Honorable John Hamlin: Portrait and Biographical Album for Peoria County 1890

Honorable John Hamlin. For many years the late John Hamlin was a leading spirit in Peoria County. He was in many respects a remarkable man, and seemed especially qualified by nature for frontier life, having the intrepid spirit, coolness in time of danger and faculty of arriving quickly at a decision, which are necessary to those who take their place in the vanguard of civilization. With these traits he combined the keen observation, quick perceptions and accurate judgement which made him a power in the community as the population increased, and let to his being selected to represent the people in the House of Representatives and the State Senate.

Mr. Hamlin was a native of Wilbraham, Mass., born there October 25, 1800, and in early manhood became a trader at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, IL. He went on trading expeditions northward and westward, visiting many localities which are now the centers of advanced civilization, but which in those early days were but rude hamlets, simple trading posts, or a wilderness trodden only by the feet of savages and an occasional white man. His treatment of the red men uniformly secured their good-will, and his house was always open to them, a lock or key being unknown to his cabin. Many a night Indians slept in the kitchen, one of the number keeping watch while the others slumbered.

Upon one occasion while en route to Wisconsin Mr. Hamlin was importuned, being a Justice of the Peace, to marry a coupe at Ft. Dearborn; now Chicago. He said that he did not know the marriage ceremony, but the prospective bridegroom. Dr. Wolcott, being prepared for such an emergency, offered to teach him. This was done, and upon his return trip Mr. Hamlin performed the rites which made Dr. Alexander Wolcott and Miss Kinzie man and wife, this being the first marriage ceremony ever performed in what is now Chicago. It occurred some time in the 20's prior to the marriage of Mr. Hamlin.

When Mr. Hamlin took a companion and located permanently in Peoria there were but few families here. Samuel, Josiah, and Seth Fulton and wife, John Dixon, who kept the ferry, a lawyer named Bogardus, Caldwell, the village blacksmith, Dr. Longworthy and the families of Joe Smith and Aquilla and Alva Moffatt, were living in or near the hamlet. The old fort was in a dilapidated condition, but was rebuilt and strengthened during the Black Hawk War, and became the rendezvous of settlers during those troublous times. Mr. Hamlin was the first man to run a keel boat, bringing supplies form St. Louis to this market. Subsequently he became part owner of a steamer which plied the waters of the Illinois. He and Mr. Sharp built the first gristmill on the Kickapoo, where they did grinding for all the country round about. For many years after quitting the Indian trade he kept a stock of dry-goods, and he is numbered among the first and most prominent merchants of this locality.

Mr. Hamlin was a member of the house of Representatives during the last session which was held at Vandalia, and favored the removal of the capital to Peoria, but the "long nine" proved too much for his party. He was also a member of the State Senate, when the first session was held in Springfield. His constituents found him ever alive to their interests and the good of the county and state, ever ready to oppose fraud and corruption, and to lift his voice and cast his ballot in favor of the right. He was called hence March 29, 1875, leaving behind him in the hearts of men a record more enduring than monumental stone or sculptured bust. He left to his widow a comfortable estate.

Among the old settlers still living, few have been here longer or have witnessed more of the marked growth of this beautiful city than Mrs. John Hamlin. She is now an octogenarian, having been born in Athens County, Ohio, Jan. 10, 1808, and having come here the bride of our subject in 1829. Her maiden name was Cynthia A. Johnson, and at the time of her marriage she was living in Springfield IL. Her wedding trip was by buggy from that village to Ft. Clark.

Mrs. Hamlin delights to relate the experiences of the olden times, and when anyone suggests that she must have undergone many hardships, she cheerfully responds, "No, indeed, the happiest times of my life were when I was living in a cabin, and my husband was engaged as a trader, largely with the Indians." "Why," says she, "we used to gather great quantities of wild honey, wild fruits abounded on every hand and Indians brought venison, wild turkey and various other articles which they gladly exchanged for trinkets, of which they were very proud.

Mrs. Hamlin occupies the homestead on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Knoxville road. She is a member and ardent supporter of the New Jerusulem or Swedenborgian Church, as is her former ward, Mrs. Van Buskirk, with whom she makes her home. Mrs. Hamlin and her husband took four children, whom they reared to years of maturity and all of whom are married. As one who shared in the toils and privations of pioneer life, and who ever ready to lend a helping hand to those about her, as well as for the character which is the crowning glory of womanhood, Mrs. Hamlin deserves and receives the hearty respect of all to whom she is known. Her many friends will be pleased to notice her portrait, in company with that of her late husband, on another page of this volume.

Submitted by Londie Benson.