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Williamson County recognizes Revolutionary War veteran on plaque inside courthouse

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Williamson County Commissioner Jim Marlo (left) points out the addition of John Ellis on the plaque honoring Revolutionary War veterans buried in Williamson County to Tina Swayne-Johnson, a descendant of Ellis, during a rededication ceremony for the plaque on Friday at the Williamson County Administration Building in Marion.

MARION — When Williamson County Commissioner Jim Marlo was contacted about adding a name to the plaque listing Revolutionary War veterans who lived in what became present day Williamson County, he didn't even know the plaque was hanging in the courthouse.

He found it was hidden from view by a metal detector in the courthouse lobby. "Why don't we put it somewhere more visible?" he asked.

On Friday, Jill Rendleman, regent of the Daniel H. Brush Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution, gave the history of the plaque during a ceremony to honor John Ellis in the Williamson County Administration Building.

The plaque was placed in 1976 during the nation's Bicentennial.

"Local Daughters of the American Revolution wanted to publicly identify, as well as memorialize, those Revolutionary War soldiers who have been laid to rest in Southern Illinois. Plaques bearing the names of these soldiers were presented to public officials and placed in the court houses of Williamson, Franklin, Perry and Jackson counties," Rendleman said.

She added that research almost 45 years later gave them a new name to add to the plaque in Williamson County — John Ellis, private, 10th Regiment of the Continental Army of North Carolina. That research was initiated by descendants of Ellis.

While most residents of Williamson County may not have known the role John Ellis played in creating our country, his extended family did.

Tina Swayne Johnson, a great-granddaughter times five, said Ellis lived on in family stories. Johnson traveled from California for Friday's ceremony.

"We talked about him when we were here for a family reunion in June," she said. "We, as a family, are very proud of his service."

John Ellis was born in 1754 in Virginia. As a child, he moved with his family to North Carolina, where he lived for nearly 50 years.

On April 27, 1776, a young Ellis voluntarily enlisted in the 10th North Carolina Rergiment of the Continental Army. His first assignment was to guard the North Carolina legislature.

In 1778, he joined a group hunting Tories along the Pee Dee River. They were successful, taking about 50 prisoners. Ellis was honorably discharged on July 1, 1779. He was listed as a "free person of color" in the 1790 Census of Wake County, North Carolina.

Ellis moved his family to Williamson County sometime between 1820 and 1830. At least two adult sons moved with him. He lived to age 95 and is buried on the family farm near New Deniston.

Johnson received certificates honoring Ellis on behalf of the family from State Rep. Dave Severin, State Sen. Dale Fowler and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost.

"He voluntarily signed up," Severin said, "and that said something to me."

Johnson said he started a legacy of service in her family. "He set forth a path of service for the men in our family," Johnson said.

Sons of the American Revolution Long Knives Chapter, dressed in period costume, provided a color guard.

Sharon Vansaghi, of the Williamson County Historical Society, said there were no photos in the 1700s. A retired art teacher created a drawing of what Ellis might have looked like from pictures of present-day family members.

She added that there was a space in the first column of the plaque to add the name of John Ellis. It even was the right spot alphabetically.

And, to make it more visible, the plaque will hang in the lobby of the administration building to the right of the treasurer's office.

In addition to Johnson, William Perkins of Colp, a cousin, also represented the family of John Ellis at the ceremony.

Ellis's oldest living descendent, 96-year-old Louise Haithcock, was detained by a flat tire and arrived just after the ceremony.

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