George Babcock, 1866

by Nicholaus Harwick

            George Babcock was born in Wales, Massachusetts, on March 30, 1812. In 1844, he and his brother Elijah (1803-1885) came west, reaching St. Louis early in the year. There they were informed by merchants that there was a good opening for the mercantile business at Oquawka, so they came up the river to that point.  They were not satisfied with the prospects there and arrived in Monmouth on May 1. Elijah's wife and son, Draper, joined them later in the year.[1] The date of George’s birth is not confirmed, though the census reports of 1850 all the way to 1890 say that he was born around 1815.[2]

            They were among the founders of the Baptist Church in Monmouth, the first meetings being held in a room above their store.

            George Babcock married three times. His first marriage was to Mary Jane Grant, on January 4, 1844; she died after 1850. When he married Emily F. Henry on February 9, 1854, he gave the children to the care of his brother-in-law and business partner, W. A. Grant. When Emily died in February of 1858, the following notice appeared in the Review:

On Saturday last, after a short illness, Emily F, consort of George Babcock, and daughter of Wm. Y. and Lucinda Henry, aged 26 years. An impressive funeral discourse was preached at the Baptist Church, by the Rev. Mr. Linell, after which her remains were followed to the grave by a very large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. She was respected and esteemed by all who knew her for her kind and amiable disposition and leaves behind an affectionate husband and tender parents to mourn her sudden demise.

           Ellen Jane Kirkpatrick became George's wife on May 9, 1859. The year that they were married is another discrepancy within the obituary because the Illinois marriage records said that they were married on the same day, but one year prior.[3] She was born in Perry county, Pennsylvania, March 11, 1832, and came to Monmouth with her father, Alexander in 1855.[4] George and Ellen had three children together: Minnie (1861), Jessie (1863), and Fred (1867). Ellen was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and also one of the charter members of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Monmouth. She welcomed into her family the children from George's first marriage.[5]  

            When Babcock moved to Monmouth, Elijah and George rented a room from Daniel McNeil, Jr., in the building on where the City Hall is now located. Then the Babcock’s had a prosperous working business. George was a silent partner in the firm until 1851 when he retired and went into business for himself running a general store.[6] Babcock and Grant was the name of their store where they sold such items as clothes, cassimere, flannels, and yarn. They often advertised in the Monmouth Atlas: “This is the only place in Monmouth where these goods are kept.”[7] His store was one of the few to escape destruction in the fire of May 9, 1871. The Babcock’s built two homes: one home was built before the Civil War and was torn down in 1971 and the other home was built on the south side of the 200 block on East Broadway, where the Methodist Sunday School building now stands. One of the homes was occupied by William Laferty and that was where Mr. Laferty entertained Abraham Lincoln when he was in Monmouth in 1858. In years to come, Draper Babcock, son of Elijah Babcock, had bought the estate from the Butler’s. Draper put up enough money to finance the Butler family’s trip to the Willamette Valley in the Oregon Territory and start the town of Monmouth, Oregon; then they later helped found what was called Monmouth University.[8] 

            George Babcock was one of the early pioneers of Monmouth; following the death of Daniel McNeil, a group of men wanted to promote good fellowship and keep alive the memories of pioneer citizens who had been connected with the building and growth of two counties.[9] This organization was called the Old Settlers Organization. Babcock was appointed to the committee to find people that fit this profile.  This was George Babcock’s first involvement with the community. Next in 1849, Babcock was named the County Treasurer, a position he kept through 1853.[10] George took about twelve years away from politics until he decided to run for Mayor in 1866. He continued to work as a merchant even when he was in office.[11]

            He served as alderman in 1864. When he became mayor, W. A. Grant became city treasurer.

           George Babcock ran for the Republican Party and was elected mayor in 1866, defeating Jay W. Crawford by 142 votes. The polls came in at the East ward: Babcock 207 to Crawford’s 146, and in the west ward Babcock tallied 186 votes to Crawford’s 105.[12] His staff consisted of Joseph W. Berger as clerk, A. G. Pierce as collector, William A. Grant as treasurer, Charles Jamieson as attorney, and his alderman were Joseph K. Russell, James Cunningham, DeWitt C. Brady, and Benjamin J. Beecher.[13] One of the first orders of business was preparing for Asiatic Cholera for the approaching summer. “They called for a report from the Board of Health for publication so it will benefit and give knowledge to the public at large.  Cleanliness was the key in containing and eliminating this disease. They asked for people to disinfect their houses and cesspools with fresh chloride of lime. The next order of business for Babcock took flight at the city council meeting on June 4th.”[14] “The Messrs Clark & Co. was asking for privilege of moving their building on or near the south-east corner of the public square, for six weeks, more or less, which was granted.  Also, a communication from the Board of Health was read and, on motion, ordered that the Board of Health will without delay cause quarantine regulations to be enforced within five miles of the city limits and they are hereby authorized to abate any and every nuisance which may endanger the health of the people within five miles of the city limits.”[15] This motion shows that the Cholera disease was on the minds of the people of the town and they wanted protection in any way possible against it. 

            George Babcock was involved in the making of new city ordinances. One ordinance was that in all cases when any person or persons shall be adjudged to pay any fine, penalty, or forfeiture for the breach of any ordinance of the said city of Monmouth, it shall be lawful for the Police Magistrate or other court before whom the same may be tried, to direct that such offender shall be committed to the County Jail of Warren County, Illinois, until such price, forfeiture or penalty and costs are paid, or until such offender or offenders are otherwise discharged by due process of law. The other ordinance that was passed for the following section was that one mile from and beyond the limits of said city, as the same has been and is now established by law, and every breach thereof committed by any persons within the limits; such person on conviction shall be subject to all penalties, fines and forfeitures provided for under the provisions of the ordinance to which this is an amendment.[16] 

            Monmouth in this time was still in need of construction for the city to be safer. For instance, a petition was presented and signed for a sidewalk in front of lots 1, 2, 3 and 4, block 22, south side of West Broadway, which was in turn granted. Also that a for those sidewalks be laid of a 2 inch plank, laid lengthwise, 6 feet wide, 4x4 in., hardwood stringers in front of those lots.[17] This same format was to be used on the west side of Water Street, running north to the north side of Reno Street, then east on the north side of Reno Street to Centre or Berwick Street, then Berwick Street to the Cemetery. Sidewalks were in constant construction in 1866 as the roads were built so that walkers would have safe paths to walk and the ladies had a way to keep their dresses from getting dirty. There were many more sidewalks being formed around the town besides these during Babcock’s term of mayor: “An alley was to be opened up twelve feet in width on the line of lots from North to South of block four, Haley’s addition.[18] Sidewalks were being built on the north side of Warren Street, from east side of Pine Street to the southwest corner of block three, Webster and Holloway’s Addition.”[19] Sidewalks were being built all over the town, other areas included the west side of College Street, commencing on Broadway and running south to the south side of Warren Street.[20] Sidewalks on Wood Street and West Avenue were also included.  In the latter parts of Babcock’s term as mayor, an outbreak of fires seemed to be happening around the city so in February, “the city orders to the amount of twenty five hundred dollars bearing at ten per cent. Interest payable in one and two years; be issued for the purpose of procuring a fire engine, hooks, ladders and buckets.”[21] This was done in order to help solve the problem when fires break out and to better equip the town when in need. 

            Another matter that caught the public’s eye had to do with the public schools. It was said that the schools were overflowing with children, which in one sense was good, but for Monmouth it was a problem.  They had very small classrooms for the number of students they were taking in. There were a total of 847 pupils in Monmouth and in the west ward there were two rooms, one of them containing eighty-five students and in the other room contained ninety-eight.[22] This has been a problem in past years and the city was working on alternatives for fixing this matter. Meanwhile, Monmouth College had no problem of overcrowding and was in the process of expanding. “The semi-annual report of President Wallace gave the number of students in the Collegiate Department as one hundred and sixty-nine and in the Academic Department at one hundred and forty-four, making a total of three hundred and thirteen.”[23]

            A protest was held on September 28th, 1866, concerning the removal of John Turnbull from the post office: the “people of this entire community have a deep and abiding interest and the management of the affairs and business of the office by that gallant soldier.” The people also stated, “That there could not be found in the entire county a sneak thief mean enough to steal a Post office from a wounded soldier.”  The committee appointed to dealing with this matter responded by saying that they thought the way the Post office dealt with the matter was underhanded trickery and improper management mainly due to William H. Pierce.[24] 

            After Babcock ended his term as mayor, he stayed with his job as an owner of a department store. He did run for re-election in 1867, but was defeated by John M. Turnbull. Babcock won the East Ward by two votes, but was severely beaten in the West Ward by 110 votes.[25] 

        He devoted his life to his general store, and to his large family. His son James died in 1868. Pallas married Thomas Johnston, Jr, June 24, 1865; Effie married R. M. Campbell, November 30, 1871; and Jessie married Silas Porter, April 6, 1887. George was one of the founders of the Old Settlers' Association, but otherwise was barely mentioned in the 1877 and 1886 county histories.

His wife died in the morning of January 28, 1899, at her home, 206 East Broadway. She had been an invalid for some five years, but her last illness was for a week, and was due to the flu. Her funeral was conducted at her home and she was buried in the Monmouth Cemetery.[26] George Babcock died on Tuesday, September 20, 1903. His death was unexpected when he died in his home on 205 East Broadway. He had walked to the dining room for supper and then walked back to his own room. Shortly afterwards he seemed to have difficulty in breathing and the passed away. His funeral was also conducted in his home and he, too, was buried in the Monmouth Cemetery.[27] 

He had four surviving daughters: Pallas (Mrs. Thomas Johnson of Omaha), Effie (Mrs. R. M. Campbell of Peoria), Jessie (Mrs. Silas Porter of Kansas City, Kansas), and Minnie, who never married. Fred Babcock of Omaha attended the funeral.

         George Babcock was a beloved man of the town of Monmouth. He was one of the first settlers in this town and was respected widely throughout the community. His department store was well known and was in the newspaper nearly every week posting and advertisement. He was politically involved with the town towards the middle part of his life and led a very normal life after he was finished with his term as Mayor of Monmouth, Illinois. 

Nicholaus Harwick wrote this biography for his historiography class at Monmouth College in the fall of 2005 under the direction of William Urban. 

[1] Monmouth Obituaries, Warren County Illinois Genealogical Society, Early newspapers April 2, 1903-31; volume 7, p. 46; the census of 1850 lists George Babcock as a merchant worth $1200, Mary J, his wife, 26, born in Ohio, children born in Illinois: daughter Pallas, 6, James 4, Effie 2. Living next door were his parents: James Babcock, 74 (Aug 12, 1776-Feb 10, 1853), born in Rhode Island, Phila, 67 (March 11, 1783-Dec 25, 1854), and sister Sarah 43 (still alive in 1874), and George Fay. Also Portrait and Biographical Album of Warren County, Illinois (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1886), 221, and Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois (Chicago: Kett, 1877), 122; In the census of 1860 Pallas, James and Effie were living in the home of W. A. Grant; in the census of 1870 they were living with George and Ellen.




[5] Moffits Obituaries, Warren County Illinois Genealogical Society, Early newspapers July 1897-1902; volume 7, p.33-34; the census of (27 July) 1860 lists him as worth $15,000 in real property, $15,000 in personal property, his wife Ellen J as 27, and daughter Emily aged three months; also living with them was a lawyer, A. G. Kirkpatrick, his wife and a domestic servant; in 1880 the census has children Minnie, 19, Jessie 17, and Fred 13.

[6] Ralph Eckley, “The Babcocks of Monmouth,” WCIGS, book 28, volume1.

[7] Monmouth Atlas: March 2, 1866. 

[8] Ralph Eckley, “The Babcocks of Monmouth,” WCIGS, book 28, volume1.

[9] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County, Illinois (Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1927), Volume I, p. 282.

[10] H&BRM&WCI, II, 290.

[11]; Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois, 221; July 21, 1852, he purchased from Ivory Quinby lot 2 on block 12 (se corner of Archer and lst), a residential property that had belonged to Nicholas Earp before the city foreclosed on it for failure to pay court fines; he sold that property August 25, 1856.

[12] The Monmouth Atlas: (April 6, 1866), p.3.

[13] Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County, Illinois, Volume I, p.228.

[14] K. S. Crawford, “Board of Health Proceedings,” The Monmouth Atlas (April 13, 1866), p.3.

[15] The Monmouth Atlas: (June 8, 1866), p. 3.

[16] The Monmouth Atlas: (June 15, 1866), p. 3.

[17] The Monmouth Atlas: (June 22, 1866), p. 3.

[18] The Monmouth Atlas: (Oct 3, 1866), p. 3.

[19] The Monmouth Atlas: (Sept 7, 1866), p. 3.

[20]The Monmouth Atlas: (Nov 9, 1866), p. 3.

[21] The Monmouth Atlas: (Feb. 8, 1867), p. 3.

[22] The Monmouth Atlas: (Sept 14, 1866), p. 3.

 [23] The Monmouth Atlas: (Dec. 28, 1866), p. 3.

[24] The Monmouth Atlas: (Oct. 3, 1866), p. 3.

[25] The Monmouth Atlas: (April 5, 1867), p. 3.

[26] Moffits Obituaries, Warren County Illinois Genealogical Society, Early newspapers July 1897-1902; volume 7, p.33-34.

[27] Monmouth Obituaries, Warren County Illinois Genealogical Society, Early newspapers April 2, 1903-31; volume 7, p. 46; the census of 1900 lists him living with his daughter Mary, aged 40, one servant and two boarders.