John Wood (governor)

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John Wood
12th Governor Illinois
In office
March 21, 1860 – January 14, 1861
Lieutenant Thomas Marshall
Preceded by William Henry Bissell
Succeeded by Richard Yates
13th Lieutenant Governor Illinois
In office
January 12, 1857 – March 20, 1860
Governor William Henry Bissell
Preceded by Gustav Koerner
Succeeded by Thomas Marshall
Personal details
Born (1798-12-20)December 20, 1798
Sempronius, New York
Died June 4, 1880(1880-06-04) (aged 81)
Quincy, Illinois
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Ann M. Streeter and Mary Ann Holmes
Occupation Farmer, Banker, Businessman, Politician
Religion Congregationalist

John Wood (December 20, 1798 – June 11, 1880) was the 12th Governor of Illinois, serving from March 18, 1860, to January 14, 1861. Wood was a founder and the first settler of Quincy, Illinois.[1]

Wood was born in Sempronius, New York, in the area now known as Moravia. He was the second child and son of Dr. Daniel and Catherine Crause Wood.[2] His mother became estranged from the family when John Wood was five and moved to Palatine, New York. Wood was sent to live with his aunt and uncle, James and Mary Armstrong Wood, in Florida, New York.[3]

On November 2, 1818, Wood moved west from New York to Atlas, Illinois and became a farmer. Here, Wood met Peter Flinn from whom he bought 160 acres (65 ha) of land in the 3.5-million-acre Illinois Military Tract, which Congress had set aside as bounty for volunteers in the War of 1812. Wood moved to his newly acquired land and with Jeremiah Rose built a small, one-room log cabin on the east bank of the Mississippi River at today's Quincy, Illinois. Rose, his wife and their five-year old daughter lived with Wood in the cabin until 1826, when Wood married.

Intending to speculate in land in the Military Tract, Wood arrived at the federal land office in Edwardsville, Illinois, where he met Willard Keyes. Keyes, who had taught French and Indian children at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, for two years had become disenchanted with his profession and disappointed that he had accumulated nothing. Learning Wood had the same idea about speculating in land, Keyes and Wood formed a partnership. They returned to the site on the Mississippi that Keyes had passed a few months earlier. It was a promontory that rose nearly 100 feet above the river, at which the pair would found Quincy, Illinois.

At the land office Wood also met Edward Coles, who would become Illinois' second governor in 1822. Appointed registrar by President James Monroe, the Virginian Coles had released his eleven slaves while on the way to Illinois to take his post.[4] Governor Coles enlisted Wood's help to fight a movement in 1823-24 by the Illinois General Assembly, dominated by immigrants from Southern states, to amend Illinois' constitution to make it a slave state. A statewide referendum failed by a ratio of 57 to 43 percent. In the territory in which John Wood fought the proposal, the plan for a slave constitution was defeated 90 to 10 percent.[5] Wood considered his work to keep Illinois free his life's greatest achievement.

On September 14, 1824, Wood petitioned the Illinois General Assembly to organize Adams County, Illinois and on January 18, 1825, the measure passed. On April 30, 1825, the town of Quincy, Illinois was formed and designated as the county seat.[6]

On January 25, 1826, Wood married Ann M. Streeter of Salem, New York and built a his second dwelling, a two-story log cabin. Wood continued buying land in the Military Tract and sold it at a profit to immigrants who continued arriving in Illinois. With his family growing, Wood in 1835 began construction of a 14-room Greek Revival mansion, the John Wood Mansion, next to his two-story log cabin. Wood's choice of the architectural style was purposeful. The American Revolution fading from memory and the War of 1812 two decades earlier, Wood saw the recent overthrow of the Ottoman Empire by the Greeks, the birthplace of Democracy in 800 A.D., a rebirth of freedom. The Wood home was the first Greek Revival structure in the Midwest.[7] Wood himself turned the four large columns at the front of a house from coffeywood trees he selected on a horse-powered lathe he fabricated.

Wood began construction of the mansion on the northwest side of 12th and State. He found his craftsmen in St. Louis and New Orleans, where he sought men arriving from Germany who were skilled in construction trades. Fluent in German, Wood promised the men lots on the south side of his property on which they could build their homes if they would help Wood build his. The area today is Quincy's German Heritage District.

John Wood was elected to seven one-year terms as mayor of Quincy 1844–1848, 1852–53 and 1856) and to the Illinois state senate in 1850. Earlier a Whig, Wood became a Republican and was elected Illinois' first Republican Lieutenant Governor of Illinois in 1856.[8] When Governor William H. Bissell died on March 18, 1860, Wood became the state's 12th governor. The General Assembly granted Wood's request that he be allowed to remain in Quincy to manage business interests and the construction of his stone octagonal mansion. A room on the south side of his Greek Revival mansion was expanded and became the official governor's office of the State of Illinois. (Wood's absence enabled Abraham Lincoln to use the governor's office in the state capitol building in Springfield during his 1860 presidential campaign and Bissell's widow to continue to live in the new executive mansion.) Wood's greatest achievement in his ten months as governor was the reorganization of the Illinois militia, which had been neglected since the end of the Mexican War. With business interests pressing Wood, he declined his party's request to run for re-election.

Governor Richard Yates appointed Wood one of five Illinois delegates to the failed "Peace Convention" in Washington, D.C., in February 1861. After the start of the Civil War in April, John Wood was named Quartermaster General of the State of Illinois. In 1863, his wife, Ann, died and he married Mary Ann Holmes. He also became colonel of the 137th Illinois that year. In 1864 Wood’s new house was completed and the Greek Revival mansion went to his eldest son, Daniel. The new octagonal house, built at a cost of $200,000, was the most expensive house in Illinois at that time. An economic decline in 1875 cost Wood his fortune and forced him to sell his stone mansion for $40,000 and move back into the mansion he had built four decades earlier.

John Wood died June 4, 1880 in the mansion he built 45 years earlier. He was 81. Wood's body is interred at the Woodland Cemetery in Quincy.[9]

John Wood Community College[10] in Quincy is named after the former Governor.


  1. ^ Old Illinois Houses • John Wood House, Quincy. Retrieved on October 12, 2011.
  2. ^ "The Wood Families of Orange County, NY". Retrieved August 18, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Last Will and Testament of John Weaver, January 14, 1814". Montgomery County NY Will 2. 14 January 1814. 
  4. ^ Leichtle and Carveth, Kurt E. and Bruce G. (2011). Crusade against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-0-8093-3042-3. 
  5. ^ Pease, Theodore Calvin, Ed. (1923). Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848. Springfield, IL: Illinois State Historical Library. pp. 27–29. 
  6. ^ Adams County Information Technology. Retrieved on October 12, 2011.
  7. ^ "Seasonal Tours Spotlight John Wood Mansion". Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  8. ^ The People's History of Quincy and Adams County, IL. Quincy, IL: Jost and Kiefer Printing. 1972. 
  9. ^ Home. Retrieved on October 12, 2011.
  10. ^ Welcome to John Wood Community College. Retrieved on October 12, 2011.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Henry Bissell
Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Richard Yates