Saturday, March 26, 2011

Normal in McLean County: Who was John McLean?

I seem to always find a couple of books of local interest at the Normal Public Library Book Sale, and this time was no exception. I bought the book Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society 1930, published by the Illinois State Historical Library in 1930. There is an entry by Mrs. Florence Fifer Bohrer, Member Illinois State Senate, about how McLean County got its name: "John McLean and the County that Bears His Name" (pages 150-156).

John McLean was born in North Carolina (a slave state) in 1791 and moved to Kentucky when he was four. His father was a minister and was related to the Ewing family. John moved to Shawneetown in southern Illinois and was admitted to the bar. In 1818 he was elected to Congress as a Democrat and he was pro-slavery. He served until 1824 and then was elected to complete the term of a United States Senator. In 1829 he was serving in the Senate but his health was failing so he returned to Shawneetown where he died at the age of 39.

It sounds like he was very healthy in his younger days, because a neighbor of his said that he would "go to log-rollings, corn-huskings, house-raisings and country frolics" and "he could beat all comers at running, jumping and lifting" (page 153)! It's surprising that he died so young. I guess serving as an elected official takes it toll.

He never came to the area that is now McLean County but it was named in honor of him as suggested by Mr. William Ewing, who happened to be the Speaker of the House when a committee presented him with a petition to create a new county. The county was officially created in December, 1830,  just two months after McLean's death.

At the end, Mrs. Bohrer writes that if John McLean could visit McLean County "today" (1930), he would "be moved by the outward changes which the new industrial and economic order has wrought, the automobile, air-ship, the fine roads and splendid institutions" (page 156). Of course, we take these things for granted, especially the air-ships.

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