An enumeration of the representative citizens of Richland county who have won recognition and success for themselves and at the same time have conferred honor upon the community would be decidedly incomplete were there failure to make mention of the popular gentleman whose name initiates this review, who has long held worthy prestige in legal and political circles, and has always been distinctively a man of affairs, but is now living retired. He wields a wide influence among those with whom his lot has been cast, ever having the affairs of his county at heart and doing what he could to aid in its development.
James Cameron Allen was born in Shelby county, Kentucky, January 29, 1822, the son of Benjamin and Margaret (Youel) Allen, natives of Augusta county, Virginia, the former of Irish and the latter of Scotch-descent. Grandfather John Allen was born in Ireland on the famous Shannon river, and when about twenty years old he came to America alone and settled in New Jersey, where he married and later moved to Rockbridge county, Virginia, and engaged in farming, where he lived and died. Grandfather William Youel, was born in Scotland and came to America when young, located in Augusta county, Virginia, on a farm and became an extensive stock raiser for that time. He served in the Revolutionary war, being slightly wounded at the battle of Cowpens. After the British army had been driven away, he picked up a large powder horn, which had been used by an English soldier. It was given to one of his sons, and became a valuable historical relic. Our subject used the same when a boy, while squirrel hunting. Grandfather Youel died in Virginia, at an advanced age, after rearing a large family. The father of our subject was a farmer and when young learned the trade of cycle maker. He kept a set of blacksmith tools as long as he lived. Shortly after his marriage he emigrated to Shelby county, Kentucky, having made the trip on horseback, carrying all his earthly possessions on one pack horse. This was in 1803, when the country was covered with primeval woods and overrun by Indians. In 1830 he came to Parke county, Indiana, and located on a farm of one hundred and sixty acres, having bought part of the land from the man who had entered it and which had on it a small cabin and a few acres which had been cleared. He improved the place and developed a good farm, which he later sold and retired. He died in Parke county, in 1849, his wife having died in 1832. They were people of much sterling worth, typical pioneers. To them were born ten children, of whom our subject was the seventh in order of birth, all now deceased except the subject and one sister, Elvina, who is living in West Liberty, Iowa.
The subject was eight years old when the family came to Indiana. He remained at home until he was eighteen years old, helping clear the farm and assisting in the work about the place, in the meantime attending the country subscription schools during the winter months. When eighteen years old he went to Rockville, Indiana, and entered the County Seminary, from which he graduated three years later, having carefully applied himself and making a splendid record. Being out of money at that time, he returned home and rented his father's farm for one season, having realized two hundred and eighty dollars as his share. With this he went to Rockville and began the study of law, in which he made rapid progress, and was licensed to practice two years later, in 1843. He located at Sullivan, Indiana, then the new county seat, but was a small village in the woods. Here he practiced with much success attending his efforts until 1847. He held the office of Prosecuting Attorney for one term of two years, and was one of the leading young attorneys of that locality. He then located at Palestine, Illinois, where he followed his profession for a period of twenty-nine years, becoming known as one of the ablest attorneys in the county, and having a very extensive clientele. He then located in Olney, in November, 1876, and he has since lived at this place, having built up a very large practice. He retired in 1907.
While living in Crawford county, Illinois, he was elected to the Lower House of the Legislature in 1850, on the Democratic ticket and served with great credit. Such a splendid record did he make that he was nominated and triumphantly elected two years later to Congress from his district, at that time, the Fifth district, and was reelected in 1854, serving two terms, making his influence felt in that body where his counsel was always respectfully listened to, and often followed with gratifying results. During his first term the Kansas and Nebraska fight was up. During the second term the defeat for slavery for Kansas was accomplished. His voice was heard in the debates of those strenuous times.
In 1856 Mr. Allen was not a candidate for re-election, but he became Clerk of the House during that session of Congress. In March, 1860, he came home and in that year was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Illinois, against Yates. He made a splendid race and the election showed that he was a popular man throughout the state, notwithstanding his defeat. In April, 1861, he was elected Judge of the Circuit Court, and in the fall of 1863 resigned as Judge to accept the place of Congressman-at-large, to which he had been elected in 1862. He was a candidate for reelection, but was defeated by Samuel Moulton. During his terms in Congress he witnessed stirring times for it was while the Civil war was in progress.
Returning home Mr. Allen practiced law until 1873, when he was reelected judge of the Circuit Court, and after the passage of the law establishing appellate courts, he was appointed by the Supreme Court as Appellate Judge, occupying both positions until 1879. He then engaged in practice until his retirement in 1907, having liked the practice better than being on the bench. He has been United States Commissioner since 1896, for Southern and Eastern Illinois.
The happy and harmonious domestic life of our subject began January 22, 1845, when he was married to Ellen Kitchell, a native of Palestine, Illinois, the representative of an influential family of that place. To this union three children were born, who died in infancy. The subject's first wife was called to her rest in 1853 and in 1857 he married Julia Kitchell, cousin of his first wife, by whom seven children were born, namely: Harry, who was court reporter for five years, is deceased; Frances is the wife of John T. Ratcliff, of Olney; Caroline is living at home keeping house for her father; James H. resides in Robinson, Illinois.; Frederick W. is deceased; William Y. is living at home; Margaret is also a member of the home circle. The second wife of our subject, a woman of many beautiful attributes, passed away in 1901. Mr. Allen has long been a pillar in the Presbyterian church, having been the ruling elder in the same since 1850.
Thus standing out distinctly as one of the central figures of the judiciary of the great commonwealth of Illinois is the name of Hon. James Cameron Allen. Long prominent in legal circles and equally prominent in public matters beyond the confines of his own jurisdiction, with a reputation in one of the most exacting professions that has won him a name for distinguished services second to none of his contemporaries, there is today no more prominent or honored figure in the southern part of the state which he has long dignified with his citizenship. Achieving success in the courts at an age when most young men are just entering upon the formative period of their lives, wearing the judicial ermine with becoming dignity and bringing to every case submitted to him a clearness of perception and ready power of analysis characteristic of the learned jurist, his name and work for half a century have been allied with legal institutions, public enterprises and political interests of the state in such a way as to earn him recognition as one of the distinguished citizens in a community noted for the high order of its, legal talent. A high purpose and an unconquerable will, vigorous mental powers, diligent study and devotion to duty are some of the means by which he has made himself eminently useful. He is honored and esteemed by all who know him for his life of honor and usefulness, his integrity, kindness and genial manners and the good he has accomplished for his state cannot be adequately expressed.
Extracted 26 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 84-87.