HON. BEN F. CALDWELL. - An enumeration of the men of the present generation who have won honor and fame for themselves and have at the same time honored the state to which they belong would be incomplete were there failure to make prominent reference to him whose name initiates this review. Recently elected a member of congress, he is also entitled to public recognition as a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families of Sangamon County, and because he has been an active factor in business circles, so directing his energies that while they have advanced his individual prosperity they have also contributed to general progress and welfare.
The ancestry of the family is Scotch-Irish, for while the name is certainly Scotch, Thomas Caldwell, the great-grandfather of our subject, was a native of the Emerald Isle, whence he emigrated to the new world while this country was still numbered among the colonial possessions of Great Britain. Ere leaving Ireland, however, he had married Betsy Harris, a Welsh lady, and with a hope of bettering their financial condition in the new world they crossed the Atlantic. They first settled in Virginia and ultimately became residents of Jessamine county, Kentucky, spending their last days in the home of their son, William, who had been born December 15, 1779, during the residence of his parents in the Old Dominion. William Caldwell became a man of more than ordinary ability and had marked influence in public affairs. Many times he was called to serve in important public positions, and aside from his service in the office of sheriff of Jessamine county he several times represented his district in the state legislature, leaving the impress of his individuality upon the laws enacted during that period. On leaving that state in 1831 he took up his abode in Greene county, Illinois, and five years later came to Sangamon County, establishing his home in Auburn township, although later he removed to Curran township. This was during the pioneer period in the history of the county. For about eight years he resided within its borders, and his labors were a material factor in laying broad and deep the foundation for the present progress and prosperity of this portion of the state. For several years he carried on farming and at the same time he labored earnestly for the welfare of the community. He represented Sangamon county in the general assembly for one term, and patriotism was one of his salient characteristics. When in Kentucky he had served as captain of a company raised in Jessamine county for service in the war of 1812. During the battle of the River Raisin his hat and clothing were pierced by four bullets and his escape from death was remarkable. As there was no building suitable for divine worship in Curran township at the time of his arrival, he erected his own home so that it might serve that purpose, building a house which had a large central room, around which were three other large rooms opening into it, and before his death plans were made for the building of a church, which he requested should be called Bethel, and this request was carried out. In Jessamine county, Kentucky, he had married Nancy Robards, a native of Virginia, and they became the parents of the following named: George L., Jane R., Elizabeth, Charles H., William and John, all of whom are now deceased. The father died August 1, 1844, and the mother, having survived him for fourteen years, also passed away in Curran township, in December, 1858.
John Caldwell, their second son and the father of our subject, was born in Kentucky, January 21, 1807, and when twenty-five years of age became a resident of Greene County, Illinois, where, on the 23d of January, 1834, he was married to Mary J. Davis, who was born near Danville, Kentucky, January 16, 1815. Five children were born to them: William C., the eldest, born in Greene county, Illinois, March 15, 1835, came with his parents to Sangamon county in 1853, and died at Loami on the 3d of June, 1901. Janey, Betsy, and Henry C., are all deceased, and Ben F. completes the family. In April, 1853, John Caldwell, accompanied by his wife and children, took up their abode in this county upon a farm on section 36, Curran township, which had been purchased by his father some years before. To the further development and cultivation of the place the father devoted his energies until his death, which occurred August 1, 1863. Mrs. Caldwell continued to reside upon the farm, living there for some years with her son, and in 1876 they erected a beautiful residence, supplied with all modern equipments and conveniences - one of the finest country seats of central Illinois. The mother died January 4, 1895.
Ben F. Caldwell, born in Greene county, August 2, 1848, was not yet five years of age when is parents removed to this county, within the borders of which he has since made his home. He began his education in the district schools, but the nearness of his home farm to Chatham made it possible for him to continue his studies in the schools of that village. He was but fifteen years of age at his father's death, but soon he became an active factor in business life, relieving his mother of the care and responsibility of much of the business management of the estate, and as the years progressed by careful and judicious investment he was enabled to add largely to his possessions. He conducted the farm which had been his father's property until 1871, and then rented the land, giving his attention to other interests, including real estate dealing in western lands and the loaning of money. He has bought and sold many hundreds of acres of land in Kansas and Missouri, and his enterprise has also connected him with extensive and important business enterprises in Sangamon county. In January, 1878, he established himself in merchandising in Chatham and the following year organized a bank there, being chosen its first president. Both institutions prospered under his capable direction, and other interests owe their successful conduct to his keen foresight, enterprise and discriminating management. He is now president of the Caldwell State Bank at Chatham, having resigned the presidency of the Farmers State Bank of Springfield when he was elected to congress in November, 1898, after a service of thirteen years.
While Mr. Caldwell has controlled important business investments he has also been an active worker in the ranks of the Democratic party and almost from the time he attained his majority he has been recognized as one of its leaders. For two terms he served as a member of the county board of supervisors and during the second term was chairman, although one of its youngest members. No candidate for public office is ever free from partisan attack, and yet few men have in greater degree the political confidence of the public than has Ben F. Caldwell, and this fact was evinced by his election in November, 1902, to represent his district in the council chambers of the nation - called to the office by his fellow citizens, many of whom have known him from boyhood and are familiar with his entire career. He was first elected to the Illinois house of representatives in 1882; to the state senate in 1890; and to congress in 1898, 1900 and 1902.
On the 27th of May, 1873, Mr. Caldwell was united in marriage to Julia F. Cloyd, a daughter of Matthew Cloyd, an old citizen of the county. The wedding journey of the yong people consisted of a trip abroad and after visiting Ireland, Scotland and England, they proceeded to The Netherlands and on to Germany, followed by a visit to the world's exposition in Vienna, Austria. They crossed the Alps into Italy, and one of the pleasant memories of their trip was the audience which was granted them by Pius IX. On their return they visited Geneva, Switzerland and Paris, and from London proceeded to Liverpool, where they embarked for their native land, again reaching the Atlantic coast of the new world October 6, 1873, after an absence of several months. They have two children: Mary Jane, born March 20, 1874, was married May 6, 1901, to ex-Congressman Oscar Turner, of Louisville, Kentucky, who died July 17, 1902, leaving one child, Oscar Turner, Jr., born May 3, 1902. John Harvey Caldwell, born September 9, 1877, was married November 21, 1900, to Miss Laura Blossom Hickox, of Springfield, and they have two children: John Franklin and Katherine Josephine.
While popular in the social life of his own home and that of his friends, mr. Caldwell is also a valued member of various fraternal organizations, including the Masonic and Odd Fellows societies, the Knights of Pythias, the Improved Order of Red Men and the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. With the work that has led to the business and political activity of Sangamon county mr. Caldwell has long been identified. He stands as a type of the progressive American citizen, enterprising in business, interested in the political situation - as every American citizen should be - and defending his position in regard to the latter with the same zeal and earnestness with which he fosters his private business concerns. He is in every sense of the word intensely American.