CAPT. HENRY W. KERR. A gallant officer in the late Civil War, in which he won a fine military record, and afterward attaining a high reputation at the bar, Capt. Kerr has, since he turned his attention to agriculture, made a success at that vocation which Horace Greeley aptly styled the "noblest of professions," and now stands among the leading farmers of Honey Point Township. His portrait on the opposite page represents one whose interests have long been identified with those of the county.
Capt. Kerr was born in Monroe County, Ky., January 11, 1836. His father, Abraham Kerr, was a native of Guilford Court House, N.C., and was a son of John Kerr, who was born in the same locality. The name of the great-grandfather of our subject was Levi Kerr, and he was born in Virginia of Welsh parentage. He removed to North Carolina in the early settlement of that colony, and there spent the rest of his days as a farmer, dying at Guilford Court House at a ripe age. He was a soldier of the Revolution.
John Kerr grew to man's estate in North Carolina, and was there married to Sarah Scott, who was also born in North Carolina. He learned the trades of a blacksmith and miller and carried them on in his native State until his removal to Kentucky in 1810. He became a pioneer of Monroe County, that State, buying a large tract of land bordering on a stream, which he named Kettle Creek because he found a kettle therein. He built a gristmill with a bolter operated by hand, and also had a distillery connected with his mill. He served under Jackson in the War of 1812, and took part in the battle of New Orleans. His life was brought to a close in June 1848, at a venerable age; his wife also lived to be very old, her death occurring in Monroe County in 1870, at which time she was ninety-five years old.
The father of our subject was young when his parents removed to Kentucky, and there the remainder of his youth was passed. He was married in Monroe County to Nancy Davis, a native of Rockingham County, Va., and a daughter of Joshua and Sarah Davis, who were also Virginians. In 1843 Mr. Kerr determined to leave his old Kentucky home to try farming in Missouri. With his wife and seven children he started for his destination with ox-teams, and cooked and camped at night while on the journey. He bought a tract of wild land in Dallas County after his arrival in Missouri, and erecting a log cabin for the shelter of his family, at once entered upon the pioneer task of preparing his land for cultivation, and broke a good many acres and placed them under tillage during his residence there. In September, 1847, he sold that property and coming to Macoupin County, settled in what is now Shaw's Point Township. At that time the settlements in this county were confined to the timber, and the prairie land as uncultivated. Wild animals, such as deer and wolves, were plentiful, and the country roundabout was still in the hands of the pioneers. Alton and St. Louis were the only convenient markets until the railway was completed. Wheat sold at the former place for thirty-seven and one-half cents a bushel, and dressed hogs sold at St. Louis at $1.50 to $2.50 per hundred pounds.
In 1865 Mr. Kerr disposed of his farm at Shaw's Point, and took up his residence at Carlinville, where he lived until 1870. Removing then to Lovington, Moultrie County, he bought property and there he and his good wife passed their remaining days in comfort and happiness, he dying in 1875 and she in 1877. Mr. Kerr was a sound Democrat in his political views. While a resident of Shaw's Point he served as Justice of the Peace a number of years. Both he and his wife were people of rare merit, who led exemplary lives, and were devoted members of the Christian Church.
The subject of this biographical review was seven years old when he accompanied his parents in their migration to Missouri and was twelve years of age when they retraced their steps eastward and settled in this county. From the time that he was six years old he attended school in the winter and worked on the farm at other seasons until he was eighteen years old, when he started out in life for himself. He found employment on a farm, and being of a studious turn of mind he devoted his spare time to his books, and when twenty-one taught one term of school. He was ambitious to prepare himself for s professional life, and selecting the law as best suited to his tastes, he entered the law office of Robert M. McWilliams at Hillsboro. Under the instruction of that gentleman he pursued his legal studies and in 1858 was admitted to the bar.
On September 1, 1861, Capt. Kerr threw aside his law business to take up the military profession, animated by the same patriotic spirit that had made his great-grandsire take up arms at the time of the Revolution and had caused his grandfather to become a soldier when war again broke out with England. He enlisted as a private in Company E, Forty-ninth Illinois Infantry, but was mustered in as Second Lieutenant. He displayed such excellent qualities as an officer that he was subsequently promoted to the position of First Lieutenant, and in that capacity commanded his company for some time before he was commissioned its captain. He took an active part in many important battles, including Ft. Donelson, Shiloh, siege of Corinth, Little Rock and Tupelo, Miss., and accompanied Gen. Banks on his Red River expedition. He also served under Gen. A. J. Smith in Missouri while he was fighting Price's army.
After the battle of Nashville Capt. Kerr was sent in charge of a detachment of soldiers to dislodge a party of bushwhackers that were stationed at the mouth of Sand Creek. He performed his difficult and dangerous task in an able and brilliant manner, and so as to win the commendations of his superiors for his coolness and skill in routing the enemy. That was the last battle in which he fought, and he was honorable discharged in Paducah, Ky., in 1865.
In the fall of the year after his retirement from the army Capt. Kerr went to Savannah, Tenn., to practice law. In 1866 Parson Brownow, then Governor of that State, appointed him Attorney General for the Twelfth Tennessee Circuit, and he served with distinction in that responsible office for eighteen months during the trying period of reconstruction. He then resigned and returned to Illinois, and for a year resided in Carlinville. At the expiration of that time he adopted the calling of a farmer, and carried on operations in Bird Township for some years. In 1881 he sold his property there and bought his present farm on section 4, Honey Point Township. This is a fine, highly productive prairie farm of one hundred and sixty acres, and since it came into his possession he has greatly increased its value by the many excellent improvements that he has made, including the substantial set of farm buildings which he has erected.
Capt. Kerr was united in marriage with Miss Mary A. Purviance October 4, 1866. To them have been born eight children: Henry W. Jr., M. Cornie, Annie E., Jennie M., N. Blanche, Speed, John F. and James W. P. Mrs. Kerr is a native of this county, Polk Township her birthplace, and she is descended from the old pioneer stock of this State. Her father, Robert Purviance, was born in Madison County, Ill., December 22, 1813. Her grandfather, William Purviance, was a native of North Carolina. At an early date he removed from there to this part of the country then known as the Northwestern Territory, and located in what is now Troy Township, Madison County. Mrs. Kerr's father spent his early life in his native county, remaining there until 1838, when he started with his bride for Macoupin County, traveling thither with a team, and bringing all their household goods with them. A few months prior to that he had entered a tract of land from the Government in Polk Township. He built a log cabin and in that humble dwelling he and his young wife commenced housekeeping. He improved a good farm, and replaced his first home by a good frame house and erected other buildings. He resided there for many years, but spent the last part of his life at Carlinville, where both he and his wife died. Her maiden name was Morinda Gaskill, and she was also born in Madison County.
Capt. Kerr has always been a stanch supporter of Republican principles, and since the war has voted with that party. His services as a soldier are commemorated by his connection with the Dan Messick Post, G.A.R. Socially, he is a member of Mt. Nebo Lodge, No. 76, A.F. & A.M. He is engaged in stock-raising, in which he has met with success. Of his herd of fifteen registered cattle, six are imported. This brief record of the life of Mr. Kerr shows that he has ever been an honorable man and a loyal citizen, and no higher eulogy can be pronounced on anyone.