James L. Dryden, 1876


by John Hughes 


Having lost an arm in combat and having lost most of his family to disease, James Logue Dryden,[1] the mayor of Monmouth in 1876, was an example of not giving up even when faced with tragedy.  He played a strong role in politics for the better part of the last quarter of the 19th century. Throughout his life he showed a devotion to God and politics by becoming an active member of the religious community in Monmouth and Southern California. By fighting in the Civil War he demonstrated that he was also a good citizen who stood up for what he believed. During his life there were many accomplishments, but also many tragedies. Dryden was an example of what can happen when a person devotes himself to becoming the best he can be. How, despite all the sadness in his life there is still triumph and perseverance. We can see from the beginning of his life to the end that he was a good citizen and a good Christian.

James Dryden was born on July 30, 1840, in Miami County, Ohio.[2] His father was named James and his mother Mary. His family lived in Ohio for six years during which time his father was a laborer and his mother kept house. The Dryden’s came to Illinois in 1846[3], but it is unknown where they lived or what they were doing at that time.

 He enlisted in the Union army to fight for his country on August 15, 1861, as a musician in the 36th Infantry, Company C. His unit participated in the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia on September 19th, 1863. This was where he was severely wounded in his left arm which was amputated. The battle was a victory for the Confederates and many casualties were incurred in the process of the two day fight. It is unknown what happened to him for the next year, but he was mustered out of the army on October 26th, 1864.[4]

 In this same year he moved to Warren County, Illinois, with his mother, sister Sarah, and brother William. Land records show that they bought a house and lived in Monmouth on Broadway St.[5]

James Dryden was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Monmouth, who showed the community that he was an active member of the church and a good Christian. Because of this he gave $25 in 1867 to help support the Reading Room in Monmouth for two years.[6] Many other citizens were given this amount of money but it never the less shows that he was a trusted member of the community and was well respected. 

 The 1870 Federal Census indicates that James Dryden was living with his mother and sister Sarah in a house on Pine Street (which is today N. C Street).[7] Now he was twenty nine years old and his occupation at the time was Clerk of the Circuit Court of Warren County.[8] The value of his real estate was valued at $1000 and his personal estate was $200. His sister Sarah kept house and took care of their mother Mary. The next year, 1871 on Oct. 12th, he married Frances E. Hill.[9] Frances was born in Monmouth on July 26th, 1850, the daughter of James and Hester Hill.[10]

Throughout this time he was the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Warren County and in April of 1876 he was elected mayor of Monmouth. The first issue that was addressed while he was mayor was an ordinance for anyone who owned a cart, wagon, or other vehicle to have a license, at the cost of one dollar, to regulate the flow of traffic in Monmouth so as not put stress on the roads.[11] The next two ordinances had to do with public drunkenness and the selling of alcohol. The first stated that it was illegal to be drunk in public at any time of the day or night. The penalty was jail time and a fine somewhere between five and fifty dollars. The second forbade selling of any type of alcohol  on Sundays[12]. This included bars and saloons and any other place that sold alcoholic beverages. The penalty in this case was the same fine as public drunkenness and not being allowed to sell alcohol for a period of time that was to be determined by law enforcement. These laws show his strong sense of religion and how it had a large influence in his life. Public drunkenness could have been a serious problem at the time or he did not like the fact that some people were walking around drunk. Of course the law regarding the selling of alcohol on Sundays makes sense. Anyone religious would not like that alcohol is being sold on that day. The next legislation to come about was on December 29th, 1876, an ordinance that extended the sidewalk space in the main square to have more room for pedestrians. Dryden’s last act as mayor was allowing the Burlington, Monmouth, and Illinois Railway Company to build their line from Burlington into Monmouth. The rail line was to come into town on Eagle St. The only stipulation he put in the order was the timely completion of the rail so as not to disrupt people and business in Monmouth[13]. During his time as mayor he only passed five ordinances. But two of them were of a religious nature which matches his character. He carried himself with responsibility at this time and was respected by the other members of the city council. He proved himself to be an able leader and a good politician.

Many events other than becoming mayor happened at this time. Most distressing was the death of his two sons, Ralph and Henry, within a week of each other in March of 1876.[14] The obituary did not say what the cause of death was. Most likely it was measles and lung fever because the obituary of his last daughter, Marian, who was born in 1887 and died eleven months later in 1888,[15] states that she died from those ailments and that all of his children suffered from them at one point. It is not unlikely that this was the cause of death. Later in 1876 he ran for Clerk of Circuit Court again in November and won against George Barbour, the bookkeeper of the Weir Plow Company. [16] Also in this same year, he was named President of the County Sunday School Association.[17] This would again show that religion was important in his life and this demonstrates his status in the community as a trusted and well respected member. Another honor that was bestowed to him in 1877 was being elected as a church elder at the First Presbyterian Church, and he was named the Superintendent of the Sabbath School. [18]

In 1878 his third child, Margaret Loretta, was born. She was the only child to survive to adulthood.[19] She, James, and Frances lived in Monmouth, according to the 1880 Federal Census, taken June 1st of that year. This document states that his job is Attorney General of Idaho at this time. But how could this be? It would be impossible to say he held this position because, most obviously, he was living in Monmouth at the time. The only evidence that supports him being the Attorney General of Idaho is that in June of 1880 he resigned his position as Clerk of the Circuit Court.[20] Since the census is taken on June 1st it is possible that he resigned and took another position and knew he was going to move soon. It could be that he had the title, but did not have to move west. But could he have moved to Idaho after the census was taken? Not likely because in 1881 he and Frances had twin boys who died at childbirth.[21] Then the next documentation of his being in Monmouth is the city directory of 1885 which says that he was a partner for Grier and Dryden Attorneys at Law. Finally, the last piece of evidence of his being in Monmouth was that his daughter, as mentioned before, died of measles and lung fever in 1888. What confuses matters even more is that his obituary said that he took the position of Attorney General of the Montana Territory in 1880. The article also stated he held this position for several years.[22] Overall, what most likely happened is that he accepted a new position but did not move west right away. The documents support his being in Monmouth until 1888.

The census of (June 5) 1900 locates him in Los Angeles, with Francis E, Margaret, and two sons, born in March of 1881. The census-taker's poor handwriting seems to indicate they are named Reg and Rex. A Rex Dryden who fits the family's description was living as a lodger in Portland in 1930, according to the US census.

 Francis died on July 5th, 1910, in Los Angeles, California.[23] Her obituary states that she died at the age of sixty, but more importantly that she was survived by her husband and daughter and a son. The identity of the son is unknown and the daughter is most likely Margaret Loretta. The article also states that the family moved to California around 1890 and their first place of residence was in San Diego, where Francis is buried. This document indicates that at one point in his life Dryden and his family moved west. Obviously because he moved to California he was no longer an Attorney General of any state or territory and he had the means to live in California.

The census of 1920 has him as a widower, the sole lodger of M. Belle Clarke, 61, in San Diego. He was seventy-nine at the time.

The last known documentation of James Dryden is his obituary in the Monmouth Review Atlas, which states he died in San Diego on Monday Nov. 9th, 1925. He was eighty-five at the time and died of natural causes. The article describes his later years in California being spent writing manuscripts for religious and economic books, and that his poor health was noticed by anyone that was close to him. The article also states that he was elected to the California General Assembly in 1897, where he pushed through legislation for a state normal school in San Diego. While later on he was named as the first director of the school and was the secretary of the board.

James Dryden showed that despite what life can dish out, carrying on and being a good person are two important things. Even though he lost his arm and his family James Dryden showed that even though he was deeply affected by these events he still was devoted to God and his church and his civic life. He held office in some capacity in at least two states and was a respected member of whatever community he lived in. Overall he lived a full life that had its share of good and bad events, so that now we know him as a good citizen who was involved in politics and the community for a good portion of his life.


John Hughes wrote this biography in the fall of 2005 for his historiography class under the direction of William Urban

[1] In some documents his name will appear with an S instead of an L. This is because the L will look like an S in cursive. The Warren County Land Records show an L that sometimes appears to be an S.

[2] Warren County History of 1877 (Chicago: H. F. Kett and Co, 1877), p.207.

[3] Ibid., p.207.

[4] Ibid., p.193.

[5] Warren County Land Records: 1860-1870.

[6] Warren County History of 1877, p.133.

[7] Monmouth City Directory of 1870.

[8] Federal Census of Warren County: 1870.

[9] Warren County Marriage Records: 1870-1880.

[10] Warren County History of 1877, p.207; Federal Census of 1860.

[11] City Hall Meeting Minutes file in City Hall of Monmouth records.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Obituary from Monmouth Review Atlas: March 26, 1876.

[15] Ibid., January 2, 1888.

[16] Warren County History of 1877 (Chicago: H. F. Kett and Co, 1877), p. 139.

[17] Ibid., p.136.

[18] 75th Anniversary of First Presbyterian Church of Monmouth, June 1942.

[19] Warren County Birth Records: 1870-1880.

[20] Portrait and Biographical History of Warren County (Chicago: Chapman Bros, 1886), p. 681; http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/driver-dryzga.html lists him as US district attorney for Montana in 1880: Census of 1880 for Warren County has him aged 39, Frances 30, and Marg L 2.

[21] Warren County Death Records: 1880-1890. See below, where the census of 1900 indicates their being alive.

[22] Obituary from Monmouth Review Atlas: November 16th, 1925.

[23] Obituary from Monmouth Review Atlas: July 5th, 1910; a Francis E. Dryden (female), aged 66, was living alone in Los Angeles, according to the 1910 Census (April 20).