Dennis Rockwell was one of the first, if not the first, officials of Morgan county, when it was organized in 1823. He then became clerk in which office he served until 1837. this was but the beginning of the offices held by that good man, and of the trusts confided to his care.
Dennis Rockwell was born in Windsor county, Conn., June 30, 1793, being the oldest son of Daniel and Lucretia Rockwell, citizens of that locality. Dennis received his early education in the common schools of New England. In 1810 he was engaged as a clerk in the government land office in Washington City, filling that position for eight years. he emigrated to Edwardsville, Madison county, Illinois, in the year 1818, thus beginning with the state, as he afterwards did with Morgan county. there he was land agent, until the organization of Morgan county when Gov. Bond appointed him recorder and notary public. He was married Feb. 14, 1822, to Miss Eliza J. Austin, daughter of J. D. and Sarah D. Austin, afterwards citizens of Morgan county, where they spent their last years. Mr. Rockwell came here soon after his marriage, where with his experience and his correctness as a business man he was eminently qualified for the sphere of usefulness he was called to fill in the early settlement of the county. He was county clerk twenty years, clerk of the circuit court, recorder and post-master, besides holding other offices of less note, filling two or more at the same time. He was also cashier of the branch of the State bank, at Jacksonville. In 1851, he was reappointed to a position in the land office, at Washington, which he filled for three years. He removed to Chicago in 1854, and was largely engaged in the manufacture and sale of lumber, in the firm of J. L. James & Co., and afterwards in the firm of Hannah & Rockwell. Having lost his first wife, Jan. 16, 1857, Mr. Rockwell removed with his second wife, in 1859, to Raynham, Mass. There he resided until the spring of 1866 when he returned to Jacksonville by way of Chicago. He died here, Aug. 14, 1868. Mr. Rockwell had four children by his first marriage; of those, three survived their father; Austin, then a citizen of Decatur, Neb.; Charles and William, then citizens of Jacksonville.
Mr. Dennis Rockwell owned a considerable quantity of land in or about Jacksonville, among other pieces being the "Mound farm", the sightliest land in this county. He left that place to his son, Charles, who lost it through an unfortunate endorsement, a very common occurrence in times past. Dennis Rockwell, as has recently been stated, gave the lot upon which Trinity Episcopal church was and is still standing. He was one of the first vestrymen of the parish.
Few men have been held in as high respect by our older people as was Dennis Rockwell, and these lines have only suggested a part of what he was to our young town and city. He was survived by his second wife, a fine woman.
Mr. Rockwell lived at first on West Morgan street. He afterwards erected the handsome story and a half house with dormer windows, which stood on the north side of West State street, just at the head of Diamond Court. At that time the wing room, on the west side of the house, was outside of town, so that Mrs. Rockwell said she did her work in the country, and entertained her company in town. The house, which was remodeled in 1872, became the property of Charles Rockwell, then of his wife, and is now the residence of their daughter, Mrs. Lillie Rockwell Frost.
Austin Rockwell, the eldest son of Dennis, was well known here for years, and married a daughter of Dr. A. Smith, father of the late T. Rice Smith, so long agent of the Wabash here. by this wife Mr. Rockwell had two daughters, Olive and Jane. The former married and left here. The latter did not marry, both died some years ago.
Mr. Rockwell's wife died, and he married Miss Hine, sister of Frank Hine, so long clerk at the School for the Deaf, here. This lady also died soon.
At the beginning of the Civil war Mr. Rockwell was living in a cottage on the grounds of the Morgan County Fair association, just west of the School for the Deaf. He went away for some sort of army business, and the fair grounds were used for about two months, April to June, 1861, as a rendezvous for the 14th Regiment of Illinois volunteers, Col. John M. Palmer commanding. During this time the officers took their meals with Mrs. Rockwell, at her cottage. July 5, 1861, Col. U. S. Grant, with the 21st Illinois volunteers, stopped at the fair grounds to get dinner - bivouacked, Gen. Vance called it. The officers found Mrs. Rockwell could furnish their dinner. Jane Rockwell, daughter of Austin, told an interesting story, in the Journal of Feb. 1, 1902, of an amusing incident in connection with the noonday repast, that story and event is a matter of much interest, if not pride, in the family. Miss Jennie, as she was also called made her home latterly at Rixford, Pa.
The war took Austin Rockwell and his family away from here, at least to Nebraska, and perhaps to South Dakota. They never came back here to reside.
Mr. Rockwell lost his second wife, and married again.
The following extract from the Journal of May 26, 1904, relates the latter part of Mr. Rockwell's history - although he had lived a part of the last years of his life in Minnesota. The clipping, apparently from an Oklahoma paper, says:
"At 7 o'clock on the evening of May 14, Austin Rockwell, aged nearly 82 years, departed this life at the residence of his son, G. L. Rockwell, at 422 West Eighth street, Oklahoma City.
He is survived by his devoted wife, two sons and a daughter, W. F. Rockwell, of Chicago; g. L. Rockwell, of Oklahoma City, and Miss Jennie Rockwell, of Pennsylvania.
The deceased was one of the pioneers of Nebraska, and was a member of the territorial legislature of that state, at the time it was admitted into the Union. He was a merchant there for many years, only retiring from active life at the age of 75 years. He had been in Oklahoma City a few months, visiting his son, and in the hope of improving his health, but he recently had an attack of paralysis which was the immediate cause of his taking off. the deceased was a member of the Presbyterian church, and the interment will be made on Monday afternoon, on which day private services will be held at the home of his son."
Charles Rockwell, second son of Dennis, was born here, Jan. 10, 1825 and all his life was spent here or hereabouts. Mr. Rockwell was married Sept. 2, 1851, to Miss Margaret Wilkinson, daughter of Mr. Otway Wilkinson, one of the earliest and best citizens of Jacksonville. the young people were married in Mr. Wilkinson's large brick house, which then stood at the south east corner of College avenue and Church streets. It was afterwards the property of Mr. E. R. Elliott. The Central Christian church now occupies the site.
Mr. Rockwell lived in his father's old mansion here on West State street, and engaged in farming part of his life. He was extremely fond of horses and had a wonderful knack in handling the equines "and other cattle." For a number of years he served as town or city street supervisor. He died March 15th, 1890.
The following sketch of Mrs. Charles Rockwell appeared in the Journal of Sept. 12th, 1906:
"Mrs. Margaret Rockwell, aged 77 years, died Sunday evening at the home of her daughter, Mrs. L. A. Frost, 523 W. College avenue.
"Margaret Wilkinson was born in Lexington, Ky., Feb. 29, 1829, removing with her parents to Jacksonville in 1834. On Sept. 2, 1851, she was married to Charles Rockwell and four children were born to them: Frances W., Lillie A. Frost, Edward W. and Charles R., two of whom, Frances, wife of the late Dr. F. C. Winslow and Edward W., with the father, have passed away.
"Mrs. Rockwell received her education at the Jacksonville Female Academy. She was a quiet and unostentatious woman, but of strong character and broad culture. She was peculiarly devoted to her church, the Grace Methodist, and to her home, because it was a symbol of that shelter not made with hands, the Father's house, in which are many mansions.
"Sunday, Sept. 23, at twilight and evening bells, she heard the one clear call and went forth to meet her Pilot face to face."
William Rockwell, youngest son of Dennis, was born in this city, Jan. 1, 1827. William received a good common school education, and made the best of it, and at an early age he was making good use of his knowledge. He was in the East for several years about the time of the Civil War, returning to Jacksonville, where he clerked for a while for Dayton & Adams, in their drug and hardware store. He with John Q. Adams and Charles E. Flack succeeded Dayton & Adams, as Rockwell, Adams & Co. the others withdrew later and Mr. Rockwell carried on the business alone, at the old stand, on the north side, west half, of the square, until his removal to Chicago. There he was employed in a number of occupations.
In 1865, Mr. Rockwell married Miss Laura Murray, at Portsmouth, Va., and they were the parents of eleven children, nine of whom survived their father; one an infant, and the other George D., the oldest child. George D. was graduated from Illinois College in the class of 1885. the surviving children were William A., Arthur C., Leander L., Earl, Mrs. Catherine Beigler, Mrs. Frank A. Vickers, and Miss Ruth.
The Journal of August 20, 1907, speaking of Mr. Rockwell's death, the previous Saturday, in Chicago, said in part:
"In his family he was ever kind and tender, and during his old age he was well cared for by his dutiful children. He was a man of strict integrity and popular with all who knew him."Mr. Rockwell's remains were brought here for burial and his six sons carried them to their last resting place."
It should have been stated, in referring to Mrs. Charles Rockwell, above, that her mother was Miss Ethelinda Berryman, and both Otway Wilkinson and Ethelinda, his wife, were natives of the grand "Old Dominion, Virginia". they came to Kentucky and thence to Illinois.
Today, Mrs. Lillie A. Frost, with her brother Charles and her son, Ernest with the latter's wife have their dwelling in the old Rockwell homestead, one of the few old families of Jacksonville so situated.
As is well known hero, Mrs. Frost's husband, Dr. Frost, was for many years a physician at the Central State Hospital for the insane.
Referring again to Mrs. Dennis Rockwell, a correspondent of the "New York Evangelist" writing in about the year 1866 or 1867, telling of "Illinois in the log cabin days" wrote in part:
"It was in February, 1821, that my friend (and employer) Dennis Rockwell, Esq., (now of Chicago) and myself, having occasions to visit our new seat of government, Vandalia, concluded, instead of taking the usual road by Greenville, to make Father Townsend's our stopping place for the night, though it would prolong the second day's travel. And as it may somewhat exhibit the state of the country at the time, I will give some of the incidents of the journey.
"We arrived at Mr. Townsend's about sunset, and received a hearty welcome, not only from himself but his family. He had built him a house - of logs of course - somewhat different from, and more commodious than the common run. We were ushered into a pleasant room, which was made cheerful not only by the ample fire, as usual, but by the tasteful arrangements and comfortable furniture, and neat adornments which showed even in a log house, the results of female refinement.
"After an excellent breakfast the next morning, we set out in fine spirits to find our way to the seat of government, an easy day's journey distant. A few miles from Mr. Townsend's we came to a shanty, or temporary structure, somewhat larger than ordinary, in which some half dozen young men were passing the winter in bachelor's hall, preparatory to setting out in the spring on their respective life enterprises. Several of these have been heard of since; but I will only speak of one; John Tillson, Jr., whose genial and moral qualities endeared him to all, and whose remarkable business qualifications laid the foundation of the fortunes of several. It was my happiness to enjoy his friendship many years, and in the spacious mansion afterward built by him in Hillsborough - as well as in later days in Quincy - often to partake of his unbounded hospitality.
"It was a brief but pleasant call, and we passed on. A little further we came to the edge of the wide prairie, where was a cabin occupied by a member of the Legislature. His wife gave us such directions as she could by courses and landmarks for want of a road, and we set forth on the vast plain without misgiving, it was a cloudy day; no sun to be seen; we mistook the directions; instead of going southeast we went northeast, and after riding all day without seeing a house or human being, we found ourselves at nightfall by the side of a small stream where we had a shower that night. It needed to trees, we took off the saddles, and lodged them as well as we could. It was not very cold, and for variety we had a shower that night. It needed no bell to arouse us in the morning. As soon as we could see we set out, determining that we must go down stream to find a settlement. After riding till the middle of the afternoon, skirting the timber, we came to a habitation - a new settler of course - where we obtained food and rest; and on the fourth day (instead of the second) we came to the place so long desired. It would be hard to lose ones self on that road now."
Lack of space forbids giving the story of an experience of the Townsends later on in the Seminole War in Fl