Berry, James W. (Fayette Co., IL)

Born: 1805-07-16 Mason County, Kentucky

Died: 1877-01-07 Decatur, Illinois

James W. Berry was a circuit court clerk and artist. Little is known about Berry's early life or education. In 1817, he moved with his parents from Kentucky to Kaskaskia, Illinois, where his father, Elijah Berry, served as auditor of public accounts for the Illinois Territory. Two years later, Elijah Berry became auditor of public accounts for Illinois, and he moved his family to Vandalia. Although receiving no known training in art, James began painting, and in December 1824, he presented two portraits to the Illinois General Assembly. In 1825, he received appointment as clerk of the Clinton County Circuit Court. A year later, Berry became clerk of the Fayette County Circuit Court, a position he would hold for the next thirty years. From January 1835 to November 1839, he was adjutant general of the Illinois State Militia. In February 1835, the General Assembly selected Berry as commissioner to locate a half an acre of the Vandalia Burial Ground to be reserved exclusively for members of the General Assembly and other state officers who died while discharging their duties in the capital. In 1839, the state of Illinois commissioned Berry to copy the paintings of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette that hung in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state paid Berry $1,500 to make these copies, which state officials placed in the new capitol building in Springfield. He also painted portraits of Robert K. McLaughlin, James T. B. Stapp, and other Illinois luminaries. Berry followed his father in supporting the Whig Party. When the Whig Party collapsed, he became a Democrat and remained a Democrat until his death. Berry spent the last years of his life living with his sister in Decatur, Illinois.

Mary Burtschi, Vandalia: Wilderness Capital of Lincoln's Land (Decatur, IL: Huston-Patterson, 1963), 66-68; Mary Burtschi, "James William Berry, Illinois Artist," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 67 (November 1974), 519-29; Gravestone, Old State Cemetery, Vandalia, IL.