Rock Island County owes much to its Irish sons. They have tilled its soil, built up, developed and directed its industries, and are today among its most substantial and energetic citizens. In no case is the obligation more real than in that of William Coyne, senior, “Uncle Billy,” as he is popularly known. He was one of the earliest comers to this locality from Erin’s Isle, and after more than sixty-two years residence here is still a man of remarkable activity. He has been one of the county’s heaviest land holders, and though he has turned the greater portion of his estate over to his children he still directs the cultivation of a small farm and continues to actively look after his other business interests.
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William Coyne, senior, is a native of Ireland, born June 11, 1822, the son of Thomas and Martha (Brown) Coyne. His parents were Irish and the father died in that country when the son was young. The mother late in life came to America and spent her last days among her children, dying in Rock Island about 1887. There were six children: Mariah, Margaret, Matilda, Jane, William and Robert. Jane died in the mother country, but the others all became citizens of the United States. William is now the sole survivor of the family.
Our subject was reared a farmer and has followed that vocation practically all his life. He received but a limited education, but in later life found time to remedy the defects of his early training and become thoroughly posted, both in relation to business affairs and in a general way: He sailed for America in 1845 on the sailing vessel “Liverpool,” which was eighteen weeks traversing the Atlantic. Mr. Coyne reached Rock Island June 11 of that year with just one shilling in his pocket. Being accompanied by a friend named James McCabe, who desired to go to Galena but needed funds, our subject loaned his last shilling, and, penniless, went to work at a brickyard in Moline for thirteen dollars per month, his employer being William McEniry. At the close of the season Mr. Coyne returned to Rock Island purchased a horse and dray, with which he earned a livelihood in Rock Island and Davenport for a couple of years. During this time he hauled mail from the post office to the boats, which were then the principal carriers in this vicinity.
Mr. Coyne next became a farmer, purchasing and settling upon eighty acres of land in Bowling Township. On this old homestead he lived till the Spring of 1901, when he removed to the place on which he now resides in Black Hawk Township, two miles south of Milan. Beginning as a farmer with small capital, Mr. Coyne’s energy, progressiveness and economy soon won him substantial rewards. As his fortune grew he invested in real estate, becoming in time one of the most well-to-do citizens of the community. At one time he owned 1,700 acres of land in Rock Island County, besides six hundred and forty acres in South Dakota, two hundred and forty acres in Nebraska and one hundred and sixty acres in Kansas. In late years, however, he has given all his land to his children with the exception of the eighty acres upon which he now lives.
Mr. Coyne has been thrice married. His first union was with Miss Elizabeth McKee, December 26, 1855. One child was born to this union, but died in infancy. The mother did not long survive. The second marriage was with Miss Margaret Morrison, July 4, 1860. She was a native of Ireland and came to America with her parents in early woman-hood. Eight children resulted from the second union, as follows: William T., born June 16, 1861; Elizabeth J., born June 14, 1863; Alexander W., born March 15, 1866; James, born November 19, 1867; Lydia A., born February 22, 1869; Julia A., born June 19, 1870; Edward S., born October 25, 1873; and Francis, born March 8, 1876. The mother of this family died in November, 1886. June 3, 1901, Mr. Coyne married Mrs. Bessie Foster.
Mr. Coyne is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of Milan. He has steadily espoused the cause of the Republican party and taken an active interest in the affairs of that organization, though he has never sought political favors.