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Past and Present of Livingston County
Volume 2. Biographies
by Major A. J. Roof. 1913
Hon. John W. Donovan, who has been a resident of Livingston county for forty-five years, has not only been an interested witness of the changes that have occurred during that time but an active participant in bringing about present prosperous conditions. Not only has he been prominent along agricultural lines but he has represented his district in the state legislature and sat upon the bench as county judge, discharging his public duties in such a manner as to receive the highest commendation. Mr. Donovan owns a farm of ninety-five acres on section 36, Medicine township, to the cultivation of which he has given many years of his life, and there he still makes his home, although the property is managed by his son Ira.
Born in Oneida county, New York, August 8, 1825, John W. Donovan is a son of Michael Donovan, a native of Ireland and a soldier of the English army who came to America in 1812. The father was twice married, having eight children by each union. Our subject is the fifth in order of birth of the children born to the first wife of his father. The latter was a man of an exceptional education for his time and a fluent speaker, serving for forty years as a licensed exhorter in the Methodist Episcopal church. He was dearly attached to the country in which he had found a home. The mother of our subject was of Welsh extraction on her father's side and of German descent through her mother, both of her parents being of Revolutionary stock, her uncle, Major Wells Graves, having participated with Colonel Ethan Allen in the battle of Ticonderoga. The father passed away in 1874, his wife preceding him in death many years, being laid to rest in 1837.
John W. Donavan received his education in a log schoolhouse typical of the times in Oneida county, New York, beginning to attend school in 1833 and graduating in 1844. After putting aside his textbooks he decided upon a trade and learned that of shoemaker, an occupation which he followed for the next seven years. The western country of the United States, holding forth opportunities for more rapid advancement, then became his destination and we next find him in Hillsdale county, Michigan, as the owner of a farm of fifty acres, which he wrested from the wilderness and gradually brought under cultivation, farming thereon for thirteen years. Disposing of this property, he came in 1868 from Michigan to Livingston county and bought the farm on section 36, in Medicine township, which he still owns. When he came in possession of the property it was in an undeveloped state and he had to break the soil acre by acre to prepare the land for cultivation. As his means increased be erected upon his property a commodious residence, instituted equipment and made such other improvements as are deemed necessary by the up-to-date farmer. His place is now one of the most valuable in this section of the county and bespeaks by its appearance the prosperity of the owner. Of late Mr. Donovan leaves most of the operation of the property to his son Ira, enjoying a rest after long years of hard toil and endeavor.
On June 24, 1856, Mr. Donovan married, in Hillsdale county, Michigan, Miss Mary Jane Moreland, a daughter of William and Ollie (Powers) Moreland, both of whom have passed away and are buried in Hillsdale county, Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Donovan became the parents of six children: William W., a farmer of Linn county, Missouri; Ella, the wife of Marion Coberly, a farmer of Medicine township; George, who passed away at the age of twenty-two years and is buried at Wallace cemetery; Jabin, a farmer of Medicine township; Albert, who is engaged in business pursuits at Hale, Missouri; and Ira, who operates the home place.
Mr. Donovan has always taken an active interest in politics and has connected himself with a number of the reform movements instituted to purify the government. For two terms he served in the legislature, where he was active on the floor of the house and connected with much important constructive legislation. Further honor came to him in his election to the office of county judge, in which position he served for one term, rendering decisions so strictly fair and impartial that his name is placed high on the roll of the men who have held this office. His religious affiliation is with the Methodist Episcopal church, South, and fraternally he belongs to the Masonic order, being a member of the blue lodge. Mr. Donovan has been successful in the truest sense of the word, for he has not only achieved success along material lines but has made for himself a name which is honored wherever known. Living on his farm, a hale, active and kindly old man nearing his eighty-eighth birthday, he has the high regard and confidence of all who know him.