Jacob Holt, 1858, 1874, 1877


By William Dowling


  In 1855 Jacob H. Holt, his wife, and six children came to Monmouth, Illinois, and purchased a home at 402 East Garden Street, which is now 402 East First Avenue. He had been born in Plattsburg, New York, on December 23, 1803. After many years of service in the New York state governmental system, Holt served as the deputy tax collector of the Plattsburg district when James Polk was president in 1845. This was the start of a political career that would last until Holt left the office of Mayor of the city of Monmouth in 1878.[1]

  Holt=s career in politics started when he represented the district of Plattsburg in the New York state legislature. A member of the Democratic Party, he served a three-year term in the state legislature 1852-1855. The same year Holt and his family traveled to Monmouth. In 1858, Holt was elected as the mayor of Monmouth, defeating George W. Savage on April 9 by a margin of 116 to 66. This election was unique because the opposing parties were not Republicans and Democrats but rather the AUnion ticket@ and the APeople=s Ticket.[2] Although the tickets were changes, the party lines were still firmly drawn the APeople=s ticket@ party loyalties were with the Democratic party and the AUnion Ticket=s@ loyalties were with the Republican party. The two ticket system was created in order to keep all the parties involved in the election and the general public in a generally good frame of mind by avoiding the issue of slavery that at that time was a constant topic among the political debate=s and everyday conversation. Holt=s term in office would last less than a year. He was replaced by Nathaniel Rankin in 1859. Holt would be elected again in 1874 and in 1877.

(The Monmouth Review, April 6, 1877 Vol. 19)

When Holt was elected for his third term as Mayor in 1877, some might believe that this was simply a reelection; however, this is not the case. From the time Holt left office in 1875 after his second term, until his reelection in 1877, there was one man who served as mayor for a little less than a year -- J. S. Dryden. The last election in 1877, once again a decisive victory for the Apeople=s ticket,@ this meant that the Democratic party had once again taken control of the city government. Holt won this election by receiving the majority of the votes from the three city wards. In the West ward, Holt had the majority of the votes at 164, Dr. Gilbert had 85 votes and C. D. Shoemaker had 64 votes. In the East Ward, Holt gained the majority once again with 153 votes, Gilbert 124 votes, and Shoemaker 17 votes. In the South Ward, Holt for the third and final time took the majority with 55 votes, Gilbert 33 votes, and Shoemaker 43 votes.

With all three wards reporting Holt as the majority winner, he was elected into office for his third non-consecutive term as mayor.[3] Although his political career had come to an end in 1878, the people of Monmouth always referred to him afterward as one of the best mayors Monmouth ever had. He always had the interest of the city and its people at heart, and that he strived for their fulfillment.[4] Jacob Holt died on September 13, 1880, at the age of seventy-eight. The funeral was conducted at the family home on East First Avenue by R. C. Matthews, the pastor of the Presbyterian church. Holt was buried with Masonic Honors from the lodges of the city of Monmouth. Due to his military background, the remains were escorted to the cemetery by a Marine Corps Band.

Holt=s oldest son Alexander served in the United States Army during the Civil War. His first assignment was as a Second Lieutenant of Company G of the first Cavalry of Illinois. He received his rank of Lieutenant on July 5, 1861, and mustered out of the cavalry on July 14, 1862. The First Cavalry Regiment was commanded by Colonel Henry D. May, Major David P. Jenkins, Major Christopher A. Morgan, and Major Edward Wright. This cavalry regiment was organized into seven companies in 1861 and was mustered into the service of the U.S. army on July 3, 1861, in Alton, Illinois.[5] Alex would then serve another tour of duty as a Lieutenant Colonel of the 138th Illinois Volunteers. The 138th Illinois Volunteers was one the 100 days= Infantry Units. The 100 days= Units were used by the Union Army to suppress Confederate raiders from the South. These units did not require an extensive amount of military training in order to repel the raiders coming up from the southern states. This made it possible for the Union Army to utilize their more experienced units more effectively. The 100 days= Units made it possible for the more experienced and better trained units to remain on the front lines of the war, instead of using them as border patrol. He received the rank of Lt. Colonel on June 21, 1864, and mustered out of the infantry unit on October 14, 1864.[6] To be mustered out of a military unit during the Civil War meant that he was discharged from military service. The 138th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized at Camp Wood in Quincy, Illinois and the regiment was mustered into military service on June 21, 1864. The regiment was then moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was ordered to guard the fort at all costs. The regiment was commanded by three different officers: Colonel John W. Goodwin, Lt. Colonel Alexander H. Holt, and Major John Tunison.[7]

The house that the Holts resided in would eventually become known as the Holt House, which is where the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for women would be founded in April of 1867. The female fraternity began when two of the founding members, Ada Breun and Libbie Brook, rented the upstairs southwest bedroom from the Holts while they attended Monmouth College.[8] The girls were renting a room from the Holts during their time at Monmouth College because at that time, due to the small size of the campus, all the students who attended the college resided with families in town.


The Pi Beta Phi women=s fraternity had twelve founding members: Ina Smith Soule, Fannie Whitenack Libby, Clara Brownlee Hutchinson, Libbie Brook Gaddis, Emma Brownlee Kilgore, Maggie Campbell, Ada Breun Grier, Rose Moore, Jennie Horne Turnbull, Fannie Thompson, Nancy Black Wallace, and Jennie Nicol. Pi Beta Phi, which was also known as I.C. Sorosis, was the first and eventually the largest women=s fraternity in the country. In 1874, the Monmouth College Senate passed a resolution banning secret societies on the Monmouth campus. As a result of this Pi Beta Phi, along with the rest of the Greek letter organizations, as they were known at the time, ceased to exist on the Monmouth Campus. Eventually on May 24, 1928, the Monmouth College Senate reversed its stand on the Greek organizations and the Alpha Chapter of Pi Beta Phi was restored.[9]

The Holt family came to the United States in the 1600's from England when Nicholas Holt traveled from Ramsey, England, to Andover in Essex County in Massachusetts. Nicholas was born in 1602 in England and married Elizabeth Short in 1624. They had two children: Henry, born in 1645 in Andover, Massachusetts, and Elizabeth, who was born on the thirtieth of March, 1836, in Newbury, Massachusetts. Henry would marry Sarah Ballard on the twenty-fourth of February 1669 in Andover. The Holt family name would be carried on for numerous generations in the Northeastern United States until Jacob Holt moved his family from New York to Illinois in 1855. Henry and Sarah Holt would have two children of their own. James was born on the third of September, 1675, in Andover, Massachusetts, and his brother George was born on the seventeenth of March, 1677, in Andover as well. From this point on it becomes difficult to trace the Holt family name all the way to the mayor of Monmouth, Illinois, because both George and Henry Holt would eventually have multiple sons and they in turn had several sons. However, the task becomes easier when Holt=s father=s name comes into the picture. Holt=s father was Barzillai Holt. Because this was a relatively uncommon name and since it survived through several generations of the Holt family in New England, it made the tracing of Holt=s family history a little bit easier. If one were to follow the family line through George Holt the family line would only continue for approximately one generation with George=s only son Elias Holt born on the sixteenth of January, 1716. Elias was the only son that George would have even though he would be married three times. However, Elias died several days after he was bon in 1716 the causes of his death are not specific only that he is believed to have died due to complications from birth. He married Elizabeth Farnham in May of 1698 and then after her death on the twenty-eighth of September, 1714, George would remarry less than one year later. On February, twenty-second, 1715, George Holt would marry Priscilla Preston. George would marry for a third time in 1716. On the twenty-ninth of January 1716, both Priscilla, George=s second wife and their son Elias died. Priscilla is believed to have died due to complications caused by child birth. George would marry for the third time in June of the same year to Mary Bixby. Unfortunately for the Holt family of New England, that particular limb of the family tree would end with George Holt upon his death on the twenty-ninth of June, 1748, in Windham, Connecticut.[10]

If one were following the family tree of Henry and Sarah=s eldest son James, it is through this side of the family where one might eventually discover the background to one of Monmouth=s most prominent citizens from 1855 until his death in 1880. The family name came from James Holt, who was born in 1675. He married Mary McEntire and they would have two sons: Zerviah the oldest of the two was born in 1712 in Andover, Massachusetts and the younger of the two, Barzillai, was born on the twenty-fifth of October, 1715, in Andover as well. From this point on when discussing the family history of the Holt=s who came to Illinois the name Barzillai will be present in almost every generation up to Jacob Holt=s father in 1773. In order to track the Holt=s family history to the point where Jacob H. Holt comes into the picture, it is best to follow the descendants of Barzillai the son of James Holt and Susannah Preston. Together James would have seven children: Zerviah, Barzillai, Abigail, James, Rhoda, Abigail, and Bridget. Barzillai the fourth eldest child would eventually marry Elizabeth Goss in August of 1738 and have eight children. Barzillai and Elizabeth would be the first of the family to leave Andover and settle in Marlboro, Massachusetts, in Worcester County.

Their second oldest of the eight children, Barzillai Holt was born on the twelfth of May 1745. The second generation carrying the name of Barzillai would eventually marry Lucy Williams in 1764. They would move from Marlboro to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, in Worcester County. Their oldest son was Barzillai Holt, born on the thirtieth of January, 1773. Barzillai, the third generation Holt to carry the same first name, would eventually marry Jane Hollenbeck in 1792. Their second eldest son was Jacob Hollenbeck Holt, born on the twenty-third of December, 1803, in Plattsburg, New York.[11] Jacob H. Holt had five brothers and sisters: James Bennett Holt born in 1800, John Williams Holt born in 1805, Lucy Susan Holt born in 1807, Marvil Emily Holt born in 1810, and Adeline A. Holt born in 1813. James was born in Glen Mary, Massachusetts, while the other five children were born in Plattsburg.

Holt would marry Sarah Grant Hollenbeck in 1822 in Plattsburg, New York. They would live there until, in the decline of Holt=s political career in New York on the State Legislature, moved to Monmouth, Illinois in 1855, with their six children . Sarah Holt died only four years after the family arrived in Monmouth on October twenty-fourth, 1859, of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-nine. When his wife died, Holt and his children, Alex H. Holt, 21, Josephine M. Holt ,19, Adeline P. Holt ,16, Margaret J. Holt ,13, Frances P. Holt ,11, Caroline C. Holt, 7, and Susan E. Holt ,1 ,[12] were left to depend on one another to make up for the loss of Sarah. Holt would continue his career as a politician in Illinois when he ran for mayor in 1858 and was elected to the first of his three non-consecutive terms as mayor.


(Death schedule, U.S. Federal Census Schedules, 1850)

Eventually, the Holt family would begin to decline when the youngest of the original Holt family, Susan, who was born in Monmouth just three years after the family arrived in the area, died and was buried the week of March 22, 1844. Jacob Holt, was one of the few mayors in the history of Monmouth, Illinois, to serve multiple terms in the city government. Holt lived through part of the most historically active period of the United States, to be able to live during the time in which the country was beginning to get up and going only to be torn down less than one hundred years after its creation by a civil war that lasted almost six years.

Even though the details of Holt=s activities while serving his three terms as mayor are not well-known, there is no doubt that if he had not come to this little Midwestern town in northwestern Illinois, Monmouth would not have developed into what it has become today.

This is proved by looking at one of the city Ordinances that the city council passed during his second term in office. On October, 12, 1874, a city ordinance granted the right of the Western Excelsior Gas Company out of Chicago the right to manufacture and supply the city of Monmouth with gas power. Another ordinance on July, 6, 1874, made it illegal to distribute, trade, sell, or give away any alcoholic drink without a license. Holt also passed several city ordinances that provided or rather allowed for sidewalks around the city to be paved and graded. So in a way without Holt=s work as mayor, there is much that may not be here in town that we take for granted today.


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

[1] Warren County Illinois Genealogical Society, Deaths and Obituaries Extracted from the Moffitt Book, June 1871- July 1886, Vol. 4, p. 21.

[2] Monmouth Review; Friday, April 9, 1858; the use of the AUnion ticket@ and the APeople=s Ticket@ was a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. In order to avoid the issue of slavery at the time, the Union ticket was represented by the Republican party while the people=s ticket was represented by the Democratic party. The Kansas-Nebraska Act stated that the Nebraska Territory be split into two units, Kansas and Nebraska. Whether or not these territories became slave states was decided by Apopular sovereignty.@ In order to avoid labeling of, either the political parties during the elections during this time period as republican or democrat, the Union and People=s tickets were created.

[3] The Monmouth Review, April, 6 1877, Number 19.

[4] Sketches, Deaths, and Obituaries from the Moffitt Book Vol. III, p. 37.

[6] The Past and the Present of Warren County Illinois (Chicago: H.F. Kett & company, 1877).

[7] American Civil War Regimental Records: 138th Illinois Infantry Regiment

[9] Warren County Scrapbook Collection, Volume 3.