JOHN JOSEPH BROWN.
From an orphan lad to a prosperous lawyer is a long leap yet this is just the gap that John Joseph Brown has bridged. He received his start through the kindness of others; his native ability and ambitious determination did the rest. The law firm of which he is the senior member, controls one of the largest practices in the state. As a man, his work has been epoch making, in particular his work on the board of commissioners of the Southern Illinois Penitentiary. He has occupied many public positions of trust and has filled them all to the great satisfaction of those who elected him. This has been largely due to his finely trained mind and unquestionable intellectual, attainments, as well as his sincere desire to do the thing which would benefit the greatest number. When a man is as much in earnest as he has always been, success is bound to come.
John Joseph Brown was born in New York City on the 15th of November, 1852. He was the son of James and Mary Brown, who were born in Dublin, Ireland. The quick witted repartee, with which he so often disconcerts his opponents, is one of the traits which he must thank his Irish blood for. His parents met and married in New York, where the father was engaged in the boot and shoe business. When John was three years old, he lost both of his parents, and at the age of six found himself placed in the New York Juvenile Asylum. In company with twenty-seven other boys he was sent to Illinois to find homes among the farmers. It was a pathetic little company going forth so bravely to seek its fate, but the little fellows did not think so themselves. Any release from the asylum meant happiness for them, and it was with excited laughs and wondering eyes that the city waifs greeted the vast green prairies. It is to be hoped that all these unfortunates were as lucky in their foster parents as was John Joseph. He was indentured to William Henninger, of Hagarstown, a farmer.
A new life now unfolds for the boy. The family in which he was placed were progressive, sympathetic with his young ideas, and were kindness itself. From his own nature the life on the farm, no matter how hard the work, could never be dull, for he had a soul, he was of that rare order of being who really finds “books in the running brooks.” To him, therefore, the changing seasons were ever a delight, he hungered for the world of books, he longed to know many things that the birds and beasts could not teach him; therefore, after he had obtained all the knowledge possible from the country schools, through the kindness of Mr. Henninger, he was permitted to enter the Wesleyan University of Bloomington, Illinois. Here he spent five years, and was graduated in 1881. During this time he had taught school to pay his expenses, and
having had this experience, he now turned to this profession to earn his living, though he even then was determined to study law as soon as he was able. He taught school in Fayette county for six years, with such success that he was made principal of the Vandalia schools. He held this position for three years, instituting many much needed reforms and instilling into the schools new life and the enthusiastic regard for educational work which he himself possessed to a large degree. Mr. Brown had no intention of remaining a school teacher long, so he took up the study of law in the offices of Henry and Farmer, and under their very able tutelage was admitted to the bar after two years of study.
He had the great good fortune to be taken into partnership by his brilliant preceptor, Judge William M. Farmer, and this association, invaluable to him, lasted until the latter was elected circuit judge and was forced to give up his practice. He then formed s. partnership with J. M. Albert and later went into the firm of Brown, Burnside and Bullington. He is at present a member of the firm of Brown & Burnside, which is one of the best known and most reliable throughout the state, and whose practice involves much valuable property and many very important eases. With his fine training under a lawyer of much experience and ability, his diligent study, and a mind peculiarly adapted to the intricacies of the legal profession, he has been very active in the political world, being one of the strong men of the Republican party in the state of Illinois. In local affairs he has taken much interest in educational matters, being for fifteen years a member of the school board where he was able to accomplish many things because his own experience as a teacher had taught him .what was most necessary and practical. His resignation from the board was forced upon him through the pressure of business. In 1886 he was elected to the legislature and served one term, making his presence strongly felt. He became especially prominent as chairman of the educational committee, and also did important work as a member of the committee on judiciary and practice. His efficiency was widely recognized and in 1888 he was appointed one of the commissioners of the Illinois Southern Penitentiary. Here his work is of especial note, and his big heart and sympathy for the prisoners and the laboring classes were shown in the many reforms which he brought about. One in particular, the abolishment of criminal contract labor, has been of inestimable value, and the work of this board will long be remembered. During the World's Fair he served as secretary of the World's Fair Commission under Richard Yates. In business affairs he takes considerable interest, being one of the directors of the First National Bank of Vandalia.
In the fraternal world he is very conspicuous, giving considerable time to furthering the interests of some one of the various orders to which he belongs. He is a member of Temperance Lodge No. 16, of the A.ncient Free and Accepted Masons, and in the same order is a member of the Vandalia Chapter, a Royal Arch Mason, a member of the Cyrene Commandery of Knights Templar at Centralia and of the Medinah Temple of Chicago. He is also a member of the Knights of Pythias and was its Grand Chancellor in 1896, and has been its Supreme Representative for the past sixteen years; he is a member of the Elks of Centralia. and was grand master of the Odd Fellows of Illinois in 1904. One of the causes that lie closest to his heart is that of the Odd Fellows' Orphans' Home at Lincoln, Illinois, of which he istrustee. There are one hundred and sixty children there, who greet him on his frequent visits with enthusiasm, for here is one who understands. He is also a member of the Court of Honor, the Modern Woodmen of America and the National Protective League.
He is deeply interested in religious matters, doing everything in his
power to aid the cause of Christianity. His allegiance is with the Methodist Episcopal church, of which he is one of the board of trustees and of whose Sunday-school he has been superintendent for sixteen years.
On the 29th of May, 1883, Mr. Brown married Nellie G. Blackwell, who was born and educated in Vandalia. She was the daughter of Colonel Robert Blackwell and of Mary Jane (Slusser) Blackwell, both of whom were natives of Ohio. Colonel Blackwell was a member of the upper house of the state legislature while the capitol was at Vandalia. He was the editor of the first paper published at Vandalia, and was one of its most prominent citizens. Mr. and Mrs. Brown are the parents of one child, their accomplished daughter, Lucile. She is a graduate of the Vandalia high school, the Woman's College at Jacksonville, Illinois, and of Professor Kroeger's Academy of Music at St. Louis. She married Don Vest Buchanan of Tuscola, Illinois, where she now resides.