Hon. Levi North, attorney and counselor at law, Kewanee , Ill. , was born at Turin, Lewis Co., N. Y., March 12, 1821. His parents, Darius and Joanna (Hurlbert) North, natives of Connecticut and Massachusetts respectively, and of English extraction, removed in 1829 to Highmarket, an adjoining town, and five years later, on to Mt. Vernon , Ohio .


   The senior Mr. North was a farmer by occupation and brought his sons up to that honorable vocation, though it appears that Levi was more of a mechanical than agricultural turn. His education was limited to the log-cabin schools of early days, with possibly a few months at a little academy at Louisville , N. Y., before he was 16 years of age. Just what accident led to the discovery that he really possessed a talent for drawing, does not appear; but certain it is that with opportunity he would have made his mark in the field of fine arts. As it was, he practiced more or less at the easel, doing some portraits with creditable success, and finally, when about 18 years of age, determined to abandon everything else and devote his time to art. He was financially poor, untaught and untraveled, and the undertaking was a great one. He took his studies from life, not having the benefit of a reputably good painting before he was 20 years of age. However, like many another man who has achieved greatness by not knowing of nothing to discourage him, he itinerated from place to place, borrowed what books he could and read them; painted the images of the handsomest styles, made himself popular with respectable and intelligent people and absorbed altogether a pretty wide range of ideas.


   In the winter of 1841-2, he took in the Ohio Legislature from the galleries, and also listened to learned dissertations upon legal questions by eminent lawyers before the United States Courts, and he became seized of new ambitions. To his knowledge of painting, anatomy, physiology and medicine he would add something of law; and to that end, in the winter following he began the study of Blackstone at Mt. Vernon , Ohio , with the Hon. E. W. Cotton as preceptor. For two years he alternated between teaching and painting, Blackstone and Chitty, and in October, 1845, he stood a good examination and was admitted to the Bar. It appears he studied law as an accomplishment merely and with no immediate purpose to enter the practice. As an artist he became acquainted with a number of professional men, and profited largely by their association. He possessed an inquisitive disposition, a retentive memory and a practicable adaptability in the methods of appropriating and utilizing everything in the way of learning that came in his way.  Thus, what he laced by early education he more than made up by asbsorption.


    In 1847 he left Ohio , and drifted to Peoria , Ill. , where he applied himself to painting for nearly a year; and removing thence to Princeton , he was variously employed for several years. In 1853 he became clerk to Judge Kelsey, real-estate agent, and soon afterward was elected Justice of the Peace. The duties of this office brought him again to consider the law, into which he almost involuntarily drifted, and to which he has since devoted most of his time. Coming to Kewanee in 1860, he formed a partnership with Judge John H. Howe, now deceased, in the practice of law, and continued it up to 1869. In politics he was originally a Democrat, but left that party as early as 1843-4, to join his fortunes with that of the Liberty party. Into this he plunged with all his spirit and strength, and in 1844 “stumped” his district in behalf of James G. Birney for President. For one year he constituted one of the few men in Peoria County that publicly advocated the peremptory abolition of slavery, and the times afforded him opportunities for airing his unpopular ideas to his heart’s content. He was always ready to debate the negro question, publicly or privately, and in so doing “crossed swords” with men who afterward, and when the struggle for the life or death of slavery drenched a nation in blood, became eminent in the affairs of the nation.


   In 1848, while making a trip around the lakes on a steamer, in company with several other passengers, consisting of ladies and gentlemen, a political debate was planned to take place in the cabin. Mr. North was to present the cause of the Free-soil party, and as he supposed, a young gentleman of the name of Daniel Driscoll, from Stark County , was to place the Whig party properly “before the world,” or before that portion of it then floating over Lake Michigan in the good ship “Globe.” Mr. North opened the debate, when, to his surprise Mr. Driscoll presented to the audience the Hon. Abraham Lincoln, then a Member of Congress! The minutes of that debate are “not of record,” but with Mr. North’s vigorous manner of disposing of a pro-slavery adversary upon the shortest notice, and with Mr. Lincoln’s well known ability to sustain himself pon all occasions, either on land or sea, and as both gentlemen represented a common cause, at least in one essential particular, viz., antagonism to the Democratic party, it is safe to presume that the casus belli received a thorough ventilation, and that the slave oligarchy and the party of Calhoun, Clay and Benton received but few friendly allusions from either of the disputants. Though a rank Republican, Mr. North has always retained a liberal independence, differing with his party upon various questions, upon various times, and never faltering in announcing publicly his opinions. He is an able writer as well as speaker, and the metropolitan as well as local press publish much from his pen.


   In 1871-2 he represented Henry County in the Legislature, and took a prominent part in the revision of the statutes and in adapting them to the new Constitution. He bitterly opposed extremely high salaries for State officers, and led the majority in the contest against them. He aided in the passage of the liquor-license law, requiring saloon-keepers to give bonds for the payment of damages resulting from their traffic. He was the champion of the present popular penitentiary system of Illinois , and did much toward its adoption.


   In the practice of his profession he differs from many eminent lawyers, and it is difficult to see wherin he is not right. He claims that the profession does not require a sacrifice of manhood; that a lawyer has no right to be a “journeyman liar,: and that it is as wrong for him to lie for a client as it would be for him to lie for himself; and, finally, that the lawyers are about as honest as their clients require them to be, or public opinion will sustain them in being.


   Sept. 18, 1847, Mr. North was married, at Chesterville , Ohio , to Miss Laura Johnson, who died Oct. 18, 1852, leaving one child, Maria, now Mrs. D. L. Murchison of Wethersfield (see sketch of D. L. Murchison, this volume). At Dixon , Ill. , March 9, 1863, Mr. North married his present wife, nee Miss Charlotte C. Strong, and of his children we make the following memoranda: Milo, his eldest son, died in 1880, when about 24 years of age; Foster and Arthur Tappan, graduated at the University of Illinois in June, 1885; the youngest, Charles Kelsey, is at home.
   In 1874, through the publishing house of Calleghan & Co., Chicago , Mr. North gave to the legal profession his “Treatise on Practice in the Probate Courts,”—a work of standard authority in the State, and furnishing a base for all subsequent revisions upon the subjects treated.

1885 Portrait & Biographical Album of Henry County, page 593

Transcribed by Jan Roggy

©Wini Caudell and Contributors

All Rights Reserved

Illinois Ancestors