In the earliest days of settlement in Adams County and Hancock County, connections can be found leading to interesting discoveries regarding family ties, lawyers, and Abraham Lincoln. An example of noteworthy connections among families and counties is the John Williams family.
John Williams was born 1764 in Brunswick County, Virginia and was raised by his maternal uncle. After marrying Amelia Gill in 1787, he moved to Lincoln Co. Kentucky and later to Montgomery County, Kentucky. All of John and Amelia’s 12 children were born in Kentucky and lived to be adults. In 1831, at the age of 67, he moved to Quincy to join several of his children who had moved to Adams County, Illinois. His intent was to settle in Hancock County but chose Adams perceiving it as safer due to the Black Hawk War. Adams County and Hancock County were both formed from Pike County in 1825. Quincy became the Adams county seat at that time, but it took several years for Carthage to become the county seat of Hancock County.
The Black Hawk War only lasted about four months but it stifled the growth of Hancock County which began to gain population at the close of hostilities in 1832. John Williams died in 1833.
Six children of John and Amelia Williams settled in Adams and Hancock County. Three sons became attorneys, Wesley (1792-1870), Archibald (1801-1863), and Robert (1805-1841). Archibald “read law” rather than attend law school as there were few schools on the frontier. He was admitted to the bar in 1828 in Tennessee and shortly after moved to Quincy. He rapidly became involved in the community and politics on the local and state level. Archibald served as a village trustee, a state senator, a U. S. Attorney for Illinois, and a federal judge. He was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. They worked on law cases together or against each other, he was active in the Whig party, supported Lincoln for president, and he attended Lincoln’s first inauguration. Archibald died in Quincy and is buried in Woodland Cemetery.
Wesley Williams was an older brother of Archibald and was the second child of John and Amelia. He was a lawyer but didn’t practice and later in his life became a judge. He was born in 1792 in Kentucky, served in the Kentucky militia, and came to Illinois about 1823. He first settled in Quincy. His first wife Elizabeth did not move with him to Quincy. He later divorced her and remarried. He was commissioned by Gov. Ninian Edwards as one of the first Justices of the Peace in Adams County. He also held office as Treasurer of Adams County. He relocated to Hancock County around 1826. At that time, the courts were held in Montebello, a town which no longer exists but was located north of Hamilton on the Mississippi River.
Wesley was appointed the first Clerk of the Circuit Court by Quincy’s Hon. Richard Young, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit in 1829 and held that positon until 1841. He moved to Carthage when it became the county seat in 1835 and built the first house there on the north side of the public square. He served as postmaster in Carthage and owned a mercantile business and a mill. As an early entrepreneur, he hired men to go to the California gold rush and prospect for him in 1849. During his long life, he had three wives, and eight sons and daughters, five of whom lived to adulthood. When he died in 1870, he was buried in the private Spangler Cemetery in Hancock Township on the eastern side of the county. A son of Judge Williams, Wesley Cutler is said to have been the first non-native child born in Carthage. He later served with the 12th Illinois Calvary during the Civil War.
Less is known about the third brother who became a lawyer. Robert R. Williams moved to Adams County as a young man. At some point in his career he joined his brother in Hancock County. In 1835, he married Almira Sawin, dying six years later in Quincy apparently leaving no children.
Another child of John and Amelia, Ann G. Williams married John Manier in 1828 and remained in Kentucky. Her son, Wesley H. Manier, who left Kentucky at age 21, arrived in Quincy in 1851. Soon after he began the study of law with the firm of Williams & Lawrence which consisted of his uncle, Hon. Archibald Williams and Charles B. Lawrence. Lawrence was later appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Wesley H. Manier was issued a license to practice law by the state of Illinois in 1852 and moved to Carthage in Hancock County, where he opened a law office. Within a short time, he formed a partnership with John M. Ferris.He also held the position of Supreme Court reporter for twenty years. The firm that Manier and Ferris organized survived under various names and continues today.
In addition to his law practice, Wesley Manier was editor of an independent paper The Carthage Republican in 1854.
By March 1855, the Carthage paper was taken over by G.M. Childs and transformed into a highly charged democratic paper lasting several years. And – leaving little doubt regarding his pro-slavery, anti-Lincoln views. A glimpse of the controversy regarding the Carthage Republican and G. M. Child appeared in the Carthage Republican Aug. 8, 1861:
Carthage Republican,” Changed Hands, – This week’s number of that paper, has the valedictory of G. M. Child. He has disposed of the establishment to Messrs. Griffith & McClaughry of Carthage. This change was effective through “coercion, “and not in a voluntary act of our neighbor. We learn, that the Union democracy throughout the county and particularly in Carthage, made him the following proposition to “either dry up his traitorism, sell out or have his office demolished.” * * * *
“Changed Hands.” Carthage Republican Aug. 8, 1861.
Gregg, Thomas H. History of Hancock County: Together with an Outline of the History of the State; And a Digest of State Laws. Chicago IL: Charles C. Chapman & Company, 1880.
Illustrated Historical Atlas of Hancock County, Illinois. Chicago, IL: A. T. Andreas, 1874
Kemmerer, J. Hancock County, Illinois in the Civil War: Reflections. Hancock County Historical Society: Carthage, IL, 1988.
Wesley Williams, http://hancock.illinoisgenweb.org/Williams.html
Williams, Wesley (1792-1870). Letters, 1839-70 | Illinois History and Lincoln Collections
Find a grave. Judge Wesley Williams. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113959853#
The Bench and Bar of Illinois: Historical Reminiscent, edited by John M. Palmer, Vol. 1. Chicago IL, The
Lewis Publishing Company, 1899.
Nelson, Iris. The Hon. Archibald Williams: Foremost Illinois Attorney. The Quincy Herald Whig,
December 29, 2013.