WILLIAM H. PARISH, the oldest attorney at law of Harrisburg, Illinois, enjoys the distinction of being the nestor of the Southern Illinois bar. Now in the octogenarian ranks, his mind remains active and his judgment keen. A resume of his life is as follows:
William H. Parish was born September 26, 1827, on a farm four miles from Danville, Vermilion county, Illinois, a son of Joshua and Sarah (Morgan) Parish. His paternal ancestor in this country landed here as a Dutch immigrant, and his maternal ancestors were among the early settlers of Hartford, Connecticut. One of his forefathers, David Morgan, was one of three brothers, and was a noted hunter and fighter. In one day he killed the last three Indians who ever raided on the warpath into the Panhandle of West Virginia, where he died at the age of one hundred and twenty years.
As early as 1819 the Parish family settled at Palestine, Crawford county, Illinois, and a few years later removed from there to Vermilion county, where Joshua Parish spent a long and honorable life, his age at death being ninety-seven years. His good wife was sixty years of age at the time of her death. She was a woman of much culture and education, and such was her wonderful memory that on her death bed was able to repeat the whole of Pope's translation of Homer's Iliad.
Joshua Parish in the early days often served as a juror, and he sometimes took with him to the court at Danville his little son William H., whose recollection of and friendship for Abraham Lincoln dates from those visits. Lincoln made a marked impression not only upon the youth but also upon the father, and the latter predicted at that time that if whiskey didn't kill Lincoln's abilities he would be heard from in important manner in future years. This early impresson made at the court by that great man had much to do in determining young Parish to read law, which he began in the evening by the home fireside and at the noon hour while he was still at work in his father's fields. As a boy he made rapid strides in his school work. At the age of nine years he had mastered the arithmetic as far as the "double rule of three," and as showing the maturity of his mental faculties at that early age, it may be stated that when he was ten years old he devolved a rule for solving problems in compound proportion, the merit of which was at once recognized. Text books soon appeared which incorporated this rule, and up to the present time it has continued to be accepted. The early maturity of his reasoning powers, together with the wonderful memory which he inherited from his mother, made the study of law easy for him, and he was licensed to practice when in his twentieth year.
In 1847, having purchased from an attorney at Benton, Illinois, a law library, young Parish entered upon the practice of his profession at that place. It was about this time that Raleigh was made the county seat of Saline county, and Mr. Parish was asked by the circuit judge to instruct the newly appointed circuit clerk in his duties. Thus it was that on April 8, 1848, he found himself in Raleigh, and, there being no other lawyer in the town, he soon decided to remain there. Several cases were set for trial, and he was employed in some of them. He was successful in these early cases and he soon had all he could do in the legal line. Today there is not an attorney in this county that was born when he began his practice, and there are but few men, if indeed there are any, in Illinois who have had such a long and honorable career in this profession as has William H. Parish.
For some years, in company with Robert S. Stinton, Mr. Parish was interested in operating a store at Raleigh. About the close of the Civil war he removed to a farm in Saline county, and for a period of eleven years his attention was given chiefly to agricultural pursuits. Some thirty years ago he came to Harrisburg and entered into a partnership for the practice of law with James M. Gregg, with whom he was associated until failing health caused Mr. Gregg to retire, and
since that time he has been associated in practice with his son, John J. Parish.
On December 24, 1850, William H. Parish and Miss Mary Ann Choisser were united in marriage at the home of the bride, she being then eighteen years of age, and for sixty years they traveled life's pathway together. She was born on a farm in Saline county, and died at Harrisburg about two years ago. Her parents were John I. and Nancy (Sutton) Choisser, the former of French descent and the latter of Welsh. They were married in 1809 at Shawneetown. For years Mrs. Parish's father was a keelboatman on the Ohio river. During the war of 1812 he carried the wife of the commander of the port at New Orleans in a keelboat down the Mississippi river, and was on the river at the time of the memorable earthquake in that locality, which drove his boat up the river. The latter part of his life was spent on a farm in Saline county. He died at Raleigh, this county, about 1865.
Soon after the outbreak of Civil War, Mr. Parish assisted in raising a company in Saline county, of which he was chosen captain, and as such was sent to Cairo in the brigade of General John M. McClernand. General Grant, noting the effect of that climate upon Captain Parish, urged his discharge. After recuperation at home, Captain Parish again sought the service, and by General Grant was placed in command of the escort to deliver at Columbus, Kentucky, the exchanged Confederate officers from Jefferson Barracks; and while doing so he met the Confederate Generals Chatham and Pope.
Captain Parish was reared a Whig, and adhered to that party as long as it existed. After the birth of the new Republican party he gave to it his co-operation and ardent support, and has affiliated with it ever since. While he was ever alive to public needs and questions, it was his preference to confine his attention to his practice rather than to engage in an active political career. The time came, however, when he was appealed to to become a candidate for the State Senate, the initial influence coming from organizations of farmers' clubs with independence from the political parties. An interesting though not bitter campaign ensued, in which he took an active part, his speeches at each appearance creating friends and votes. His election followed. Soon he was accorded recognition in the Senate, and it was not long before he and a handful of similar members held the balance of power. Among the important positions he filled was a place on the committee on appropriations and also on the committee on geology and minerals, being chairman of the last named committee. During his second term, for he was re-elected to the Senate, his position in the election of United States Senator put David Davis in the United States Senate and Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House. Votes were cast for Senator Parish for United States Senator, and it was his own strength turned to Davis that elected him, and on the famous Electoral Commission of 1876 it was Senator Davis who cast the deciding vote, thus giving the presidency to Hayes.
For years Mr. Parish has been regarded as the best consulting lawyer in Southern Illinois. Close reading and clear reasoning, together with a retentive mind, have peculiarly fitted him for legal work, and now in ripe age, with faculties unimpaired, his counsel is still sought and his judgment held in high esteem. It can well be said: