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Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company

Page 402

LEWIS WATKINS, now deceased, was among the early settlers of Menard county and though many years have come and gone since he passed away, he is yet remembered by pioneer residents of the county as one who was active in business, reliable and trustworthy at all times. His widow is now the oldest resident of Menard county and this history would be incomplete were there failure to make mention of this worthy couple. Mr. Watkins was born on the 7th of February, 1810, in New Albany, Indiana. The great middle west was then largely an unclaimed and unimproved district and he opened his eyes to the light of day in a pioneer home. His parents were Janes and Stenia (Swearens) Watkins, Kentucky people, who had gone to Indiana at a very early epoch in its development. James Watkins came to Illinois in 1827, prior to the time of the deep snow, which has become an historic event in the annals of this state. This occurred in the winter of 1830-31 and for months the snow lay to a great depth over all the country side so that it made it impossible for the settlers to leave their homes. James Watkins settled in Menard county, where he took up land from the government and he made his home at Bobtown, where he owned a mill. He had descended in the maternal line from the McClure family of Kentucky. Throughout his business career he carried on farming, being among the early tillers of the soil in this portion of the state. He died at a very early age.

Mr. Watkins was the eldest in a family of five sons and three daughters. He came to Illinois in early life and here remained until his death, following the occupation of farming. He aided in turning the first furrow upon many a field and after plowing his land he planted his seed and in due course of time reaped good harvests. In his work he was quite successful and at the time of his death he owned three hundred and forty acres of rich land.

In 1827 he was united in marriage to Miss Lucinda Kirby, a daughter of Cyrus and Kittie R. (Greene) Kirby, the latter a daughter of George Greene. The Kirbys came from Bowling Green, Kentucky, to Illinois when Mrs. Watkins was only six months old, arriving in 1809. They made their way to Edwardsville, Madison county, Illinois, and later located on Shoal Creek, leaving their first location because of a fear of the Indians, who were very numerous in that locality and did not always manifest a friendly spirit. Afterward they came to Menard county, arriving here in 1821, at a time when there were only two families in this locality. One of these was the family of William Clary. Mr. Kirby entered a tract of land from the government and at once began the difficult work of transforming the wild prairie into productive fields. The family lived in true pioneer style, experiencing many hardships and privations, but at the same time enjoying some pleasures which are not known at the present day. The Greene family was originally from Tennessee, but the representatives of the name, who first came to Illinois, made their way to this state from Kentucky settling in Madison county near Edwardsville. Greene county was named in honor of John Greene, who died in Springfield while serving his district as a member of the state legislature. Mrs. Watkins' grandfather Greene was a Revolutionary soldier, who served throughout the war for independence and also took part in some of the Indian wars. Mrs. Watkins was the eldest of a family of nine children and she and the youngest are the only ones now living. Betsey lived to an advanced age, but has now passed away. George, who was married and had a family, died in March, 1904. Sophia was the wife of Samuel Watkins. Polly was the wife of John Close. Nancy was the wife of Chris Atterberry and they had five children. Rhoda married John Brown. Jesse died unmarried at the age of thirty-six years. Tillie, the youngest, is the wife of Samuel Watkins, and has five children.

Mrs. Lucinda Watkins has forty-five grandchildren, over one hundred great-grandchildren and several great-great-grandchildren. The youngest grandchild is at least twenty-two years of age, and the oldest is fifty-five years of age, having been born in 1849. A photograph has just been taken of five generations of the family and the youngest in the group is nineteen years of age. Mrs. Watkins has lived upon her present farm for seventy-seven years, occupying the present house for sixty-two years. She had few privileges and advantages in youth, attending school perhaps only six weeks, but she has been a witness of remarkable changes in Menard county and Illinois and, in fact, throughout the country, and the years have brought her knowledge of the world's advancement. She can relate many interesting incidents concerning the methods of living in the early days and events which occurred in pioneer times. She made all of the clothing used by the family from wool raised on the farm. They also raised cotton to mix with the wool. At that period in her life there was no town in Menard county and the settlers had to go long distances to market. It was necessary that one should go to Vandalia to secure a marriage license. There was at that time a Mrs. Rachel Clary, the widow of Spencer clary, who had two suitors, one Banister Bond and the other Albert Hunter. On a certain occaasion Bond went to Vandalia on horseback to get a license to wed Mrs. Clary. On the return trip he met Mr. Hunter going on foot for the same purpose. Bond told Hunter that he had the license, whereupon Hunter remarked, "That beats the eternal," but he quietly gave way before the more successful suitor. Mrs. Watkins is now the oldest person living in this county. She has been a widow since 1858 and she has continously resided upon the old home where she and her husband lived in their early married life. She has one hundred acres of land here, and her son, Jesse K. Watkins, together with his family, live with her. He has five children, all living, namely: John B., who married Miss Ella Stith and lives near Oakford; Thompson M., at home; George, who is living in Petersburg; Lulu Ortman, who resides in Atterberry; and Woodson G., who is located at Chandlerville.

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