Rockwell, John A. (Congressman)

Born: 1803-08-27 Norwich, Connecticut

Died: 1861-02-10 Washington, DC

John A. Rockwell attended the common schools in Norwich and graduated from Yale College in 1822. He studied law, earned admittance to the Connecticut bar, and opened a law practice in Norwich. In 1835, he purchased 640 acres of land ninety-five miles south of Chicago, hoping to establish a temperance community there and use the land as an investment since it was one of several prospective sites for the location where the Illinois and Michigan Canal would meet the Illinois River. In the end, the town of La Salle was created a few miles upstream from Rockwell's land and became the terminus for the canal. Nevertheless, Rockwell's land became home to a small town named after him, and several hundred people settled there, including many from his hometown of Norwich. He made efforts to begin mining and manufacturing in the town, but most of its residents fled after serious outbreaks of malaria and typhoid in 1838. The town never became commercially successful, but Rockwell maintained an interest in it throughout his life and revived his development and coal-mining interests in the area in the 1850s. He served as a member of the Connecticut Senate in 1839 and worked as a judge of the county court. He won election, as a Whig, to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1845 to 1849. He also served alongside Abraham Lincoln during the Thirtieth Congress. Not a candidate for reelection in 1848, Rockwell practiced law before the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington DC until his death.

Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1746-47; Simon Cordery, The Iron Road in the Prairie State: The Story of Illinois Railroading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016), 24; John D. Haeger, “The Abandoned Townsite on the Midwestern Frontier: A Case Study of Rockwell, Illinois,” Journal of the Early Republic 3 (Summer 1983), 180-82; Gravestone, Yantic Cemetery, Norwich, CT.