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William A. Willis

Possessing the foresight to recognize the future of Sesser as a 
commercial center and the courage to take advantage of the 
opportunity presented to him, William A. Willis came to this city 
something less than seven years ago with but little capital other 
than shrewd business ability, and through wise investments has won 
himself a place among the substantial men of his adopted locality.
Aside from being an extensive land owner he has acted in the capacity 
of postmaster of Sesser since becoming a citizen here, and in his 
administration of the government's affairs has proven himself an 
able official of a rapidly growing community. Mr. Willis was born 
in Jefferson county, Illinois, February 19, 1854, and is a son of 
Josiah and Anna Eliza (Cockrum) Willis. 

Tolliver Willis, the grandfather of William A., was born in 
Tennessee, and came to Illinois with his family at an early day, 
the remainder of his life being spent here in agricultural pursuits. 
His son, Josiah Willis, was born in Jackson county, Tennessee, in 1824, 
and was a lad when brought to Jefferson county, Illinois. His mother 
dying when he was still a youth, he was bound out to a blacksmith at 
Edwardsville, Illinois, to learn the trade, and when the Civil war 
broke out he enlisted in Company A, One Hundredth and Tenth Regiment, 
Illinois Volunteer Infantry, as regimental blacksmith, remaining in 
the service two years and ten months. On his return from the army 
he purchased a small farm, and continued to operate this and conduct 
a 'smithy' until his death in 1907. Mr. Willis had been an adherent 
of Democratic principles up to the time of the candidacy of Blaine 
and Logan, but at that time, owing to his intense admiration for 
General Logan, he became a Republican, and that party received his 
support during the remainder of his life. Josiah Willis married Anna 
Eliza Cockrum, daughter of Matthew F. Cockrum, a native of Kentucky, 
who became one of Franklin county's wealtiest and most highly esteemed 
citizens and left a large estate to his family at his death. 

William A. Willis received few advantages of an educational nature 
in his youth, and his energies as a lad were devoted to tilling the 
soil of his father's farm and working in the blacksmith shop. 
Inheriting mechanical ability, he became a skilled blacksmith and 
something of a machinist, and for two years worked at the latter 
trade in Benton. Subsequently he removed to Tameroy, [Tamaroa?] and 
for the next five years was engaged in selling machinery for Alva 
Blanchard, and later followed the same line as a traveling salesman. 
In 1893 he purchased a farm in Jefferson county, and was engaged in 
farming until December 16, 1905, when he moved to Sesser. Mr. Willis 
was the first postmaster of Sesser, then a village still in its 
infancy, and the first day's cancellation of stamps amounted to 
twenty-two cents. That the business of the office has increased 
may be seen by the fact that the daily cancellations at this time 
amount to from five to ten dollars per day. As the business has 
advanced Mr. Willis has improved the service, and the courteous and 
obliging manner in which he discharges the duties of the office have 
made him popular with all who have met him in an official way, and 
the verdict is universal that no better man for the office could be 
found. While he has never been an office seeker, Mr. Willis has 
been tendered office by the people of his community in each section 
of which he has lived, and while residing in Jefferson county was 
supervisor of his township for eight years. Subsequently he was the 
Republican candidate for county treasurer, and the high esteem in 
which he was held by the voters of the county was shown when in 
that stronghold of Democracy he was defeated by only thirty-five votes. 
A popular member of the Odd Fellows, he has passed through all the 
chairs in that order. Mr. Willis has prospered in a financial way as 
a result of wise and far-seeing investment of his means, and he is 
now the owner of fourteen lots in Sesser, as well as four residences 
and a large business block, property in West Frankfort and an 
excellent farm in Jefferson county. His success has come as a result 
of his own efforts, and he is known as a man who while looking after 
his own interests has always been ready to support movements for 
the benefit of the city's interests. In 1882 Mr. Willis was married 
to Miss Rachel Hawkins, of Perry county, Illinois, who died in 1888, 
and to this union one child was born: Velma, who is a trained nurse 
in St. Louis. Mr. Willis was married in 1903 to Mollie Hartley 
Kirkpatrick, and they have had three children: Lillian May and 
Russell V., who are in school; and William H.

Source: History of Southern Illinois George Washington Smith, 
Page 1218 - 1219

Submitted by Robert W. Loman 

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