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Chicago: Chapman Bros., Publishers


William P. Harris

WILLIAM P. HARRIS. It is with difficulty one can picture the prairies of Illinois as they lay sixty years ago, their surface scarcely disturbed by the foot of a white man, much less by the plowshare. There were miles of level prairie, over which the Indian wandered and wild animals ranged in unrestrained freedom. The time came, however, when the white man was not willing that these great resources should longer lie undeveloped, and accordingly caravan after caravan, began pushing its way toward the Mississippi.

Among the scores who flocked to Central Illinois in the early thirties, and even prior to this, was William P. Harris, who arrived in this county on the 1st day of April, 1829. In due time he established himself upon a tract of wild land and with his brother pioneers began the creation of a homestead. The years which followed were plentiful in toil and hardship, and after the passage of a decade, Mr. Harris, like his brother settlers, found himself upon solid ground, financially, and felt that he had been repaid for all he had endured. He is now a veteran of eighty-two years, remarkably well preserved, and able to relate with intelligence many of the incidents which were crowded into the years of his pioneership, and which are ever pregnant with interest to those who have the faculty of contemplation and appreciation. To those who came to the West and were foremost in the development of her rich resources, too much praise cannot now be given, for they are fast passing away, and we cannot too soon gather and preserve the story of their lives and labors.

Our subject was born in Green County, Ky., May 7, 1807, and is the son of Charles and Sarah (Penticost) Harris, natives of Virginia. The paternal grandfather, George Harris, was born in Wales, and upon emigrating to the United States settled in the Old Dominion, where he reared a family of four sons and three daughters. He likewise served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and spent his last days in Virginia.

The father of our subject resided in his native State until 1806, then removing to Green County, Ky., settled on a farm near Greensburg, where his death took place in 1821, at the age of fifty-six years. The wife and mother survived until 1851, spending her last days in Green County, Ky. All their children, eight in number lived to mature years and were married. They were named, respectively: Hattie, Sarah, William P., Elizabeth, Polly, Martha, Catherine, and Nancy.

The early life of our subject, who was the only son of his parents, was spent amid the quiet scenes of agricultural districts, and he remained a member of his father's household until after he had attained the twentieth year of his age. He was then married, Aug. 10, 1827, to Miss Melinda Miler, then a resident of Harrison County, Ind. She was born in Tennessee, and was the daughter of John and Martha Miler, who spent their last years in Illinois. Mr. and Mrs. Harris began their wedded life together on a farm in his native county, but less than two years later determined to seek their fortune in another part of the world, and gathering together their household effects, started overland with teams for this county. They first halted near the present site of Waverly, where they spent about two weeks, and then Mr. Harris rented land in the vicinity fo Jacksonville, upon which he operated until 1837. He had then accumulated a little capital and was enabled to purchase 200 acres of land in Macoupin County. He lived upon this until the spring of 1849, then selling out he removed to Sangamon County, where he purchased 320 acres. He improved a portion of this and bought land until he became the owner of 800 acres, all of which he brought to a state of cultivation and upon it erected good buildings.

In 1874, having accumulated a competence, Mr. Harris divided the greater part of his land among his sons and retiring from active labor, removed from the farm and took up his abode in Waverly, where he put up a large and comfortable residence, which he still occupies. At the farm during his later years, he made a speciality of stock raising with most excellent results. He had in the meantime become the father of eight children, but was deprived of the companionship of his devoted wife, who died in 1851.

Miss Caroline Harris, the eldest daughter of our subject, became the wife of James Arnold, and died in Sangamon County, this State, several years ago; Elizabeth (Mrs. William Calbert) is a resident of Arkansas; Charles lives in Sangamon County, Ill.; Nancy is the wife of Dr. R. E. McVey, of Topeka, Kan.; Martha married Enoch Gilpin, and died in Sangamon County; William H. H. H., is a resident of Waverly; Thomas J. and James M., (twins) are residents of Sangamon County; Emerson T. died in Waverly in 1881.

Mr. Harris in November, 1852, contracted a second marriage with Polly C. Tinnon, who was born and reared in Logan County, Ky., and who died in Waverly, this county, in January, 1888. Our subject cast his first Presidential vote for J. Q. Adams, becoming a member of the Old Whig party. Upon its abandonment he supported John C. Fremont, and has since been an ardent Republican. He has served as Justice of the Peace, both in Sangamon and Macoupin counties, and has been a Deacon of the Baptist Church for many years. He identified himself with this Church fifty years ago. He says that the winter of 1888-89 was the mildest he has known since the famous season of 1829-30. On the 10th of March, 1830, his wife gathered a handsome bouquet of wild flowers. He experienced the rigors of the winter of 1830-31, well known in history as the winter of the seep snow, and this was repeated in 1855-56, although not to so aggravated a degree. The eyes which have looked upon so many wonderful scenes and the tongue which is able to relate so many thrilling incidents will in due time have failed their office, but the name of William P. Harris will be held in kindly remembrance long after he has been gathered to his fathers.

We give elsewhere a lithographed portrait of Mr. Harris, which to his many friends will be a valuable memento.

1889 Index
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