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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


John Maxwell Cheney

Not only does long retention in public office speak eloquently of one's ability to perform the duties of the office in question, but it also indicates one's popularity in his community, at least the two facts obtain in the case of Mr. Cheney, who has been the efficient and popular postmaster of Sonoma since 1901.

As far back as the history of the family is obtainable it is shown that it is of southern origin, and the paternal grandfather, Jonathan Cheney, who was born and reared in Virginia, was the first member to break from old traditions and establish the name on other soil. In young manhood he removed to Ohio, and in Champaign county reared his family and rounded out many useful years, his last days, however, being passed in Illinois. He served in the War of 1812 in Virginia and in the Blackhawk war in Illinois. It was on the paternal homestead in Ohio that our subject's father, Thomas Cheney, first saw the light of day in 188, and that continued to be his home until he too reached young manhood, when the same pioneer spirit that had impelled his father to seek new fields took him to the frontier of Illinois. This was in 1829. In that year he located on a farm about twenty-four miles east of Bloomington, a place which has since been known as Cheney's Grove (in McLean county) and there he was prosperously engaged in farming for twenty years. The finding of gold in California again aroused the pioneer longing within him and the year 1850 found him among the immigrants who trudged their weary way across the plains. As soon as he reached the state he went at once to the mines of Hangtown, continuing there continuously for three years, with the exception of a short time in 1851, when he made a short visit to his Illinois home. The year 1853 witnessed his second visit to the old home, and when he returned to the west in 1854 he brought his family with him. Instead of resuming mining he settled on a ranch in Sonoma county, in the Sonoma valley, and here he continued industriously and successfully engaged in farming throughout his active years. After his retirement to private life he located in Petaluma, and there, at the home of his son, he was overtaken by death in 1892, when in his eighty-fifth year. Not only had he lived long, but what is better, he had lived well, and his death was the cause of sincere regret on the part of those who had become attached to him for his noble qualities. He was a Republican in political belief and throughout his life was a stanch defender of that party's principles. It was soon after his location in Illinois that he was united in marriage with miss Susan Maxwell, who was a native of North Carolina, as was also her father, John Maxwell, who afterward became a pioneer settler and agriculturist in Illinois. Six children were born of the marriage of Thomas and Susan (Maxwell) Cheney, but of the number only three are living, as follows: Mrs. R. A. Harvey, of Fulton, Sonoma county; R. J., of Kern county; and John M. Thomas H. died in Porterville I n 1910.

John M. Cheney was born on the family homestead in McLean county, Ill., May 20, 1839, and there acquired such training in an educational way as the schools of the locality had to offer. He came to Sonoma, Cal., in 1854 with his parents. As he was reared in a farming community he naturally took up farming for a livelihood upon attaining maturity, and in partnership with his father and brother owned a ranch of three hundred acres in Sonoma county, Cal. Later, from 1864 to 1888, he carried on a ranch alone, engaging in mixed farming, after which for about thirteen years he carried on draying with splendid success. As was his father before him, he is a believer in Republican principles, and it was as a candidate on this party's ticket that he was elected justice of the peace and served efficiently for twelve years, resigning to accept the position of postmaster. In 1901 he was placed in charge of the postoffice of Sonoma, and has continued in the office ever since, an unmistakable evidence of his ability. He is associated with but one fraternal order, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, with which he has been identified since 1878.

Mr. Cheney's marriage, in 1866, united him with Miss Tammy Amplias McHarvey, the daughter of Charles and Arvilla (Near) McHarvey, both natives of New York state, the former born in Oswego county December 21, 1826, and the latter in Madison county June 16, 1828. After the death of her husband in Sonoma April 21, 1896, Mrs. McHarvey leased the carriage factory and blacksmith shop which had been so ably conducted by her husband since 1855. Five children were born of the marriage of Mr. And Mrs. Cheney, as follows: Arvilla, deceased; Mrs. Susan Revie; Mrs. Clara Johnson; Charles N. and Clarence M. For a man of his age Mr. Cheney is wonderfully well preserved, especially in the sense of sight, being able to read and prosecute his affairs without the aid of glasses.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011