Biography - William R. Bivins

WILLIAM R. BIVINS, a representative of one of the earliest pioneer families of Shelby County, was for many years identified with its leading interests as an agriculturist and as a merchant. He is now living in honorable retirement from active business in one of the many attractive homes of Shelbyville, where he deservedly enjoys the confidence and esteem accorded to a life spent in well-doing. He was born in in Rutherford County, Tenn., March 15, 1826. His father, Leonard Bivins, was a native of North Carolina, and was a son of Fielder Bivins, who is supposed to have spent his entire life in that State.

The father of our subject passed his early life in the State of his nativity, and was there married, taking Nancy Murdough as his wife. She was born in the north of Ireland June 15, 1795, and was of Scotch ancestry. Shortly after marriage the parents of our subject removed to Tennessee, of which they thus became pioneers, and there the father followed his trade as a carpenter in Rutherford County. In 1829 he made another move, and came to Illinois with a four-horse team, accompanied by his wife and four children, bringing household goods, and camping by the way-side at noon and nightfall. He located on the present site of Shelbyville, which was then but a small hamlet with only a few pioneer dwellings, and the only communication with the outside world was by stage. The mail was received once each week, and Joseph Oliver who was the Postmaster for some time, used to carry the letters in the crown of his hat. The surrounding country was very sparsely settled and deer, wild turkeys, wolves, and other wild animals still remained in their old haunts.

Mr. Bivins bought two or three lots on the east side of the street north of the Court House and built a comfortable home. He carried on a good business in the village and in the surrounding country as a contractor and builder until his premature death in 1849 deprived the county of a good citizen and a pioneer who had been very useful in promoting its growth. His widow survived him many years and finally died at a venerable age in December 1872.

Our subject may he said to have grown up with this county where the most of his life has been passed, as he was only three years old when he was brought here by his parents, and this section was then also in its infancy. His education was obtained in the pioneer schools of Shelbyville. The first that he attended was taught in a log school house with furniture of home manufacture, the seats being made by splitting logs and hewing one side smooth, inserting wooden pins for legs, and they were without backs. At the age of fifteen William, who was an active enterprising lad, began to carry the mail. Starting forth on his journeys early Monday morning he would go to Decatur and thence to Bloomington, arriving there Tuesday night, starting on his return home Wednesday morning. Arriving at Shelbyville Thursday night early the next morning he would start in another direction for Vandalia returning thence Saturday night, these journeys being made on horseback. He was thus employed nearly two years, and then learning the trade of a carpenter under his father's instructions, he carried on business with him until his marriage in 1848. The discovery of gold in California led him to seek that El Dorado with a party of friends, starting on that long journey with an ox-team in 1849. At that time there was scarcely a white settler between the Missouri River and California, except at Salt Lake; buffalo were seen in great numbers, often large herds of deer and antelopes were encountered, and the howlings of the coyotes, or prairie wolves, often disturbed the slumbers of the little party. They finally arrived at Sacramento safely in October. Our subject went to the mines and was engaged in digging gold until 1850. In October of that year he gathered together his gains and started for home, coming by the way of the Isthmus and Havana to New Orleans, thence up the Mississippi River to St. Louis and from there by stage through Springfield to Shelbyville. After his return Mr. Bivins invested some money in a fertile tract of land one mile northwest of the city, which he improved into a farm, making it his home until 1872, and at the same time working at his trade as a builder. In the year mentioned he rented his farm, and coming to Shelbyville, engaged in the grocery business in company with C. J. Kurtz, continuing in that line until 1880. He then had to give up active business on account of failing health, and has since lived retired in his pleasant home in the west part of the city, in the enjoyment of an income ample for all his wants.

Mr. Bivins has been twice married. His first wife to whom he was wedded in 1848, was Sarah F. Warren, a native of Windsor Township and a daughter of the Hon. Peter and Elizabeth Warren early pioneers of that place. Mrs. Bivins departed this life March 7, 1860, leaving behind her a worthy record as a wife and mother. There are three children living of that marriage: Josephine, who married W. R. Austin and has four children; Franklin P., a physician who is represented in this volume; and Ella, who married the Rev. W. R. Howard, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Sarah Alice the second daughter of our subject by his first marriage married C. J. Kurtz, and died in August 1890, leaving three sons. William C., a son of our subject by his first wife, died at the age of fourteen years. Mr. Bivins was married a second time January 29, 1869, to Martha J. Brokaw, in whom he has found a good wife. Mrs. Bivins is a native of Hamilton County, Ohio, born near Glendale and she is a daughter of Henry and Cordelia Brokaw. Her union with our subject has been blessed to them by the birth of two children, Charles H. and Harry L.

Mr. Bivins is a man of exemplary habits and of a sincere character who is zealous in promoting the religions and moral interests of the community where he is held in high estimation by all who are familiar with his daily life and conduct. For many years he was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church which he served long and faithfully as Class-leader and Steward. In 1886 he served his connection with that denomination in order to join the Free Methodist Church which was organized here largely through his instrumentality, he contributing liberally towards the erection of its house of worship. In his political sentiments Mr. Bivins was a Democrat until 1884, but since that time he has been identified with the Prohibitionists. He has borne an honorable part in the management of public affairs and has served as Assessor and Collector.

Extracted 05 Feb 2020 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 649-650.

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