Biography - Robert McWilliams

MAJ. ROBERT McWILLIAMS. There is an inspiration in the history of a successful man, whose aims and ambitions have been high, both to the youth who is struggling with adversity, and to serene maturity, who looks back with complacency over the experience of years fought perhaps with parallel difficulties and parallel successes. These histories have a tonic effect, that is wholesome to all classes and conditions. Our subject, Maj. Robert McWilliams, is one who, gifted only with a sturdy constitution and an indomitable and persistent will, has made malleable the adverse circumstances of life and molded therefrom gracious success.
Maj. McWilliams is a native of Dalton, Ohio, where he was born on the 12th of March, 1830. When a mere lad he was thrown upon his own resources and became an apprentice, when in his sixteenth year, to a tailor in his native town. A year, however, sufficed his ambition in this direction and he ran away and started into business in the tailoring line for himself in Bloomfield, Ohio. His restive nature, however, could not long endure such confinement, and he was beginning to keenly feel his lack of education.
To feel his need of an education was with our subject to begin to rectify that wrong. By close personal application he prepared himself for college at Hayesville, Ohio, and by constant study he soon attained a high place in the school. He then embarked as a teacher, and with his earnings from this source was enabled to prosecute his studies in the law, to which he had given his allegiance. He entered the office of Messrs. James Mathews and William Stone, at Coshocton, Ohio. Here he studied summers and taught during the winters in order to defray his expenses.
After being admitted to the Bar at Akron, Ohio, our subject cast about for a place where his knowledge of Blackstone and legal acumen would be appreciated. He settled upon Sullivan, Ill., and there remained for eighteen months, probably developing more patience than practice during the time. Thence he removed to Shelbyville. Our subject's first partnership was formed with Mr. Anthony Thornton, of Shelbyville, during which time they enjoyed the most practice in the county. The future looked very promising to the young man.
At this period in our subject's history, the country was in the throes of internecine conflict, and the young man, with all the ardor of his nature, threw personal prospects to the wind, assumed the paraphernalia of a soldier and advanced to the front. On first closing his law office at Hillsboro, in the spring of 1862, Robert McWilliams set to work to influence enlistments, and in a short time was the happy instrument of organizing three companies of infantry, who rendezvoused at a place named in honor of our subject Camp McWilliams. On the organization of Company B, which afterward formed part of the One Hundred and Seventeenth Illinois Infantry, commanded by Col. Risdon Moore, Mr. McWilliams was elected Captain of this company and proceeded with his regiment shortly after to Memphis, Tenn. There the regiment remained until January, 1864. It was subsequently sent to Meridian, Miss., and from that point was placed on transports for the purpose of accompanying Gen. Banks on his famous expedition up Red River. The object of this expedition having been accomplished, the One Hundred and Seventeenth was ordered to return to Memphis, and at this place our subject was commissioned as Major of his regiment.
During the service following the advancement of Capt. McWilliams to the position of Major, he was ordered to Tupelo and Oxford, Miss., thence to St. Louis, Mo., and from that place to Tennessee, where his regiment took part in the battle of Nashville. From the latter point the regiment was ordered to Eastport, Miss. At the last-named place Maj. McWilliams tendered his resignation, which was accepted, and he returned to Montgomery County, this State, where he resumed his practice. Elsewhere a more detailed account of the Major's military experience has been given, and we will consequently confine ourselves more to his civil service.
At the present time, Maj. McWilliams is ably assisted in his legal work by his son, who is an efficient partner, inheriting much of his father's brilliancy and legal acumen. The Major has enjoyed association with many distinguished legal contemporaries. At different times he has been a co-partner with the following gentlemen, whose records are well known throughout the State: James Sturgess, George A. Talley and Judge Lewis Allen. For a number of terms Maj. McWilliams has been City Attorney, and from 1878 until 1880 served as Master in Chancery, and was elected on the Republican ticket to the Legislature of the State of Illinois.
The gentleman of whom we write has been interested in all the progressive movements that have effected the town of his residence. He was one of the original stockholders of the Litchfield Car Company, and also in the Litchfield Gas and Coal-oil Company. Later, he became identified with the Coal and Electric Light and Power Company, and also in the Water Supply Company. He is considered one of the financial mainstays of the city, and for a long time has been a Director of the Beach, Davis & Co.'s Bank. Many of the more conspicuous improvements in the city in the building line are directly traceable to him. He has dealt largely in real estate, and while so interested was for several years a partner of D. O. Settlemire. Maj. McWilliams' name appears in connection with all prominent affairs of his county. He has been a very energetic member of the Litchfield Agricultural Society for some time. Socially, he is a Royal Arch member of the Masonic order. In his religious views he has identified himself with the Presbyterian Church.
Our subject has been ably seconded in all his private and public enterprises by the encouragement of his wife, to whom he was united in matrimony on the 18th of October, 1865. She was a Miss Mary Allen, daughter of Benjamin Allen, Esq., of Litchfield. The three children that have graced their home are named as follows: Ben, Grace and Paul. The first-named is, as above stated, a partner in his father's law office, while the younger son is a clerk in Litchfield. Ben McWilliams is at the present time serving as City Attorney, to which office he was appointed for the third term in April of 1892. Grace is an accomplished musician and a talented young lady and resides with her parents. The young lawyer whose prospects are so bright is a native of Montgomery County, where he was born December 27, 1866. He finished his education at the State University at Champaign, whither he went from the college at Jacksonville. After his university career he read law with his father, and was then in the office of Leonard Swett, of Chicago, for a little over two years. While there he attended the Union College Law School, and in 1888 captured the degree of LL. B., when he located in this city and has since been connected with his father. He is now a member of the Litchfield Library Board, having been appointed to this position by the City Council. The Major is a stalwart Republican, always found at his post in support of the principles promulgated by the party, which are always embodied in their platform.

Extracted 10 Jan 2017 by Norma Hass from 1892 Portrait and Biographical Record of Montgomery and Bond Counties, Illinois, pages 380-381.

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