Putnam County


a farmer of Magnolia township, residing on section 15, has been one of the most interested witnesses in the progress and development of Putnam county, and no unimportant factor in bringing it to its present proud position. He was born at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, October 8, 1824, and is a son of James and Nancy (Raley) Swaney, the former a native of Ireland, and the latter of Washington county, Pennsylvania. She was a daughter of Eli Raley, who belonged to an old-time Virginia family, and was a member of the Society of Friends. The parents were married in Pennsylvania, and in Harrisburg made their home until the father's death in 1829. Four years later the mother removed to Washington county, that state, and in 1842 became a resident of Putnam county, Illinois, settling in Magnolia township, where she died in 1872. On coming to this state she was the wife of James Moffitt, by whom sihe had one son, Eli, now living at Adrian, Michigan. By her first marriage she had three children — John, David, of Nebraska, and Barnett, of Magnolia township. Of her four sons three wore the blue in the civil war, and the other furnished a substitute.

Our subject came to Putnam county in 1840 with his grandfather Raley at the age of sixteen years. His primary education was received in his native state, and on coming to this county he attended school in a log school house, being a pupil of the late Judge Burns, of Marshall county. Although reared to agricultural pursuits, in early life he learned the wagon maker's trade at Magnolia with Orin Whitcomb, now deceased, and after serving his three years' apprenticeship followed that trade for two years. In 1847 he began steamboating on the Illinois river from St. Louis to La Salle, being second clerk on the Anglo-Saxon, and continued to follow that business until the breaking out of the rebellion, most of the time as first clerk on the Illinois, Ohio, upper and lower Mississippi and ^Missouri rivers.

In October, 1861, Mr. Swaney made application to enter the navy at St. Louis with Commodore Rodgers, and was commissioned acting master and ordered to the receiving ship Maria Denning, where he began his naval drill. Later the Maria Denning was sent to Cairo, Illinois, carrying the ordinance to equip iron clad gunboats, built at St. Louis. After the battle of Fort Donnelson he was transferred to the gunboat Cairo, which was ordered to Nashville, accompanying General Nelson. They were at Pittsburg Landing, then at the bombardment of Fort Pillow above Memphis, in which they took part. After the naval battle at Memphis, where the rebel gunboats were either destroyed or captured, they were ordered back to Cairo. Acting Master Swaney was then transferred to the Conestoga, under the command of Lieutenant Commander, now Admiral, Selfridge, and his vessel was one of the number engaged in cruising from the mouth of White river down the Mississippi river to Columbia, Arkansas, a distance of sixty miles, the river being divided in naval divisions by Admiral Porter. He was next transferred to the United States steamer, Kenwood, which he commanded with the rank of acting volunteer-lieutenant, until August, 1865, operating on the Mississippi river from the mouth of Red river to Baton Rottge and Donnelsonville. He dismantled his steamer at Cairo in Angust, 1865, but was not discliarged until the following October, when he returned home, after four years of faithful and arduous service.

On the 17th of May, 1849, Mr. Swaney was united in marriage with Miss Sarah Griffith, daughter of George and Sarah (Kirk) Griffith, both of whom were natives of York county, Pennsylvania, where they were married. On leaving their native state her parents removed to Cadiz, Ohio, and as early as 1836 settled on section 15, Magnolia township, Putnam county, Illinois — the old Whittaker farm — where they made their permanent home. Their first dwelling was of logs, but the father later burned the brick and lime for a more substantial structure. The mother of Mrs. Swaney passed away May 24, 1838, and was the first adult buried in the Friends cemetery. In their family were ten children — Isaac, William and Julia Ann, all now deceased; Martha Jane, of Marshall county, lowa; Oliver G., George and John, deceased; Sarah, wife of our subject, and Eliza and Ruth Ann, deceased. After the death of his first wife, Mr. Griffith married Lydia Comly, who still survives him, and to them were born four children — Hiram, of Montana; one who died in infancy; Frank, of Montana, and Isabel Beck. By birthright the parents were both members of the Society of Friends.

Mrs. Swaney was born at Cadiz, Ohio, October 12, 1830, and like her husband acquired her education in a log school house in Putnam county. Since 1865 they have made their home upon their present farm, Mr. Swaney devoting his time exclusively to agricultural pursuits. They are charter members of Magnolia Grange, in which he has filled all the chairs, and she has also held office. He has served as a member of the state grange executive committee and also went into the first organization of the Grand Army. Like her people, Mrs. Swaney is a faithful member of the Society of Friends.

Politically our subject was first an abolitionist, later a republican, and now supports the prohibition party, taking an active part in its advancement, and attending its district, state and national conventions. On both the prohibition and republican tickets in 1885, his name was placed as a candidate for state senator, but as his party was in the minority at that time, he failed of election. Occasionally he has contributed some to agricultural journals. He established the Clear Creek post office, which was first called Whitaker, and for twenty-one years has now filled the position of postmaster. He has also acceptably served as school trustee in Magnolia township, and was assistant United States revenue assessor in 1866.

Source: The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois  published in 1896, page 374.

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