JAMES W. YORK. One of the oldest settlers of Honey Point township, is a native of Tennessee, and was born in Williamson county of that state, October 28th, 1813. His ancestors were of English and Irish origin. His grandfather, James York, was an Englishman who emigrated to North Carolina, and married a young lady named Whittaker. Joel York, the father of the subject of this biography, was born in Surrey county, North Carolina, in the year 1784; he was raised in that part of North Carolina, and when a young man moved to the state of Tennessee, where he married Talitha Jackson, who was of Irish descent, and whose family before coming to Tennessee, had lived in North Carolina. Mr. York's grandmother, on his mother's side, was Charity Boyd, who was born in North Carolina, and was living there during the Revolutionary war; at the time of the battle of Cowpens she plainly heard the guns used during the engagement, the battlefield not being many miles distant from her father's house. Mr. York was the second of a family of ten children, of whom all came to Illinois; all are now dead, with the exception of four. When he was quite a small child, his father moved from Williamson to Bedford county, Tennessee, where the family lived till 1828. That year his father moved with the family to Illinois, settling in Morgan county, four miles southeast of Jacksonville.
He was about fifteen years old when he came to this state. At that early period Morgan county was thinly settled, and as Mr. York remembers Jacksonville, it was then such a place in size as the present town of Gillespie. The farmers had no markets for their produce. The emigrants from the older states brought in the only money used throughout the country. Everybody lived in a rough and primitive manner, but all were sociable, good-hearted and neighborly, and were accustomed to have a good time when they gathered together in Jacksonville. About 1835 or 1836, his father moved with the younger children to Macoupin county, on a place about two miles and a half east of Carlinville, on the farm now owned by James McClure. He afterward moved to a farm about a mile further east of that location. He afterward moved to a farm about a mile further east of that location, where he died in 1847. All the schooling Mr. York received was mostly in Tennessee, where the country was old-settled, and good private schools had been established. After coming to Illinois he went to school only about six weeks, and what education he has acquired, has been the fruit of his own efforts in that direction. He was the oldest son, and was obliged to remain at home and help earn a living for the family. After his father moved to Macoupin county, he stayed in Morgan county a couple of years, and worked on a farm for a man named Dr. Moore, getting fifteen dollars per month. As soon as he had accumulated sufficient money he entered eighty acres of land in section 29, township 9, range 6, Macoupin county. This land has been in his possession ever since, and on it now stands his present residence.
He came to Macoupin county in the spring of 1838, bought an ox team, and began breaking prairie. He was married in Morgan county in February 1838, to Mary Keplinger. She was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Keplinger, and a sister to Peter Keplinger, a sketch of whose history may be found elsewhere. She was born in Washington county, East Tennessee, and came to Morgan county in 1830. The fall after his marriage he built a log cabin on his tract of eighty acres. At first he found it slow work to get along. He hauled his wheat to Alton and St. Louis, which were the only markets for pork and produce. He was obliged to go to mill to Alton and Edwardsville until later, when a mill was built at Woodburn, and also one three miles this side of Hillsboro, in Montgomery county. In those early times the life of a man who was anxious to better his circumstances, was by no means an easy one, and it was only by continued hard labor and untiring industry that money could be accumulated. As soon as he had opportunity he purchased additional land, and finally gained a position where he was in the enjoyment of a comfortable competence. At one time he was the owner of 620 acres of land lying in one body in Honey Point township; he has since given three hundred acres of this tract to his three oldest children. This land he bought at prices ranging from five to twenty dollars an acre. Part of his present residence is the old original log house built in the fall of 1838, which has been remodeled and improved, and in 1875 was finally changed into the neat and attractive dwelling which is shown among the illustrations on another page. The death of his first wife occurred on the 24th of November, 1875. His second marriage took place in January, 1876, to Hester Hamilton, of Montgomery county. By his first marriage he had ten children, all of whom died when quite small, except three, Maria, the oldest daughter, is the wife of John H. Shears; Sophronia E. married John Saunders; Elbert P. York, his son, is farming in Honey Point township, where the other children also reside. He has two children by his second marriage.
When we come to speak of the personal characteristics of Mr. York, we deal with a man who throughout his life has commanded the warm respect and esteem of his fellow citizens. He has been a man of decided convictions and opinions on most subjects, but has been willing to concede the same freedom of opinion to other men that he has claimed for himself. His political inclinations have connected him with the democratic party. In 1836 he voted for Martin Van Buren for President, and from that time has continued to support the principles of the old and time honored party of Jefferson and Jackson. Although a sincere and earnest democrat, he has not been so closely attached to party that he has not been able to see merit in opposing candidates, and in county and township elections he has always claimed the privilege of supporting whosoever he considered the best man for the office. He has had opportunities to occupy public position, but has been satisfied to occupy the place of the peaceful and unpretentious farmer. In the days of the old militia organization he was second lieutenant, and afterward first lieutenant of his company, and was always on hand at the annual musters. On the adoption of township organization he was elected a member of the first Board of Supervisors from Honey Point township; the duties of this position he discharged in a wholly satisfactory manner, and twice re-elected, but declined to serve. In January, 1857, he became connected with the United Baptist Church, and has remained a member of that denomination ever since. Since 1859 he has filled the office of deacon. He is now a member of the Honey Creek Baptist Church.
Like most men in Illinois who have reached a position of influence or competence, he began life almost entirely without means, and what he has accomplished, has been the result of his own industry and energy. He is known as a man of liberal and generous disposition, and he has not cared to accumulate money for its own sake. His children, on reaching years of manhood and womanhood, have been comfortable provided for, and given an opportunity to start well in life. His generosity has been imposed upon more than once in the payment of security-debts, but nevertheless he has been as ready as most men to do all he safely could to assist others. He belongs to the class of citizens who develop the resources of a country, and he has done his full share in the work of bringing Macoupin county from a wilderness of uninhabited prairie and timber, to a prosperous, thriving and populous community. He had lived a life of usefulness and integrity, and now at the close of a long and industrious career, he can look back over a life which perhaps has been as free from faults and vices as that of most persons, and which has been of some benefit to himself, his family, and his fellow-men.