John was born in 1791 in Southend, Argyll, Scotland. He was the son of George Greenlees and Martha Wilson. 
John was a tenant farmer. Due to crop failures and bad market prices he was unable to pay his rent. He was forced to sell his farm, but the landlord was still not satisfied and had him arrested in 1836. His nephews, John and George Armour, had been to the United State and come back to persuade other tenant farmers in John's position to emmigrate to Illinois. They provided for John and his family to sail to the United States.
As they prepared to leave, John was arrested at the dock and taken back to Campbeltown. His wife and children went on to Liverpool to go America without him. When he returned to Campbeltown, a servant helped him escape.  He took a rowboat to Ireland, where he was able to get on another ship and actually reached New York before his family and was at the dock waiting to greet them when they arrived. 
John worked as a stone mason on an aqueduct of the Illinois and Michigan Canal at Ottowa. He later established a claim and built a cabin on land located on the line between Winnebago and Boone Counties. At the time it was known as the Kintrye Settlement. Another settler, John Andrew named it "Argyll" after their hometown in Scotland.  John and Helen's 5th child, Helen, was born in 1838. She was the first child born in the settlement and may be the first European child born in the county. 
As more and more Scots came from John's hometown, Argyll became a well-established Scotch Settlement
John passed away 1882 at the age of 91. He is buried with is family and other members of the settlement at the Scottish Cemetery in Caledonia, Illinois.
Belvidere Standard, Monday, January 2, 1883
Death of John Greenlee, Sr.Died, at the residence of his son, in Belvidere, on Saturday, Dec. 30th, 1882, John Greenlee, Sr.
The subject of this sketch was born Aug. 16th, 1791, at the Parish of South End, Argyleshire, Scotland. In 1836 he settled in this country as the pioneer of what has since been known as the "Scotch Settlement," and near what is known as the "Scotch church." The writer of this article became acquainted with him during the winter of 1838-9, and therefore knew him well.
He was a Christian and an admirer of John Knox, and early took an active part in establishing a church of his choice (1840), and was chosen an elder. Soon after he bore his part in building a house of worship, which has since been known as the Scotch church. He was positive in his principles, and ever active in every good work. His wife, who shared with him the trials incident to the settlement of a new country, died about eighteen years ago. They had eight children, seven of whom survive - three sons and four daughters - both parents leaving a bright example for them to follow.
As a citizen he took a lively interest in the progress of his adopted country, alway deploring the existence therein of human slavery, and alway expressing an abiding faith in the justice of the Governor of the Universe. When, therefore, the slaveholders rebelled against the Union, he saw that the end of the iniquity had come. An early settler, a devoted Christian, and an ardent patriot has passed away - as a shock of corn fully ripe - in a good old age. A few of his companions in trial remain, but we shall soon follow.
"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M854-L58 : 12 April 2016), John Greenlee, Harlem, Winnebago, Illinois, United States; citing family 40, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
"United States Census, 1860", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXHP-H31 : 13 December 2017), John Greenlee, 1860.
"United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MXN3-WZR : 11 August 2017), John Greenlee in household of John Greenlee, Belvidere, Boone, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district ED 3, sheet 360D, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0176; FHL microfilm 1,254,176.
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