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Hannibal businessman sacrificed farm, home for the Union cause

Kay Ellis of Hannibal shared this photo of Martha Crawford Riley’s grave at Crawford Cemetery, rural Ralls County, Mo. Martha was married to Jackson Riley. Their home in Hannibal, Mo., was used by the Union Army during the Civil War as a hospital.


The brutality of the infamous Palmyra, Mo., Massacre on Oct. 18, 1862, during which 10 Confederate prisoners were shot by firing squad, ultimately convinced Jackson Riley to close out his business interests in nearby Hannibal, Mo., and move his family east, to Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.

For the previous dozen years, beginning in 1850 when Hannibal’s population was just 2,020, the Ohio-born, self-professed rebel had operated a grocery and commission business in Hannibal. For a significant part of that time, the business was located on one of the two eastern corners of Second (Main) and Center streets.

But now, he deemed, it was time for his family to leave Hannibal behind.

For the cause

His stately home, facing Central Park between Fourth and Fifth streets, had been rented in 1861 by Col. M.M. Bane of the Fiftieth Illinois, for use by the Union Army as hospital quarters and later recruiting efforts for the war’s duration.

Riley’s horses and mules, kept on his farm west of Hannibal, had been pressed into service by the Union army as well, and he suffered financial reversals via fence damage and crop loss.

In the years following the war, despite claims presented to the federal government, (by 1876), Riley had failed to recover compensation for his war-time losses.

The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune provided the ink and paper in order to publicize Riley’s plight in its Sept. 29, 1876 edition. (genealogy A reporter found Riley, who was by then living in Hamilton, Ohio, at the Phillips House. “When I went into the hotel,” the reporter wrote, “I found him reading the editorial in the Commercial in regard to the matter, and commenting thereon to three or four gentlemen. After the party had retired, the following conversation ensued:

The reporter asked: “Were you loyal when the war broke out?”

And Riley answered: “Well, I was as loyal as one could be there, under the circumstances. Everybody knows what the situation was at that time, and how extremely difficult it was to stem the idea that was setting in,” Riley said.

“(The loss of my house) cost me $12,000, and (it) was the best place they could get. It was rented to Colonel M.M. Bane of the Fiftieth Illinois. The Colonel was so much interested in my claim that he presented it personally to the authorities at Washington, and certified to my loyalty. The Colonel said the reason why my claim had not been paid was because there were no funds appropriated for that purpose. General Henderson, also, who is a well known Republican, certified to my loyalty.

“I considered it a valid (claim) and just debt that the Government ought to pay.”

The reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune described the Palmyra Massacre in this way: “After general McNeil performed his celebrated exploit of shooting a party of ten or twelve persons suspected of doing away with an old Union man, Mr. Riley moved to New York, where he went into business.”

Liquor imports

In 1858, Jackson Riley began a venture in Hannibal which he carried on when he moved to New York: The importation and sale of fine liquor from abroad.

Hannibal’s Tri Weekly Messenger, W.T. League, editor, described the business in its Aug. 7, 1858 edition:

“Pure imported liquors.

“We received from Mr. J. Riley, yesterday, direct from the ‘old country,’ four bottles of superior ale. Mr. R. imported this Ale paying the duty on it, in this city. He has a splendid lot of pure liquors, and as they are his own importations he is enabled to sell cheap as any of the Eastern houses. This is the first importation that has ever come from the Old Country, direct to Hannibal. Thanks Mr. Riley, we hope you will never be ale(i)ing except from the contents of these black bottles.”

In New York, 1870, Riley stood accused of failure to keep proper books as required by law for his liquor business, and subsequently failure to pay associated fees. He hired Jasper K. Herbert, a lawyer, to defend him. In 1873, Mr. Herbert filed a claim against Riley for failure to pay for his services. Riley, in turn, brought action against the attorney, claiming that the bill had been paid in full and the attorney had pocketed the money paid by Riley. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 24, 1873,

Wife’s death

While living in Hannibal in 1857, Jackson Riley was united in marriage with Martha Crawford, daughter of Wilkinson and Nancy Simms Crawford, Ralls County, Mo., pioneers. Martha and their two young daughters, Anna A. Riley (born in 1859) and Laura D. Riley (born in 1862) moved with Jackson Riley to New York in 1862.

Martha Crawford died on Sept. 24, 1871, at the age of 34. She is buried with her parents and other family members at the Crawford Cemetery, located on Route O in Ralls County, Mo.

The farm

Even though by the mid 1870s Jackson Riley was living back in his home state of Ohio, he maintained investment properties in Missouri and by own his statement made frequent visits back to the state.

One of the farms he owned was located west of Hannibal, in the area now known as Oakwood. The land consisted of lots 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Darr’s Subdivision, Section 31-57-4, in Marion County, Mo. These lots totaled more than 70 acres.

In 1878, Riley’s former father-in-law, Wilkinson Crawford, filed a claim against Jackson Riley, and a judgment in Crawford’s favor was rendered in the Monroe County Circuit Court for the sum of $2,401.86 for debt, and $22.10 for damages.

The court ordered Daniel McLeod, sheriff of Marion County, to sell the aforementioned property at the Hannibal Court House steps (located on North Fourth Street) on April 6, 1878. John B. Price of Hannibal was the high bidder, $2,476.36, and thus took possession of the property, located to the north of Hamilton Avenue, between 36th Avenue and Singleton.

Note: Research for this story was conducted at the Marion County, Mo., recorder’s office, Palmyra, Harla Friesz, recorder.

This grocery advertisement for Jackson Riley’s store was found in the June 12, 1859 edition of the Hannibal Daily Messenger.

Hannibal’s city park, at right, is pictured around of the turn of the 20th Century. At near left, a house has been removed that once stood on the northwest corner of Fifth and Bird. To the north is the Fifth Street Baptist Church, and past that is the Park Methodist Church. Across Fifth Street is a large duplex that faced the park, and was torn down in order to build a YMCA on the lot. In that block on Center Street at the time were three houses facing the park, one of which was likely used during the Civil War as a military hospital and later for recruitment by the Union Army. Photo from the Hannibal Free Public Library’s collection.

Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on by this author: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Her collective works can be found at


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