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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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