Francis M. Avey. Of the men whose ability, industry and forethought have added to the character, wealth and progress of Champaign County none stands higher than Francis M. Avey, now living retired at Rantoul, which has been his home for over forty-five years. Among other enviable distinctions Mr. Avey is one of the honored survivors of the great war of the rebellion, and he was a member of the first regiment that marched away from Illinois to fight in the South. His entire career has been in keeping with the high standards of patriotism which caused him to enter the army as a youth.
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He was born at Cincinnati, Ohio, January 24, 1835, and is now past four score. He is a son of Daniel and Hannah (Van Hise) Avey, the former a native of Pennsylvania and the latter of Maryland. Francis M. was the third of five children. His father was a farmer, and F. M. Avey grew up and obtained his early education in Butler County, Ohio.
As a boy he heard much of the country of Illinois and Indiana, and at the age of sixteen his ambitions prompted him to go out to Fountain County, Indiana, where he had a brother. There he began an apprenticeship to the blacksmith’s trade. Having learned the trade, he took his accomplishments into western Missouri. At that time western Missouri was a scene of the terrible border ruffian warfare which went on with more or less regularity until after the close of the Civil War. It was not a safe territory for a man who came from a free state and had the convictions of Mr. Avey. The first time he applied for work he found a big black slave working in a shop. This slave had been hired out by his master. In competition with such labor Mr. Avey could make no progress, and he soon left the country which had disgusted his ideas of liberty and freedom, and came to Illinois. In the vicinity of Decatur he hired out to a man, and for five months drove four yoke of cattle to a breaking plow. From there he went to Vermilion County and for two years was employed in a blacksmith shop at Georgetown. Then occurred in 1860 the election of Lincoln as president. In the disturbed condition that followed Mr. Avey went to Indiana and there became acquainted with a business man who had recently returned from Mattoon, Illinois. He reported that a company of soldiers were being raised at Mattoon, and the two boys hurried to that point and enlisted at Lincoln’s first call for 75,000 troops. F. M. Avey enlisted in the first regiment organized in Illinois, the Seventh Illinois Infantry, in Company B. He was in camp at Springfield, went from there to Alton, Illinois, and thence down the Mississippi to Cairo. The first time Mr. Avey saw the Rebel flag was at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi. For three weeks he and his comrades were at Cairo, and then were returned up the Ohio River to Mound City, where at the expiration of his three months’ service he was mustered out on August 25, 1861.
Later Mr. Avey helped recruit some men, and in February, 1862, enlisted at St. Louis. For three months he was on duty as a patrol in St. Louis. In April, 1862, he and his comrades were organized into a company, and he was elected its second lieutenant. Three months later he was promoted to first lieutenant, and for one year he served as post adjutant of a military post. He was then made ordnance officer, in charge of the ordnance department, and filled that position with efficiency and fidelity until his term of enlistment expired. He was mustered out at Benton Barracks in St. Louis April 15, 1865.
While on duty in the ordnance department he was under the command of Major Colendar, a major in the regular army. Their associations were very pleasant and were the basis of a lasting friendship. On being relieved from duty and while waiting for transportation Mr. Avey started to spend the day in camp, and on arriving saw the flag at half mast. That was the first intimation he had of the assassination of the beloved President Lincoln. Mr. Avey was stationed at Rolla, Missouri, when Lincoln was reelected in 1864. At that time Illinois soldiers were not allowed to vote in Missouri, but Mr. Avey’s regiment was the Fifth Missouri Cavalry, and all of them marched in a body and voted for Lincoln amid the cheers of the multitude. The women, he reports, were especially bitter. They called them Lincolnites, black Republicans and other appropriate names. But the brave boys in blue did not hesitate to express their sentiments and convictions.
After being mustered out of the army with this honorable record Mr. Avey came to Champaign County, and in February, 1868, he married Miss Alice Bryan. Mrs. Avey was born near Mahomet, Illinois, a daughter of John and Melinda (Busey) Bryan. Melinda Busey enjoyed the distinction of being the first bride in Champaign County. Her wedding was celebrated in a log cabin in Urbana. She and her husband became the parents of ten children, but the three who grew up were Alice, Lillis and Edward. Alice Bryan obtained her education in Urbana, and while her people lived in the country she boarded at the home of Colonel Busey’s mother. Later the Bryan family removed to Urbana and were prominent people themselves and numbered among their friends the best people of the city, including the late Judge Cunningham. Alice Bryan’s grandfather, Isaac Busey, and Mr. Webber donated the land for the county seat at Urbana, Mr. Busey giving thirty acres and Mr. Webber twenty acres. This gift still stands as a memorial to their public spirit.
After their marriage Mr. and Mrs. Avey lived in Champaign, where he worked at his trade, but in March, 1871, they removed to Rantoul. He then built the house on Sangamon Avenue where he has continuously resided for over forty-five years. For many years Mr. Avey conducted his blacksmith shop, and to furnish employment during his later years of retirement and leisure he kept the news stand at Rantoul.
Mr. Avey’s only son and child is Arthur Avey, who was born December 7, 1868. He attended the Rantoul High School and at the age of sixteen entered the Bryant & Stratton Business College at Chicago. For the past twenty-six years Arthur Avey has been associated with the P. V. Palmer Wholesale Cloak House at Chicago. The only interruption to this regular service was while he was in the Spanish-American War. When he enlisted for that service his employer said: “Mr. Avey, if you are gone ten years remember your position awaits your return.” Arthur Avey enlisted for that war in the first Illinois regiment that started from Chicago. He went to Santiago, Cuba, and was in the several engagements around that city until the Spanish commander surrendered. Mr. Arthur Avey thinks that Colonel Roosevelt was the finest officer in the war. He commends him especially for his interest in the soldiers. When the boys were in the trenches Roosevelt was always looking after their welfare, and his kindness and thoughtfulness, as well as his bravery, endeared him to the heart of every American trooper. Mr. Arthur Avey married Miss Mamie Flood of Chicago. Three children were born to them: Francis Marion, who was named for his grandfather and is now deceased; Anna Dorothy and Howard Francis. These two children take a great deal of pleasure in their periodical visits to Rantoul to their grandfather and grandmother.
Mr. F. M. Avey has lived to vote for every presidential candidate of the Republican party since it was organized, beginning with John C. Fremont. In many ways besides the part he performed as a gallant soldier he has given ‘evidence of his public spirit and his usefulness in the community. For twenty-seven years he served as treasurer of the Village of Rantoul, for four years was a justice of the peace, and has also been village clerk and a member of the town council. For thirty years he was secretary of the Masonic Lodge, and as proof of their esteem his fellow members of the fraternity presented him with a beautiful gold headed cane, on which are engraved the words: “F. M. Avey from Rantoul Lodge No. 470, A. F. & A. M., Secretary, 1885 to 1915.” Mrs. Avey possesses as a valued souvenir a fine white bedspread, which was purchased by her grandfather, Isaac Busey, in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1807.