HAY, JOHN, one of the early settlers of Springfield, and the son of Adam Hay, was born in Berkeley County, Va., April 13, 1775, and came of a sturdy race of men. His grandfather was the son of a Scottish soldier who left his own country near the close of the seventeenth century and entered service in the army of the elector of the Palatinate of the German empire.
About the middle of the eighteenth century the grandfather, who was also John Hay, with his four sons, emigrated from Germany to America. The family soon scattered and one son settled in Pennsylvania, where he acquired a considerable estate and filled several important offices. He served as a soldier of the Revolutionary War, attaining the rank of Colonel. His brother Adam went to Virginia. He, as well as his brothers, had received a military training in Europe, and he served with some distinction under General Washington in the War of Independence. He was an acquaintance and friend of the great General, and one of the early recollections of his son John, the subject of this sketch, was of meeting Washington on a country road. The boy was riding behind his father on the same horse when a carriage approached. They turned aside to let it pass, when it halted, and Washington greeting Adam Hay, directed some friendly remarks to the young lad, who was requested by his father to salute General Washington, which order was promptly obeyed. The mother of John Hay was Mary Boyer, who was born in Germany and came to America when a young girl. She has been described as an excellent woman, of independent spirit and strong personality.
John Hay spent his boyhood days in Virginia, but was not satisfied to remain there, believing that he could do better in a newer country. At the age of eighteen, with a small company of Quaker neighbors, he emigrated to Kentucky and took up land in Fayette County, near Lexington, in the heart of the far-famed blue grass region of that State. A few years after settling there, while still young, he was married to Jemima Coulter, an estimable young woman well fitted to be his companion, with whom he lived happily for a period of forty-six years and until her death in Springfield in 1843.
In all Mr. Hay lived in Fayette County, Ky., for thirty-nine years, and in that beautiful garden spot was born his thirteen children, six sons and seven daughters. Although he continuously prospered, he was opposed to negro slavery and, for that reason, was not satisfied to have his family remain in a State where that institution seemed so firmly established. In the fall of 1832, at the age of fifty-seven years, with his wife and eleven of his children, he came to Sangamon County, settling at Springfield, then only an insignificant village, and there he lived and labored for a little more than a third of a century until his passing away in 1865.
On coming to Illinois Mr. Hay brought with him from Kentucky the machinery and other appliances for a cotton gin and the manufacture of cotton goods, but this venture did not prove a profitable one. It is said that the idea prevailed at that early day that cotton could be successfully grown in Illinois. After operating this factory for a year or two, the machinery was taken out and stored in an old shed in the back yard of his home at Second and Jefferson Streets, where it slowly rotted and rusted away. Many years after it was put there, his grandchildren used this dim and cobwebbed storehouse as a place to play, and as they romped among the curious looking things, they often wondered about the use of so many wheels and spindles. For a number of years he and several of his sons engaged in the manufacture of brick. The investments he made in land in Illinois proved in time to be remunerative.
John Hay had the rather unusual distinction, which in that time could only have come to one who had reached a very advanced age, of living through two of the most trying and critical periods of our country's history. He was born just six days before the battle of Lexington, the real and actual beginning of the American Revolution, and lived until the close of the Civil War.
Mr. Hay was a man of great physical power, but quiet and peaceful in manner, and of great strength of will and force of character. He was a true patriot, with firm and fixed principles of a true patriot, with firm and fixed principles of justice and duty. At the outbreak of the Civil War he took a strong stand for the Union, and during the years of that sanguinary conflict was deeply concerned and anxious in regard to the final result. He was a near neighbor and warm personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. When the news of the assassination of the President was received, he was deeply affected, and on the day of the funeral in Springfield, he sat at his window and sorrowfully watched the procession that bore the remains of the martyred President to its resting place. A few weeks later, May 20, 1865, in the ninety-first year of his age, he was called to his final rest.
Very soon after coming to Springfield Mr. Hay and his wife became members of the Baptist church, of which he was a loyal and earnest supporter until the end of his life. Before that little organization had a place of its own in which to worship, his home was open for any of its services. He was one of the three trustees to whom the land was deeded for the site of the first Baptist Church of Springfield. To an unusual degree he enjoyed the respect and even the veneration of his fellow citizens. He was a public spirited man, and was the first to sign the promissory note to the State Bank, which secured the erection of the first State House building on the public square of Springfield. One who knew him well said of him: "His name was a synonym of honor and probity. His long white hair, his compact and powerful form, were for many years a noticeable sight in the streets of the town."
Three of his sons, Charles, Joseph, and Theodore, became physicians; and one, Milton, occupied a leading place as a member of the Illinois Bar. His grandson, the late John Hay, is well known at home and abroad as a diplomat, for nearly seven years and until his death on July 1, 1905, as Secretary of State under Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt. Two grandsons who bear the name of Hay reside in Springfield, Hon. Charles E. hay, and Senator Logan Hay; and another, Nathaniel Hay, lives in Champaign, Ill.