Marion County Families

A Sketch of Joseph Maxwell Phillips

Contributed By: Deb Shillo




The subject of this sketch died some six months ago, at the age of 96, in the State of Kansas.  By the language of his will, executed about a year before his death and while sojourning in Lebanon, he adopted the State and country of his birth as his final domicile; in these words: " Now residing in and declaring myself a resident of the State of Kentucky and of Marion county."

This energetic man was the son of Thomas Phillips and Mary Maxwell.  It is the Maxwell branch that will be reviewed in this sketch, because I am unacquainted with any outline of genealogy concerning the Phillips family.

Joseph Maxwell Phillips was the namesake of his quick-witted and industrious uncle, Joseph Maxwell, who married Miss Eunice Stiles, of Nelson County, Kentucky, on May 8, 1814.  His grandfather was John Maxwell, who came as an early settler to Washington County, Kentucky from the vicinity of Morristown, N.J., in 1794.  Sarah Maxwell, daughter of John Maxwell, married William Phillips May 15, 1804. (My not be correct NJ was where the Stiles family came from) (Parents were Thomas and Julia)

Joseph Maxwell Phillips died domiciled in Marion County and, if I mistake not, he possessed the greatest wealth of any citizen dying within its limits.  His estate, as appraised by discreet and disinterested housekeepers, totaled-----.  However, it is not alone on account of his money that this sketch extols him.  Had he amassed a fortune ten times greater than the above sum, and have obtained such prodigious wealth through oppressions of the poor, or have achieved same in violations of our laws, he would pass unnoted by the writer.  But starting as a poor boy, as I am informed, and making every dollar on the square, this distinctive feature sounds the zealous eulogy for his eminent character and honesty.

Did you ever notice, or have called to mind, that some individual of a sturdy stock had blazed the way, so to speak, to a particular method of success, and that some later member of the same relationship, being attracted by the success of his forerunner, would adopt the same plan?  So it was with Joseph Maxwell Phillips.   It is told to me that the first dollar he earned, indeed the foundation of the splendid fortune, originated from the success of river craft at Cairo, Illinois; and down the Mississippi River, even venturing in rugged flat boats, laden with various products, into New Orleans.

So, therefore, I adopt the conviction the Joseph Maxwell Phillips took the measure, and breathed his inspiration and love or river craft from his namesake, Joseph Maxwell.  In support of this assertion, I quote an ancient historical letter of his namesake, wherein pioneer dangers were told, and also describing the ups and downs of flat boat markets.  The letter came all the distance by stage, and its transmission by "Uncle Sam" cost 25 cents.  The unique stamp--two figures--was the handiwork of the postmaster, with a quill pen--ink perfect today --and then deposited in the mail sack.  However, in the lower left hand corner of the envelope (envelope made letter also) the postal service required that the postmaster endorse "Per Male."  (The postmaster was a bad speller).


"Natchez (Miss.), 24th July, 1812."

 "Dear Lewis (Stiles):

 "I am at a loss for an apology for not writing you sooner.   Be assured, my dear friend, it is not for want of respect, I can impute it to a hurry of business.  Be assured further I shall never forget the esteemed friendship by you and your family to me.  (His boat struck a fallen tree, badly crippling the flat boat, at the Stiles plantation."  He was rendered every assistance necessary to continue the river journey.  The "Stiles Genealogy," 1897, gives this special romance: He (Joseph Maxwell) went to the house to get an ax with witch to clear away the tree, and there saw Eunice Stiles at the spinning wheel.  He was smitten with her and married her after about two years courtship).  Please convey my sincere respects to Mrs. and the Misses Stiles.

"I would inform you that four days ago there was a report made to the Governor of this Territory were making active preparations for insurrection.  In consequence, the whole Territory is alarmed; between 75 and 100 negroes in this city and vicinity have been committed to jail.  A large quantity of poison was discovered, and this was procured through Dr. Harry ------, a colored man of this place.  Not much of a physician.  I feel great sympathy for the unguarded situations of this southern country.  Many localities are destitute of arms and ammunition, and so exposed to savage Indians and vicious Negroes.  Yesterday there was a draft and every fifth man taken; should there be a general call for these men.  I should not be surprised if this does not seriously injure prices current in the market.  I am only offered 42-47 cents a gallon for whiskey.  Lard 10 to 12 cents.  Bacon 7 to 8 cents.  Corn 75 cents per bushel.  Flour $5.00 to $6.75.  Dull indeed.  I shall leave soon for Port Gibson.  I found Lindsley.  He said he had losses and crosses, and completely made use of the money I had entrusted to him.  If he does not settle with me, without delay, I will put him in the flint mill.  We did not get here as soon as engaged, owing to extreme low water.  I wish to hear from you. 

"Yours respectfully, wishing you long to live, and well to do, is the wish of --

"Joseph Maxwell."

In those days of flat boating, the rule prevailed to "sell out" (boat and cargo) and "foot" it back through dismal swamps and Indian infested forests.

In truth Joseph Maxwell Phillips, when he reached young manhood, was equally as venturesome as his initiative namesake in steering river craft to market. 

After a career of some dozen years at flat boating out of Cairo, Illinois, Joseph Maxwell Phillips ventured into the young city of Chicago.  Even at the "first step" he detected, by his keen observations, that this magical city should be what the immortal Proctor Knott said of Duluth: "The zenith city of the unsalted seas."

At this point comes another instance of foresight.   Advice written to his namesake, Joseph Maxwell, from Morristown, N.J., anchored into the mind of Joseph Maxwell Phillips, and he engaged in "lumbering."  We read as follows:

"Morristown, N.J., May 31, 1851.

"Dear (Joseph) Maxwell:

"Pine lumbering is the future gold mine in Penn.  Brother (Isaac) and myself now own two-thirds of 15,000 acres of fine pine timber growing near Easton."  (Penn) (4 pages omitted).

"Affectionately your cousin,

"John Ford Pierson."

Seeing idle forests almost in sight of Chicago, boundless acres cheap, on the faith of this "letter" Joseph Maxwell Phillips purchased huge boundaries of pine in the northwest.  Years after, when J.J. Hill built his railroads through, or near this acreage, the said timber yielded and gleamed its owner of a fortune.  "He had an eye that kindled with the fire of a fixed determination."

 This sketch is reaching too long.  A wise man has said: "A man is responsible for all the good he can do."  One critic said concerning the will of "J. M. Phillips:" "Outside of one gift to his faithful valet, there is not a gift made to charity in its provisions."  If, however, this lone critic had known the heart of "J. M. Phillips" in this will, and also his generous donations numerously bestowed upon charities "of religious merit" for almost three quarters of a century, instead of him possessing at his death the aforesaid sum he might have hoarded a sum in excess of two million of dollars.

"Be not faithless but believing."

Joseph Maxwell Phillips lives the "Abundant Life."




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