Biography of John Julius O’Fallon
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John Julius O’Fallon is a capitalist of large interests, partly received through inheritance and since largely increased through judicious investments. He is financially interested in many important business concerns which annually yield to him a substantial revenue. He was born in St. Louis, March 6, 1840, and is a son of Colonel John and Caroline Ruth (Schutz) O’Fallon. The father figured prominently in the history of St. Louis during the first half of the nineteenth century. Viewed through the perspective of the years, it is seen that he was active in fashioning the civilization of the city during its formative period. He was born near Louisville, Kentucky, November 17, 1781, and died in St. Louis, December 17, 1865. For nearly nine hundred years the O’Fallons have figured in Irish history. The first mention of them was in the year 1017, when King Brian-Boru was killed in a battle with the Danes at Clontarf. One of the clans that fought under Brian was that of Faolan, chief of the Desie of Munster, and which was led on that occasion by Mothla, Faolan’s son. After that they were called the O’Faolans, later the Phelans, and still later the O’Fallons. In the year 1170 Malachi O’Fallon, Prince of the Desies, in connection with O’Ryan of Idrone, commanded the Irish troops at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. It was this Malachi O’Fallon who led the forces in the attack upon Earl Strongbow, when he arrived at Waterford, and it was from this branch of the family that most of the O’Fallons in America are descended. About the beginning of the Revolutionary war an Irish physician, son of William and Anne (Eagan) O’Fallon, came to America. He took the oath of allegiance at Valley Forge and became the surgeon-in-chief to the Continental army under General Washington.
Dr. O’Fallon married Miss Frances Clark, a sister of General George Rogers and Governor William Clark. John O’Fallon, the father of John Julius, and a son of this marriage, was born on the old homestead, known as “Mulberry Grove,” not far from the city of Louisville. His mother was a native of Caroline county, Virginia, and after the death of Dr. O’Fallon she married Charles M. Thurston, and after his death she became the wife of Dennis Fitzhugh, a cousin, with whom she had gone to school in her childhood. John O’Fallon received his education in the instruction given him at home and the Danville Academy, afterward known as Centre College. At the age of nineteen he went to Lexington and began the study of law under Robert Todd, whose daughter afterward became the wife of Abraham Lincoln.
In the fall of 1811 he joined a company of mounted volunteers, commanded by Colonel Jo Daviess, to participate in a campaign against the Indians of Indiana Territory. This company became a part of the forces under General Harrison and took part in the historic battle of Tippecanoe, in which the Indians were defeated after some hard fighting. In this engagement Colonel Daviess was killed and young O’Fallon severely wounded. The acquaintance formed with General Harrison during this campaign undoubtedly had a considerable influence on the subsequent life of Mr. O’Fallon.
Late in the same year he came to St. Louis, where he became associated with his uncle, William Clark, who had been connected with Captain Lewis in the famous expedition to the Pacific coast, and who was at that time the Indian agent at St. Louis. As an attache of the Indian agency Mr. O’Fallon was entrusted with the execution of several missions, some of them of highly important and diplomatic nature. These errands he carried out with such skill and fidelity as to commend him to Governor Howard of Missouri and Governor Edwards of Illinois. Seeing his leaning toward a military career, the two governors united in recommending him for a commission in the United States army. They applied for a captaincy for him, but failed to secure his appointment to that rank. However, on September 12, 1812, he was appointed an ensign in the First United States Infantry and assigned to duty on General Harrison’s staff.
While occupying this position he participated in the siege of Fort Meigs, accompanied Harrison to Detroit, and later took part in the battle of the Thames. For some time after this engagement he was prevented by illness from taking an active part in military operations, but in December, 1813, he accompanied General Harrison to Washington and was afterward in command of a company sent to Fort Mackinaw. In the meantime he had several times been commended by his superior officers and in January, 1813, was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. In May of the same year he was made aide-de-camp and at the siege of Fort Meigs was assistant adjutant-general. In August, 1813, he was advanced to first lieutenant and in March, 1814, when he was ordered to Mackinaw, he was commissioned a captain in the Second United States rifle regiment. At the close of the war of 1812 he was one of the four captains selected to remain in the service. For more than seven years he had been in military service or engaged in the strenuous events of the frontier, and had a desire to lead, for a while at least, the life of a civilian. But as he saw no position open to him in civil life, he determined to hold on to his commission until he could obtain one that would assure him a comfortable income. He made an application for a place as Indian trader.
From that date he made St. Louis his permanent home. In his new occupation he was successful and as a contractor for army supplies he made considerable money, the foundation of a large fortune, much of which was afterward given away in worthy charities and endowments. In 1821 he was elected a member of the first state legislature of Missouri. After serving two years in the lower branch he was elected to the senate, where he served with distinction for two years more. He goon became identified with the leading business and financial institutions of St. Louis. and in all his undertakings he was measurably successful, maintaining at all times an unblemished integrity. During the existence of the United States Bank he was president of the St. Louis branch, which wound up its affairs with a loss of but one hundred and twenty-five dollars while some of the other branches showed losses amounting to thousands of dollars, due to the incompetency or lack of principle of the managers. For many years he was one of the leaders in every enterprise that promised to promote the material interests of St. Louis. He was one of the organizers of the Ohio & Mississippi (now part of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern) Railroad Company, and was its first president; and he was also one of the promoters and president of the North Missouri Railroad Company and one of the organizers of the Missouri Pacific Railway. He was the first adjutant-general of the state, appointed by Governor McBair, and was appointed visitor and examiner at the West Point Military Academy. He served as a director in the State Bank of Missouri and was one of the largest subscribers to the building of the Lindell and Planters’ Hotels.
It was Mr. O’Fallon’s lot to have the personal acquaintance, and in numerous instances the warm friendship, of many men high in public life. His acquaintance with General Harrison, already mentioned, continued until after the latter’s election to the presidency. After his inauguration he offered Mr. O’Fallon the position of secretary of war in the cabinet. Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, General Lewis Cass, General Scott, and in later years General U. S. Grant, as well as numerous others, were numbered among his friends, and his descendants cherish the letters of those men to their illustrious ancestor as priceless heirlooms. About the time he retired from the army, Zachary Taylor, who had been his playmate, wrote him a letter in which he said, among other things: “I approve of your leaving the army. I think your prospects for acquiring wealth flattering and I sincerely wish they may come up to your most sanguine wishes. General Macomb visited us shortly before I left the Bay. He was quite astonished at the order in which he found the troops at that place. He appeared much disposed to reconcile all differences. I treated him politely, but we parted as we met. He ordered me to this place to superintend the recruiting for the Third Regiment, which duty I shall be employed on, I expect, for at least twelve months, at the expiration of which time I contemplate retiring to civil life.” Instead of retiring, however, he continued in the service, taking part in the wars with the Indians and rising to the rank of general in the Mexican war, finally becoming president of the United States. The friendship between him and Mr. O’Fallon lasted until the death of General Taylor in 1850.
As his fortune increased it only multiplied his power to do good. Did some educational institution stand in need? It was only necessary to apply to Mr. O’Fallon. Was some worthy enterprise languishing for want of adequate support? No sooner did John O’Fallon hear of the situation than the difficulty was removed. He donated the ground upon which the old city water works stood; the site of the First Methodist church, when it stood on Fourth street; the site of the St. Louis University; two blocks of land and an endowment of forty-five thousand dollars to the O’Fallon Polytechnic Institute; made liberal contributions to Washington University; built the dispensary and medical college which was so long under the management of Dr. Pope; gave fifteen acres of ground as a site for the Home of the Friendless, and has given away thousands of dollars in private charities which it would require pages to enumerate. Yet with all his wealth he never became vain nor overbearing.
The historian, Edwards, said of his character: “The possession of unbounded wealth, the high and responsible positions which he had filled in the military, civic and business relations of life have never generated pride and arrogance in his character, nor made him forgetful of his duties to his Creator and fellow beings. Unostentatious in his bearing, he can be approached by all, and his manner possesses much of that freedom and frankness which lend a charm to conversation, and are characteristics of the early settlers of the west.” This was written before his death. After he was gone John F. Darby, a prominent citizen of St. Louis said: “He possessed one of the most acute and vigorous understandings that any man was ever armed with. His quickness was not accompanied with the least temerity, on the contrary he was as sure as the slowest of mankind. But his nobleness of heart was far above all the qualities of his mind. He was, beyond all doubt, the most open, candid and liberal man the city of St. Louis ever produced, the leader in every noble undertaking, the foremost and largest contributor in every public enterprise. He sprang to every business man’s assistance without waiting to be called upon. He has done more to assist the merchants and business men of St. Louis than any other man who ever lived in the town.”
Upon the occasion of his funeral his remains were followed to their last resting place by the city officials, the members of the chamber of commerce, the professors and students of the institutions which he had so liberally endowed, and a large concourse of citizens.
Mr. O’Fallon was twice married: His first wife, whom he married in 1821, was a Miss Stokes, the daughter of a wealthy Englishman. She came with her brother, William, to St. Louis in 1819., After her death he married Miss Ruth Caroline Schutz, a native of Baltimore, who was related to some of the leading families of Maryland. She survived her husband, living until September 24, 1898, when she passed to her reward in the ninety-fourth year of her age.
John Julius O’Fallon, whose name introduces this review was educated in Washington University and in a private school at New Haven, Connecticut. He has always made St. Louis the place of his residence, and a generous inheritance which he received relieved him of the necessity of business activity save for the attention which he gave to his real estate interests in the control of his investments. He had various financial interests and was known in financial circles as a director of the Merchants Laclede National Bank and of the Bellefontaine Cemetery Association.
On the 10th of April, 1860, Mr. O’Fallon was married to Miss Caroline Mastine, and to them were born two sons and a daughter: Frank M., now deceased; Caroline, the wife of J. G. Miller; and Charles Pope O’Fallon whose sketch appears on another page of this work. Mr. O’Fallon holds membership in the Methodist Episcopal church, South, and also has membership relations with the St. Louis and the St. Louis Country Clubs. His political endorsement is given to the republican party, nor is be oblivious to his duties and obligations of citizenship. On the contrary he has been generous in support of various public measures, lending his aid and influence to further progressive movements.