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In recalling to mind those men who in an early day laid the foundation of Rock Island’s present commercial and financial stability, one’s memory instinctively turns to an individual who, during his lifetime, was instrumental in organizing and conducting one of the largest banking houses in Rock Island County, and who was a tower of moral and financial strength in the community, Philemon L. Mitchell, deceased.
He was born October 16, 1812, at Limington, Maine, and died at his home in Rock Island January 23, 1895. His parents were Isaac and Martha (Libby) Mitchell. The father was a native of Maine and the mother of Ire-land, she having come to America with her parents in her early childhood. To this couple seven children were born, four sons and three daughters. The parents spent their lives in the City of Limington, where their family was born and reared, the father dying in that city January 26, 1853, at the age of eighty-two years. The death of the mother occurred in the same city January 3, 1877, she having attained the extreme age of ninety-four years.
Philemon L. Mitchell spent his early boy-hood in Limington, his school days being limited to a short attendance in that city’s public schools. But his education was not in any sense a limited one on that account, for he was throughout his life a student of men and books. At the age of thirteen years he found it necessary to face the world for himself and earn his own livlihood. Although obliged so early in life to ‘participate in its grim struggle, he was imbued with determination to succeed and was undaunted in his efforts to that end. At the age of twenty-five . he located in Georgetown, Kentucky, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits. He continued in the mercantile business until 1850, when he was made cashier of the Farmers’ Bank of Kentucky, a financial institution familiar in those days to every business man south of the Mason and Dixon Line. For years a note issued by this bank was equivalent to gold in any state in the Union.
In 1856 Mr. Mitchell severed his connection with that bank, and in company with P. L. Cable came to Rock Island. They bought out the banking firm of Cook, Sargent & Parker, established 1852. The partnership was continued until 1860, when Judge Cornelius Lynde took over Mr. Cable’s interest in the concern, which was continued under the name of Mitchell & Lynde until 1905. At this date the form of organization was changed to that of a state bank, and the institution is now known as the State Bank.
In 1858 Mr. Mitchell and his partner purchased the building and other assets of the old Rock Island Bank and closed up its affairs, thus succeeding in eliminating almost entirely any competition in the field of banking in this vicinity for a number of years. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Mitchell was the most widely known and successful banker in this section of Illinois, and in addition to his acknowledged financial strength and business ability he bore a deserved reputation for scrupulous integrity and probity in every commercial transaction. These facts led to his appointment by the famous New York banking institution of Jay, Cook & Company, America’s financial Gibraltar at that time, as their correspondent for Rock Island County. Acting as the agent of this firm, he placed over $1,000,000 worth of United States Government Bonds in this county. In considering the magnitude of this transaction it must be borne in mind that the sum of $1,000,000 bore the same relation to the financial world of that day that $25,-000,000 or even $50,000,000 would to the financial world of today.
In 1862 the First National Bank of Rock Island, charter No. 108, was organized by Mr. Mitchell, and he was elected its president. He was also president of the Rock Island Plow Company and secretary of the Chippiannock Cemetery Association, as well as a large stock holder and director in the Moline and Rock Island Street Railway Company, the Rock Island Glass Works, and the .Rock Island Stove Company.
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On October 11, 1837, at Exeter, New Hampshire, occurred the marriage of Mr. Mitchell and Miss Catherine Hall, a young lady of that city. There were born to them five children, four daughters and a son : Annie M., widow of Wm. C. Wadsworth; Mary H., widow of Henry Wadsworth; Phil, president of the State Bank of Rock Island, whose biographical sketch appears elsewhere in this work; Laura M., deceased, who was the wife of Charles Shaler, United States Army, and Kate M., wife of Henry S. Fraser, of Indianapolis, Indiana. The death of Mrs. Mitchell occurred October 4, 1868.
Mr. Mitchell throughout his life was a consistent and devoted member of the Christian Church, and to his memory has been erected the new Memorial Christian Church by his daughter, Mrs. Mary H. Wadsworth. He was a man extremely liberal but wholly unostentatious in his giving. His was a true and simple Christian character. As he walked through the world he helped his fellow man in the best and wisest manner, not by making him a dependent, but by aiding him to attain a position of independence, by friendly counsel or sound business advice, and where pecuniary assistance was necessary it was cheerfully and freely given, and from his lips no one ever learned of the generous act.
Such was the life of P. L. Mitchell. To attempt to delineate in eulogistic words his fine life and character would be futile. He was a man of quiet, natural dignity. Sucessful himself, he delighted in the success of others. In the happy phraseology of a great writer he was ” one of God’s own gentlemen.”