John Lawless II, son of John and Mary Stoddard Lawless, was born June 20, 1795 in Pendleton County, Kentucky. Though John Lawless II spent more of his life south of the Ohio River than he did in Illinois, we have little information concerning his first forty years. He was twenty-five years old when he was married, and farmed in Kentucky for fifteen years.
John Lawless and Margaret Elizabeth Skirvin were married in Pendleton County, Kentucky, by the Reverend Samuel Simpson, D.D., on February 14, 1820. She was born on December 19, 1800 in Pendleton County, Kentucky, to John and Mary Ann Thompson Skirvin. According to the records of the County Clerk, the license was issued to John Lawless and “Peggy” Skirvin. The consent for her marriage, given by her father, calls her Peggy, and possibly only for that reason the license was issued in that name.
According to the County Clerk of Grant County, at Williamstown, Kentucky, John Lawless was appointed “Commissioner of the county levy for the lower precinct,” on April 14, 1828. The term was for one year. This office corresponded to that of assessor in Illinois.
Found in the county records at Williamstown, in Deed Book C, page 410, is recorded a power of attorney from John and a Margaret Skirvin Lawless to brother-in-law, John Lowe, dated September 25, 1835, and recorded October 13, 1835, stating that the Lawlesses were “moving to Illinois or Missouri.” It seems to be established that the Lawless family did not leave Kentucky until after this mid-October date. At that time the family consisted of Mr. And Mrs. Lawless and their children: Henry Harrison, aged 13; Mary Ann, aged 12; Elizabeth Jane, aged 11; John Quincy, aged 7; William Conrad, aged 5; Sarah Margaret, aged 2; and Thomas Thomas, aged seven months.
The journey across the southern half of Illinois to Adams County was made at the rate of approximately 10 miles per day, as the emigrants covered the 300-mile distance in a month.
Being loyal members of the old-school Baptist faith, they never traveled on Sunday. Two yoke of oxen pulled the immense prairie schooner, which was loaded with many household articles. Accounts tell us that the family traveled comfortably. A saddle horse was hitched to the back of the wagon, so when life inside the covered wagon became monotonous, the mother and one or two of the children made short excursions into the woods along the trail. She was a skilled rider and early taught the children the art. They were fortunate enough to spend the nights in the cabins of settlers along the way.
John Lawless was always a good judge of land and he appraised various sites along the way. He found what he was looking for in central Adams County, and there established a home, reared his family, and became one of the prominent citizens of the community.
According to the Lawless history published in 1927, the journey “took four weeks,” which would put the Lawless pioneers in Adams County around the 25th of November. The earliest date recorded in the deed book in the Adams County Court House where the name of John Lawless appears is February 16, 1836. Exactly where the intervening twelve weeks were spent is not known; although James Sanford Lawless’ biographical sketch in an Adams County History of 1919 states the Lawless family first settled in Burton Township.
Three months seem like a rather long time to live in a covered wagon in midwinter – yet it hardly seems long enough to erect a squatter’s cabin.
Mary Ann Judy has left us a glimpse of frontier life by her account in Collins and Perry’s History of Adams County. The account reads as follows:
“The journey across the Ohio River was made on a flatboat. When we planned to build a house, father had to put up a pole to mark the site, for there were no landmarks of any kind. The little building was constructed of logs, had a puncheon floor and clapboard door and roof. The cracks between the logs were filled with mud and there was no plaster. It was necessary to go to Quincy for mail. There was no paper published in Quincy and few business enterprises in the hamlet.”
It is entirely possible that John Lawless did not have $200 with which to buy a quarter section of land, and it seems quite probable that he did not expect to find land prices in Illinois that high. He bought his 160 acres in partnership with a man named Reuben Nichols, and each man paid $100. This was not bought from the United States Government, as has often been stated in newspaper accounts, for most of the land in the Military Tract was not sold by the Government. The land was set aside for bonuses for soldiers of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, though few veterans ever lived on their land or even saw it. Lawless and Nichols purchased their quarter section from a land speculator named Ninian C. Steele, who lived in Macomb at the time.
We might conjecture that John Lawless, farming in the more settled State of Kentucky, heard stories of land selling up north for as little as $15 and $25 per section; but by the time he actually went to buy it, eastern land companies and speculators had bought up much of it from the veterans and their successors and raised the price. At the time of the Lawless and Nichols transaction, land was selling for about $1.25 per acre. It soon advanced to $1.75, then to $5, and on up to whatever it would bring.
The partnership between Lawless and Nichols lasted for one year, or until February 2, 1837. According to the deed records, the Lawlesses relinquished their interest in 103 acres of the 160, and Nichols relinquished his interest in 58 acres, more or less.
It is noted on the deed that at this time Margaret Lawless could not write, but affixed her signature to the papers by an “X.” On later deeds her written signature appears.
It is not known whether the Lawless cabin went up shortly after Lawless and Nichols bought the land, or whether John Lawless waited until he owned the land in his own right.
Between the year 1837 and the time he died in 1865, John Lawless bought several additional 80-acre tracts of land, paying successively $550; $600; $2,000; $2,500, and $4,000. These rising prices of farm real estate reflect the rapid settlement of Adams County, and they attest to the thrift, judgment, and industry of the purchaser.
At the time John Lawless signed his will on June 26, 1860, he bequeathed 318 acres of land; but between the time he made the will and the time he died, five years later, he had acquired additional land.
According to the records of the Probate Court of Adams County, on the morning of May 26, 1865, which was thirteen days after the death of John Lawless, William C. Lawless, one of the executors of the will (the other executor, Thomas Thomas, had not yet returned from the Civil War), appeared in the Adams County Court and filed the will for probate.
With him was A. S. Anderson, a neighbor who lived on the first place south of the Lawless homestead, and David Pearce, who lived a mile east – two of the four men who witnessed John Lawless’ signature to his will, and testified to that effect.
There are no court records concerning the settlement of the estate. There is no record of a sale; payment of claims by or to the estate; settlement of division of property according to the various distributive shares of the legatees; or any further records. Since everything was left to the widow, it is presumed that nothing was done during her lifetime, and at her death, settled “around the kitchen table” in the manner in which family matters were usually settled in those days.
The estate appears to have been liquidated before 1872, for in the County Atlas published that year there is no land in Gilmer Township in the name of John Lawless or his estate. The home place is in the name of Mary Ann Judy. A copy of the will appears on a later page.
John Lawless was a good businessman and participated in community life. He was an excellent hand at writing deeds and other legal documents, which were made then, unlike now, by writing in longhand rather than filling in forms on a typewriter. He was a good sportsman, being unusually fine in the use of a rifle, and enjoying it.
On April 2, 1850, he was elected Justice of the Peace by the people of Dover Township. Two months after his election the name of the township was changed to Gilmer.
Since he held a local office in both Kentucky and Illinois, it seems likely that John Lawless was rather active in politics. All his sons were Republicans and with one enlisting in the Union Army, it seems rather certain that he supported Abraham Lincoln. It has been said that there was a time in Gilmer Township politics when a candidate for a Republican nomination in the primary needed the support of “the Lawless boys and their relatives” or he was certain of defeat.
It is regretted that no picture of John Lawless is available. He is described as being a man six feet tall, with light hair and blue eyes, a round smooth face, and weighing 225 pounds. It seems significant that though he was smooth-faced, all five of his sons wore beards and four of them had mustaches. During his last years, Mr. Lawless was compelled to use two canes because of rheumatism.
John Lawless II died May 13, 1865. He was buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, less than two miles from his pioneer home. His wife survived him for three and a half years and was buried by his side at her death, which occurred on November 20, 1868. Their children were: Henry Harrison (born September 8, 1821, and died at the age of 21), Mary Ann, Elizabeth Jane, John Quincy, William Conrad, Sarah Margaret, Thomas Thomas, Susan Anna, James Sanford, and Oliver Perry. All the Lawless children except Henry Harrison were buried in the same cemetery as their parents.


In the name of God AMEN I John Lawless of the County of Adams and State of Illinois being in good health and of Sound and disposing mind, Do make and declare this my last will and testament In the following form and manner (viz) it is my will that my funeral expenses and all my just debts be fully paid and after all Such funeral expenses and debts are paid I give and bequeath unto my beloved wife Margaret Lawless all my real estate personal property and monies that I may be Seized of at my death and after her death I will and bequeath unto my Sons James Sanford Lawless and Oliver Perry Lawless and their heirs the following described tracts and parcels of lands (to wit) fifty Seven acres of the west Side of the north west quarter of Section twenty eight in township one South of range Seven west one acre in the South east corner of Section twenty nine being the lot upon which the house and barn is Situated the east half of the north west quarter of Section twenty in township one South of range Seven west the east half of the north west quarter of Section thirty four in township one South of range Seven west the South half of the north east quarter of Section twenty three in township one South of range Seven west – also the South half of the South west quarter of the north west quarter of Section nineteen in township one South of range Six west all of which lands lying and being in Adams County and State of Illinois, And further it is my will that the Said James Sanford Lawless and Oliver Perry Lawless shall pay in consideration of the aforementioned land the following bequest hereinafter mentioned as I shall direct (to wit) I will and bequeath unto my daughter Mary Ann Judy five hundred dollars, and to John Quincy Lawless, my daughter Elizabeth Jane Yeargain, William Conrad Lawless, my daughter Sarah Margaret Lummis, Thomas T Lawless, and my daughter Susan McBroom, each three hundred dollars to be paid at the expiration of Six years after my death and the death of my wife Margaret Lawless, And I further will and bequeath unto my nine children all my personal property and moneys that I may have at the time of my death and the death of my wife Margaret Lawless (to wit) Mary Ann Judy, John Quincy Lawless, Elizabeth Jane Yeargain, William Conrad Lawless, Sarah Margaret Lummis, Thomas T Lawless, Susan McBroom, James Sanford Lawless and Oliver Perry Lawless to Share and Share alike
I also constitute and appoint my sons William C Lawless and Thomas T Lawless my executors of this my last will and testament and hereby revoking and annulling all former wills made by me and confirming this to be my last will and testament

In witness whereof I John Lawless have hereunto Set my hand and Seal this twenty Sixth day of June A.D. 1860.


Signed, acknowledged and enclosed in the presence of
David Pearce
James T. Pierce
A.J. Anderson
Samuel Stabler

Total 318 acres

Died June 6, 1865
A.J. Anderson and David Pearce appeared in Court and testified to the will.


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The Skirvin family was of Glasgow, Scotland. Colonel George Skirvin, son of George and Janet Paton Skirvin, was born in 1697.  He arrived in Kent County, Maryland in 1724.  He was granted a license at March Court 1728 to keep an ORDINARY in his house at Kingstowne, Queen Anne County, a village on the south side of Chester River opposite Chestertown. An ‘Ordinary’ was a term used for a place that sold alcohol or a tavern. He lost no time in making a place for himself in the community and was appointed by Lord Baltimore as a Justice for Kent County. He married Sarah Comegys, daughter of Cornelius and Rebecca Comegys. George died on Sep 7, 1736.  They had two sons: George T. and Francis.


George T. Skirvin, son of George and Sarah Comegys Skirvin, married Sarah Evans.  They had a son: John.


John Skirvin, Sr., son of George T. and Sarah Evans Skirvin, was born between 1750 -1752 in Kent County, Maryland. John married Mary Ann (Polly) Thompson in 1778.  She was born about 1760 in Tennessee or Kentucky.   John, a preacher, served in the Ohio Indian Wars in 1791. About 1818, he organized the Old Baptist Church in their home on Fork Lick Creek in the Cordova/Dry Ridge area of Grant County, Kentucky.

Dry Ridge Baptist Church was first organized in 1791 by Elders Lewis Corban and John Conner. Indians though threatened early services. The church was reorganized on the fourth Saturday in November, 1826, at the old brick seminary in Williamstown, and took the name of the Williamstown Church. The seven charter members of the reorganization were William Conrad, Martin Draper, Elizabeth Conrad, John Lowe, Esau Boyers, Robert Childers, and L. John Lawless Sr. The presbytery was composed of Elders William Glascock, James Gouge and Absalom Skirvin. Elder William Conrad was ordained there on April 28, 1827, and served as pastor for 54 years.  John Skirvin died in May 1832 and his wife, Mary, died in Oct 1832 in Grant County, Kentucky.  They had fourteen children:


Celia (Holliday) was born on April 27, 1779 in Virginia and died in 1840 in Schuyler County, Illinois.


George was born on June 22, 1782 in Fayette County, Kentucky. He died on Apr 10, 1879 in Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana and was buried in Mt. Gilead Cemetery, Bloomington Township, Indiana.


Absalom was born in 1783 in Culpepper County, Virginia and died in November 1865 in Dry Ridge, Grant County, Kentucky.


John Jr. was born in 1784 in Culpepper County, Virginia and died on July 15, 1859 in Owen County, Kentucky.


Sarah (Chapman) was born in 1786 in Fayette Kentucky and died after 1850.


Clayton was born on Jul 30, 1787 in Kentucky. He died on Oct 17, 1868 in Glencole, Gallatin County, Kentucky and was buried in Old Skirvin Cemetery on Eagle Creek near Grant.


Elizabeth (Remington) was born in 1788 in Culpepper, Virginia and died about 1892 in Kentucky.


Mary (Polly) (Downs) was born in 1789 in Kentucky and died in November 1832 in Grant County, Kentucky.


Nancy (Clark) was born in 1790 in Kentucky.


Joel was born in 1792 in Kentucky and died in September 1860 in Adams County, Illinois.


Susannah (Simpson) was born on April 14, 1796 in Kentucky and died on February 6, 1852 in Grant County, Kentucky.


William was born in 1798 in Kentucky and died on August 9, 1860.


Margaret Elizabeth (Lawless) was born on December 19, 1800 in Pendleton County, Kentucky. She died on November 10, 1868 in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois and was buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Adams County, Illinois.


Enoch was born in 1802 in Grant County, Kentucky. He died on September 3, 1828 in Grant County, Kentucky and was buried in Old Baptist Church Cemetery, Grant County, Kentucky.




This nearly 150 year old monument, marking the burial site of John II and Margaret Skirvin Lawless stands like a sentinel in the north side of Mt. Pleasant cemetery near the northwest corner of Quincy Municipal Airport. The heavy stone in the background is that of Oliver Perry and Margaret Ann Lawless. All of the other children of John and Margaret Lawless, except Henry Harrison, the eldest, are buried within 100 feet of this monument. A number of their grandchildren are also buried in the cemetery.



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Original home built by pioneer John Lawless II in 1837 had been lived in for 133 years and was structurally sound. It was on the east side of county blacktop road, about a mile south of St. Joseph Catholic Church. It had been occupied by the Louis Fessler family for about 20 years before his son tore it down and built a new house on the same spot in 1970.

The section between the two large trees in photograph was originally a two room structure with a fireplace in the west side of the front (south) room. The part to the right with the two dormers was added in later years.  The Lawless couple raised their family of nine children in this home and both died here. Sons James Sanford and Oliver Perry were born here and the four daughters, Mary Ann, Elizabeth Jane, Sarah Margaret and Susan Ann were married here.


 Seventy-four years after John Lawless II established a home on the Western Illinois frontier, his descendants gathered in the village park in Columbus, four miles east of the family homestead, and held a reunion. The date was August 20, 1909. There were 142 present, including five children of John Lawless II and Margaret Skirvin Lawless: Mary Ann Judy, John Quincy, Sarah Margaret Lummis, James Sanford, Oliver Perry.

Since then many Lawless Reunions have been held and the annual date has been fixed as the fourth Sunday in August. In recent years, it has been held at Sprout’s Restaurant in Quincy, Illinois.

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Eleven grandsons of John Lawless II and Margaret Skirvin Lawless posed for this remarkable studio photograph in 1901, representing six families; William Conrad, John Quincy, Thomas Thomas, James Sanford, Oliver Perry Lawless and Susan Ann McBroom. About the same age, the young men lived in the Gilmer community and were in close association for many years.


Front row, seated, left to right; Charles Clarence, Emmett, William Benton, Howard Henry and Albert Guthrie Lawless.

Back row, standing, left to right; Hugh Clement, Frank Elbridge, Milton Wilbur McBroom, John Yeargain, James Clay and George Elmer Lawless.


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