William M. Laughlin, justice of the peace at Granville and one of the respected and leading citizens of the village, has been closely identified with its material progress and its community interests. He was born in Bond county, Illinois, July 29, 1826, and is a representative of one of the early families of the new world. During a pioneer epoch in the history of the United States three brothers of the name came from Scotland and two of them settled in Pennsylvania, while one took up his abode in South Carolina.
A grandson of the latter was S. D. Laughlin, father of our subject. He was born in South Carolina and was married in Ohio, after which he came to Illinois, settling in Bond county in the early '20s. His wife bore the maiden name of Rebecca Dunlavy and was a native of the Buckeye state. After living for some years in Bond county the parents came to Putnam county in 1830 and remained in the log cabin of Nelson Shepherd, south of Florid, until they could build a cabin, on their own land. Mr. Laughlin preempted between three and four hundred acres of land, which he secured from the government, but it was not in the market until 1835. When it came into his possession not a furrow had been turned or an improvement made upon the place, the entire tract being just as it was when it came from the hand of nature. He cut the trees, hewed the timber and sawed the lumber in a steam sawmill at Florid, after which he built a frame house. He performed much of the arduous labor incident to the development and improvement of a new farm, and as the years passed by, carefully conducted 'his business interests up to the time of his death, which was occasioned by pneumonia when he was fifty-two years of age. His wife died when about fifty years of age. In their family were eight children, four sons and four daughters, and the daughters are now deceased. A brother of our subject, James G. Laughlin, is living in Princeton, Illinois. The eldest brother died in Kansas, while the youngest brother, Addison Laughlin, is now living in Kewanee, Wisconsin.
William M. Laughlin was only four years of age when brought by his parents to Putnam county, and he began work in the fields when he was so young that he was only able to do one-half of the amount of the men employed. In early days he would frequently make trips to Chicago with wheat, doing this about twice each fall, for the winter wheat was sown and much of the farm work for the year was done. A team of horses would be hitched to the wagon and in that he would convey the wheat to market, it usually requiring about ten days to make the trip. His father owned five head of horses, which he brought with him from Bond county, but there were no fences and all of the horses strayed away with the exception of one, which, however, was gone for some time. Thus amid pioneer conditions and environments the days of his boyhood and youth were passed by Mr. Laughlin, who continued to make his home upon the old farm until his parents died.
The following year he was married to Miss Elizabeth J. Thatcher, who was born in Vermont, October 25, 1830, a daughter of Benjamin Thatcher, who settled in this county in 1845 near Union Grove church. For a year after their marriage they lived upon the old homestead and Mr. Laughlin then purchased an improved farm of eighty acres, where he lived three years. He afterward developed and improved a farm south of Granville, and he continued to engage actively in agricultural pursuits until after the outbreak of the Civil war. In 1864, prompted by a spirit of patriotism, he offered his services to the government and joined Company B, One Hundred and Thirty-ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, under Captain Jefferson Durley. He was in one hundred days' service and went as far south as Cairo, Illinois, being mustered out after five months. In order to go to the war he left his home and wife with four small children, the oldest not over ten years of age. Though his service was comparatively short, yet he did not know where he would be sent or what he would encounter before he returned home, and it certainly required a great personal sacrifice on his part to leave his wife with the care of their little ones when fate held for him nothing but uncertainty.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin were born six children, of whom five are yet living: Ella C., now the wife of Robert M. Pritchett, a druggist living at Dana, Illinois; Mrs. C. C. Watts, of Rutland, Illinois ; Hattie, the wife of Allen Ramsey, who is living at Wheaton, Minnesota; Cassius, who died at the age of a year and a half; Maggie A., the wife of William A. Lake, a resident of La Salle county ; and Bessie, the wife 'of H. E. Raley, sheriff of Putnam county.
After the war Mr. Laughlin removed to Granville, where he engaged in carpenter work until a few years ago, and many buildings in the town and vicinity were partly erected by him. He has lived a life of industry, working resolutely to provide for his family, and a fair measure of success has been accorded him. In 1905 he was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who died on the 15th of May of that year. After her death he no longer cared to live in the old home and sold that property, since which time he has erected a new cottage in the east part of the town. He has served as justice of the peace for thirty years, but has held no other public office. In the justice court, however, he has proved a most capable official, and his decisions have been strictly fair and impartial, so that he has "won golden opinions from all sorts of people." When a young boy he united with the Presbyterian church and has always led an earnest Christian life. In 1848 he voted for Martin Van Buren, candidate for president on the free soil ticket, and since the organization of the republican party has been one of its stalwart champions.
Probably no resident of the county has resided so long within its borders, and the years of his continuous connection with this part of the state well entitle Mr. Laughlin to prominent mention in this work. He has a most retentive memory, and is considered authority on all matters relating to the early history of the community. He recalls many interesting incidents, in some of which he was an active participant. He remembers well the controversy and division in the Union Grove Presbyterian church, the Ramsey hanging and the attempt to return a runaway negro by the name of Prank. All of these were important events in the early days. His memory forms a connecting link between the primitive past and the progressive present, and to present in detail his experiences in this county would be to give a correct picture of pioneer life and later progress here. Long since has the stage coach and the "prairie schooner" given way before the railroad train, the log cabin has been replaced by the commodious and substantial frame, brick or stone dwelling, crude farm machinery has been supplanted by the reaper, the mower, the harvester and the thresher, and today there is little evidence to show that hardly more than a half century ago the county was still but very sparsely settled and the work of improvement had scarcely begun.
Source: Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois authored by John Spencer Burt and W. E. Hawthorne in 1907, page 443.