JAMES W. YORK, one of the oldest settlers of Honey Point Township, is a native of Tennessee, being born in Murray County, that State, August 28, 1813. His ancestors were of English and frisk origin; his paternal grandfather, James, emigrated from England to North Carolina, and married a young lady named Whitaker. Here his father, Joel, was born in Surrey County in the year 1784, and moved when a young man to the State of Tennessee, where he married Talitha Jackson, who was of Irish descent, and whose family had come from North Carolina to Tennessee. Our subject's grandmother on his mother's side was Charity Boyd, who was born in North Carolina, and was living there during the Revolutionary War, and who always enjoyed recounting how she heard in her home, the sound of musketry during the Battle of Cowpens.
When James W. York was quite a small child, his father removed from Murray to Bedford County, Tenn. where the family lived until 1828. While living in this State he bought timber land and built a log house for the family home. The next removal of the family was to Morgan County, Ill., and this son was fifteen years old at that time. The county was thinly settled and Jacksonville was then such a place as Gillespie now is. The farmers had no market for their produce but everybody lived in a rough and primitive way; all were sociable, good-hearted and neighborly, and had many good times together. The journey from Tennessee to Illinois occupied thirty days and was accomplished by the help of a four-horse team which had been hired at the rate of $2.50 a day. After a seven years' residence near Jacksonville, the family removed to Macoupin County and entered land near Carlinville which is the farm now owned by James McClure. The father died in 1847 upon a farm a mile further east. The mother died two months later.
After coming to Illinois, our subject had only six weeks of schooling, but he had attended good private schools in Tennessee. As he was the oldest son his course of study was cut short by the family necessities. After his father's removal to Macoupin County, he stayed in Morgan Country for two years and worked on a farm at $15 a month, and from his earnings he accumulated sufficient money to enter eighty acres of land, which have been in his possession ever since and on which now stands his pleasant home. Upon this he moved in the spring of 1838, bought an ox team and began breaking prairie. He had prepared for this new venture by engaging a life partner to help him in establishing a home upon the new farm, and he was married in February, 1838, to Mary E. Keplinger, daughter of John and Elizabeth Keplinger, and a sister of Peter Keplinger, whose biography will be found elsewhere in this volume. This lady was born in Washington County, Tenn. and came to Morgan County. in 1830.
It was in the fall after his marriage that James York built a log cabin. For a long time he had to haul his wheat to Alton and St. Louis and go to mill at Alton and Edwardsville; but later a mill was built at Woodburn, and also in Montgomery County. In those early times a pioneer's life was by no means an easy one, and hard labor and untiring energy were necessary to the accumulation of property. But these our subject was willing to give and he finally gained a position where he could enjoy a comfortable competence. At one time he was the owner of six hundred and twenty acres of land, nearly half of which he has now given to his older children. A part of his present residence is the original old log house, built in the fall of 1838, which has been remodeled and improved, and in 1875 was finally changed into a neat and attractive dwelling.
By his first marriage Mr. York had ten children, all of whom died when quite young, except three: Maria is the wife of John H. Shears. Sophronia E. married John Saunders, and Elbert is farming in Honey Point Township. Their mother died November 24, 1873. The second wife bore the maiden name of Hester Hamilton, and their marriage took place in January 1875. Her five children are all living and they bear the names of Minnie Viola, James W., Vesta L., Nancy Almira, and Herbert A. Mrs. York is a daughter of Frederick A. and Nancy (Hampton) Hamilton, natives of Virginia and Kentucky, respectively, and now residents of Carlinville. Mr. York has commanded through life the warm respect and esteem of his fellow-citizens. He is a man of decided convictions, but concedes to others the same freedom of opinion which he has claimed for himself. His first Presidential vote was in 1836, for Martin Van Buren, and he has ever been attached to the party of Jefferson and Jackson, yet in local elections he has always claimed the privilege of supporting the best man for the office. He has had opportunities to occupy public positions and upon the first organization of Honey Point Township, served for one term as Supervisor, and was twice re-elected, but declined to serve. In the days of the old militia organization, he was first Lieutenant of his company and was always on hand at the annual musters. In January, 1857, he became connected with the United Baptist Church, and two years later was made a Deacon.
Like most men in Illinois who have reached a position of influence and competence, he began almost entirely without means, and what he has accomplished has been the result of his own industry and energy. He is a man of liberal and generous disposition and has provided comfortably for his children. He is one of the best known of the old pioneers in Macoupin County, and has done his full share to change it from a wilderness to a prosperous, thriving and populous community. He has 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 has been a benefit to himself, to his family and his fellow-men.