Biography of Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips, a distinguished citizen of Lee County, Illinois, was born in County Cavan, Ireland. He emigrated to the United States, landing in New York in July 1851, before moving to Illinois. In 1857, he purchased and developed an 80-acre farm in Viola Township, which he expanded to 160 acres. Phillips married Amelia E. Davenport in 1859, with whom he had two children. After her death, he married Mary E. Harris in 1886. An abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor, Phillips was a committed Republican, casting his first vote for Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Phillips has been a valuable citizen of Lee County for many years, and, although not one of its earliest settlers, is entitled to an honorable place among its pioneers, as during his residence here he has improved one of the best farms in Viola Township, where he has made his home for more than thirty years.

Mr. Phillips is of Irish birth, his native place being in County Cavan, Ireland. His father, George Phillips, was also born in that county, and was the son of another George Phillips who was a native of England. He had gone from there to Ireland in early manhood, and spent the remainder of his life in County Cavan, where he followed farming. He married Sarah Howard, a native of England, whose last years were passed on her husband’s farm on the Emerald Isle. The father of our subject devoted his entire life to farming in his native county. He married Sarah Staddard, a native of the county, and a daughter of James Staddard. Her whole life was passed in County Cavan. The parents of our subject were both devout members of the Episcopal Church, and reared their children in the same faith. They had nine children, of whom seven came to America, namely: Ann, Hannah, Margaret, George, Catherine, Richard, and Sarah. William and Jane remained in Ireland.

Our subject was reared and educated in the land of his nativity, and remained an inmate of the paternal home until he was grown to manhood. Then, in the prime of vigorous, active life, he emigrated to the United States of America, setting sail from Liverpool in the month of May, and landing in New York on our national holiday in the month of July. He proceeded to Westchester County, N.Y., where he was employed on a farm by the month until 1851, when he came to Illinois. He started on his momentous journey on a boat, bound up the Hudson River to Albany, where he embarked on a stage for Schenectady, from there a canal boat conveyed him to Buffalo, whence he voyaged on the Great Lakes to Chicago, thence by canal to La Salle; a stage then took him to his destination in Lamoille, Bureau County. He worked by the month in that place, being employed for nine years by one man, was diligent and faithful, his labors giving satisfaction, and, with characteristic good sense, he saved his earnings that he might become a land-holder in his own right. He continued in the employ of one man until 1857, and then came to Lee County, and the money that he had accumulated went partly to purchase eighty acres of land on section 23, Viola Township, for which he paid $2.50 an acre. When it came into his possession it was a tract of wild prairie, and he did not locate on it until his marriage two years later. He has been a continuous resident here since, and now has one hundred and sixty acres of land, which constitutes one of the best farms of its size in the township of Viola, as its fields are under admirable tillage, and a neat and commodious set of frame buildings have been erected on the place, which is further adorned by beautiful shade and fruit trees planted by Mr. Phillips himself.

Our subject was first married May 2, 1859, to Amelia E. Davenport, a native of Harpersfield, N.Y., and a daughter of Erastus and Pamelia Davenport. They lived together a quarter of a century, and then the tie that bound them was broken by the death of Mrs. Phillips, September 7, 1884. Two children are living, born of that marriage, William and Harry. Mr. Phillips was married to his present estimable wife, formerly Mary E. Harris, February 18, 1886. She was born in Juniata County, Pa., and is a daughter of Alexander Harris, a native of the same county. His father, Thomas Harris, was a blacksmith, and followed that trade in Juniata County, where he spent his last years. The maiden name of his wife was Jane Baty. She was born near Belfast, Ireland. The father of Mrs. Phillips began work with his father at the age of thirteen and was engaged as a blacksmith for upwards of fifty years. In 1871 he came to Illinois, and made his home in La Salle County during the remainder of his life. He married Margaret Kelly, who was born in Franklin County, Pa., and was a daughter of Joseph and Margaret (Kennedy) Kelly. She now resides in Earlville, Ill. One child has been born to our subject and his present wife, who died in infancy.

Mr. Phillips is a man of sterling character and good principles and is well-known for his geniality and kindness of heart. Soon after coming to this country the cause of the slave aroused his warmest sympathies, and he became a pronounced abolitionist. He was one of the conductors on the celebrated “underground railroad” of antebellum days, and helped several fugitives to freedom. He cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln and has been a staunch Republican ever since.


Biographical Publishing Company, Portrait and biographical record of Lee County, Illinois, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, together with biographies of all the governors of the state, and of the presidents of the United States, Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co., 1892.

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