JUDGE MILTON B. HARRISON, who died November 24, 1904, was one of the most distinguished lawyers that has ever practiced at the Menard county bar. No political preferment or mere place can ever add to the power or increase the honor which belongs to a true and educated lawyer. It is well known that the peace and prosperity of every community, in fact, of the nation, depends upon a wise interpretation as well as upon a judicious framing of the law. A well known jurist of Illinois said, "In the American state the great and good lawyer must always be prominent, for he is one of the forces that control society." Judge Harrison ranked with the distinguished representatives of the Menard county bar and always stood as a safe conservator of the rights and liberties of the people. He was the defender of popular interests, the champion of freedom regulated by law and the firm supporter of good government. Moreover, he was one of the native pioneer sons of Menard county, Illinois, and it is therefore with signal consistency that we present the record of his career. His was a life of marked fidelity to duty, of exceptional ability and comprehensive understanding of the principles of jurisprudence. He stood as the arbitrater of justice, was impartial, of well balanced intellect, was thoroughly familiar with the law, possessed and analytical mind and also a self-control that enabled him to lose his individuality, his personal feelings, his prejudice and his peculiarities of disposition in the dignity, impartiality and equity of the office to which life, property, right and liberty must look for protection.
Milton Bryant Harrison was born June 7, 1824, on the old family homestead now owned by Harry Houghton, south of the city of Petersburg. He was a son of Ezekiel Brian Harrison, a minister, who was born in Virginia, July 19, 1786. The mother, who bore the maiden name of Ann James Bell, was born in the same state, June 14, 1792. His paternal grandparents were Ezekiel H. and Mary (Brian) Harrison, also natives of Virginia. His parents were married in Rockingham county of the Old Dominion and removed with their family in 1823 to Menard county. They had ten children, of whom Mrs. Enoch Megredy is now the only surviving member.
Judge Harrison began his education in a log schoolhouse at Old Salem. The little "temple of learning" had slab seats upon wooden pegs, oil paper taking the place of window glass, and the room was heated by an immense fireplace. The teacher was Menter Graham. His second teacher was Thomas J. Nance, who held sway in an upper room in the residence of James Goldsby and Judge Harrison was then seven years of age. His third teacher was S. Skaggs and the school was held in a vacant house on Goldsby's farm. He afterward continued his studies in a room in the residence of Jesse Maltby, the teacher being Miss Bonney. The next school which he attended was taught in a vacant house on the farm of his brother, John Harrison, the teacher being Miss Emily Chandler, who was also his first Sunday-school teacher. Again he became a student under Menter Graham at the Hardshell Baptist church, followed by study under Lewis B. Wynne. At the age of nine years he attended the Farmers Point school, the building having been erected by his father, E. B. Harrison, Jesse Maltby and James B. Goldsby, Sr., and others. His subsequent teachers were J. F. Harrison, John Goldsby and H. Lightfoot. Later he attended school in Petersburg, where he received instruction from F. McCarty and C. B. Waldo. He was also a student under W. C. Pierce at Lick Creek in Sangamon county and it was in that locality near Loami that he taught his first school in 1846. While a student in early boyhood he studied his spelling at night by the light of the pine knots, for there were too many others in the family sitting around the tallow candle for the younger members of the household to get near the light. While teaching school he studied law at night just to know it and profitably employed his time, while keeping up his habit of remaining home evenings while other young men played games "out." Later he conducted a tanyard and a brickyard on land west of his home. He afterward turned his attention to the bakery business in 1847 in Petersburg in connection with George Davidson and conducted this until the fall of 1848, when he sold out. In the spring of 1849, when twenty-five years of age, he entered into partnership with J. F. Harrison, with whom he remained for a year, after which he engaged in teaching school. From 1853 until 1855 he was again with J. F. Harrison as a merchant of Petersburg and later was with C. L. Carman, who was succeeded by his brother, E. G. F. Harrison. This partnership lasted for two years, when Judge Harrison purchased his brother's interest. He was again with J. F. Harrison from 1865 until 1869, and was with M. F. Moore from 1869 until 1873, under the firm name of Harrison & Moore. For some time he was thus associated with mercantile interests and displayed excellent business ability and executive force. He was also called to public duties, being made deputy collector of internal revenue of the ninth congressional district of Illinois under W. G. Green. On the 20th of January, 1864, he was appointed collector of internal revenue by Abraham Lincoln, which office he filled until failing health compelled him to resign. During a part of that time he made an enrollment for Menard county of the persons subject to draft and was himself enrolled in both Menard and Fulton counties. It was his earnest desire to go to the front in defense of the Union and the old flag, but his health would not permit. He, however, was a most patriotic and loyal-spirited man and did everything in his power at home to promote the progress of the war and secure the triumph of the Union arms.
Judge Harrison finally decided to try farming in order that the outdoor exercise might prove beneficial to his health, which had become greatly impaired during the close confinement in the sheriff's office. For several years he followed agricultural pursuits west of Springfield and in 1883 he removed with his family to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in the hope of being benefited physically, for his health was still in a precarious condition. After thirteen months among the mountains and springs in that part of the country he returned with his family to the farm, where they resided for a few months and then established his home in Petersburg in order that he might educate his daughters in the city. There he resided up to the time of his death, which occurred on Thanksgiving evening at 8:20, November 24, 1904. Thus passed away a man of unimpeachable character. His life was a record of honesty, justice, patience, urbanity and industry.
Judge Harrison's political support was ever given to the Republican party. In 1846, when twenty-two years of age, he cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for congress. He had been acquainted with Lincoln at Old Salem when the martyred president there worked in a mill, to which Judge Harrison would often carry corn on horseback to be ground. He again voted for Lincoln in 1860, when he became candidate for the presidency.
Judge Harrison was married to Mrs. Meldrum Sutton, nee Hunter, on New Year's eve at Jacksonville Centenary church just at the close of a watch meeting in 1870. Her death occurred October 2, 1899, and thus he survived her for five years. She had been a fitting companion of her husband, possessing a bright, sunny disposition, combined with a quiet, modest demeanor. She was educated in Jacksonville Academy. She was a kind and loving wife and mother and had a host of warm friends. Her interests centered in her home, which was justly celebrated for its hospitality, and because of her many good traits of character she was beloved by all who knew her. Unto Judge and Mrs. Harrison were born two children. M. H. Belle is now the wife of Barton S. Osborn, who resides on a farm four miles south of Petersburg, and they have two children, George Harrison and Ernest Barton. Miss Frances Harrison, the younger daughter, is also a resident of Menard county.
Judge Harrison became a member of the Methodist church when fourteen years of age, a society being formed at his home, and lived a consistent Christian life, being an earnest worker in behalf of the cause of religion and of education. In fact, he stood as the champion of every measure which he believed would contribute to the general good. The beautiful new Methodist church west of the square is a fitting monument to his untiring efforts in the work for his Master. In private life he was distinguished by all that marked the true gentleman. His was a noble character, one that subordinated personal ambition to public good and sought rather the benefit of others than the aggrandizement of self. In Menard county, where he spent almost his entire life, he was numbered among the most honored citizens and received the highest regard and esteem of people of all classes. It was his earnest wish -- often expressed -- that his accounts might be settled for both this world and the next and that he might owe no man anything when he died. Justice and right permeated his entire career. He was a kind, loving and indulgent husband and father and his splendid qualities so endeared him to those with whom he came in contact that at his death Menard county mourned the loss of one of its most honored and representative citizens.