STRAWN, JACOB, who during a large portion of the period covered by his life, was one of the most widely known farmers, and in many respects one of the most remarkable men on the roll of those departed leaders, who, in various spheres of action, have reflected honor upon the State of Illinois, was born in Somerset County, Pa., May 30, 1800. He was a son of Isaiah and Rachel (Reed) Strawn, of whom the former was one of nine sons born to Daniel Strawn, a native of Bucks County, Pa., whose father died when Daniel was a child. Rachael (Reed) Strawn was a native of Sussex County, N.J. Jacob Strawn (the grandfather of Daniel, and great-great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir) came from England to the United States in 1682, with William Penn. When Daniel Strawn reached mature years he became the husband of a Miss Purcely, of Bucks County, Pa., whose parents came from Wales to that State, early in her girlhood. Her union with Daniel Strawn resulted in nine sons and three daughters, among the former being Isaiah Strawn, above mentioned. After his marriage Daniel Strawn became a farmer, and followed that occupation for the remainder of his life. Isaiah Strawn settled on a farm in Turkeyfoot Township, Somerset County, Pa., where he carried on farming and blacksmithing. To him and his wife were born six children, of whom four were sons - Jacob being the youngest. With the exception of one daughter, who afterward passed away in Coshocton County, Ohio, where she had previously gone with her husband, the family, in 1817, moved from Pennsylvania to Putnam County, Ill., where they located in the vicinity of Hennepin, on a farm near that of Mr. Strawn's son, Jeremiah. The earlier ancestors of Jacob Strawn were Quakers in religious faith, although at a later period some members of the family allied themselves with the Methodist church, and with other denominations. They were of sturdy and stalwart stock, with strong physical development, and almost impervious to fatigue. Nearly all of them followed agricultural pursuits. Mrs. Isaiah Strawn died April 4, 1843; her husband passed away just one year later, and both were on the verge of their eighty-fourth year.
In boyhood Jacob Strawn utilized the opportunities for mental training afforded by the schools of his native county. It is said of him that, during a visit to one of his aunts, at the age of ten years, he watched her intently while she was engaged in feeding calves; and, overhearing an allusion to the profit anticipated on their sale, determined to become a stock dealer when he reached manhood. When he was seventeen years old his parents moved to Licking County, Ohio, and when he reached the age of nineteen years, he was married to Matilda Greene, a daughter of Rev. John Greene, of Licking County. When he left Somerset County, Pa., Mr. Strawn had saved $100, which he gave to his father, to apply on the payment for a tract o f unbroken land, purchased by the latter in Ohio, and his marriage left the young man $7 in debt - a fact which is here mentioned as an illustration of his early provident habits, ad well as his filial affection. Mr. Strawn's first marriage resulted in three children - who grew to maturity, reared families, and became in comfortable circumstances - namely: Rev. William Strawn, of Odell, Ill.; James G. Strawn, a farmer of Orleans, Ill.; and Isaiah Strawn, a farmer and dealer in horses, Jacksonville, Ill. While a resident of Ohio Mr. Strawn was engaged to a considerable extent in dealing in horses, and while thus occupied, in 1828 made a trip to Illinois, where, instead of adding to his supply of horses, he bought land. For one tract, known as the Cobb farm, five miles southwest of Jacksonville, he paid $10 per acre for 160 acres, and on a portion of this the family residence was afterward established. Returning to Ohio he sold his interests there, completed his arrangements for moving, and on May 17, 1831, arrived in Morgan County, locating on his purchase of three years before. This investment was the initiatory step in that unparalleled career which made Jacob Strawn prominent in the long line of Illinois stock raisers, developed an enterprise of colossal proportions, and inaugurated the cattle business of the State.
For the following few years after he established himself on his Morgan County farm, Mr. Strawn occupied, with his family, a log house, of the crude construction common to that primitive period. It included a second story which was reached by means of a ladder. In that rude but comfortable dwelling, mrs. Strawn died December 8, 1831. On July 8, 1832, Mr. Strawn again married, wedding Phebe Gates, a daughter of Samuel Gates, a prominent pioneer settler of Greene County, Ill. Miss Gates was a lady of unusual beauty and intelligence, and possessed many other feminine graces. Her father was born forty miles from Portland, Me., and when a young man journeyed to Ohio, and settled on the banks of the Muskingum River. At an early age he married a Miss Emerson, who was born in Windsor, Vt., and was a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Miss Gates was four years old when her parents brought her to Illinois, which was then a Territory, and was not admitted to the Union as a State until several months after their arrival. They made the journey to Illinois in company with another family, traveling by keelboat from Marietta, Ohio, to their destination. For a time they sojourned on the Mississippi Bottoms, in the western part of Calhoun County, Ill., and later located in Bluffdale, Greene County, eight miles west of Carrollton, Ill., a region settled mainly by Eastern people. The Bluffdale postoffice was established in 1828, in the house of John Russell, and various members of the Russell family held the office from that period until 1905. Mrs. Strawn attended one of the earliest select schools in Illinois, conducted at Bluffdale by John Russell, who was a man of literary ability. His school was even patronized by the children of some of the best families in St. Louis, for the reason that at that time (1828) St. Louis had no school equal to the Russell Institute, which was about seventy miles from that city. The well known selection contained in all the schoolreaders of fifty years ago, entitled the "Worm of the Still", was written by John Russell, who was one of the best of the pioneer educators, and was for some time a Professor in Shurtleff College.
The union of Miss Gates with Mr. Strawn resulted in six children, one of whom died in early childhood. The members of this family were: Julius E. Strawn, a prominent farmer, banker and philanthropist; Daniel, the first born, killed in a mill; Jacob Strawn, Gates Strawn, D. G. Strawn and Martha Amelia Strawn. David was engaged in the dental profession in Boston, Mass., and now is a well known farmer and citizen of Jacksonville. The only daughter, Martha Amelia, spent three years in Dr. Gannett's School in Boston, Mass, where unremitting application to study enfeebled her to such an extent that she fell a victim to consumption and filled a premature grave at about twenty-two years of age. She possessed rare natural endowments, both physical and mental, and combined in her person many of the distinctive and excellent traits of both her parents. She died at her home five miles southwest of Jacksonville, July 15, 1868. Jacob Strawn, Jr., the third son, received his intellectual culture in Jacksonville. At an early age he was afflicted by a pulmonary ailment, and by advice of his physician went abroad, making a six months' tour of Europe, and visiting Egypt and Palestine in company with Rev. L. M. Glover, D.D. He returned home in the fall of 1858, and on March 12, 1862, was untied in marriage with Mary Jane Patterson. Their union resulted in three children, two of whom were sons. The father of this family died in Jacksonville, Ill., October 10, 1869, his de3ath being widely and greatly lamented.
For a considerable period the subject of this sketch supplied the St. Louis market with a large proportion of the beef consumed in that city. He purchased and disposed of larger lots of cattle than any other dealer in this country, and among stockmen his name became familiar as a household word from ocean to ocean. During the first years of his residence in Morgan County, Mr. Strawn was engaged in butchering and milling, and furnished the meat and flour supply of Jacksonville. He was the owner of a flour mill, and raised large crops of wheat and corn. He was also one of the most extensive land holders in Illinois, being the owner of 10,000 acres in Sangamon and Morgan Counties, besides his home farm of about 8,000 acres. About the year 1850 he made a complete innovation in the customary methods of conducting the stock business, and disposed of his cattle on the ground where he fitted them for market, thereafter confining his attention to the work of grazing and feeding. He was the initiator in Illinois of the system of stall feeding with corn. In 1859 he began the erection of the superb Strawn's Opera House in Jacksonville, which was finished in 1861, and dedicated in March of that year, thereby adorning the city with its most ornate, commodious and imposing public structure, with which his name will be perpetually associated.
During the Civil War, Mr. Strawn was one of the pillars of the Union cause, and rendered most patriotic service in strengthening the arms of the Government. During the darkest period of the conflict he donated to the Christian commission, when that noble body was in sore need of means to prosecute its work, the handsome sum of $10,000. On being informed by a hospital nurse from Vicksburg that the supply of milk for the disabled soldiers was scanty and inferior, he promptly raised the means to buy fifty cows, which he sent under the care of a special attendant to the hospital stewards at that point. Politically Mr. Strawn was a Whig in early life, and became a Republican on the organization of that party in 1856. The death of Mr. Strawn occurred August 23, 1856, at the country home where he first settled, and he was buried in Diamond Grove Cemetery, Jacksonville. Mrs. Strawn spent the last years of her life in the home erected by herself in Jacksonville, but died, deeply lamented by her family and a large circle of friends, February 6, 1906. By her will, besides leaving generous bequests to her children and their descendants she made liberal donations to educational and benevolent institutions, including $20,000 to Illinois college, $10,000 to jacksonville Female Academy and a like sum to the Passavant Memorial Hospital.
The causes of the phenomenal success of Jacob Strawn are not difficult to determine when his pronounced characteristics are considered. He possessed in an extraordinary degree, those qualities that make the highest success certain. He was exempt from all indulgences which weaken the will power, and induce a purpose when formed to waver. He had a comprehensive grasp of th details of every enterprise which he undertook, and intuitively foresaw the outcome. He was resolute, tenacious, prompt in decision and action, and his perseverance knew no flagging. His mind penetrated the innermost possibilities of any business problem which confronted him, and his plans eventuated in precise accordance with the calculations on which they were based. Withal, he was scrupulously honest and absolutely reliable. He was an indefatigable worker, and inspired his employees with a spirit of industry. Although his mental absorption in some important venture made him occasionally terse in speech and brusque in manner, he treated everyone fairly and equitably. He was a hospitable entertainer, and charitable to the deserving needy. Devoid of ostentation, his vast possessions never stimulated vanity or impaired his manhood. He was a disciple of the strenuous life, and was born to achieve success.