Biography - Skelton Birkett

SKELTON BIRKETT, Sr., stands among the influential citizens of Shelby County, and to him and men of his indomitable will, wide experience, unsurpassed business acumen and far-reaching public spirit, it is indebted for its high standing among its sister counties in this great Commonwealth of Illinois. Our subject is a leading farmer and stockman of this section, his extensive agricultural interests centering in Todd's Point Township, where he has an attractive home and eleven hundred acres of land, all lying in a body, in a high state of cultivation, its soil of marvelous fertility and its valuable and well-appointed improvements rendering it a model farm.

Mr. Birkett was born August 13, 1820, near Kiswick, Cumberland County, in The Vale of St. John's Parish of Crosthwait, England, on a farm which was also the birthplace of his grandfather, Daniel Birkett, who spent his entire life, as did his father before him, upon that estate, which he owned, besides owning two other farms. His son John, the father of our subject, also passed his whole life on that pleasant English farm, while his brothers, Clement and John, and his sister Rebecca came to America. The former settled in Missouri where he lived the remainder of his days; John was a farmer and died in Shelby County; Rebecca died in Moultrie County, this State. The father of our subject was a farmer and stock-raiser and lived to the good old age of seventy-seven years, his death occurring in November, 1873. His wife whose maiden name was Mary Skelton, died June 3, 1847, when she was forty-seven years of age. She was the mother of ten children, seven sons and three daughters, and five of them are yet living.

He of whom we write was the fourth child born to his parents, and he passed his early days in the home of his birth, where he received a careful training in all that goes to make a good man and a useful citizen. He was given the advantage of an education in the local schools, and when not in school was acquiring practical experience in agriculture on his father's farm that was of use to him in after years in the prosecution of his chosen calling on American soil. Christmas Day, 1839, was a memorable day for him, as he then left behind him his old home with its many pleasant associations and went out to the island of St. Croix, where he had two uncles, Clement and John Skelton, who owned estates there, to see what life held for him in the West Indies, and there he was entailed as a planter on a sugar plantation for eight years and three months. Failing health warned him that he must seek another climate, and he decided upon the United States of America, he embarked on a vessel bound for New York, arrived safely, and two weeks later boarded a steamer for Philadelphia, on his way to this State. From the Quaker City he went by rail to Chambersburg, and then by stage to Pittsburg, Pa., from there by the same conveyance to Massillon. Ohio, whence he went by canal to Cleveland, from that city by Lake Erie to Toledo, and thence by way of Lovington to Terre Haute, Ind., whence he came to this county, traveling by canal and stage to Shelbyville.

The date of the arrival of our subject in this county was August 31, 1848, and though not one of its earliest settlers he may be denominated one of its pioneers as he has done as much as any other man to develop its great agricultural resources, and has been a potent factor in the advancement of its interests in various directions, generously using a part of the wealth that he has acquired within its borders to further all worthy enterprises to promote its growth and benefit the public. In the busy years that followed his settlement here, he has not been too much occupied in attending to his private affairs to be able to do his duty as a citizen, and he has devoted some of his valuable time to aid in the management of civic interests, bringing to his official duties in the various responsible positions that he has filled the same aptitude for business, promptness, and unerring judgment and untiring zeal that have characterized him throughout his career.

His personal standing is of the highest, and whether in public or in private life he has always borne himself as an honorable, upright gentleman, all worthy of the implicit confidence which his conduct has inspired in his fellow-citizens. Among other important offices to which they have called him is that of Supervisor, and he has represented Todd's Point Township on the County Board of supervisors ten years. He was a member of that honorable body when the present court house was in process of erection at the county seat, and as one of the building committee he carefully superintended every detail of work, and used his influence to have it built in a style of architecture combining strength, utility and beauty, and at a reasonable cost. Politically. Mr. Birkett has been identified with the three leading parties that have held sway since he came to this country. At first he advocated the old-line Whig policy and subsequently became a Republican, but in 1876 he joined the Democrats, as he considered that the Republican party had outlived its usefulness and had begun to abuse its great power, so that a change was necessary in the interests of a pure government.

Mr. Birkett's financial standing is the result entirely of his own efforts, as he started out in the world empty handed, with the exception of 25 of English money was which given him by his father, and which he returned to him the following year. He had a better capital, however, with which to build his fortunes in his fine physique, clear brain, and the solid traits of character that have made him successful in life. After his arrival in the county he worked on a farm in Todd's Point Township, and the following year entered a section of land in the same township on sections 17, 18 and 20, and in the ensuing March he entered upon its improvement, breaking the wild prairie and fencing one hundred and sixty acres of it. He began to stock is farm by the purchase of one hundred head of cattle and seven hundred sheep, and thus entered upon his prosperous career of stock and sheep raising and wool business. He has made his home upon that section of land that he has developed from the wilderness into one of the choicest farms of the county, upon which he has placed every needed improvement, including roomy barns for his stock, a commodious dwelling, etc. He has purchased more land since his first investment, and now has eleven hundred acres ail in one tract. He at one time had thirty two hundred acres of land in this state and in Kansas, two thousand of which he gave to his sons.

Mr. Birkett has been eminently happy in his domestic relations, and shows to the best advantage in his home, not only as a husband and father, but in the character of the most courteous and genial of hosts, dispensing a generous hospitality to friend or stranger who may happen beneath his sheltering roof, cordially assisted by his estimable wife, who is always thoughtful and considerate for the comfort of all about her. Our subject was first married February 13, 1850, to Miss Mary Bland, a native of Ohio, and a daughter of Henry Bland. She was a resident of this county at the time of her marriage, and had gathered many friends about her, who were attracted by her fine womanly character and great worth, and at her death February 9, 1865, sorrowed with her family in their great bereavement. By that marriage there were seven children, of whom the following is recorded: Henry, a resident of Springfield, married Grace Adams, and they have one child; John, who was a resident of Kansas at the time of his death in his twenty-second year, by drowning while in bathing in the river; Skelton a farmer, residing in Greenwood County, Kan., married Grace Gleason; Harriet died at the age of two years; George is a farmer of Greenwood County, Kan. Mary married George Becker, a merchant of Wichita, Kan.; Elizabeth is the wife of Dr. A. U. Williams, of Hot Springs, Ark.

January 17, 1867 our subject was married to Miss Elizabeth, daughter of John Lenover, an old resident of Shelby County, and in her he has a devoted wife. Two children have blessed their union, of whom but one is living, Arthur. Mr. Birkett was reared in the Church of England, and has remained true to the faith of his fathers. His wife is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and is identified with its every good work, charitable or religious. The former Mrs. Birkett was also a member of that church.

Extracted 27 Sep 2020 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 712-714.

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