2 February 2015

David Gillespie

1828 — 1881

Biographical material

engraved portrait of David Gillespie

Was born in Edwardsville, Ill., September 30, 1828.  He was the eldest child of Matthew and Nancy (Gordon) Gillespie.  His mother died during his early childhood.  David in his youth had but few of the advantages for obtaining an education that are now enjoyed by nearly every child in the land.  The State was then in its infancy, and the school system but imperfectly operated.  His education was therefore mainly obtained at the select or subscription schools, with a short time spent at Shurtleff College.  As a boy or man he was always a careful student, and by his industry acquired a vast fund of general information.  So thorough and complete was his system of study that he could at any time call to mind and into practical use anything that he had ever read or learned.  He had a remarkably retentive memory, and was well-versed in the sciences and literature of the day.  He was in the broadest and most liberal sense of the term a self-made man, which, in after years, was fully demonstrated by his powers of clear thinking, practical reasoning and self-reliance.  Several years before he had attained his majority he had conceived the idea that he would like to follow the profession of law.  He accordingly became a student of law in the office and under the direction of his uncle Joseph Gillespie.  Here he obtained the mental food that stimulated his active mind.  The intricacies of the proper government and conduct of man with his fellow man, as laid down by Blackstone, Kent, Story, and other eminent jurists, found a fertile field in the mind of the young student; and on arriving at twenty-one years of age he was admitted to practice at the bar.  He had, however, previously attended a course at the law school in Cincinnati, Ohio.  From the time of his enrollment as an attorney-at-law until the day of his death he was actively employed in his chosen profession.

Few, if any, lawyers ever practiced at the bar in Madison county who were more thoroughly acquainted with the philosophy and intricacies of the law than he.  As a lawyer he worked with zeal and energy for the cause of his client, but he would never resort to any unfair or unlawful means to win a case.  He became a successful practitioner from the fact that he possessed legal abilities of a high order, and by his honesty and integrity won the confidence of judges and juries.  He participated in several important causus celebre, which have shed lustre upon the jurisprudence of the State of Illinois.  As an advocate he was both witty and logical, and when his full powers were aroused and called into requisition in the interests of his client, his language became not only ornate, but truly eloquent.

In 1861 he was appointed Master in Chancery, a position he filled with credit for twelve successive years.  While discharging the duties of that office, he was further honored by being elected to the office of County Judge, which position he filled from December, 1865, to December, 1869.  With all the multiplicity of duties devolving upon him as Master in Chancery, he never neglected his extensive law practice, and at the same time made a record as County judge that his friends may point to with pride, as being among the purest and most economical in the history of Madison county.

His death occurred at his home in Edwardsville, after a very brief illness, on the evening of August 1st, 1881.

He was married to Miss Minna A. Barnsback, October 8th, 1855.  She was the daughter of the late Julius L. Barnsback.  His widow, two sons and two daughters survive him.

In his social and family relations, he was one of the purest and best of men - ever true to his friends and to the principles that he believed to be right.  In politics, he was a Republican.

Source: History of Madison County, Illinois; Illustrated; With Biographical Sketches Of Many Prominent Men And Pioneers (Edwardsville, Illinois: W. R. Brink and Company, 1882) pages 358-359.

The engraving of David Gillespie at the start of this biographical sketch has a close resemblance to the photograph of him provided by a descendant, Thomas G. Allen, posted in the photo collectionn elsewhere on this site.


Judge David Gillespie was one of the lawyers who attained distinction at the bar of southern Illinois and by his courteous bearing and profound knowledge of jurisprudence fully sustained the majesty of the law and added new luster to the judicial history of the state.  This record would be incomplete without a memoir of this most respected man, and can it better be given than in the words of his old-time friend, Judge H. S. Baker, who when the bar of Madison county

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had assembled to pay tribute of respect to the member who had been taken from them by death, said:

"May it please the court:  I have been requested by the members of the Madison county bar to suggest unto your Honor the death of David Gillespie, one of the ablest and oldest of our lawyers.  He died at his home in Edwardsvile, on the 1st day of August, 1881, after a brief illness.  The shock with which the announcement of his death was received pervades our entire community and could not have been greater had the announcement been that he came to his death by violence.

"David Gillespie was born on the 29th of September, 1828, in the town of Edwardsville, Illinois.  He was the son of the late Mathew Gillespie, and his wife, Nancy Gillespie.  Her maiden name was Gorden and she was the daughter of Robert Gordon.  Both of David Gillespie's grandparents emigrated from Monaghan county, Ireland, as early as 1819, and settled in Illinois.  David Gillespie, in his youth, like the rest of us who were born and reared in Illinois contemporaneous with him, had but few advantages for acquiring an education.  As a rule we had to pick up as best we could the rudiments of knowledge from that class of itinerant school-teachers who at that period traveled around from one settlement to another, dispensing their own small fund of information.  The log cabin and Webster's spelling-book of 1828 have given place to stately school-houses of 1881, which sit like castles upon our elevated hills, and the vast and attractive course of learning embraced in our modern school-books.  After being taught by our itinerant teachers more than the teachers could teach, Mr. Gillespie for a short period attended school at Shurtleff College in Upper Alton, Illinois, where under the tuition of learned and refined teachers he laid the foundation of that knowledge upon which he afterward raised the superstructure of his professional success.

"After leaving college Mr. Gillespie at once entered the office of his uncle, Judge Joseph Gillespie, and commenced the study of law.  As an evidence of the avidity with which he pushed the study of his profession, it may be said that, several years before he arrived at the age of manhood and could be admitted as an attorney at law, he had mastered the entire course of reading allotted to him and had graduated at the law school of Hamilton, Ohio, with high and deserved honors.  It was not for him to drag his weary thought through the pages of Coke, of Blackstone, of Kent, of Chitty and of Story.  To him those pages were enchanted ground illuminated by that knowledge which he had made up his mind to master.

"After completing his course of study and upon arriving at the age of twenty-one years, he was admitted to practice as an attorney at law, in 1848, and at once formed a copartnership with Judge Joseph Gillespie in the practice of his profession in this city.  Judge Joseph Gillespie even at that time was ranked among the leading lawyers of Illinois and had a practice coextensive with his reputation; and I am informed that during the time of their copartnership, David Gillespie attended to almost the entire office business of the firm, arranging the pleadings and preparing the cases.  In 1861, upon the election of Joseph Gillespie as judge

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of our circuit court, David Gillespie formed a partnership in his profession with Charles F. Springer, which continued until the death of Mr. Springer in 1871.  He then entered into partnership with Mr. Cyrus Happy, which was dissolved only a short time previous to his death.

"David Gillespie was married October 8, 1855, to Miss Minna Barmback, of Madison county, Illinois, by whom he had six children, four of whom, with his widow, survive him.

"In his home, in social and professional circles, Mr. Gillespie was ever kind and courteous and in his death the community lost one of its best citizens.  He achieved high distinction at the bar and he deserved it, for he was ever careful to conform his practice to a high standard of commercial ethics and had a comprehensive knowledge of law and was masterful in its application to litigated questions.  As he won success and prominence in his professional career, so he in private life endeared himself to all who knew him by the simple nobility of his character."

Source: The Bench and Bar of Illinois; Historical and Reminiscent, edited by John M. Palmer (Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company, 1899) volume 2, pages 695-697.

Brief Genealogy

David Gillespie's family

His father's 1st marriage

David Gillespie's family

His father's 2nd marriage

Minna A. (or C.) Barnsback's family

Gillespie - Barnsback family

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