DR. JOHN G. KEENON

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 29-30

DR. JOHN GRACEN KEENON, one of the most loyal Kentuckians, who was for many years a resident of Chicago, was born at Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1827, and died while in the service of his country at Memphis, Tennessee, on the 12th of August, 1864.  He was at that time Medical Director of the Sixteenth United States Army Corps, and Post Surgeon in charge of hospitals at Memphis.

The Keenon family was early planted in Virginia.  His father, Adam C. Keenon, was born at Paris, Kentucky, and his mother, Elizabeth Clark, was a native of Frankfort, in the same state.  The latter was a relative of Governor Clark, of Kentucky, of a very old and prominent family in that state.   Adam C. Keenon was a very pure-minded and upright gentleman, who never drank liquor or handled cards, something exceptional in his day and locality.  He was a large planter and slave-holder, and was for many years State Binder of the state.  He was thoroughly loyal, though nearly all his friends espoused the cause of the southern confederacy in the Civil War.  He said he would rather lose all his slaves than be disloyal to his whole country.

John G. Keenon was educated at Center College, Danville, Kentucky, attended medical lectures at Louisville, and was graduated from the celebrated Meigs Medical College of Philadelphia.  At the age of twenty-two he began practice at St. Joseph, Missouri, in partnership with his cousin, Dr. Joseph Fox, who was afterward prominent in the service of the Confederate army.  After a year and a-half he was called to Frankfort, Kentucky, by the illness of his mother, and remained there, giving some time to practice.  In 1852 he visited Chicago for the first time and made investments in real estate on Lake Street.  He kept an office at the corner of Lake and La Salle Streets, then in the heart of the business district, and gave some of his time to the treatment of patients, though he was largely occupied with the investment of his means and the care of his property.

When it became apparent that civil war was on, with all the horrors of such a struggle, he went to Washington and tendered his services to the Government.  Through the influence of Hon. Frank Blair, he received the appointment of Brigade-Surgeon, and was attached to the Army of the Tennessee, under his old friend, Gen. Thomas Crittenden, afterward Governor of Kentucky.  He was in active service at the capture of Fort Donelson and the battles of Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg, as well as others of that campaign.  Before its close he was promoted to the position of Medical Director and was with Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut, between whom and himself existed the warmest friendship.  Mrs. Hurlbut is also remembered with the most kindly sentiments by Mrs. Keenon, who often visited her husband in the field.  A handsome gold watch, which was presented to Dr. Keenon by General Hurlbut, is still preserved by the Doctor’s descendants.  Dr. Keenon adhered to the traditions of his fathers in his support of the Democratic party, but included among his most intimate and true friends many leaders of the Republican party.  He was a member of the Presbyterian Church from the age of seventeen years.  He also attained a high degree in Free Masonry.

On the death of Dr. Keenon his remains were treated with the highest military and Masonic honors, being temporarily deposited in a vault at Winchester Cemetery at Memphis, with an escort of the Eighth Iowa Infantry, and the pall-bearers including, besides Generals Crittenden and Hurlbut, the principal medical officers of the post.  The body was finally deposited near Kentucky’s monument to her celebrated sons, at Frankfort, near the remains of Henry Clay and other distinguished civilians and soldiers of that state.

November 1, 1854, Dr. Keenon married, in Chicago, Miss Eleanor Hamilton, daughter of Col. Richard J. Hamilton, another distinguished Kentuckian, of whom extended mention is made on other pages of this volume.  At the same time and place, another daughter of Colonel Hamilton, Miss Diana, was married to Breckenridge Blackburn, a member of the celebrated Kentucky family of that name, and brother of the subsequent Gov. Luke Blackburn and United States Senator Joseph C. S. Blackburn, all of whom were among the most active and loyal supporters of the Southern Confederacy.  Three children given to Dr. and Mrs. Keenon now occupy prominent business or social positions.  Adam Hamilton, the eldest, and John Harold are residents of Chicago, the latter being connected with the city postoffice.  The daughter, Florence Buckner, is the wife of Dr. Cyrus William Knight, a leading physician of New Orleans, Louisiana.  The elder son is a practicing attorney, and was three years Special Assessment Attorney under Mayor Harrison’s second and third terms.  He is an active member of the Masonic order.

Mrs. Keenon enjoys the distinction of being the oldest person of pure white blood born in Chicago.  Her birth occurred while Colonel Hamilton was living with his family within Fort Dearborn, on St. Valentine’s Day of the year 1832.  She is a well-preserved lady, whose bright eye glistens while relating her many interesting reminiscences of early Chicago.  She attended the first school in Chicago, which was temporarily located in Colonel Hamilton’s barn, with boxes for seats and desks, and later in the basement of St. James’ Episcopal Church.  The first Methodist religious service was held in Colonel Hamilton’s parlor, and Mrs. Hamilton made the pulpit cloth for the first Methodist Church in the city.   The Old Settlers’ Society of Chicago presented Mrs. Keenon, on a recent anniversary, with a beautiful gold medal, on which is engraved a picture of Fort Dearborn, in honor of her being the oldest woman living who was born in Chicago.  The German Old Settlers’ Society also presented her with a handsome medal, appropriately engraved.  She is an honored member of the Sons of Chicago, an association devoted to the preservation of early memories.

                                -- Submitted by Sherri Hessick   (thessick@flash.net)