Page 509 Portrait and Biographical Album Peoria Co. 1890 published
Hon. William Rowcliffe. It is with pleasure that we trace the history of this prominent resident of Peoria County through the principal events of his past life. We cannot follow it through every changeful year, every devious path, but can only record the chief events in a life that covers a period of three-score and ten ears, which since maturity have been passed in useful toil for his family, his neighbors and his country. Although not a native-born American, Mr. Rowcliffe is as loyal and patriotic citizen as the broad state of Illinois can boast. during the late Civil War he was active in procuring recruits and having himself enlisted did gallant service in camp and field from September, 1862, until July 31, 1865. At present a resident of Jubilee township, he is enjoying the comforts which adequate means can obtain good health will allow, respected by all how know him for his honorable character and years of usefulness.
Our subject belongs to an old Devonshire family, his father having lived on the same place until fifty years old. He held parish offices in Swinebridge, in which parish he was born in 1785.In 1836 he set sail with his family to found a home in America and reach Huron County, Ohio, bought one hundred and forty acres of land on the Sandusky river, on which he continued his olden occupation of tilling the soil. His political views were expressed in the platform of the Whig party and his religious faith by the creed of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He departed this life July 1, 1862, sincerely mourned by many friends as well as by the children to whom he had been a kind and considerate parent.
The wife of John Rowcliffe was Grace daughter of Peter Facey, a Devonshire farmer. She died on the voyage to America in May 1836. The subject of this notice is the oldest of the parental family. His brothers are John, who died in Ohio in 1847; James, now living in Huron County, that state; George a resident of Akron Township, this county, and his only sister is Mrs. Mary Ann Ford, of Ohio.
Our subject was born in Devonshire, England, March 12, 1818, reared on the farm and was the recipient of somewhat limited school privileges under the subscription system. He was eighteen years old when the family left Biddeford, England, on the sail-vessel "Ebenezer" which after a stormy voyage finally reached New York, seven weeks having been occupied in the passage. He remained with his father in Huron County, Ohio, until he was of age, then began working out by the month and year, continuing his education at night schools and on Sundays. For two or three years he rented a farm, then buying a tract near Norwalk, he improved and operated it until the spring of 1853.
Selling then, Mr. Rowcliffe turned his footsteps toward Peoria County, Ill., to which he had been induced to come by the representations of acquaintances, although his original intention had been to settle in Will County, near Joliet. He shipped his goods to Chicago, whence he was conveyed to Peoria by a team, finding but a small town where now a flourishing city stands. Locating in Kickapoo township he farmed the James Voorhees place the first summer, the following spring renting one hundred and sixty acres in Jubilee Township. In 1855 he bought one hundred and sixty acres on section 11, the following year adding one hundred and sixty acres on section 12. The land was raw prairie, bare of improvements. It was necessary to use five yoke of oxen on the breaking plows with which the tough sod of the prairies was first turned. Mr. Rowcliffe made various improvements upon the place prior to his departure for fields of civil strife.
Mr. Rowcliffe enlisted in the Fourteenth Illinois Cavalry, was mustered into service at Peoria, January 7, 1863, as first Lieutenant of Company M, and sent south to join the army of the Ohio in Kentucky. The first three months of his active service was during the Morgan raid and after the capture of the noted Southerner at Buffington Isle, his regiment was with Gen. Burnside in the East Tennessee country. There the Lieutenant participated in the battle of Walker's Ford, Bean Station and Fair Garden. The command was then sent into Carolina to break up Indian squads, in which two regiments had previously been unsuccessfully engaged. Lieut. Rowcliffe was in command of the company most of the time during this service, which was successful, twenty-one of the Indians being taken prisoner.
During the Indian raid the First Lieutenant of Company A was killed and Lieut. Rowcliffe was detailed to bring his body home. After performing that sad duty he was detailed to take recruits from Springfield to Nicholasville, Ky., where he mounted and drilled them until June 1864. He was then ordered to re-equip and take them to Cleveland, Tenn., having but ten days in which to accomplish that purpose. He had not only to distribute the new stores but to gather up the old unserviceable ones. After reaching Cleveland and transferring the troops and equipments he rejoined his regiment at Big Shanty. Detailed as an ordinance officer on the staff of Col. Capron before the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, he laid there and took care of the wounded until July 27.
We next find Lieut. Rowcliffe fighting in Wheeler's force during the Stoneman raid to Macon, Ga. At Sunchine Church a battle took place and after accomplishing their purpose of destroying the railroad and stores, the brigade passed on. During the night the horse of Lieut. Rowcliffe mired, he was obliged to leave the animal and, his comrades having passed on, to take to the woods alone. It was seventeen days before he reached Atlanta, during which time he was hunted and hounded and spoke with but two persons-one black and one white. He followed the North star for a guide by night, crossing streams on logs and planks, suffering from the lack of food and drenched by the rain which fell during the greater part of the time, but to which he no doubt woed his final escape from the dangers which threatened him. After the second day he had nothing to eat but thirteen ripe peaches which he found on an old plantation, and during the last day of his travel he several times fainted from weakness. The first day he was tracked by bloodhounds, but having hidden before the dew was off he thus threw them off the scent. The continuous rains and the darkness favored him and he finally rejoined his regiment at Marietta, Ga.
After a time Lieut. Rowcliffe went to Turner's Ferry to guard Sherman while throwing his army about Atlanta. The very next morning Gen. Slocum sent to Col. Capron to go to Atlanta and act as advance guard for the Twentieth corps, as he ad no mounted men. Lieut. Rowcliffe suggested the raising of a volunteer company of officers to act as privates in this duty and securing twenty four recruits he started for Atlanta. The advance guard was near that city when met by the Mayor and officials who announced their readiness to surrrender the place. Lieut. Rowcliffe, whom Gen Slocum had left in command of the advance, told them to wait for the General who would soon be along and he with his cavalry dashed on into the town which they were thus the first to enter. At a cross street they met a rebel squad,, there was a cross fire, both parties ran, but the rebels soon gave way before the cavalry.
Returning to Nicholasville, Ky., Lieut. Rowcliffe was remounted and then going to Nashville took his place in the left wing of the Union Army. His brigade was the first struck by Hood's right and for two days kept up a running fight while moving toward Columbia. He was then sent to the left upon Duck River to guard forts there. Hood's force having divided and surrounded them they had to cut their way out at night, reaching Franklin the day before the battle there, after which they lay in the edge of a field a couple of weeks. Then followed the battle of Nashville, during which Lieut. rowcliffe had charge of the ambulance corps of the cavalry. The order detailing him for Ambulance Director was issued the day before the battle. The command having followed Hood to Graverly Springs, had their last fight with him on Christmas Day.
Our subject gathered up the wounded, took them back to Franklin and then went on down the Tennessee River. The division being ordered back to guard the Alabama Railroad at Pulaski, he left it and rejoined the regiment, although Gen Wilson, then in command wished him to accompany the division. Our subject had no receipt for the supplies he had left at Cleveland and was anxious to return there and straighten up matters. After getting the receipt he rejoined the regiment at Nashville, thence accompanied them to Pulaski and there remained on picket turnpike duty until the close of the war. He was thus engaged wehn the news of the assassination of President Lincoln reached him. Mr. Rowcliffe received a Captain's commission from "Dick" Oglesby, but was discharged as First Lieutenant. He was rarel absent from duty, declaring when the doctor told him to go to the hospital that he preferred to die in battle. He passed through the various dangerous scenes of his army life without receiving a scratch.
During the absence of our subject, the farm had been managed by his wife and the boys, upon whom the work of the place had somewhat gained. He took hold with a will, and with his more thorough understanding of the work before them to guide their efforts an improvement soon took place. A small part of the old place has been sold, the present acreage of the homestead being two hundred and forty acres. It is supplied with commodious barns, a windmill, and everything in the way of building and machinery which will expedite the work carried on. The land is fertilized by a creek which flows through it and renders it excellent feeding ground for stock as well as productive good crops. Mr. Rowcliffe raises a good grade of cattle and sheep, having upwards of a hundred of the latter. He also raises many swine and some horses.
The wife of our subject was a native of Devonshire, England, and daughter of the Rev. James Ford, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, who came to America in 1833, settling in Huron County Ohio. He bought three hundred acres of land with the intention of farming but died three months after his arrival. His wife Mary, for whom Mrs. Rowcliffe was named, remained on the farm with her children until her death. To Mr. and Mrs. Rowcliffe seven children have been born, whose record is as follows:John W. of the firm of Blain & Rowcliffe, dealers in books and stationery, is located in Peoria; George is engaged in farming, owning eighty acres near his parent; James A. is a pharmacist in Peoria; Charles resides in Kewanee where he is Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association; Mary J. married Aaron Moffitt of Princeville and died in 1886, leaving two sons; Bessie A. is the wife of John Smith, a farmer near Princeville, whose sketch will be found elsewhere in this volume; Celeste I. married A.N. Case, a farmer of Medina Township. All are well educated, George James and Charles having been students at Abingdon college, and Bessie A. an attendant at the Normal School in Bloomington, Illinois. Mrs. Rowcliffe departed this life January 3, 1888 and her remains were deposited in the cemetery at Princeville.
In 1862, Mr. Rowcliffe was Supervisor of the township, and resigning the position when he entered the army was re-elected soon after his return serving several years. He was a member of the Board when the court house was built in Peoria. He has held the offices of collector, Assessor, etc. He has been School director for forty years except when in the army and is now discharging the duties of that office. He has been very instrumental in building schoolhouses in this section, one having been erected on his farm. For twenty-four years he has held the office of Justice of the Peace. Nominated and elected to the legislature on the Republican ticket, he served in the Twent-ninth session when Elijah Haines was Speaker of the House. Mr. Rowcliffe was a member of several committees, took part in the various discussions and earned the reputation of a man deeply interested in the welfare of his constituency and firmly opposed to everything which savors of bribery or corruption. He is a stanch supporter of the Rebpublican party which he has served as member of the Township Central committee and delegate to the State county conventions.
Mr. Rowcliffe was formerly identified with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He is a devout Christian, for over forty years having been a local minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church for which he was licensed to preach in 1842. He was instrumental in organizing the Zion congregation in Radnor township in which he has held the various offices and is still serving as Superintendent of the Sunday school. In erecting their house of worship, he bore an important part. It is needless to say that he is held in high esteem by the people and that his excellent views are greatly appreciated by those about him.
Submitted by Londie Benson.