Biography - William James

WILLIAM W. JAMES. One of the stanch, substantial men, both in character and social standing, is he whose name is at the head of this sketch, he resides on section 3, of Ridge Township. His residence in the county dates from the fall of 1831, at which time he was brought to the state by his parents. He was born in Nichols County, Ky., December 22, 1829, and was a son of Alexander C. and Mary Ann (Robinson) James, natives respectively of Maryland and Delaware. They met and married, however, in Kentucky, and in 1831, when our subject was but two years of age the family came to Illinois, their journey hither being made in a wagon, and with a camp outfit. Of course our subject can remember nothing of the journey, but it lakes but small imagination to picture the delights and adventures of an overland journey through the beautiful States of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, into Illinois.

After coming hither, our subject's parents settled at once in Ridge Township, where they rented a small place for a space of three years. In 1835, they entered a tract of land on section 3, and also purchased a claim which was but very little improved, but which boasted a log cabin and fences about seventeen acres being fenced. For this they paid $40. In those days it was necessary to drive hogs to St. Louis in order to find market for them. This was one hundred miles distant from their home. The wheat, also, had to be hauled thither and then sold for twenty-five cents a bushel. We cannot but wonder how the pioneers managed to support their families with the necessities of life, and lay aside as nearly all of them did, money enough to invest in land, when their products brought so little return. Our subject's family were obliged to go to Springfield in order to have their corn and wheat ground into flour, and other commodities were equally difficult to get. But Mr. James was industrious and economical and in time became the owner of four hundred acres of good land. He erected good buildings upon his place and improved it well. In 1870, he died at the age of seventy years. Nelson James, a brother of our subject, came to this county in 1836, but later went to Missouri. Our subject's father was a Democrat in his political preferences. His wife is still living and resides with the original of our sketch. She was born March 30, 1805. For many years she has been a member of the Baptist Church.

There was but one child in the family of Alexander James, that being our subject. He still resides on the homestead, and has been a witness of the changes which Shelby County has undergone for many years. His early education was obtained under difficulties, having to go four miles in order to attend school, which was held in a log cabin. There were no windows in the building, and an ingenious device was resorted to supply the deficiency. A log was left out in the side of the building and the space was covered with greased paper, which admitted an opaque light that would send the school reformers of to-day to an insane asylum. A split sapling with pegs put in the end, furnished the seats for the pupils, and the building was heated by a huge fireplace that scorched the little faces, while their backs were freezing. His school life began when he was eight years of age at which time he could read and spell words of one syllable. He attended the first school taught in the township, the teacher being James Rhoads.

The original of our sketch is as old a settler as any in the township, although two others, William and Daniel Smith, came here the same fall in which his parents located. At that time the larder was easily supplied with various kinds of game, there being plenty of deer, wild turkeys, bears, and also wild cats and panthers, against which the early settlers were obliged to be on their guard The Indians had been driven farther West and the country was a good place for a poor man, because of the abundance of game, and the early crops were extraordinarily good. There was but little sickness excepting ague, which the early settlers accepted as one of the conditions of their pioneer existence.

Mr. James was married January 22, 1852, to Cordelia Small, a daughter of John and Elizabeth Small. She was born in Fairfield County, Ohio, and during her life was a tender, loving wife and true mother. She died August, 1862, leaving five children to mourn with their father, her loss. The children are John A., Mary E., Tarcy J., William D. and Cordelia. Mary is now the wife of C. W. Steward; Tarcy was united to John W. Yantis, and died in 1881, leaving two children; William D. died at the age of twenty-three years; Cordelia became the wife of John W. Yantis.

In 1864, our subject married for a second time taking to wife Leah Killam, a daughter of Isaac Killam. She was a native of Shelby County. Two children are the fruit of this union. They are Isaac L. and Laura, who is the wife of Julius Christman. Mr. James is the owner of five hundred and forty acres of well improved land. He has made stock-raising a specialty and has bred some of the purest blooded stock in the county. He now rents the greater part of his land, retaining only enough to keep him pleasantly employed. Politically. Mr. James favors the Democratic party. He has never been ambitious to accept office, feeling that his private affairs would not admit of a divided attention. Mrs. James, who is an estimable lady, is a member of the Christian Church. Her husband is not connected with any church, although he is a believer in Christianity, and a liberal supporter of the churches in his vicinity.

Extracted 17 Jun 2019 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 639-641.

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