Charles Henry McDonald and Sarah Jane Allison A Life Too Short

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Charles Henry McDonald (1865-1930) and Sarah Jane Allison (1869-1893)

An Early, Lonely Life with Much Sorrow

Charles Henry McDonald was born on 1 May 1865 in the city of Greenview, Menard County, Illinois. He spent most of his life there. He was the youngest son of Martha Ann Hornback and William Power McDonald, born after his father returned from fighting in the American Civil War with the Union Army. His mother died in childbirth when he was two years old. Although his father remarried, Charles did not get along with his stepmother. As a result, his sister, Hala, who was five years older, often looked after him. He often preferred to fend for himself and went to work for the John Hamil family when he was about fourteen; he always said Mrs. Hamil was more like a mother to him than anyone he knew.

As a young man, Charles did farm work and in the summer he could usually be found running the engine for a threshing crew. He was fourteen years old when his father died in 1879 and his stepmother died the year after that. The farm that Charlie's father had bought in 1875 was only a short distance from the Allison family home, which probably accounts for how Charlie met and married Jennie Allison. Charlie would later rent that farm and work it for a while but he eventually found other ways of making a living, and the photograph (at left) shows his more businesslike future than being a farmer.

Charles marries Jennie

Charles and Jennie were married on 3 February 1887 in Menard County, Illinois. Charles was 22 was 17. A copy of their marriage license is below:

Sarah Jane Allison (who was often called Jennie or Janie) was born on 9 November 1869 in Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware. Her parents were James Allison and Ann Montgomery, natives of Ireland, who had immigrated to the United States in 1858 right after they were married. They resided in Delaware for a few years and eventually migrated to Illinois. Unlike Charlie, Sarah had grown up surrounded by loving and supporting parents and siblings.

Their first and only child, a daughter, Nellie Allison McDonald, was born to them on 10 February 1888, on her Grandfather Allison’s farm in Menard County, Illinois. 2 A photograph of the young family is at the left, taken in about 1890, just a few years before Sarah’s death. Nellie grew up to be a warm and loving wife and mother, a strong student in school, a schoolteacher and bookkeeper.

Unfortunately, little Nellie would lose her mother just five months after her fifth birthday. Jennie Allison McDonald died of tuberculosis on 5 July 1893 in Greenview, Menard County, Illinois.

Below is her obituary:

Mrs. Jennie McDonald died very suddenly Wednesday morning, July 5, 1893, at 2 o'clock, at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Allison, seven miles east of Greenview. She was at Marbold's Grove and remained until about two o'clock when she returned home. That night she was taken worse and died at the time stated. Her age was twenty-four years, eight of which had been given to her Master, having joined the church when sixteen. She lived a Christian life and was beloved by all who knew her. The funeral took place from the frame church at Irish Grove Thursday at 10 a.m. conducted by Rev. Hollister, in the presence of a large gathering of friends come to pay respect. At the close of the services the remains were followed to Irish Grove cemetery and laid to rest. She leaves a father and mother, a husband and little girl aged five years, four brothers and a sister, and a large circle of friends to mourn her early demise. She had suffered from lung troubles but was not considered in immediate danger which makes the blow harder to submit to.

Colonel MC, the Auctioneer

Charles Henry, commonly known around Greenview as "Colonel Mc," became a very good auctioneer. There were many big cattle farmers in Illinois in those days and he made good money. He was a fast talker and could hold a crowd. Charlie liked to dance and play the fiddle and played for many dances. He was always trading houses and his son, Jack, relates that they lived in twelve different places while he was growing up. He had dark hair and brown eyes, was of medium build, and had a dimple in his chin.

In about 1905, a collection of articles in a book titled Past and Present of Menard County, Illinois was published about well-known citizens of Menard County. The section about Charles H. McDonald says:

Charles H. McDonald, a popular and well known citizen of Greenview, who as an auctioneer [and conducted] a very extensive and gratifying business, was born in Menard county about a mile northeast of Greenview on the 1st of May, 1865. His parents were William P. and Martha (Hornback) McDonald, the former a native of Kentucky and the latter of Illinois. The father served his country as a soldier in the Mexican war and after coming to Illinois in 1849 he turned his attention to farming, which he carried on with fair success until 1862, when again he responded to his country's call for military aid, enlisting as a member of Company K, One Hundred and Fourteenth Illinois Infantry. After nine months of active service he was honorably discharged on account of illness and then returned to his farm, whereon he made his home until his death, which occurred July 17, 1879, when he was fifty-five years of age. He had lived a quiet and uneventful, yet useful and honorable, life and those who knew him respected him for his sterling worth. His wife had died when their son Charles was but two years of age.

Charles H. McDonald pursued his education in the country schools in the eastern part of Menard county. He was left an orphan when fourteen years of age by his father's death, after which he worked by the month as a farm hand until twenty-two years of age. Subsequently he rented the farm which his father once owned and continued to reside thereon until 1895, when he removed to Greenview and started in business as an auctioneer. In the spring of 1897 he also became connected with mercantile interests of the city as proprietor of a furniture store, but after three years he sold his stock. In 1901 he engaged in the livery business, but after a year disposed of his interest in that in order to give his entire attention to his auctioneer business, which in the meantime had grown to extensive proportions. He now has a very liberal patronage, crying sales in Menard, Sagamon, Mason, Logan and Tazewell counties. He is very successful at this business, having the ability to bring the owner and prospective purchaser together in a manner that is profitable to both. He is well known among the auctioneers of the state and is now the vice-president of the Illinois Auctioneers Association.

On the 3d of February, 1887, Mr. McDonald was united in marriage to Miss Jennie Allison, a daughter of James Allison, of Menard county. They became the parents of one daughter, Nellie A., who was born February 1 [sic], 1888, and is now attending school at Dixon, Illinois. Mrs. Jennie McDonald died on the 5th of July, 1893, and on the 12th of June 1896, Mr. McDonald was again married, his second union being with Artie Bracken, a daughter of Thomas Bracken, of Indian Creek, Menard county. They have one son, Jack H., born January 25, 1897.

The family are members of the Cumberland Presbyterian church and in his political views Mr. McDonald is a Democrat. He served as town trustee for four years and has filled other local positions, including that of constable, and for five years he was assessor of his town. Fraternally he is connected with Greenview lodge, No. 423, I.O.O.F. In public office, in business and in private life he is at all times found worth of the trust reposed in him and the good will extended to him and he has gained a large circle of warm friends, who esteem him highly.

Father and Daughter are Separated

Charlie and Jennie's daughter, Nellie, was raised by the Allison family after her mother's death.

The Allisons were a close-knit family of Irish descent. They lived on a farm not far from where Jennie and Charles lived. During the Civil War, James Allison had made barrels for gun powder. He was drafted and then served as a guard at the DuPont plant.

The photograph at the right shows the family:

From left to right, back: Jennie (sometimes called Janie), William, James, Lizzie, and John.

From left to right, front: Ann (mother), Alex, and James Sr. (father).

At first, Nellie stayed with her grandparents, Ann and James Allison, and then she lived with her Aunt Lizzie (her mother's sister) and Lizzie's husband for several years. There appears to have been almost a feud between the Allisons and Charlie McDonald about the raising of his daughter. Nellie would always claim later that her father loved her but that her grandparents and aunt did not want to give her up. Charlie rarely had the opportunity to see his daughter, but it is not known whether this was by choice or whether the Allisons made meetings difficult. Nellie did know her aunts and uncles on her father's side but contact with her father was quite limited.

Charlie’s Second Wife

Three years after Jennie's death, as mentioned in the article above, Charles married Artimissa Bracken on 12 May 1896 in Menard County, Illinois. Artimissa Bracken had been born on 1 January 1863 in Indian Creek, Menard County, Illinois. At the time of their marriage, Charlie was 31 and Artimissa (usually called Artie) was 33. Artie had apparently not been previously married. They had one son, Jackson Henry McDonald, who was born on 25 January 1897, seven months after their marriage.

Charles and his second wife, Artie, can be found in the 1920 Census living in Camp Branch, Cass, Missouri. He is 55; Artie is 56; and it states that he owns his home. Why he was in Missouri is unknown, but it is assumed that this was not for long.

A Sad Ending

In the 1930 Census, Charles and Artie are back in Greenview, Menard County, Illinois. He became ill and had also lost a great deal of money in the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Shortly before his death, Nellie’s Aunt Lizzie wrote a postcard to her niece to tell her that her father was not doing well.

Charles Henry McDonald died 16 June 1930. The death certificate indicates that he committed "suicide by shooting himself [with a] 410 shot gun in mouth." His suicide was a source of pain to his daughter, Nellie, and she did not talk about it. One can assume that he chose suicide due to his failing health as well as numerous financial losses during the stock market crash. He was 65.

Artimissa Lives until 1954

Charles's second wife, Artimissa Bracken McDonald, died on 2 December 1954, at the age of 91. Charlie and both of his wives are buried in the Irish Grove Cemetery, southwest of Middletown, Illinois.

[This page researched and written by Susan Overturf Ingraham, a descendant of Charles and Sarah. Last Updated on June 3, 2019.]

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  2. For more information about Nellie's life, click on her name.