John Wood, Governor 1860-1, and the first settler of Quincy, Ill., was born in the town of Sempronius (now Moravia), Cayuga Co., N. Y., Dec. 20, 1798. He was the second child and only son of Dr. Daniel Wood. His mother nee Catherine Crause, was of German parentage, and died while he was an infant. Dr. Wood was a learned and skillful physician, of classical attainments and proficient in several modern languages, who, after serving throughout the Revolutionary War as a Surgeon, settled on the land granted him by the Government, and resided there a respected and leading influence in his section until his death, at the ripe age of 92 years.
The subject of this sketch, impelled by the spirit of Western Adventure then pervading everywhere, left his home, Nov. 2, 1818, and passed the succeeding winter in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following summer he pushed on to Illinois, landing at Shawneetown, and spent the fall and following winter in Calhoun County. In 1820, in company with Willard Keyes, he settled in Pike County, about 30 miles southeast of Quincy, where for the next two years he pursued farming. In 1821 he visited “the Bluffs” (as the present site of Quincy was called, then uninhabited) and, pleased with its prospects, soon after purchased a quarter-section of land near by, and in the following fall (1822) erected near the river a small cabin, 18 x 20 feet, the first building in Quincy, of which he then became the first and for some months the only occupant.
About this time he visited his old friends in Pike County, chief of whom was William Ross, the leading man in building up the village of Atlas, of that county, which was thought then to be the possible commencement of a city. One day they and others were traveling together over the country between the two points named, making observations on the comparative merits of the respective localities. On approaching the Mississippi near Mr. Wood’s place, the latter told his companions to follow him and he would show them where he was going to build a city. They went about a mile off the main trail, to a high point, from which the view in every direction was most magnificent, as it had been for ages and as yet untouched by the hand of man. Before them swept by the majestic Father of Waters, yet unburdened by navigation. After Mr. Wood had expatiated at length on the advantages of the situation, Mr. Ross replied, “But it’s too near Atlas ever to amount to anything!”
Atlas is still a cultivated farm, and Quincy is a city of over 30,000 population.
In 1824 Mr. Wood gave a newspaper notice, as the law then prescribed, of his intention to apply to the General Assembly for the formation of a new county. This was done the following winter, resulting in the establishment of the present Adams County. During the next summer Quincy was selected as the county seat, it and the vicinity then containing but four adult male residents and half that number of females. Since that period Mr. wood resided at the place of his early adoption until his death, and far more than any other man was he identified with every measure of its progress and history, and almost continuously kept in public positions.
He was one of the early town Trustees, and after the place became a city he was often a member of the City Council, many times elected Mayor, in the face of a constant large opposition political majority. In 1850 he was elected to the State Senate. In 1856, on the organization of the Republican party, he was chosen Lieutenant Governor of the State, on the ticket with Wm. H. Bissell for Governor, and on the death of the latter, March 18, 1860, he succeeded to the Chief Executive chair, which he occupied until Gov. Yates was inaugurated nearly ten months afterward.
Nothing very marked characterized the administration of Gov. Wood. The great anti-slavery campaign of 1860, resulting in the election of the honest Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln, to the Presidency of the United States, occurred during the short period while Mr. Wood was Governor, and the excitement and issues of that struggle dominated over every other consideration,—indeed, supplanted them in a great measure. The people of Illinois, during all that time, were passing the comparatively petty strifes under Bissell’s administration to the overwhelming issue of preserving the whole nation from destruction.
In 1861 ex-Gov. Wood was one of the five Delegates from Illinois to the “Peace Convention” at Washington, and in april of the same year, on the breaking out of the Rebellion, he was appointed Quartermaster-General of the State, which position he held throughout the war. In 1864, he took command as Colonel of the 137th Ill. Vol. Inf., with whom he served until the period of enlistment expired.
Politically, Gov. Wood was always actively identified with the Whig and Republican parties. Few men have in personal experience comprehended so many surprising and advancing local changes as vested in the more than half century recollections of Gov. Wood. Sixty-four years ago a solitary settler on the “Bluffs,” with no family, and no neighbor within a score of miles, the world of civilization away behind him, and the strolling red-man almost his only visitant, he lived to see growing around him, and under his auspices and aid, overspreading the wild hills and scraggy forest a teaming city, second only in size in the State, and surpassed nowhere in beauty, prosperity and promise; whose people recognize as with a single voice the proverbial honor and liberality that attach to the name and lengthened life of their pioneer settler, “the old Governor.”
Gov. Wood was twice married,—first in January, 1826, to Ann M. Streeter, daughter of Joshua Streeter, formerly of Salem, Washington Co., N. Y. They had eight children. Mrs. W. died Oct. 8, 1863, and in June, 1865, Gov. Wood married Mrs. Mary A., widow of Rev. Joseph T. Holmes. Gov. Wood died June 4, 1880, at his residence in Quincy. Four of his eight children are now living, namely: Ann E., wife of Gen. John Tillson; Daniel C., who married Mary J. Abernethy; John, Jr., who married Josephine Skinner, and Joshua S., who married Annie Bradley. The last mentioned now resides at Atchison, Kansas, and all the rest are still at Quincy.
Source: “Portrait and Biographical Album of Champaign County, Illinois,” Chapman Brothers, Chicago, 1887.