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HISTORICAL SKETCHES

Virginia, Ill.

By: J. N. Gridley

Printed by the Enquirer
1907

WILLIAM J. BENNETT.

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Isaac R. Bennett, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born on February 2nd, 1799, in Barren county, Kentucky. He came to Morgan county, Illinois, in 1820, and on April 10th, 1822, was married to Mary Jones, also a native of Kentucky. For one season, they lived within the present limits of Cass county, not far from the location of Bluff Springs. On September 15th, 1826, he purchased from the government the southwest quarter of Sec 12, T 16, R 9, Morgan county, Illinois, and there he settled down to remain for life. He shortly added other adjoining lands to his possessions and on July 16th, 1857, he, and Joseph Hayes, laid out upon their lands, the little town on the line of the Tonica and Petersburg railroad, which they named Yatesville, in honor of Richard Yates, so well known as the War Governor of the state of Illinois.

Isaac R. Bennett went into the Black Hawk war with many of his neighbors among whom were Royal Flynn, William Cooper, William Miller and Travis Elmore. He, with his comrades followed up the murderous red men into the state of Wisconsin, and staid with his job, until it was completed. Again in 1846 he shouldered his gun, and under the command of John J. Hardin went to Mexico, to fight the battles of his country. He was elected to the legislature of Illinois in the year 1854; he served as an Associate Justice of Morgan county, he was a democrat, a member of the Baptist church and for many a year was a Justice of his community, widely known, and universally respected. He reared a family fo eleven children, the first born in 1824, and the last in 1848. He died on June 24, 1881, at the age of 82 years, 4 months and 22 days.

William J. Bennett, the second child, was born on November 23, 1826, on the Yatesville farm. His education was limited to the pioneer conditions of that early day. He went to a log school house, sat on a slab before a fire of green timber, with an old English Reader, and a Ray's Arithmetic, over which he puzzled his brains as many a lad has done before and since. His first instructor was a man named Graham, who took for his pay, the small contributions, the parents could afford to make to him, and when the springtime came, worked in the fields, until fall came round, when he would resume his duties of an early Illinois teacher. The first church in the neighborhood, was built by the Baptist brothers, and the first of their preachers was William Crow in 1827. Cyrus Wright, from the northeast corner of the county, often came and preached to them. Their Associations, were great events in those days. the members came for miles around, and were gladly entertained by the local brethren; often fifty were cared for at one home, the women sleeping in the cabin, and the men in the stables and sheds.

The Bennett family being numerous, William J. went to work for a year for Wright Flynn, for twenty-five cents per day; he plowed with a wooden plow, and cut grain with a sickle. As he grew older he engaged in the business of breaking raw prairie land, and ran the first grain thresher in his neighborhood. Later, he engaged in the live stock business, buying cattle in Illinois and Iowa and driving them to St. Louis to market. He was married Frances S. Fitzhugh, on the 27th day of November 1850 by Rev. William Crow and began living on a farm south of Philadelphia, in Cass county where he remained for eight years and then removed to a farm a mile from Princeton, on which he lived until 1876, and then, on account of the failing health of his wife, moved to Tallula where she died August 18, 1878 in the 51st year of her age, leaving, surviving her husband and one child, now the wife of M. L. Nevins, a farmer, residing near Cuba, in Missouri.

In 1879, Mr. Bennett moved to the town of Ashland, in this county, but soon came to Virginia, and was elected coroner of the county in 1880, and served two terms. He was married to Elizabeth A. Gridley on June 23d, 1881, and the following year removed to Beardstown, and went into the employ of the Q. R.R. Co. Some time thereafter he moved to Jacksonville and became manager of the stable of Howard Thompson; built a home on Chambers street, which was sold the following spring, and a residence purchased in Springfield, Illinois, in which he resided until his appointment as an examiner of live stock at Chicago by J. Sterling Morton, the secretary of that department at Washington. Here he remained for several years, and until his wife's health required a different climate, when they went to Colorado for a year, and then went to Southern California, where they remained another year, returning to St. Louis in the fall of 1903. At the present time, he and his wife, are visiting relatives in Missouri.

Mr. Bennett recollects the time of the old stage lines through the county. One line ran from Virginia to Springfield, and another from Virginia to Beardstown, and a third from Virginia to Jacksonville. The half-way house, a hotel conducted by John Dutch was situated three miles southeast of Philadelphia, on the state road, and when built, was the only house on the road between the home of Archibald Job, three miles southeast of Virginia, and Pleasant Plains, in Sangamon county. This Half-way house, stands where the present residence on the farm of Mrs. Mary Skiles-Black is located, in Sec 25, T 17, R 9, long known as the Duling farm. On July 8, 1836, Archibald Job, and Alexander Beard, trustees of the school lands in T 17, R 9, laid out the town of Philadelphia in this county, then Morgan county. this town covered one hundred acres of ground, and when the lots were sold on that year, there were buyers from Jacksonville, and from Springfield, and from other towns. Among these crazy investors in real estate was the Hon. Stephen A. Douglass. In May 1837, John Dutch, the owner of the Half-way house, three miles down the state road from Philadelphia laid out the town of Lancaster using one hundred acres of his farm to put it upon. On the same year Dutch conveyed about one-half of the town lots to Erastus W. Palmer, who was a real estate man; in these days he would be called a "promoter." In about a year Palmer sold one of his lots for a dollar and the next year turned all the balance back to Dutch, and quit Lancaster in disgust. There were a few buildings erected there but it seems that Dutch built them; there was a postoffice, a blacksmith shop, and in all probability a whiskey shop, one or more. That was the day for wild-cat speculation; when railroads and canals were contemplated; when so many seemed to have gone insane, over the "great internal improvement system." At that time the prairies were covered with wild grass, swamps and rattlesnakes in summer, while in winter the roaring and rushing winds sweeping over the snow-covered level and bleak waste, convinced the few early settlers, hovering over their miserable fires of green wood in their cabins along the edge of the "bresh" that the prairie lands would never be settled. Even as late as 1854, when the writer first saw the prairies of Illinois, the winter winds howled over the vast tracts of unsettled lands in true Kansas style. In the winter of 1854-55 the rail fences in Cook county were buried under drifts of snow, and loaded sleds were safely driven over them. Why men would plat towns three miles apart, as was done by these early boomers, when people were so scarce, is a matter of wonder. the then proposed railroads and canals would have sufficed to carry to the market, the entire product of a year, within one week.

An occurrence quite out of the ordinary, is related by Mr. Bennett, and is vouched for by other witnesses. Many years ago his brother-in-law William Fitzhugh, left his home on horse-back in the spring, or early summer, upon a neighborhood errand across Indian creek. His horse returned after darkness had set in, with the bridle dragging upon the ground. A heavy rain of that day had caused the overflow of the Creek which Mr. Fitzhugh had crossed in the morning. A search was instituted by the alarmed neighborhood, without success. After some hours vainly spent in the effort to find the missing man, someone in the crowd suggested that a worthless character of the neighborhood had been guilty of foul play; it was soon after suggested, to hang the man up at the end of a rope, and endeavor to extort from him a confession. One of the cooler men of the party, proposed that he would go to Springfield, to consult a fortune teller, if the others would await the result. Upon their promise so to do, he departed on his errand. Arriving at the home of the woman, he was told that she could do nothing for him, without the presence of some article of the personal property of the missing man. The messenger returned to the home of Fitzhugh, obtained a pocket handkerchief, and delivered it to the Springfield woman. She told the messenger, that if she was successful in getting into communication with Fitzhugh, he would talk to him. Then she seemed to become unconscious, and soon after began talking to the waiting man. The communicant claimed to be William Fitzhugh, and told the messenger, that in trying to ford Indian Creek, which was very high, that his horse was swept below the road, and an overhanging tree limb brushed him from the horse, and he was soon drowned. He then went on to carefully describe the location of his body, describing stumps known to the listener. The body was found without delay, by the person who received the information, located as described, and was buried in the neighborhood burial plat on William Ward farm, southeast of Philadelphia.

Mr. Bennett is a man of even temper, thoroughly honest, of a very kind disposition, and has a very large circle of warm friends. He is well preserved physically and mentally. While in the employ of the government in Chicago, he was known as the "old reliable inspector," enjoying the respect and esteem of all his associates.


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