CLEARY, WILLIAM CHARLES, formerly one of the most enterprising, extensive and successful farmers of Morgan County, Ill., but not passing his declining years in honored retirement, in Jacksonville, Morgan County, was born in County Limerick, Ireland, May 15, 1818. He is a son of William and Margaret Cleary, natives of Ireland. While still under age he came to the United States, landing in New York City, in June 1837. He soon obtained employment with Dr. Brandreth, the noted pill manufacturer, and afterward worked in connection with the masonry contract of the New York State Prison at Sing Sing. In the fall of 1837, together with others, he started for what was then called the "Far West." Through a portion of New York, Mr. Cleary traveled on the first railroad operated in that State, going from Buffalo to Detroit by steamer, and from Detroit to Chicago by schooner, via Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. At Chicago he took a stage for the Illinois River, but on account of the condition of the roads found it necessary to make most of the journey on foot. Arriving at the river, he went by steamboat to Meredosia, Ill., and proceeded thence by land to Jacksonville.
In the spring of 1838 Mr. Cleary began work as a farm hand for William Jordan, one of the pioneer farmers of Morgan County, who was located in what was known as the "Yankee Settlement," near the village of Ebenezer. He lent his wages to Mr. Jordan until the amount in the latter's keeping reached $300, for which he took Mr. Jordan's note. This note he turned over in 1842, together with a horse, saddle and bridle, to James Norris, in consideration for a deed to 53 acres of fine land, situated near concord, Ill., on which Jacob Wilkinson built for him a house, eighteen feet square. In return for the carpenter work, Mr. Cleary broke up Mr. Wilkinson's prairie. He then moved a log barn from the land of a Mr. Ticknor and added it to his remodeled house. Into this dwelling, Julius Pratt moved and boarded Mr. Cleary for the rent. Alfred Williams also boarded with Mr. Pratt in 1847. About this time, Mr. Cleary donated sufficient ground on which to build the first Baptist Church. Shortly afterward, he secured a contract for the rebuilding of a section of the Sangamon & Morgan Railroad, now a part of the Wabash system. Elizur Wolcott was then in charge of the civil engineering crew engaged in surveying and establishing grades for this work, and that gentleman became an intimate friend of Mr. Cleary. Although this contract was what Mr. Cleary now calls a small one, it yielded him a sufficient amount of money, properly invested, to secure him against all future want. Soon after the completion of this road, Mr. Cleary made a trip to Springfield, and such was the condition of the roadbed, and so numerous were the obstacles to successful operation, that the return trip consumed a week. In the course of time Mr. Cleary bought 100 acres of land adjoining his first purchase, the combined tracts making, after improvement, one of the most valuable farms, of its size, in Morgan County. Mr. Cleary devoted his attention to this property until 1859, and then sold it to a Mr. Thorndyke, buying a farm about six miles and a half northeast of Jacksonville, where he engaged extensively in stock raising and cattle feeding. On this farm he resided until his retirement from active work, and removal to Jacksonville, in 1891. He still owns the farm, which now consists of 577 acres of productive land, and also 90 acres of equally fine land, four miles southeast of Jacksonville.
On January 13, 1853, Mr. Cleary was untied in marriage with Mary Alice Welch, of Alton, Ill., who died October 29, 1876. From this union resulted the following children, namely: Franklin Pierce, and Morrison, deceased; Mrs. Margaret McMillan Norris, of Paoli, Kans.; Mary, deceased; William M., who lives on the homestead east of Jacksonville; Charlotte, wife of Edward Epler, of Jacksonville; Elizabeth, who also lives at home; and Kate, deceased.
Politically Mr. Cleary is a supporter of the Democratic party. He is not a member of any religious sect, but believes in the tenets of the Episcopal Church and attends its services. During his long and honorable life in Morgan County, he has witnessed its development from a wilderness into one of the most prosperous and productive sections of the State. In this extended period he has made the intimate acquaintance of men of great prominence, among others, of the great and revered Lincoln. On one occasion Mr. Lincoln acted as Mr. Cleary's attorney, in a case in which the latter had brought suit against the Sangamon & Morgan Railroad Company. The case was tried in Springfield, Ill., and Mr. Cleary, who was deeply imbued in the equity of his claim, insisted on making a personal plea to the court. This he proceeded to do, with his counsel's consent; and Mr. Lincoln, in relating the incident in later years, said that he sat back in his chair and almost died of laughter, while his client was endeavoring to impress the judge with the merits of his side of the litigation. Mr. Cleary was also well acquainted with Stephen A. Douglas, and on the evening following his (Mr. Cleary's) wedding, in 1853, took his bride in Springfield, and attended the ball given by Douglas, whose election to the United States Senate had just occurred. Personally, Mr. Cleary has always commanded the respect of all classes, and been regarded as a man of absolute rectitude of character and genuine worth. Although he was always averse to ostentation in his acts of benevolence, he has been the source of many charitable benefactions. Besides rearing and educating a large family of his own, he has brought up six other children, on each of whom he has bestowed the advantages of an excellent education. One of these, William Cleary, his nephew, during the Civil War was a Lieutenant in a Union regiment from Tennessee, and afterward served as a cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point, dying before the completion of his course.
Around the venerable head of William C. Cleary constantly hover the affection and esteem of hosts of his fellow citizens, whose benedictions must assuredly afford him grateful solace in his sunset years, as he faces, with serene composure, the infinite beyond.