-- Biographies--

The Past and Present of Vermilion County, Illinois
The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1903
pages 196-202
Transcribed by Denise Wells
A half century has passed since this gentleman arrived in Danville and he is justly numbered among her honored early settlers and leading citizens. He has been prominently identified with her business interests as a merchant and banker and as the proprietor of many enterprises which have not only advanced his individual success, but have also contributed to the general welfare and prosperity. His is an honorable record of a conscientious man, who by his upright life has won the confidence of all with whom he has come in contact. He has rounded the Psalmist's span of three-score years and ten, and although the snows of several winters have whitened his hair, he has the vigor of a much younger man, and in spirit and interests seems yet in his prime. Old age is not necessarily a synonym of weakness or inactivity. It needs not suggest, as a matter of course, want of occupation or helplessness. There is an old age that is a benediction to all that comes in contact with it, that gives out of its rich stores of learning and experience, and grows stronger intellectually and spiritually as the years pass. Such is the life of Mr. English, an encouragement to his associates and an example well worthy of emulation to the young.
Joseph Gibson English was born in Ohio county, Indiana, near the village of Rising Sun, on the 17th of December, 1820. In the paternal line the ancestry is traced back through several generations to the time of the early settlement of Connecticut, and and [sic] Charles English, the father of our subject, was a native of New Haven, that state. After arriving at years of maturity he married Miss Ann Wright, who was of English nativity. The paternal grandfather removed to Nova Scotia, but subsequently his children returned to the United States and settled in various localities. Charles English became a resident of Ohio county, Indiana, and was there identified with industrial pursuits, engaging in blacksmithing and carpentering. In 1829 he left that locality and became a resident of Perrysville in the Wabash valley.
It was in the latter place that J. G. English largely spent his boyhood days. If the horologe of time could but turn upon the past and we could look at Perrysville as it appeared six or seven decades ago, we would find there a little log schoolhouse such as was usually seen in pioneer districts. It had a puncheon floor and primitive furnishings and among the students was Joseph English, then a little lad, who owes his school training entirely to the privileges found in that "temple of learning." As his parents were in somewhat straightened financial circumstances he early started out to make his own way in the world and from the age of fourteen has depended entirely upon his own efforts for a living. He entered the services of the firm of Taylor & Linton, general merchants of Lafayette, Indiana, with whom he remained for five years. His position was by no means a sinecure for he had to begin work in the early morning light and continue at his tasks until long after dark. On market days, which occurred thrice weekly. E arose between three and four o'clock in the morning to sweep the store and prepare it for the reception of the Dunkard customers, who utilized the early morning hours to make their purchases. Although this seemed rather a hard life for a boy, it developed in Mr. English a self-reliance and force of character that have proved to him of incalculable value in later years. While performing his daily tasks he obtained a good knowledge of mercantile business and was thus qualified to engage in merchandising on his own account at a later day. He received for his services his board and clothing-a little compensation for such long hours of steady work. After he had been with the firm for five years his employers failed and he then obtained a position as clerk in a general store in Perrysville at a salary of forty dollars per month. When three years had passed he found himself in possession of about four hundred dollars for he had made a rule always to save something from his earnings. With this capital he determined to marry and establish a home of his own and was joined in wedlock to Miss Mary Hicks, a native of Perrysville and a representative of an old New England family.
In 1844 Mr. English entered the mercantile field on his own account as a partner of his father-in-law, George Hicks, under the firm style of Hicks & English. The new enterprise met with success from the beginning. They stocked their store with dry good, groceries, produce and grain; they earnestly desired to please their customers and moreover they followed honorable business methods, which would bear the closest investigation and win for them the confidence and therefore the patronage of the public. Business methods were then somewhat different from those of the present day. Merchandise was purchased and sold on a credit of twelve months and the products of the central Mississippi valley were transported to market in New Orleans by way of the river route, for the ear of railroad transportation had not then dawned upon the country. The marketable products of Indiana and Illinois were sent down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and it was thus that the firm of Hicks & English shipped their wheat, corn, pork and other commodities to New Orleans on flatboats, the subject of this review frequently acting as an oarsman on such journeys.
The year 1853 witnessed the arrival of Mr. English in Danville. He sold his store in Perrysville, Indiana, and coming to this city became a partner of John L. Tincher, under the firm name of Tincher & English. Their general store also proved a profitable investment, being successfully conducted until 1856, when the firm became the assignees of the Stock Security Bank, a "wild cat" institution, which was forced into bankruptcy in the early days of the widespread panic of 1866-7. At that time Messrs. Tincher & English disposed of their mercantile affairs in order to give their entire attention to the duties which devolved upon the firm in connection with the bank. While thus engaged they gradually began transacting a brokerage and exchange business, which grew until it had eventually become a private banking enterprise. In February, 1863, the national bank bill passed congress and these gentlemen were among the first to seek a charger and organize a national bank. They established the First National Bank of Danville, which was capitalized for fifty thousand dollars, and Mr. English became the president, continually filling that position until July, 1899, when he resigned. In 1872, after the death of Mr. Tincher, the capital stock was increased to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, where it still remains, with a surplus of over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The success of this institution was assured from the first, because of the reliability of the men at its head, their sound judgment and conservative business methods. Banking institutions are the heart of the commercial body, indicating the healthfulness of the trade, and the bank that follows a safe conservative policy does more to establish public confidence in times of widespread financial depression than anything else. Such a course has the First National Bank of Danville ever followed under the able management of him who was so long its president. It has stood strong in hours of danger, its integrity unquestioned and its course above suspicion.
Mr. English is a man of resourceful business ability, who is not only able to realize the opportunities of the moment but has also looked beyond the exigencies of the present to the possibilities of the future. His labors have been extended into other fields of business activity outside that of banking. He has been one of the heaviest real estate dealers in this section. He has invested largely in farm property and has also platted several additions to the city of Danville. Business enterprise augmenting the commercial activity and consequent prosperity of the city also owe their successful conduct largely to his wise council. For a quarter of a century he has been a member of the board of directors of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad and an enumeration of the business affairs with which he has been associated would be to give in a considerable degree the industrial and commercial history of his adopted city.
After a happy married life of twenty years Mr. English was called upon to mourn the death of his wife in 1864. They had become the parents of seven children: George; Charles L., who is now the president of the First National Bank of Danville; Harriet, who became the wife of William D. Lindsey, who died in July, 1893; Irene J., now the wife of George W. Partlow, of Danville; John T.; Annie Martha, the deceased wife of Tabor Mathers of Jacksonville; and Edward. In 1865 Mr. English was again married, his second union being with Maria L. Partlow, with whom he lived for twenty-one years, when she died in August, 1886. Their children were J. C.; and Otis Hardy, who died in infancy. On the 14th of June, 1899, Mr. English was united in marriage to Mrs. Mary E. Forbes, a native of Danville and a daughter of William Hessey, who was an early settler of this county.
While Mr. English has led a very busy life and his commercial and financial affairs have made constant demands upon his time and attention, he has yet found opportunity to faithfully discharge his duties of citizenship and by his fellow [sic] townsmen he has twice been called to the office of chief executive of Danville. He provided a most capable mayor, his administration being practical and progressive. In 1872 he became a member of the first board of equalization of this state. He has always taken a deep interest in political affairs, yet has never sought or desired political office. On attaining his majority he joined the ranks of the Democratic party, with which he affiliated until 1862, when the Democratic state convention inserted the "peace" plank in its platform and he then renounced his allegiance thereto for he believed in the active prosecution of the war which was to preserve the Union. He then joined the ranks of the Republican party and throughout the period of the Rebellion was a strong supporter of the Union and an advocate of the national administration. In 1863 he had charge of the subscription list for filling the quota of men for the army from Danville and county.
For forty-six years Mr. English has been a member of the Methodist Episcopal church, contributing liberally to its support and taking an active part in its work in its various departments. He is now serving as a member of the board of trustees and for fifteen years he occupied the position of superintendent of the Sunday-school. In 1872 he was elected by the lay delegates of the Illinois conference as a delegate to the general conference of the church, which was held in Brooklyn in that year and has served once since that time in a similar capacity. For many years he was a trustee of the Wesleyan University of Bloomington. His success has come to him through energy, labor and perseverance, directed by an evenly balanced mind and by honorable business principles. From early life he made it his plan to spend less than his income. He has made the most of his opportunities and could never justly be called extravagant unless it was in the line of his benevolences. He is not slow to condemn injustice and dishonesty nor is her slow to reward faithfulness and there is in him a deep sympathy and abiding charity which has won for him the respect and goodwill of his fellow men. He is a man of distinctive ability and his character is one which is above a shadow of reproach. He has been faithful to the high business and political offices in which he has been called to serve and is widely known and respected b those who have been at all familiar with his honorable and useful career.

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