Conflict in Macomb

Elias McFadden, his wife and family were the first settlers in the Macomb area, arriving in 1828. Their homestead was just west of present day McArthur School.

In 1834, the merchants of firm Henton & Robinson filed suit to recover a debt owed by the McFaddens, reportedly for a suit of wedding clothes. (Henton & Robinson was owned by Moses Henton, who was named a trustee of McDonough College in 1836 and whose marriage to Ann Allison, also in 1836, was officiated by Rev. William Frazer; [Ann was a daughter of William Allison who was active in the underground railroad] and Lawson H. Robinson, who married Abigail Harmon on March 13, 1834; marriage also officiated by Rev. William Fraser.)

On November 6, 1834, Nelson Montgomery, the Constable and Deputy Sheriff, headed for McFaddens to execute for the debt. (Montgomery would marry Cyrus Walker’s daughter Cynthia on November 20, 1834, another marriage officiated by Rev. William Fraser.) Intending to seize corn for payment, Montgomery asked McFadden’s neighbor John Wilson to accompany him and bring a wagon to haul the corn.

Although Montgomery and Wilson apparently were unconcerned, Wilson and the McFaddens owned adjoining timber lands, over which they had disputes. Elias McFadden has filed suit for trespass against John Wilson in April 1834, and the venue had been changed from McDonough to Hancock County for the Aug 1834 term.

When Montgomery and Wilson arrived at McFaddens, Elias engaged them in conversation and decoyed them around to the north side of the house. At that point they were in direct range of a window through which Wilson was shot without warning, apparently by David McFadden, Elias’s son.

David & Elias McFadden were arrested, along with Elias’s nephew and son-in-law Wiley McFadden. (Wiley had just married his cousin (may be his second cousin), Elias’ daughter, Nancy McFadden on October 8, 1834, also officiated by Rev. William Fraser),  Wiley reportedly had been in Rushville to ask an attorney if it was legal for the McFaddens to shoot Wilson if he came onto the McFadden property.

With John Wilson mortally wounded, Montgomery went back into town for help. Wilson survived for a few days. John O.C. Wilson (he was unrelated to John Wilson, but he and his wife Adaline knew them; bothe would become members of First Presbyterian later) and William W. Bailey (who, along with Cyrus Walker had been elected elder at First Presbyterian in 1834) were executors of Wilson’s estate. Wilson’s property, including his land, was left to his sole surviving heir, his sister Ruth Wilson (a charter member at First Presbyterian).

The McFaddens were tried separately in Rushville, Schuyler County in May 1835, after a change of venue. The principal witnesses in the case were:

  • George Miller (histories say George Wilson, but this is a typo; court records name George Miller. Miller was a Presbyterian who would convert to and become a leader  of the Mormon church by 1839)
  • Alfred Evans
  • Nelson Montgomery
  • Joseph Updegraff (was with group who returned to assist Wilson, Frazer would officiate his marriage to Elizabeth Brooking in Sept 1835, Updegraff did the brickwork for McDonough College)
  • J. W. Brattle (who was a land surveyor, b. 1795 Mass.)
  • Moses Henton
  • William J. Frazier
  • William Bowen (son of Truman Bowen and brother-in-law of David McFadden. David married Dorcas Bowen in 1833 officiated by James Vance, Justice of the Peace; Bowens were neighbors of McFaddens)
  • Daniel Bowen (see William)
  • Perry Keys (guard at jail in Rushville for 2 days & nights)
  • James Anderson

Wiley McFadden was released by States Attorney William A. Richardson’s entry of nolle pros, but David McFadden was tried June 5 and convicted of murder the next morning, and Elias McFadden was tried and convicted on June 9.  Sentencing was on June 11. Rev. Richard Haney, from the Rushville Methodist Church reportedly met with McFaddens while they were jailed in Rushville. David and Elias McFadden were hanged at Rushville, on July 6, 1835. Two militia companies were on hand to keep order in the crowd estimated variously at 1,000 to 3,000 spectators.

The 1907 history states that Cyrus Walker, who prosecuted the case (assisting Richardson), “regretted, to the last, the part he took in the trial. Never, thereafter, would he prosecute in murder trials, but did defend many such cases to the best of his great ability.” (Bateman & Selby, 1907). Perhaps a later murder trial affected Walker in this way, but it was not the McFadin trials; in 1839, Walker prosecuted a murder case in Hancock County, Illinois, against William Fraim, who was also convicted and hung; his case is well-known because Abraham Lincoln was his defense attorney and it’s said to be the only capital case Lincoln ever lost.

William A. Minshall was the defense attorney for the McFaddens.  Stephen T. Logan was the judge for the trials.  The jurors for each trial are named in the news article.


  • McDonough County, Illinois and Schuyler County, Illinois histories
  • news article in Rushville Times in 1890s reprinted in newsletter of the McDonough County Historical Society
  • marriage records of McDonough County, Illinois
  • McDonough County, Illinois Circuit Court Records, 1830-1840

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