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The Fells

            The Fells, like other families that came from Pennsylvania, were Quakers, but just as the others did, they assimilated into the churches that were favored by other residents of McLean County.  A handwritten autobiography of Jesse Fell indicates that his father parted from the Quakers due to doctrinal differences before their migration to Illinois. Jesse Fell (Jr.) was influential in bringing the Unitarian faith to McLean County.


            Jesse Fell is justly famous for beginning Illinois State University and encouraging Abraham Lincoln to run for president. He was also responsible for the Soldier’s Orphan’s Home locating in Normal. Not only did this provide a place for local orphans to live, it was a financial boon to the city, driving visitors to the city and spurring building projects for many decades. 


            Jesse’s daughter Eliza married William O. Davis, who later became the head of the Pantagraph. Their son Hibbard had just one son, Louis Eddy Davis, who died fighting in World War I and for whom the Louis E. Davis American Legion Post is named.  Eliza’s daughter Helen married Lewis Green Stevenson and was the mother of Adlai E. Stevenson II. He was an Illinois Governor and ambassador to the United Nations. Eliza’s younger daughter was named Jesse and married Louis Buckley Merwin, a world traveller and local investor (of family wealth). Their sons Loring Chase Merwin and Merwin Davis were both heads of the Pantagraph, but Davis Merwin moved to Minnesota where he worked as a publisher. Merwin Davis served in both World Wars and after being a publisher, pursued a career in aeronautics and then a career as a war correspondent. Loring C. Merwin was publisher of the Pantagraph for over thirty years. During World War II he was a press officer and covered the Normandy Invasion.  In Bloomington he owned multiple television and radio stations as well as the Pantagraph. After he stepped down from the helm of the Pantagraph, Merwin Davis’ son, Merwin U. Davis took over.


            Robert Fell had one daughter who remained in McLean County. She married John Fulwiler, and their son Dr. John Fulwiler (1867 – 1947) practiced medicine in Bloomington for over fifty years. He practiced at Brokaw Hospital when it first opened and practiced with W.E. Guthrie, the son of another early settler. Dr. Fulwiler and his wife did not have any children.


            Kersey Fell was another Fell brother who lived all his adult life in McLean County. After coming to Illinois he was not sure what career path to take until he met Abraham Lincoln. Like Lincoln, he had not had the best advantages in education, but he decided to follow Lincoln’s example and train as a lawyer. Later in life he became a real estate dealer more than a lawyer. All of his children settled away from McLean County.

            Thomas (1806 – 1880) was brother Jesse Fell. Thomas came to Bloomington 1836 with his wife Eleanor Evans and began working as a carpenter/  wheelwright/ housebuilder in Bloomington. He hung the bell in the 1836 brick courthouse (the first courthouse, on Front Street) and moved to Towanda sometime before 1860. In his early business dealings Thomas would accept payment in the form of lumber or food stuffs. Actual money was very hard to obtain in the 1830s and 1840s, so most merchants sold goods on credit or accepted bartered materials. Thomas and Eleanor had six children, only two of whom stayed in McLean County.


            Rebecca remained in McLean County, along with her sister Ellen. She married first Washington Dawson and then Joseph Flesher. While many of the early settlers married other early settlers, marriages between these families continued even through to the twentieth century. Thomas Fell’s grandson, William Flesher, married a granddaughter of John Cox, Lizzie Rhodes. While none of Rebecca’s descendants continue to live in McLean County, five of her grandsons and great grandsons who lived in McLean County fought in the World Wars, one losing his life in the Pacific: Wilfred Flesher, died WWII; Frank Flesher, WWI; Lawrence Kinsey, Bob Flesher, and Guy Flesher, WWII.


            Ellen Amanda Fell (1838 – 1880) married George Dawson (1827 – 1901), a painter, and lived in McLean County. At the time of her death Ellen was staying at the Soldier’s Orphans Home and the styling of her name in the Pantagraph indicated she was no longer married. Her husband was boarding in a home in Lexington and was not living with any of their 7 children. Two of the children were registered as inmates in the orphanage according to the 1880 census: Harry (1866 – 1891) had a bone disease of the leg and daughter Estella was in the home. A news article in October of 1880 indicated that George Dawson(Jr.) (1858 – 1928) was in charge of the horses at the Home (after his mother’s death) and in 1881, he married the cook’s daughter there. Ellen’s youngest daughter, Ellen, was adopted by the Oscar Brown family in Hoopeston, IL after Ellen's death. A further clue to the disposition of the family lies in legal notices appearing in the Pantagraph a few months after the mother’s death. A newspaper notice was required because Estella (9), Walter (16) and Ellen (5) were out of the state already. None of Ellen’s descendants remained in Bloomington.

            To read full biographies of the Fell's follow the links below to the McLean county Museum of History's website.

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