JAMES McMAHON

Source: Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois with Portraits 3rd ed. revised and extended (Chicago: Calumet Book & Engraving Co., 1895), pp. 13-14

JAMES McMAHON.  Few people in Evanston are as well known, or regarded with as much sincere respect and admiration, as the subject of this notice and his excellent wife.  During their residence of over thirty years in Cook County, they have been almost constantly identified with charitable and philanthropic enterprises, and have won the friendship of both rich and poor to an unusual degree.

Mr. McMahon was born at Belfast, Ireland, June 4, 1813.  He is a son of Alexander McMahon and Mary Ann Douglass, both of whom were of the stanch Scotch-Irish blood which has ever been active in promoting the best interests of mankind.  Alexander McMahon was the descendant of a family which had been for many generations engaged in the linen trade.  Two of his brothers were extensive merchants at Belfast, Ireland, and amassed a fortune there  Alexander turned his attention to agriculture, and in 1819 came to America.  After living for a time near Watertown, New York, he removed to a farm near Kingston, Canada, upon which he resided for fifty years, departing this life in 1883, at the age of ninety-three years.  He was the father of fourteen children, of whom James was the eldest.  He was an honorable and thrifty business man, and accumulated a competence, in the enjoyment of which his later years were spent.  He and his wife were devout Presbyterians.  The latter died at Kingston, several years later than her husband.

James McMahon enjoyed excellent educational advantages, pursuing courses of study successively at Andover Academy; Cheshire Academy, at Cheshire, Connecticut; and Washington (now Trinity) College, at Hartford, Connecticut.  His parents designed to fit him for the Presbyterian ministry, but, while a student at Washington College, he became converted to the Episcopal faith, and abandoned his theological studies, to their great disappointment.   While a young man, he spent considerable time in travel, visiting Europe three times, and becoming quite familiar with the ways of the world and its business methods.  In 1849, in company with a party of young men of his acquaintance, he went to California, by way of the Isthmus.  He remained three years in that state, during which time he mined successively at Hangtown, American Valley and Big Bar, and also recovered his health, which had become considerably impaired before his departure from the East.  At the last-named mines he gained a rich reward for his labors, and thence returned to the East, again making the voyage by way of the Isthmus, a regular line of steamers having been established since he first made the journey.

He landed at New Orleans, thence went to Dallas County, Alabama, where he purchased an extensive cotton plantation with a retinue of slaves, and had just established a profitable business when the Civil War broke out.  On account of his political views, he found it impracticable to remain there, and in 1860 he was obliged to abandon his property and remove to the North.  He located in Chicago, where he became associated with the insurance agency of Thomas B. Bryan, and continued to carry on that line of business for a number of years, representing the Mutual Life, the Mutual Benefit and the Equitable Life Insurance Companies.  His business ventures were fairly successful, and he had accumulated considerable property when the great fire of 1871 visited the city.  Most of what he saved from that disaster was swept away by the panic of 1873.  At the latter date he moved to Evanston, and for a few years conducted a restaurant in Davis Street.  Since 1882 he has filled the office of Township Supervisor, being re-elected each season without opposition.  In addition to his official duties, he acts as a purchasing agent for Evanston merchants, making regular trips to Chicago in their interests.

He is a thirty-second-degree Mason, and is held in the highest regard by his brethren of that order, from whom he has received many testimonials.  He first joined Oriental Lodge, and is now identified with Evans Lodge, Evanston Chapter, Evanston Commandery and Oriental Consistory, his duties as Tyler of these several bodies taking up considerable of his time.

Mr. McMahon was married, in 1865, to Martha Cornelia Converse, daughter of Samuel Augustus and Anna (Easton) Converse, of Stafford, Connecticut.  Mr. Converse, who was a descendant of the French Huguenots who located in America during the Colonial period, died in Connecticut, at the extreme old age of ninety-three years.  He was an influential citizen of Stafford, and a pensioner of the War of 1812.  Mrs. McMahon came to Chicago in 1860, and was associated with Mrs. Mary A. Livermore in conducting the great Sanitary Fair.  Mr. McMahon was also one of the promoters of this undertaking, and sold thousands of tickets in its support.  Though not blessed with children of their own, Mr. and Mrs. McMahon have adopted and partially reared several children, one daughter, Harriet Wilmina, having been a member of the family from infancy. She was first married to Professor W. W. Graves, an instructor in the Northwestern University, and since his death has become the wife of Edwin O'Malley, of Chicago.  Jennie, another adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. McMahon, is now Mrs. Cameron, of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

When he first located in Chicago Mr. McMahon resided on the South Side, near the home of Stephen A. Douglas, who became his intimate friend.  He helped to organize St. Mark's Church, on Cottage Grove Avenue, and was for some years one of its most active and influential members.  He served four years as Superintendent of Trinity Mission, and he and his wife have been communicants of St. Mark's Church of Evanston since removing to that city.  Previous to the Great Rebellion, he was a Democrat, but since coming to Chicago has been a consistent Republican.  He is a life member of the Masonic Veterans' Association of Chicago, and during the war acted as agent for the numerous Masonic charities of the city of Chicago, securing relief and transportation for many indigent members of the order belonging to the Union army.  The retrospection of his long and useful life may well afford comfort and satisfaction in his declining years.

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