T. W. CHILES - Among the old residents of the northern part of the county, the name of Thomas W. Chiles of Palmyra, is especially worthy of mention in this work. For upwards of thirty years he has been in the mercantile business at Palmyra, and is a gentleman who has maintained the highest respect of the community as an honorable business man and a worthy private citizen. The family from which he is descended is of English origin, and settled at an early period in Orange county, Virginia. His grandfather, James Chiles, lived and died near Orange courthouse. He was a man of patriotic spirit, and enlisted in the regular Continental army, and served during the Revolutionary war. John G. Chiles, the father of the subject of this sketch, was born in Orange county, Virginia, in the year 1790. He grew up to manhood in his native county, and, when a young man and still unmarried, enlisted for service in the war of 1812. Returning to the Old Dominion about the year 1816 he married Elizabeth S. Wales. She was born in Fluvanna county, and her ancestors had been residents of Virginia from a period dating back to its early colonial history. On her mother's side she was connected with the Smithson family. For a couple of years after his marriage John G. Chiles lived in Virginia, and one child, a daughter, was born in that state. About the year 1818 he moved to Smith county, in middle Tennessee, and Thomas W. Chiles was the next child born after the family left Virginia. There were ten children in all, equally divided between sons and daughters. The second child and the oldest son was the subject of this biography. His birth occurred on the 24th of January, 1819. When he was three or four yeas old his father moved with the family from Smith county, Tennessee, to Todd county, Kentucky, where they lived till 1833, and the emigrated to Illinois, arriving at their place of settlement in what is now called South Palmyra township, about the 1st of December. His father was in such circumstances as did not permit his embarking very extensively in agriculture. He was engaged in farming in a limited way in South Palmyra township till 1850, and then removed to Bear creek, where he died on the 10th of May, 1853. Mr. Chiles' mother lived till the 6th of October, 1876.
When he first came to Macoupin county Mr. Chiles was about fifteen years of age. Like most men raised in a new country his opportunities for securing an education were limited. The subscription schools in the neighborhood of his home in Kentucky he had attended three terms, and after coming to Illinois went to school three months. The country was thinly settled. The pioneer inhabitants had their minds mostly bent on clearing the forest and making homes, and the luxuries and many of the conveniences of life were unknown. The educational advantages which the boys of that generation enjoyed were accordingly of the commonest description, and at most afforded a meager foundation upon which the youth, ambitious of further knowledge, could, by patient study nights and at odd moments, rear the structure of a more thorough education. During his boyhood he assisted his father on the farm. His marriage took place on the 22d of November, 1840. His wife was formerly Miss Clarissa A. Shaw. She was born at Cummington, Hampshire county, Massachusetts (the birth-place of the poet, William Cullen Bryant), March 31st, 1821. Her father, Oakes Shaw, was a native of Massachusetts; emigrated to Illinois in 1836, and settled at the town of Cummington, a short distance east of the present town of Palmyra, which was named by him in honor of his Massachusetts home. He was the first postmaster at Cummington. After his marriage Mr. Chiles rented land and began farming on his own account. He was obliged to begin life on a very modest basis. He had no means of his own, and an energetic industry and prudent economy were not matters of choice but of necessity. By October, 1848, at which date he quit farming, he had managed to accumulate a little money, and embarked in the mercantile business at Cummington, in partnership with James Matthews. There had been a store previously in existence at Cummington, but at the date at which Mr. Chiles entered into business it was closed, and he and his partner had command of the whole field without a rival. They carried a stock of goods sufficient in those days to meet all demands, and made a successful business venture. In the spring of 1850 Mr. Chiles purchased Matthews' interest, and subsequently sold a half interest in the business to his brother-in-law, F. E. Shaw. In 1855 he became the owner of the whole store, and afterwards carried on the business individually. The store was moved in 1862 from the old town of Cummington to the new town of Palmyra, which has been started in 1855. Cummington was unable to keep pace with her younger and more vigorous rival; the old town died out and Mr. Chiles has since carried on the business at Palmyra. He has endeavored to conduct business on a fair and liberal basis, and has had his full share of the large trade which centers at the town of Palmyra. He has also, to a limited extent, been engaged in farming. The six of his eleven children who are living are as follows: John T. Chiles, a partner in the store; Cornelia, the wife of John F. Rice; Fordyce E., who is farming in North Palmyra township; Clara E., who married Elias Tungate; Thomas W., a farmer of South Palmyra township; and James W., who is also a partner in the store. The oldest son now living, John F., served three years in Co. F., 122d Illinois regiment, commanded by Gen. Rinaker. This regiment was largely composed of soldiers from Macoupin county, and its history is well known to many of our citizens. The regiment served in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and other parts of the South. He was in the various movements and engagements in Tupelo, and the siege and storming of Fort Blakeley, the last important contest of the war. Fordyce E., was also a soldier in the Union army during the war of the Rebellion. He enlisted in the 14th Illinois regiment in 1864 and served till the close of the war. Arthur H., the oldest son, moved to Kansas, where he engaged in farming, and died.
As far as his political sentiments are concerned, Mr. Chiles began life as a member of the old line whig party, as was also his father. Like nearly all residents of Kentucky, his father was a strong supporter and admirer of Henry Clay, and voted for him each of three times he was a candidate for President. Mr. Chiles was not old enough to vote for President till 1840, at the time of one of the most exciting, interesting and enthusiastic campaigns this county has ever witnessed, and which is still spoken of by old men as the "lob cabin and hard cider" campaign. The popular enthusiasm swept Harrison, the whig candidate, into the presidential chair, and to this result Mr. Chiles contributed by his vote. He was a whig until that once great party had outlived its day and sank into a state of decay and dissolution. When the agitation began regarding the question of admitting Kansas and Nebraska into the Union as free, or slave, states he had not hesitation in arraying himself on the side of the advocates of freedom, and in opposition to the encroachments of the slave power. Although born in a slave state he had imbibed the spirit of freedom in the air of the great, free state of Illinois, and while he was willing to let slavery alone, as it constitutionally and legally existed in the Southern states, yet he was opposed to giving up one additional foot of our territory to the dominion of this blighting curse. He was one of the early republicans of the county. In 1856, the Palmyra precinct gave an unusually large republican vote in comparison with the rest of the county, and Mr. Chiles was one of those who supported Fremont, and aided the new party in making such an appearance of delegates to the Chicago convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for President, and has since been closely identified with the republican party of Macoupin county. He has long been postmaster at Palmyra, and has made an able, efficient and popular public officer. He was first postmaster at the old town of Cummington, in 1848, under the democratic administration of James K. Polk, though he was a well-known whig. With the exception of seven years (from 1854 to 1861), he has had charge of the office ever since. He was elected justice of the peace in April, 1872, and has since filled that position, although the township is strongly democratic. He was one of the charter members of the Odd Fellows' lodge at Palmyra, and has taken a warm and fraternal interest in the successful working of that order. He is known as an able business man and a good citizen, and for high, personal character, and undoubted honesty and integrity, no one stands higher in the community. Since 1840 he and his wife have been members of the Cumberland Presbyterian church. For a long number of years he has been ruling elder of the church at Palmyra. He has been interested in Sunday schools, and several times acted as superintendent of the union school at Palmyra. He has also been one of the most active promoters of the temperance cause about Palmyra, and has done all in his power to keep the town free from the evils of intemperance. By his diligence in enforcing the penalty against violators of the temperance laws, he has done as much, perhaps, as any other man to give Palmyra the enviable reputation it possesses as a model temperance town. His influence has ever been on the side of religion, morality and virtue; and few citizens of the county have led lives of great usefulness or credit.