Biographical and Genealogical History of Appanoose and Monroe Counties, Iowa.
Unless otherwise noted, biographies submitted by Polly Eckles.
A life devoted to agricultural pursuits is naturally peaceful and free from many of the striking features which characterize men in more hazardous callings, but to be a successful farmer, nevertheless, requires all the resolute purpose, the energy and the careful management which are necessary to any business; and in J.W. Gilbert we see a man who is a farmer, representative of these qualities, and one of the leading men in his line in the county of Monroe.
His father, William Gilbert, was a native of the old Green Mountain state, born there in the early years of the past century; he joined the great tides of emigration which were constantly streaming westward from the less favored sections of the east to the fertile areas of the west, and on reaching Iowa in 1854 settled on a large farm of seven hundred acres in Jackson township, Monroe county, where he was an extensive farmer for the rest of his life. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Republican party and was a member of the Christian church. Before coming west he had married Elizabeth Hickocks, who was a native of the state of Connecticut. She became the mother of fifteen children, and of them six are living at the present time. The elder Gilbert died in Jackson township in 1878, aged sixty-six, and his wife died in Lucas county in 1902.
J.W. Gilbert was the fourth child and his birth occurred in Jackson county, Indiana, June 7, 1851. He came to Iowa when three years of age and received his education in the schools of Melrose. In 1879 he was married to Miss Sarah A. Thompson, a native of Kansas and the daughter of B.F. Thompson, of the same state. Six children blessed this marriage, one son and five daughters: Amasa, Cora, the wife of Elmer Adcock; Effie, Pearl, Milly, and Macey. Mr. Gilbert has always followed farming and is recognized as one of the representative citizens of the county. In politics he has adopted the choice of his father and votes for the Republican party, and his church membership is with the United Brethren.
The beautiful country site known as Shadeland is the property of William H. Gray and is pleasantly located two miles west of Eddyville in Monroe county. This place is endeared to Mr. Gray because of the associations of his boyhood as well as those of later years, for it was here that he was born on the 18 th of June, 1849. The family is of Scotch-Irish ancestry, and back through four hundred years is the line of descent traced, showing close connection with the nobility of England.
Great-grandfather James Gray, of Barrington, New Hampshire, was a private in Captain Richard Dowe's Company in Colonel Wingate's Regiment of New Hampshire troops, in 1775, and never returned from the war. His children were as follows: Henry, John, Joseph, James, Solomon, Hannah, Fanny, and Johannah, who married Thomas Berry. James Gray's son Henry emigrated to Vermont in company with a Thomas Berry. He married Eunice Goodwin, whose mother's name was Dunbar, and the children were: John Blake; Wells, who died in Minnesota; William, who died in Canada; Henry, who died in the United States service; Anson, in Vermont; Hannah, Margaret, Abigail, Eunice, Judith, and Fanny.
John Blake Gray and Eliza J. Stephens were married May 15 th 1834, in Illinois. He went into business in what is now Burlington, Iowa, in the same year. He was permitted to name the place, which he did in remembrance of his home in Vermont, and the first shipment of goods that came to Burlington, Iowa, was sent to John B. Gray. The place had been called Flint Hills or Shockocon. The issue from this union is as follows: John Stephens Gray, William Henry Fulton Gray, James Anson Gray, Abigail A. Gray, Mary Frances Gray, Lilleas Jane Gray, Eunice Eliza Gray; all were born in Iowa except the next to the last daughter who was born in Texas.
In 1837 John B. Gray went from Burlington to Texas, where he remained three or four years, but the Indians were so hostile and the Mexicans so treacherous that it was not safe for the whites, who never knew at what hour they might be called out to defend their homes or to rescue some stolen member of some other citizen's family. However, there were great prospects of becoming wealthy in the possession of land obtained through some sort of grants of the republic of Texas. Mr. Gray had obtained great tracts of it—they measured it by the league—but when the difficulty came up between the United States and Mexico he chose rather to enjoy the safety of the states and home government, to wealth in a disputed country with all the chances of war before him; so in 1840-41 he made the trip back to Iowa in a wagon, making frequent stops on the journey.
In the fall of 1842 he obtained an agency to sell goods to the Sac and Fox Indians who were occupying this part of the country west of the Mississippi river. He lived in Eddyville, near which place there was a large encampment of the Indians awaiting transportation to some point farther north or west in the territory. The time of the opening of this part of the country to the whites was April 1, 1843, at which time Mr. Gray took possession of his claim, and lived continuously in this county (Monroe) until he died on December 9, 1876. He did not always reside on the farm, for he was one of the commissioners to the first territorial legislature. Thus Mr. Gray's family were among the very pioneers of Iowa, and his son, John, was the first child born in Monroe county.
The wife of John Blake Gray, Eliza J. Stephens, was born in Virginia; went to Indiana when she was three years old; came to Illinois and then to Iowa about 1834-35. Her brother, Samuel Stephens, was the head of the family at this time; he always lived near Burlington and died there. Mrs. Gray's brothers and sisters were Samuel, Mary, Margaret, Agnes, Isaac, Elsy Ann, and James Fulton, the family being in some way related to the famous Robert Fulton, the inventor. Elsy Ann married John Webber, whose name can be found in the government records of Des Moines county, Iowa. Agnes married, first, a Mr. White, who died, and she then married a Mr. Sturdevant, who held the position of gunsmith among the Sac and Fox Indians, and was moved with the Indians when their term of possession expired; he died in what is called the Osage purchase.
As a boy William H. Gray alternated his play with work and as his years and strength increased he became a factor in the work of the fields. His education was acquired in the public schools and thus he was fitted for life's practical and responsible duties. Throughout his business career he has carried on agricultural pursuits, his labors being attended with excellent results because of his thorough training for the work and his careful management and progressive methods.
In the year 1874 Mr. Gray was united in marriage to Miss Fannie Myrick, who was born in the same locality as her husband. Their union has been blessed with two children: Macy, who is married; and Archie E., at home. The son assists his father in their extensive fruit business and in the other work of the farm. Mr. Gray is known as one of the most prominent representatives of horticultural interests in this portion of the country, and sixty acres of his fine farm is devoted to the cultivation of fruit. He owns altogether two hundred and forty acres of land, his orchard contains many varieties of fruit trees and he also raises the smaller fruits, so that throughout the summer season various kinds of products are gathered and sent to the market.
In fruit production Mr. Gray gives special attention not only to the size, but also to the quality and flavor, and thus the products of Shadeland find a ready sale upon the market, and Mr. Gray's opinions regarding horticulture are largely received as authority in this part of the state. Everything bearing upon fruit culture is of interest to him and the ideas advanced which he believes will prove of practical benefit in his work are readily taken up and incorporated into the labor of caring for his orchards. Shadeland is well named because of the many and the beautiful trees which adorn the farm, and through the vista of green can be seen a lovely lake which is one of the attractive features of his beautiful county seat.
Mr. Gray exercises his right of franchise in support of the men and measures of the Republican party, of which he has been a stalwart supporter since he cast his first presidential ballot for General Grant in 1872. He keeps well informed on the issues of the day, as every true American citizen should do, but has never sought or desired office, preferring to give his attention to the production of grain and fruit.
His farm is splendidly equipped for the purposes for which it is utilized and in the midst of fine orchards and highly cultivated fields stand substantial buildings, including a nice residence. The household is noted for its hospitality, which is greatly enjoyed by the many friends of the family. Mr. Gray has made “honor” his life motto, and it is this which has characterized his social, his business and his political relations. He is always straightforward in his dealings, courteous to friends and neighbors, and his genuine worth of character has made him a man worthy of the highest regard.