Dunlap, Matthias L.

Born: 1814-09-21 New York

Died: 1875-02-14 Urbana, Illinois

Born in Cherry Valley, New York, Matthias L. Dunlap was a clerk, bookkeeper, farmer, surveyor, horticulturalist, writer, newspaper editor, state representative, Democrat turned Republican, and active participant in the Underground Railroad. He moved West with his family in 1836, but set out on his own to Chicago the next year. He worked first in the dry goods business and as a clerk, then as a bookkeeper for a firm contracted to complete work on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. While living in Chicago, he married Emeline Pierce, with whom he had at least nine children. After saving up money for some time, he purchased land twelve miles west of Chicago and began farming it while also conducting survey work. He developed an interest in horticulture about 1845 and, after relocating to Champaign County sometime between 1855 and 1857, he established a large nursery. In 1853, he became the chief agricultural writer for the Republican and Free Soil paper, the Democratic Press. He remained with the paper after it merged with the Chicago Tribune, contributing articles for the next twenty-two years under the pen name "Rural." He also wrote articles on agriculture for other papers, including the Prairie Farmer. Although a Democrat early in life, he switched to the Republican Party after 1852. Ardently anti-slavery, his home became a "depot" on the Underground Railroad. In 1854, the voters of Cook County elected him to the Illinois House of Representatives. By 1860, he had achieved financial success in addition to this political success, owning $34,000 in personal and real property. From 1860 to 1863, he served as editor of the Illinois Farmer, a monthly paper published out of Springfield. He continued writing and publishing articles on agriculture and horticulture until his death.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Champaign County, Ill. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 222-23; Franklin William Scott, Newspapers and Periodicals of Illinois, 1814-1879, vol. 6 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1910), 324; Illinois Daily Journal (Springfield), 2 January 1855, 2:3; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Champaign County, IL, 89; Gravestone, Mount Hope Cemetery and Mausoleum, Urbana, IL; The Prairie Farmer (Chicago), 20 February 1875, 4:2.