Marshall County
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BOAL, Robert, M.D.

Robert BOAL, M. D., who came to Marshall county, and located at Lacon in 1836 for the practice of his profession, is now living a retired life, making his home with his daughter, the widow of the late Congressman G. L. FORT. He was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1806, and when five years of age went with his parents to Ohio, and in what was then a new and undeveloped country, grew to manhood amid the scenes of pioneer life. After attending the subscription schools of that early day, long before free schools became known in that locality, he entered the Cincinnati College to complete his course. However, the desire to obtain a thorough classical education was never realized, as he left the school when just about to be promoted to the junior class.

Soon after leaving college Robert began the study of medicine under a good preceptor, and later entered the Medical College of Ohio, from which he graduated with honor in 1828. From early boyhood he had desired to be a physician, having a natural inclination in that direction. Soon after graduating he commenced the practice of medicine at Reading, Ohio, and four years later in 1832, was united in marriage with Miss Christina W. SINCLAIR, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and of Scotch extraction. By this union three children were born – Charles T., now residing in Chicago; Clara B., now the widow of G. L. FORT, who for years represented his district in congress and was well and favorably known throughout the state, and James Sinclair, who for ten years was assistant district attorney for the northern district of Illinois, with headquarters at Chicago, serving under Judge BANGS, General LEAKE, Judge TUTHILL and Judge EWING and died in office. Mrs. BOAL, who was a woman of strong character and lovely disposition, was a worthy helpmeet to the young doctor in pioneer days, being ever ready and willing to cheer his pathway, and make his burden light. She died in Peoria, in 1883.

Four years after his marriage Dr. BOAL came with his young wife to Marshall county, and locating at Lacon, at once commended an active practice, which continued uninterruptedly for twenty-six years. In those early days the rides were long, roads poor, bridges almost unknown and the practicing physician was required to hold himself in readiness to go at a moment’s warning at a call from any source and at whatever inconvenience. Many were the calls to which he responded, lonely the long night rides and but little was the pay expected or received.

In common with all professional men, Dr. BOAL was somewhat of a politician in the early days of the history of Marshall county. He was an eloquent speaker and his services were often called into requisition in the exciting campaigns which rapidly followed one another. The newspapers did not circulate then as now, and the public and professional speaker was expected to enlighten the people upon the issues of the day.

Politically, Dr. BOAL was a whig after attaining his majority, and the principles of that party especially with reference to the great question of the tariff, were in consonance with his ideas of right and for the best interest of the entire country. He took the stump in advocacy of these principles in each succeeding campaign, and was a most effective speaker. In 1844 he was placed in nomination by his party for the state senate in the district comprising the counties of Marshall, Tazewell, Woodford and Putnam, and was triumphantly elected, succeeding Major CULLOM, the father of the present United States Senator CULLOM.

While in the senate the doctor strongly advocated the building by the state of a hospital of the insane, and was instrumental in securing its passage. For some years previous the state had been engaged in the construction of a canal and which virtually swamped the state in the panic of 1837. The doctor advocated turning the uncompleted canal over to the bond holders for its early completion, which was accordingly done. He also advocated the calling of a constitutional convention to revise the constitution, and an act was passed for that purpose, resulting in the constitution of 1848, which for twenty-two years was the basis of our state laws, or until repealed by the constitution of 1870.

Dr. BOAL was a politician of state reputation, and was on intimate terms with all the great leaders of the whig party. He first met the immortal Lincoln in 1842, and was at once drawn to him, and the personal acquaintance formed with him at the congressional convention of that year was kept up and lasted through the life of Lincoln.

In 1854 Dr. BOAL was elected a member of the general assembly of the state, the last whig elected from the district; at the session of the legislature following his election a United States senator was to be elected. Lincoln was the whig candidate and was enthusiastically supported by the doctor. Every student of history knows the result of that election. A small number of what was known as anti-Nebraska democrats, of whom John M. Palmer was one, held the balance of power, and when convinced their favorite could not be elected the entire whig vote was cast, with that of the anti-Nebraska democrats, for Lyman Trumbull, who was duly chosen.

The whig party was now virtually dead, and in 1856 a convention of anti-slavery men met at Bloomington, Illinois, in which was brought into existence the republican party of the state. In this convention Dr. BOAL sat as one of the delegates, and was thus instrumental in the birth of that party, which four years later succeeded in electing Abraham Lincoln as president, an event followed by the greatest war of modern times, resulting in the entire abolition of slavery and the cementing of the ties binding the states of the union together, stronger than ever before. Dr. BOAL was renominated for the house of representatives in 1856, and again elected, and served with credit to himself and his constituents.

William H. Bissell was elected governor in 1856, and soon after his inauguration he appointed Dr. BOAL as one of the trustees of the deaf and dumb asylum at Jacksonville, a position which he held by reappointment by succeeding governors, for seventeen years, the last five years of which time serving as president of the board. Soon after the commencement of hostilities between the states Dr. BOAL was appointed surgeon of the board of enrollment, with headquarters at Peoria, which position he held until the close of the war.

The active political life of Dr. BOAL closed with the war. He then moved his family to Peoria and engaged in general practice, which he continued successfully for twenty-eight years. As a physician he was recognized by his co-laborers and the public as well, as one of the best in the state. His practice was very large, patients coming for treatment by him for many miles around. In 1882 he served as president of the State Medical association, an honor worthily bestowed.

Dr. BOAL continued in the active practice of his profession until he was eighty-seven years of age, when he retired and returned to Lacon, where he now makes his home. He is a well preserved man, mentally and physically, and an inveterate smoker. A great reader, he has kept posted in the current and general literature of the day and has also been a lover of the drama. In the social circle he is always surrounded by those who love to listen to an attractive conversationalist, one who can instruct as well as amuse.

Extracted March 2011 by Norma Hass from The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, 1896.


Dr. Robert BOAL was born in Dauphin county, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1806, and died in Lacon, Illinois, June 12, 1902, in the ninety-seventh year of his age. The long life allotted him was characterized by a noble use of the talents with which nature had endowed him and in all life's relations he was found faultless in honor, fearless in conduct and stainless in reputation. He was descended from Scotch-Irish ancestry. The comparatively early death of his parents, Thomas and Elizabeth (CREAIN) BOAL, led him to become a member of the family of his uncle, Robert BOAL who was a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, to which city Dr. BOAL had accompanied his parents on their removal in 1811. His early education, acquired in the public schools, was supplemented by study in the Cincinnati Literary College and a natural predilection for the science and practice of medicine led him to become a student in the Ohio Medical College, from which he was graduated in 1828 being at the time of his death its oldest alumnus Throughout his life he remained a student not, only of his profession but of general literature, the drama and history as well, and at the same time keeping abreast with the trend of modern thought.

In 1834 Dr. BOAL made a tour of central Illinois and in 1836 removed from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Columbia, now Lacon, Illinois, where he engaged in the practice of medicine for almost three decades. In 1865 he removed to Peoria, Illinois, where he continued in active practice for twenty-seven years. He retired from active connection with the profession after a service of sixty-five years and in 1893 returned to Lacon. In his profession he attained much more than local reputation. He was a member of the American Medical Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Peoria City Medical Society and an honorary member of the North Central Medical Association. Not only did he use these connections to keep him in touch with the onward march of progress in the practice of medicine and surgery, but independently he carried on his researches and investigations and his native intellectual force proved perhaps the most potent element in his success as a physician and surgeon a success which in the course of years won him the recognition of his brethren of the medical fraternity and gained him that measure of prosperity which is the legitimate reward of earnest, persistent, conscientious effort. He was one of the incorporators and directors of the Cottage Hospital of Peoria, and he found occasion to utilize his professional knowledge in connection with other public service.

Coming into full possession of his developed powers and talents at the most momentous period in the history of the country since the establishment of the republic, Dr. BOAL naturally wielded a wide influence over public thought and action. He did not seek fame in political circles, but was a student of the burning questions of the hour and possessed a statesman's grasp of the issues which arose. In 1844 he was elected to the state senate and was active in securing the passage of the bill for the completion of the Illinois and Michigan canal, also the law for the creation of the Illinois Hospital for the Insane at Jacksonville. In 1854 he was elected to the house of representatives and at the session of 1855 voted for Abraham Lincoln for United States senator, continuing thus to cast his ballot until personally requested by Mr. Lincoln to vote for Lyman Trumbull, who was then elected. In 1856 Dr. BOAL was again chosen to represent his district in the house and was chairman of the joint committee of the senate and the house to investigate the condition of the public institutions for the insane, the blind and the deaf and dumb at Jacksonville. The committee found that an almost chaotic condition existed, so reporting in the session of 1857 and recommending the reduction of the number of the trustees of each institution and suggesting that not more than one should be appointed from any county in the state. The report was practically embodied in a bill which passed and became a law. In 1857, upon the adjournment of the legislature, Dr. BOAL was appointed a trustee of the deaf and dumb institution by Governor Bissell and thus served for seventeen years through appointment of Governors Yates, Oglesby, Palmer and Beveridge, acting as president of the board during the last five years In this connection his professional knowledge rendered his service of the utmost benefit. In 1862 Dr. BOAL was appointed surgeon of the board of enrollment for the fifth congressional district comprising seven counties, and so continued until the close of the war in 1865, during which period he examined nearly five thousand volunteers and drafted men, a large majority of whom "went to the front."

Reared in the faith of the Presbyterian church Dr. BOAL afterward became a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal church, his connection therewith continuing until his demise. About 1893 he returned from Peoria to his old home in Lacon and his closing years were spent with his daughter. His married life covered a period of more than a half century. In Beading, Ohio, May 12 1831, he wedded Christiana Walker SINCLAIR, who was of Scotch descent. Their family numbered two sons and a daughter. The elder son, Charles T. BOAL, has for more than forty years been a resident of Chicago. The younger son, James Sinclair BOAL, died in that city while the incumbent in the office of the United States assistant district attorney, in which position he had served for ten years. The only daughter is Mrs. Clara B. FORT, the widow of the late Colonel G. L. FORT, and the years of his retirement, spent with his daughter and a grandson bearing his name, were surpassingly serene and happy. Caring naught for fame nor honors for their own sake, his life was a life of service given to his fellowmen. It was exceptional not only in the count of its years, but in its breadth and fullness and the beneficent activities with which it was crowned. In his state he was connected with events which have left an indelible impress upon the history of the commonwealth. In his profession his ability advanced him far beyond mediocrity and gained him the recognition of the ablest members of the medical fraternity in Illinois, and yet in his long professional career the motive spring of his service was his broad humanitarianism and his desire to do the utmost possible for his fellowmen. Perhaps the best characterization and summary of the life of Dr. BOAL has been given by Dr. J. H. MORRON, who said of him, "A learned and skillful physician, Dr. BOAL was also a distinguished citizen one of the founders of the party which for the last forty years has dominated and shaped our national affairs, and to which belongs the glory of our emancipation, reconstruction and expansion politics. His patriotism was kindled while yet a child, amid the fires of the war of 1812, and continued intense and burning to the last. He was a man of remarkable balance and poise, free from eccentricity and warp firm without obstinacy, gentle without weakness, sane and vigorous in every faculty. He was familiar not merely with the science of his profession, but with general literature, and his capacious and keen mind was stored with varied and enriching knowledge. He wrote with rare clearness, force and elegance, and has left behind papers of permanent value. But above everything else was the man himself his refinement of nature, his sterling character, his cultivated gracious manners, his sincerity and loyalty, his geniality, kindness and universal good will."

Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.


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