PRIEST, JOHN W. (deceased). - In recalling the life and services of John W. Priest, who for years was a prominent factor in the development of the enterprises which have been vastly beneficial to Springfield, a long path backward must be traveled, his early experiences belonging to an era that seems distinctly remote from the things of today. He came of hardy stock, pioneers from Vermont to western New York in days when transportation was by means of ox teams and the traversing of a hundred miles was accomplished only after days of arduous travel.
John W. Priest was born at Pomfret, Windsor County, Vt., and died in Springfield, Ill., June 7, 1887. His parents, both of English extraction and presumably of the farmer class, left Windsor County for St. Lawrence County, N.Y., and it is recorded that in order to assure a safe crossing of the ice on Lake Champlain, the oxen were shod with wooden shoes. The new home proved to be a tract in the virgin forest, and even as a child of seven years, John Priest was called on to help his father in clearing a spot on which could be built the first semblance of a home. He grew in strength and in stature and in the course of years was his father's main dependence in the developing of a farm, proving himself a worthy and filial son. When he reached man's estate he formed domestic ties of his own and in 1835, with his wife, Olive Wakefield, made a wagon journey, interrupted by a passage on the Erie Canal, to Montgomery Ala., that southern city being selected mainly on account of the delicate state of his young wife's health. Mr. Priest engaged in the stove business and worked at the tinner's trade until it became evident that his wife could not long survive, and they returned to New York, where she died in 1840.
At the time of his wife's death Mr. Priest was thirty-one years of age, his birth having occurred October 18, 1809, and he was in the flush of manly vigor. To walk a part of the way from St. Lawrence County, N.Y., to the prairies of Illinois did not appear a very formidable feat, and as he had no other means of transportation but the lakes and Erie Canal and no railroads led to Sangamon County or centered at what is now the busy and populous Capital, he made most of the long journey on foot. He entered into the brick manufacturing business in Springfield, and being a pioneer in this line, became an extensive manufacturer, the brick all being made by hand. He was a good business man and through foresight and business judgment his undertakings became successful. He was engaged in farming for many years and in a number of other enterprises. He established a furniture and stove store on the north side of the Square in Springfield, and this became a landmark in the city. At various times he invested in land, acquiring a section near Pana, Christian County, and 500 acres in Clear Lake township, near Springfield, and the original patents for this land are preserved by his descendants.
Mr. Priest's first wife was Olive Wakefield, whom he married at Parishville, N. Y., in 1835. His second marriage took place in 1845, when he married Lucinda Stafford, at the home of her brother, Orson Stafford, in Springfield, Ill. She was born at Rochester, Ill., September 10, 1826, and died in 1851. She came of an old English family that settled in Rhode Island in 1700, the emigrant ancestor being Edward Stafford, who married Margaret Green, and their son, Joseph Stafford, married Orpha Sweet, they becoming parents of three sons: John, Joseph and Stephen. Of these three sons, Joseph married Nancy Green and their oldest son, also named Joseph, was born April 25, 1759, in Kent County, R. I. The last-named, although reared in the faith of the Society of the Friends, became a soldier in the Revolution, serving under his relative, General Greene. A rather remarkable coincidence was that he chose for his bride a young woman named Orpha Sweet, they being the second couple in the family with identically the same names, the first being his grandparents. Ten children were born to Joseph and Orpha (Sweet) Stafford, some of whom came to Sangamon County, Ill., where they married and identified themselves with other old families, and the name of Stafford frequently appears on important papers and in valuable records, there being at that time many prominent representatives of the family. Caleb Stafford, father of Mrs. priest, was born June 22, 1789, and in 1804, accompanied his parents to Essex County, N.Y. He later served in the War of 1812, married Rebecca Eggleston, and in 1836 came with his family to Illinois. He died May 7, 1855, and his wife in 1843.
To John W. and Lucinda M. (Stafford) Priest four children were born, namely: Olive, was married, in 1867, to George C. Latham, a representative of one of the prominent old families of Springfield; Mary E., who is the widow of Silas Wright Currier; two others, John Orson and Emma Rebecca, died in infancy. Mr. priest was married in 1853, to Catherine Wright, of Hopkinton, St. Lawrence County, N.Y., who died in 1875. In 1878, he was married to the estimable lady who survives him, Mrs. Pheobe Eggleston, a resident of Springfield.
For many years Mr. priest was an active and useful citizen, accepting the responsibilities of public life and performing the duties pertaining to them with the faithfulness of a man of high ideals and pure motives. He was long a member of the School Board and at various times was President of that body, his daughter, now Mrs. Mary P. Currier, having received a diploma which was signed by her father. For several years, at different times, he served as Alderman, and in 1856-58, and again in 1870 and '71, served as Mayor of the city. It was during his incumbency of the later office, that many city utilities were installed, and through his personal effort city bonds were sold in New York that enabled important public improvements to be made. His name is indissolubly connected with the history of street paving and the installation of the city water works, and for a number of years he was President of the latter company. In all his public spirited efforts, he was apparently inspired by no idea except the advancement of the general welfare and the establishing of laws and methods that would be of perpetual value. In this way the influence of his beneficial life continues long after he has passed from the scene of life.