OREAR, (HON.) WILLIAM, (deceased), former banker and ex-Sheriff of Morgan County, Ill., was born in Frederick County, Va, December 24, 1795, a son of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Irwin) Orear, both of whom were also natives of the Old Dominion. His paternal grandfather, a native of Bordeaux, France, immigrated to America in colonial days, settling in Virginia. His maternal grandfather, William Irwin, was a native of Pennsylvania, and of Scotch ancestry. He also located in Virginia in young manhood. Of the family of ten children born to Benjamin and Elizabeth Orear, William was the eldest.
While the latter was still in his infancy, his parents removed from Virginia to Clark County, Ky., and soon afterward settled permanently near Boonesboro, where for a long period, Daniel Boone, the famous Kentucky pioneer, lived among the Indians. In 1834 and 1835 he continued westward, making his home in Morgan County, Ill., where his son William had located several years before. His wife died in 1836, but he survived until 1862. It is worthy of note that two of his uncles, Daniel and Enoch Orear, accompanied Col. George Rogers Clark in his western expedition against the Indians in the Territories of Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, afterward returning to their homes in Virginia. Elizabeth (Irwin) Orear was a descendant of the Chambers family, who were pioneer inhabitants of Pennsylvania, members of which attained prominence in the early history of the Keystone State. Representatives of the family subsequently settled in Kentucky.
Though the early educational advantages of William Orear were necessarily limited on account of the crude facilities surrounding him in his youth, he succeeded in acquiring a good knowledge of mathematics and the essential English branches, so that he was able to commence life with less of a handicap than most boys of that period. His young manhood was devoted principally to teaching school in Kentucky and Missouri. On March 18, 1825, he was united in marriage with Maria T. Sawyer, daughter of Daniel Sawyer, who removed from New York, his native State, to North Carolina. In the latter State he was engaged in the lumber trade until his death, after which his family settled in Petersburg, Ind. Mrs. Orear was born in North Carolina August 16, 1805. On April 13, 1825, Mr. Orear and his bride arrived in Morgan County, having made the journey on horseback, bringing with them all their worldly possessions in saddlebags. He settled upon an unimproved tract of Government land to the improvement of which he at once devoted his energies, and when the land was placed upon the market by the Government two or three years afterward, he purchased it, with an additional tract adjoining, the whole giving him a large and exceedingly fertile body of easily cultivable soil. From time to time thereafter he purchased additional farming lands, until he became known as one of the most extensive landowners in Morgan County. He also began the raising of stock at an early day, and subsequently entered into transactions of considerable importance in this direction.
For a long period Mr. Orear was closely identified with public affairs in the State and county. Originally a Whig, he cast his first presidential ballot for John Quincy Adams. He was a stanch supporter of Henry Clay, voting and working for him. Upon the organization of the Republican party he became prominently identified with it, voting for John C. Fremont and for each succeeding candidate of the party until his death, April 29, 1876. On August 6, 1832, he was elected to the office of Sheriff of Morgan County, and reelected August 4, 1834, serving four years in all. On August 1, 1836, he was chosen to represent his district in the Illinois State Senate, serving his constituents with honor in the Tenth and Eleventh General Assemblies, the first two years of his term being during the time Stephen A. Douglas represented Morgan County in the lower branch of the Legislature. Abraham Lincoln was also a member of the House during the same term. Mr. Orear also saw active service in the Black Hawk War.