McDonough Presbyterian Church, Macomb, Illinois

Founding. The McDonough Presbyterian Church in Macomb, Illinois was short-lived.  It was formed about 1837 by some affiliated Macomb First Presbyterian Church.  Its leader was Rev. William J. Fraser, who had unwillingly left the Macomb church.  The county and church histories claim Fraser as Macomb First’s founding pastor, and  Fraser was also one of the founders of McDonough College. In the 1830s, Fraser was in a series of disagreements about doctrine with the New School/Congregationalist founders of  Jacksonville’s Illinois College, at least two Presbyteries, and Synod of Illinois.

Members. The 1839 Report from Presbyterian General Assembly lists McDonough Church but no membership (Macomb First had 91 members); the 1840 report lists 29 members at the McDonough Church with 3 received by examination, 8 by certificate, and 1 infant baptism. Finding the names of those members is challenging. Neither session minutes or membership rolls are known to exist for McDonough; the records for First Macomb which might mention them are missing prior to 1852-3.   Other than Fraser, only two names have a documented connection with the McDonough church: James F. Howarth and William Allison (see below).

Other names that frequently appear with William Fraser’s in county land records include Moses Henton and Lawson H. Robinson.  Henton and Robinson came to the area from Bond County and opened a store in Macomb. Fraser was pastor of Bond County’s Greenville Church prior to moving to Macomb; Henton’s father Evan and brother Gideon remained in Bond County. The Robinson family had connections to the Presbyterian church — Lawson’s brother Matthew hosted the first Presbyterian meeting in Bushnell.  Both Henton and L. H. Robinson were Trustees of the Presbyterian McDonough College; neither are mentioned in records related to Macomb First Presbyterian. Moses Henton’s probate records include a request for payment for multiple years of the Presbyterian Advocate, a publication of the Old School Presbyterians.

From mid-1836 to 1838, Fraser officiated four marriages which could suggest the names of other McDonough church members.  These are:

  • Lawson Robinson’s sister-in-law Missouri Damron to D. R. Hamilton
  • Moses Henton to William Allison’s daughter Ann
  • James Howarth to Sarah Lovell
  • Wilson, brother of William McCandless (see below) to Joannah Dixon.

The records that connect James Howarth and William Allison to the McDonough Church also mark its apparent demise. The 1841 McDonough County Circuit Court records identify the two as trustees of McDonough Presbyterian Church and as a result defendants in a lawsuit; their attorneys were James G. Walker and Quincy’s O. H. Browning & N. H. Bushnell.  The suit was filed by William McCandless, whose attorneys were Cyrus Walker of Macomb and W. A. Minshall of Rushville.

Two promissory notes signed by the Howarth and Allison totaled $329.00 and read:

One day after date due, the undersigned trustees of the McDonough Presbyterian Church and our successors in office promise to pay Mr. W. McCandless $228.80 with interest from date at the rate of 12%, the interest to be paid every 6 months. January 22, 1840.

The second note is identical, except for the amount of $100.20

On 19 May 1841, the court subpoenaed Adam Clendenning, Moses Henton, W. J. Fraser, Thomas Allison, and George Allison. Fraser was called by the defense.  Howarth and William Allison pleaded that they signed as Trustees, not as individuals, and were therefore not personally liable for the debt. On May 20, 1841, the court disagreed and found in favor of McCandless, assessing debt & damages $468.65 and $48.65 (McDonough County Circuit Court Book B p. 46).

The 1841 report of General Assembly is third and final year which includes the McDonough Church. It seems likely that the McDonough Church was no longer in existence by the filing of the suit in 1841, but it wasn’t until April of 1842 that Schuyler Presbytery reports the McDonough Church being dissolved.

Howarth and Allison, not liking the court decision against them, engaged Attorneys John Logan and Abraham Lincoln for their appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Moses Henton & Thomas Allison were bond sureties for the appeal. In December 1843, the parties agreed to a settlement, and the case was requested dismissed, with each party paying their own court costs. [Because Lincoln was the attorney for the appeal, the documents in these cases are available online at]

What happened after?

Rev. William Fraser moved to Knoxville, Illinois.   Here this decidedly Old School Presbyterian pastored another young congregation.  It’s nine members split from the majority New School Presbyterians of the Knoxville Church a few years earlier.  In 1844, he debated against the candidates of the abolitionist Liberty Party. Fraser was soon on the move again soon. By 1845, he was preaching in Stark County.  Along the way he became a physician to improve his ability to support his family. Before 1850, he was in Peoria County, where his wife Ruth died. He soon married Mary Blanchard in Fulton county and moved to Kirkville, Iowa.  In the 1850s, they moved to St. Francisville, in Clark county, Missouri, a stronghold of Old School Presbyterians (and also of slavery). Within a few years, Fraser returned to Brimfield, Illinois where he died in 1876 at the age of 77 years.  His wife Mary survived him, as did several children, the youngest being 11 years old at the time of his death.

James F. & Sarah Lovell Howarth soon moved to Bernadotte, Fulton County where he died between 1850 and 1855, leaving two children.

William “Uncle Billy” Allison remained in McDonough County, where he was known as an abolitionist and is reported to have been a conductor on the Underground Railroad (along with his sons George and Andrew).  His son Thomas Allison moved to Iowa.

Moses Henton’s wife Ann Allison Henton died in 1839 and Moses in 1844.  They, along with Moses’ children and first wife are buried in the Old Macomb Cemetery. His estate was distributed to his father and his siblings by his executors, brother-in-law Thomas Allison and brother John L. Henton.

Lawson H. Robinson headed for the California gold fields in 1849.  On his way home in 1853, he died in St. Louis of typhoid fever and is buried in the city’s Presbyterian Cemetery.  His estate includes a number of land holdings and debts owed to him but what was able to be collected was less than he owed. His brother D. M. Robinson was the executor of his estate and was later a member of Macomb First Presbyterian.  Lawson’s widow Abby lived with her father George Damron in Macomb.  Lawson & Abby’s son George Robinson, born in 1842, died unmarried about 1885.  In 1885, Abby married in Knox county to James H. Campbell, a long-time resident of Scotland Township.  They soon moved to Denver, Colorado.

William F. & Margaret McCandless became members of Macomb First Presbyterian. In September 1867, their memberships were transferred to the Bardolph Presbyterian Church.  William’s brother Wilson McCandless died just a month after his marriage to Joanna. She remarried to Michael Yost in 1841; the marriage was officiated by Rev. William K. Stewart, who was then pastor of Macomb First Presbyterian.  In 1849, they headed for California with the same company as L. H. Robinson and others from McDonough County.





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