JOHN W. PRIEST - Springfield is indebted to John W. Priest for what he did in her behalf and though more than fifteen years have passed since he was called to the home beyond, he is yet remembered by many who knew him and the city still feels the beneficial effect of his labors. He was born October 18, 1809, in Pomfret, Windsor county, Vermont, and came of a family of English ancestry. When he was only about seven years of age his parents went to New York, making the journey to St. Lawrence county with ox teams, crossing Lake Champlain on the ice and having the oxen shod with wooden shoes to prevent their falling, before leaving Vermont. They settled in Parishville, in the midst of the green forest, the father turning his attention to agricultural pursuits. As Mr. Priest grew in age and strength he assisted in the clearing of the farm and early became familiar with these arduous tasks. After arriving at years of maturity he sought a companion and helpmate for life's journey and in 1835 he was united in marriage to Miss Olive Wakefield, after which he removed to Montgomery, Alabama, making the journey by wagon, the Erie canal and then again by team. There Mr. Priest engaged in following the tinner's trade and the stove business, but because of the delicate health of his wife they returned to New York, where she died in 1840. The same year Mr. priest came west to Illinois, walking from Jacksonville to Sangamon county, as there were no railroads in those early days. In 1845 he was again married, his second union being with Lucinda Stafford, of Rochester, this state. The first of the Stafford family to come to America was Edward Stafford, who fled to this country to escape persecution for supposed conspiracy in the assassination of the King of England. He settled in Rhode Island, about 1700 and there, abandoning Catholicism, he embraced the religion of the Society of Friends. He married Margaret Green and they had a son Joseph who married Orpha Sweet. By the last marriage there were born three sons: John, Joseph and Stephen. Joseph was the only one of these who had children. He wedded Nancy Green, and their eldest son, Joseph, was born April 25, 1759, in Coventry, Kent county, Rhode Island. Though his parents were Quakers and opposed to war, he became a soldier of the American army and fought for the independence of the colonies, being under the command of his relative, the celebrated General Green, who was also from Rhode Island and was of Quaker stock. After the Revolution was ended and the Republic established Joseph Stafford married Orpha Sweet. They were the second couple of that name in the family. They had ten children, four of whom came to Sangamon county, Illinois. Caleb Stafford, born June 22, 1789, went with his father to Essex county, New York, in 1804, and there married Rebecca Eggleston. He served as a soldier in the war of 1812 and in 1836 he came to Illinois with his family. Diadema, another member of this family, was born December 25, 1812, in Essex county, New York, and was married on Christmas day of 1833 to Gardner T. Bruce, with whom she came to Sangamon county in 1842. They had three children.
Thomas D. Stafford, the second member of the family of Caleb Stafford, was born in 1814 and for many years lived in Galesburg, Illinois. Orson N., born in 1816, led the life of a sailor until 1835, when he came to Sangamon county and in 1837 married Eliza Sherman, a direct descendant of Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Orson N. Stafford was connected with the Illinois State Journal of Springfield for a number of years and served in the city council in 1854-5. Amanda M. Stafford, born in 1818, became the wife of Dr. S. D. Slater, of Rochester, Illinois. Amos, born in 1824, came with his parents to Sangamon county in 1836. He married Sarah Johnson and both died in 1867 in Decatur, his death occurring on the 26th of November, while his wife passed away on the 26th of September. Hiram P. Stafford married Eunice Black and removed to Missouri. Henry H. Stafford, born in 1829, was married in 1851 to Lauretta Ross and for a number of years he was a stationary engineer in Decatur. Lucinda M. born September 10, 1826, became the wife of John W. priest. Mary E., born in 1832, was the wife of James Rausdale, who died in Rochester. Louisa, the next in the family, became the wife of J. M. McCoy and they removed to Missouri. Rodney Wilson, born October 2, 1834, was married in Rochester, Illinois, in 1857, to Sarah M. Van Ormann. He enlisted in Company A, One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois Infantry in 1862 and was wounded three times. He participated in the siege of Vicksburg and went with Sherman on the celebrated march to the sea. His home was in Decatur, this state. Mrs. Rebecca Stafford, the mother of all these children, died June 21, 1843, and Caleb Stafford, the father, passed away on the 7th of May, 1855.
Unto the marriage of John W. Priest and Lucinda Stafford, two children were born: Olive, who in 1867 became the wife of George C. Latham; and Mary E., now the widow of Silas Wright Currier. In 1851 the wife and mother was called to her final rest and Mr. Priest was married in 1853 to Catherine Wright, of St. Lawrence county, New York, who died in 1875. He was then again married in 1878, Mrs. Phoebe Eggleston of Rochester, Illinois, becoming his wife. She is still living in Springfield.
After coming to Illinois Mr. Priest engaged in the manufacture of brick at a time when all brick was molded by hand. He was the pioneer in this branch of business here and for some time was actively engaged in that line of industry. Among other business interests which claimed his attention at various times, he was actively identified with farming and also conducting a store in Springfield, establishing a furniture and stove business on the north side of the square. As his financial resources increased he made judicious investments in land from time to time until he became the owner of five hundred acres in Clear Lake Township, near Springfield, together with almost a section near Pana, Christian county, Illinois, and Mrs. Currier, his daughter, now has in her possession three patents which he obtained from the government. In his business affairs Mr. priest was very energetic, progressive and alert. He possessed keen foresight and this characteristic contributed in no small degree to his success. He was, moreover, very industrious, and earnest labor is always a sure foundation upon which to build prosperity.
Mr. Priest was also active in citizenship and was a prominent and honored resident of Springfield. His fellow townsmen, recognizing his ability and his loyalty to the general good, frequently called him to public service. He was a member of the school board for a number of years. For eight consecutive years he acted as one of the aldermen of Springfield, and in 1856-7-8 and again in 1870 he was mayor of the city. His administration was always business like, practical and beneficial and it was during his incumbency in office that the first street paving was done in Springfield and the waterworks established. He went to New York and there sold bonds in order to secure these improvements. For a number of years he was president of the waterworks board and he labored earnestly and untiringly for the benefit of Illinois' capital and for its progress along lines of substantial improvement. He also became the president of the Elevator Milling company and was occupying that
position at the time of his death, which occurred on the 7th of June 1887. When he passed away Springfield lost one of its honored pioneers, for Mr. Priest had assisted in laying broad and deep the foundation for the development and progress of his county. He had instituted many of the early enterprises which led to the growth and upbuilding of this city and he encouraged all efforts that were put forth in behalf of the city. He had a very wide acquaintance here and the entire community acknowledged his worth and the excellent results which followed his efforts.