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Published by Brink, McDonough & Co., Philadelphia 1879

Page 94


Few men have figured more prominently in the history of Macoupin county, than he whose name heads this biographical sketch. The life and history of Major Burke, is a part of the history and growth of the county, and so intimately are they interwoven, that the history of the latter would be incomplete without the former. He was born in Jefferson county, Virginia, on the twelfth of September, 1806. His father's name was Thomas Burke, a native of Ireland. He married Ann Thompson, who was born of Scotch parents. When the subject of our sketch arrived at the age of fourteen years he removed to Harper's Ferry, Va., where he remained until his twenty-ninth year. His boyhood days were spent in the common schools of his native state - them much inferior to what they are at present - but he was a close observer of men and things, and a diligent student in all that he undertook to learn, and in mature life was a well informed man upon all subjects coming under his observation. During his residence at Harper's Ferry he was employed for a number of years in the United States armory, and for years previous to leaving his native state, which he was compelled to do on account of ill health, he was collector and constable of his township. In the year 1830, while in his twenty-fourth year, he was united in marriage to Miss Harriet Jackson, daughter of John Jackson, Esq., of Jefferson county, Virginia, by whom he had one child, a boy. In May, 1835, he determined to emigrate West, and in the latter part of the same month he arrived in St. Louis, where he engaged in the dry goods and grocery business on the corner of Fourth and Olive streets. He, however, remained in St. Louis but a few months, when he crossed the river and settled in "Slab Point," or Zanesville, in Montgomery county, Illinois, where he engaged in general merchandising, farming, and hotel keeping. About one year after his wife and child were taken sick and died. He became dissatisfied with the place, sold out and came to Carlinville. Soon after his arrival here, which was in 1836, he purchased the grocery store of Jefferson Weatherford, and engaged in retailing family groceries and supplies. He was only moderately successful in business here. He, however, made his presence felt, and had attained more or less prominence in his locality; as we find that in the following year he was elected Major of a regiment of militia. From that date until his death, he was best known in this section of the country as "Major" Burke. In 1838 he was elected Sheriff of the county, which position he held uninterruptedly for twelve years, and would probably have held it longer but for a provision in the State Constitution of 1848, which rendered him ineligible for re- election. The year after his retirement from the office of Sheriff he was elected a member of the State Legislature for two years, and at the expiration of his term of this office, was again elected Sheriff of the county. This was in 1852. In 1854, he was nominated by the democracy of his county for the Legislature, and by the same party was placed before the people for the office of State Senator. He accepted the latter nomination, but was defeated by John M. Palmer, by fourteen votes. In 1856 he was again the standard bearer of the Democratic party for legislative honors, and was triumphantly elected. In 1858 he was offered the same candidacy by the Douglas wing of the democracy, but he found he could not represent his constituents without doing violence to his own convictions of right, and therefore refused a nomination at their hands. He was, however, subsequently nominated on the anti-Douglas Ticket but owing to the split of the Democratic party was of course defeated. In 1860 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that met at Charleston, South Carolina, and in the autumn of the same year was nominated on the Breckenridge ticket for the position of Secretary of State, of Illinois, but was defeated with the balance of the ticket.

In the summer of 1868 he was, without any solicitations of his own, once more nominated to the lower house of the State Legislature. In 1874 he was elected to the State Senate for four years. In addition to these various offices, he also held other important trusts. In 1847 he was appointed public administrator of the county, by the Governor. In 1873 he was elected the first supervisor for his township, and held the office until his death in 1876. During the administration of James Buchanan he was a member of the Democratic State Central Committee. In 1843, he was united in marriage to Miss Emily P. Keller, daughter of Samuel Keller, Esq. By this union there were five children; two sons and three daughters. The survivors are Don A. Burke, who is still a resident of Carlinville, the place of his birth, and Ella M., the accomplished wife of John gt. Shryer. Mrs. Emily P. Burke died in 1852. Eleven years later Mr. Burke married his third wife, whose name was Martha J. McGready, of Potosi, Missouri, by whom he had two children, a son and daughter. Their names are Bertie M., and Lucy S. Burke. Mr. Burke, after a long career of usefulness, departed this life July 30th, 1876, in the seventieth year of his age. This, in brief, is a sketch of one of the early settlers and prominent men of Macoupin county. He came here at an early day, and from the very outsmart took foremost rank as one of the county's able and most trustworthy men. The mere narration of the number of honorable positions to which Major Burke was elected, testify to his popularity, and show in what estimation he was held by his political party and fellow citizens. His acts while in office in both the county and state are matters of public record, and a part of the history of the county and state. Not a breath of suspicion or personal dishonor ever rested upon his name. His unswerving fidelity to trusts confided to him by a generous public is well known to the people of Macoupin county. He regarded these as sacred, and he never directly or indirectly suffered the moneys of the public to be diverted from their proper channels, or used for any other purpose than that for which they were intended. What was true of him in a public or official capacity was equally true in his private and personal relations with the people. To these correct and honest principles he attributed his great financial success in life. His open and avowed hostility to speculation and misdirection of the public moneys in the building of the Court House was well known. He fought on the side of the people, and had his warnings been heeded the debt which has given Macoupin county an unenviable record would not have been created. In his private and domestic life he was a kind husband and an affectionate father.

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