlers of Ohio. The former was born January 20, 1782, and the latter, March 10, 1786. In 1825 the father walked from his home in Licking County, Ohio, with dog and gun, to Bernadotte Township, Fulton County, Ill., making an average of forty miles a day. He soon returned on foot to Ohio, and brought his family with him to Bernadotte Township, whence a portion of the family moved to Harris Township on Saturday, November 1, 1827. The remainder followed in 1829. The removal from Ohio to Illinois was made by team, and the journey was mainly through a wilderness, and when the family located in the townships named, Indians were still not infrequently seen. The father built a log cabin in the midst of dense timber in the northwest quarter of Section 19, in Harris Township, and with the assistance of his sons, proceeded to clear away the forest trees. In this cabin the elder Harris lived about fifty years and devoted considerable time to hunting and fishing, game being plentiful and he being a crack shot. He died here September 11, 1877, his wife having passed away August 19, 1872. Both were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church and both were buried in the Marietta cemetery at Marietta, Ill. The father was always a total abstainer from liquor, and for forty years before his death used no tobacco.
The subject of this sketch has in his possession his father's deed to the southwest quarter of Section 10, Township 9, Range 12, Licking County, Ohio, and also the conveyance of the Fulton County farm. The former instrument is dated June 25, 1817, and is signed by President James Monroe, and the latter, dated July 26, 1825, is signed by President John Quincy Adams. John Harris, Jr., also has the Ensign's commission issued to his father by Governor Tiffin of Ohio. The old flint-rock rifle carried by John Harris, Sr., and called "Long Tom," is now in possession of his son, Michael. It is about seven feet long. Throughout his life Mr. Harris wore a hunting shirt and belt, never having worn a coat.
The Fulton County homestead is located in the northwest quarter of Section 19, Harris Township, and is now the property of our subject. On the death of John Harris, Sr., his farm consisted of 320 acres. He and his wife lived together sixty-nine years, two months and twenty-four days, and their children were as follows: Nancy (Mrs. John Shaw), born May 14, 1804, died October 24, 1888; Polly (Mrs. Thomas Barclay), born November 22, 1806, died December 26, 1895; Thomas, born October 25, 1808, died June 19, 1887; Patsey (Mrs. Silas Chase), born February 8, 1811, died July 27, 1902; Isaac, born February 21, 1813, died February 11, 1903; John, the subject of this sketch; Susannah (Mrs. Charles Wilson), born March 4, 1817; Katie (Mrs. Ambrose Day), born April 16, 1819; Annie (Mrs. Zenias Morey), born February 5, 1822; Betsey and Rhoda, who died, aged eighteen and seven years, respectively; and Michael, of New Philadelphia, Ill., who was born December 25, 1829. The ages of the parents and children aggregate about 980 years The seven mentioned as deceased averaged about sixty-five years in age, and the average of the five who survive is nearly eighty-five years.
John Harris. Jr., was favored with but thirteen days' schooling, which was obtained in a little log cabin in Fulton County, with slab seats and other primitive furnishings. For several years after he came to the county there were no schools. He remained at home until he was twenty-three years old, and, together with his brothers, industriously assisted his father in building the log home, to which an addition was afterward made, and in clearing the farm. Here he grew to manhood. He helped to turn the first sod broken in Harris Township, and his father's was the first farm cleared in the township. During the progress of this work Mr. Harris slept at night on a pile of straw and lived largely on mush. His first neighbors in the township were the family of John McBeth. Wild turkey, deer and other game were abundant then, and after the first season there was a sufficiency of grain to furnish, together with the game, a comfortable subsistence. Wild animals also abounded, such as wolves, wild cats and panthers, and wild hogs roamed everywhere. Many of Mr. Harris' lambs and pigs were devoured by wolves. After his marriage he planted, at first, from four to six acres of corn, but later had good crops of wheat and corn, with some oats. The grain was milled at twenty-five cents a bushel and hogs brought from $1.50 to 3 per hundredweight. Salt, however, was $4.00 per barrel, bought at St. Louis, and delivered at Copperas Creek, Liverpool or Havana. In the youth of Mr. Harris flax was raised on the farm and sheep were kept, his mother carding, spinning and weaving all the cloth used by the family. Mr. Harris has pounded corn in a mortar, as there were no mills in the county for five years after his arrival. For fifteen years after he came he wore no shoes or boots, but only moccasins. His first pair of shoes was made about 1842. The coat he wore at his marriage was much too large, and on a cold winter day in 1839, when away from home, he traded it for a calf, returning in his shirt sleeves. As time wore on, little log schoolhouses began to appear in the county, and in these and the cabin homes religious meetings were held, at which Peter Cartwright and the Haneys preached. A man of rudimentary qualifications was considered competent to teach school. At that period Mr. Harris' opportunity for schooling had lapsed, as the practical duties of life then confronted him. Mr. Harris well remembers the "deep snow" of 1830-31, which reached a depth of four feet on a level and from eighteen to twenty feet in drifts. The ungathered corn was completely buried, causing a dearth of bread; deer perished, and their bones were thickly strewn around; lambs, calves and pigs were frozen to death; cattle were almost starved, and intense suffering prevailed. The cyclone of 1835 is another event which is fresh in his memory. He was in Canton after its fury was spent, and saw houses demolished, unroofed, or torn from their foundations, and stock lying dead in every direction. He vividly recalls the great rainfall of the same year, during which many of his father's hogs were drowned, and the destructive hailstorm in 1850, which killed much stock in his vicinity.
The first marriage performed in Harris Township was that of Mr. Harris' sister, Katie, to Ambrose Day, and his sister Patsey (Mrs. Chase) was the bride of the first wedding in Fulton County. Still another sister, Susannah, who married Charles Wilson, lived in a rail pen during the winter of the "deep snow," before their cabin was built.
In 1838, Mr. Harris was married by "Squire" Crosby to Emeline Brooks, of Bernadotte Township. They began housekeeping with none of the comforts of home, being under the necessity of contriving a rough couch as a substitute for a bed, and of using other articles of rude construction. The children resulting from this union were Elizabeth, deceased; Elmira (Mrs. George M. Humphrey), of Friend, Neb.; Vincent, deceased; and J. E. Harris, Mayor of Bushnell. About the time of his marriage, Mr. Harris entered eighty acres of Government land in Section 30, Harris Township, going to Quincy on horseback to perfect the entry. On this tract he built his cabin home. Mr. and Mrs. Harris lived together until her death severed the connection, which lasted more than fifty-seven years. Mrs. Harris was a member of the Christian Church. In politics, Mr. Harris is an earnest Republican, and was one of the seventy men who went out to meet Abraham Lincoln between Lewistown and Havana, during his campaign against Douglas in 1858. The facts which speak forth from this record of Mr. Harris' lengthy career make all words of praise superfluous. The splendid development of the region which was the scene of his many years of labor, endurance and hardships, is a sufficient testimonial of his worth, and that of his associates in pioneer experience.
Source: The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of McDonough County, compiled by Dr. Newton Bateman, and Paul Shelby, 1907, volume 2, pages 897-898, extracted 04 Jan 2019 by Norma Hass.