John Mewhorter was born in March 1820, probably in Ohio (although some sources say Ireland), son of William and Catherine (?) Mewhorter. Nothing is known of his or his family’s early whereabouts, but he may be the John Mewhorter, age 30 and born in Ohio, who appears in the 1850 census in a gold mining camp in Placerville, California. This suggests he may have been one of the tens of thousands of people who traveled to California during the Gold Rush.

He next appears in Racine, Wisconsin, in the mid-1850s, where on 2 March 1857, he changed his surname to Merton by an act of the Wisconsin legislature, the change to become effective on 1 February 1858. In the interim, he married twenty-five-year-old Persis Valencia French in Racine on 30 April 1857. During his years in Racine, John was a produce dealer and commission merchant, for a time as a partner with his wife’s relative Samuel E. Hurlbut. John was a member of the Congregational Church Society in Racine, a Racine school commissioner in 1864 and 1865, and was elected city secretary in 1866.

Mewhorter to Merton
Mewhorter to Merton name change
Image in the public domain

John’s wife Persis, the mother of two young children—Mary Ruth Merton, born 1861, and Seth Doane Merton, born 1863—died in January 1864 at the age of thirty-one. On 19 December 1866, John married, second, Julia E. Burrell and had another son, Lewis B. Merton. The family was found in Racine until 1871, when John sold his property and moved to the Chicago area.

Merton was an early resident of the western Chicago suburb of Oak Park, where he was the second postmaster of the town, serving from 1873–1875. About 1875, he became associated with Gilbert Montague as commission merchants and was a member of the Chicago Board of Trade in 1879. In the 1880 census, John was in Cicero Township, Cook County, Illinois, and his occupation was recorded as “flour dealer.” About this time, he became a partner of Paul E. Tabel as Tabel and Merton. Intriguingly, the 1885 Chicago city directory lists their line of business as “hand grenades,” with offices on State Street in downtown Chicago. John Merton does not appear in the Chicago city directories after 1885.

Merton’s son Seth relocated to St. Louis as early as 1883, and John followed at some point, but does not appear in the St. Louis records until 1895. From 1895 until his death in 1901, the Merton family resided at 2106 Waverly Place Boulevard. In the 1900 census, he appears at this address as the head of household, age eighty, with wife Julia, age fifty-nine, son Seth D. Merton, age thirty-six, and a servant, Lizzie Spaar, age twenty-eight.

John Merton died at home on 2 March 1901 at age eighty-one, the cause of death listed as “senile debility.” He was cremated the following day at the Hillcrest Abbey Crematory and Mausoleum in St. Louis.

(Sources are available upon request.)

Written by Charles L. Wells, CG®
February 2020

© 2018, St. Louis Genealogical Society

Return to St. Louis City/County Biographies.

Last Modified: 26-Jun-2020 11:26