Henry Cotton Biography

: “Portrait and Biographical Album, Vermilion Co., IL “
Chicago:  Chatman Brothers, 1889
Page 484, 485 & 486

 Henry Cotton, familiarly known throughout Westville and vicinity, as “Uncle Harry” and “The Squire,” is one of the most popular men in the place, and an especial favorite with the “boys”. There is not a more genial or companionable individual in this region, and he has the faculty of preserving, under all circumstances, that equable temperament and serene countenance, which is one of the man’s best gifts.   He occupies himself as a general merchant and without being wealthy is comfortable circumstances, enjoying a fair income and a modest home.  He is one of the pioneers of this section and has been prominent from the start, serving as Postmaster and occupying other positions of trust and responsibilities. 

Our subject was born in Decatur County, Ind., March 19, 1822.  His father, Robert Cotton, was born in the vicinity of Beardstown, KY., and immigrated to this county in the fall of 1822, during the period of its earliest settlement and when few white men had ventured onto the frontier.  Henry was then an infant of six months and therefore one of the oldest living settlers of the county.  Mrs. Hannah (Howard) Cotton, the mother of our subject, was a native of the same place as her husband and was there reared and married and became the mother of two children in the Blue Grass State.  Upon leaving Kentucky they removed to Switzerland County, IN., and not long afterward to Decatur County, whence they came to this county.  The Cottons trace their ancestry to the stanch old Puritan stock of Massachusetts, where John Cotton, one of its first representatives in this country, settled at a very early date and figured conspicuously in public affairs.

The father of our subject only lived two years after coming to this county, dying when a young man, in 1824.  He left a widow with a family of seven children of whom Henry was next to the youngest.    He, like his brothers and sisters, grew up amid the wild scenes of pioneer life at a time when wild animals abounded in this region, deer being especially plentiful, and wolves howled around their cabin door at night.   Frequently the broad and inhabited prairie covered with wild dry grass, was lighted up by a conflagration, started perhaps by some unwary traveler dropping a spark from his pipe, when the smoke and flames would sweep perhaps for miles destroying animal life to a great extent and threatening that of human beings.  Every level –headed settler made it his first business to protect himself from this catastrophe by plowing around his dwelling and thus destroying the food for the flames which could be forestalled in no other way.

The education of the Cotton children was confined to a few months instruction each year in a log school-house, with puncheon floor, seats and desks made from unplanned slabs. The window panes of greased paper, a huge fire-place extending nearly across one end of the building and the chimney built outside of earth and sticks.   The system of instruction corresponded with the time and place, little being required of the teacher except to be able to read, write and “Cipher.”  Henry Cotton, however, availed himself of these meager advantages and in 1844 began teaching and followed this during the winter season for two or three years.  In the meantime on the 16th of January, 1845 he was married to Miss Elizabeth Getty family of Pennsylvania, from which the town which gained historic fame during the Rebellion was named.

Upon reaching manhood, our subject, leaving the farm took to the river and followed the life of a flatboat man during which he made eighteen trips to and from New Orleans.  It was upon one of these trips that he met his future wife at Vincennes, IN., where in due time they were married and began housekeeping, residing in Vincennes eight years.

When not on the river Mr. Cotton occupied himself as a carpenter.  Upon coming to this county, he began farming in Danville Township and was on the highway to prosperity, having comfortable means and last but not least, a family of four interesting children.   This happy state was broken in upon by the notes of war, and in response to the call of President Lincoln for 300,000 men for three years, our subject enlisted July 9, 1862, in Company G, 125th Illinois Infantry.  He was mustered into service at Danville, where the company remained drilling for a time, then was order to Cincinnati, Ohio, and from there to Louisville, KY.  They drilled also at the latter place and then proceeded to Gallatin, Tenn., where during the arduous duties assigned him, Mr. Cotton was over-heated and suffered so long thereafter from illness that he was obliged to accept his honorable discharged in February, 1863.

In the fall of the year above mentioned Mr. Cotton changed his residence to Knox County, IN, where he sojourned ten years.  His next removal was to Clay County, this State, and from there he returned to this county in 1882 and engaged in mercantile business at Westville.  On April230, 1883 his store and stock was destroyed by fire but he rebuilt and in time attained to his old footing financially.  He was appointed Postmaster of Westville under President Arthur and served three years.   For four years he has been Justice of the Peace and has discharged the duties of this office with credit to himself and satisfaction to all concerned.

Mr. Cotton cast his first presidential vote for Henry Clay in 1844, being a member of the old Whig Party.    Upon its abandonment he cordially endorsed Republican principles and has since given his undivided support to this party.   Socially he is a prominent member of Kyger Post, G. A. R. at Georgetown.  He is the father of six children the eldest of whom, Robert D. died September 30, 1888; and left two children Mary J. died in infancy; George Elmer is a well to-do farmer of McLean County, this State, and the father of one child; Ellen, the youngest of the family, is at home with her parents.  Both Mr. Cotton and his estimable wife are members in good standing of the Christian Church