John Scholfield was born in 1834 in Clark County, Illinois. His father, Thomas Scholfield, originally from Virginia, was a Pennsylvania Quaker that came to Illinois in 1830 as a pioneer. Thomas married a woman from Ohio and settled on a farm in Clark County. John spent the beginning of his youth working on the farm and attending school; however, when his mother died when he was 16, John left the farm in Clark County and moved to Martinsville, Illinois to live with his uncle.
It was his mother’s wish for him to become a lawyer; thus John was very studious. In addition to his studies, John worked in stables for his room and board. Interestingly, once while working in the stables John waited on a man who would eventually argue a case before him in the Illinois Supreme Court. After two years of working in the stables, John went to Marshall, Illinois and entered an Academy there that was run by a Congressional Minister. Just as John had worked in the stables to support himself in Martinsville, John did chores and worked for the local Sheriff. Although he was busy with work, Scholfield also enjoyed playing sports and was considerably athletic.
In 1851 Scholfield began working as a school teacher; however, he never completely stopped with his own personal studies, and in 1854 Scholfield sold a piece of land he had inherited from his uncle in order to pay for law school. John graduated from Louisville Law School when he was only 22 years old, and immediately entered into the public eye and the legal world. He was elected State’s Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, and held this position for four years. At this time, railroads were not yet common, so he had to travel on horseback between the ten counties in his judicial circuit. As a prosecutor, Scholfield became famous for ferociously prosecuting hog thieves.
In his life, Scholfield was actively involved in partisan politics as a Democrat. He made speeches on behalf of Democratic President Buchanan in 1856, as well as Presidential hopeful Douglas in 1858 and 1860. Scholfield himself was elected to the legislature in 1860. In 1869 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1870. Scholfield was also a member of the Masonic Order.
Despite his political involvement, Scholfield was always actively involved in the practice of law, which, in addition to his political exploits, won him a spot on the Supreme Court of Illinois in 1873, running against Judge Kingsbury. In 1879 and 1888 he was re-elected without opposition.
Scholfield was known to make his family his highest priority. In 1859, Scholfield married a women from Clark County, Illinoiss, Emma J. Bartlett. The couple had ten children together, eight boys and two girls. Scholfield’s connections in Washington led him to have an opportunity to serve in the United States Supreme Court which he denied. His reasoning for declining was mainly rooted in his desire to live close to his children, knowing he would have trouble supporting them while he was in Washington.
In the last few years of his life, Judge Scholfield suffered from stomach pains. Nevertheless he continued with his duties as a judge. On February 13th, 1893, he died of an inflammation of the stomach wall.
Next: John M. Scott
- “Sketch of a Justices Life.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963) Feb. 14th, 1893. Proquest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1986). Pg. 1
- “Relieved By Death.” Chicago Daily Tribune 1872; Feb. 14th, 1893. Proquest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849-1986). Pg. 1
- The Green Bag. 5.(1893): 148.