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Jay County Indiana Biographies

JONAS VOTAW, one of the leading and influential citizens of Jay County, was born January 1, 1813, near New Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio, being the tenth and youngest child, and the only one now living, of John and Rebecca (Burson) Votaw. His father was of French descent, his mother being of Scotch ancestry. They belonged to the Society of Friends, and were married in a Quaker church, in Loudoun County, Virginia, in accordance with the usual custom of that society, the date of their marriage being January 9, 1793. The father was a blacksmith by occupation, and manufactured all kinds of edged tools then in use, farming utensils, etc. He made the knives, forks, plates, and also furniture with which he had his wife began housekeeping. By strict economy and close application to his trade, he accumulated a little money. In the fall of 1796, they left their native county, having two horses on which they loaded their clothing, placing their few goods on pack saddles, crossing the Allegheny Mountains, and locating in Harrison County, West Virginia, where the father bought land on which he made his home seven or eight years. He then sold his land and with his family, then consisting of wife and six children, he moved to Columbiana County, Ohio, in the fall of 1803, where he purchased a section of Government land, five miles west of New Lisbon. He sold 160 acres of this land, retaining 480 acres which he paid for by working at his trade. He was a skilled and reliable workman, and his patrons came to his shop a distance of from ten to twenty miles in the early settlement of the country. His son Jonas, the subject of this sketch, had but limited educational advantages in his youth, only attending the common district school four terms of three months each between the age of twelve and sixteen years. Prior to reaching the age of twelve years he had been taught at home by his parents. From sixteen until attaining the age of twenty one years he was engaged in farming on his father's farm. For two years from the age of twenty-one to twenty-three years he was engaged in burning wood into charcoal, making 100,000 bushels of charcoal from about 2,000 cords of wood, and sold the same to Hughes & Doyle, this firm using charcoal furnaces in the manufacture of iron, nails and castings. This work was very laborious, requiring constant attention both night and day, Mr. Votaw having three coal pits burning most of the time, and not sleeping more than four or five hours during the day. From this labor of a little over two years he realized a net profit of $600. Desiring to travel and see more of the world, he made a safe deposit of his money, and November 1, 1835, contracted with Captain McIntoch of Wellsville, Ohio, for $40 a month, and was one of four men to row two large flat boats, 40 x 80 feet, lashed together, making a surface of 40 x 80 feet. This boat was loaded with different kinds of produce to supply the wants of the people on the Lower Mississippi, and the trip, including the coast trade on the lower Mississippi, embraced a period of almost five months. Although attended with many exciting incidents, both romantic and dangerous, such as passing over the falls of the Ohio River at Louisville, and the eddies and whirlpools of the lower Mississippi, the trip was much enjoyed. The Captain was an experienced man, this being his nineteenth trip, and landed them safely at New Orleans February 1, 1836, with his goods mostly sold. Mr. Votaw remained at New Orleans ten days, viewing the city, and February 10, 1836, he embarked on a large steamboat, bound for Louisville with a stock of oranges and lemons, which were sold inCincinnati, the profit of these more than paying steamboat fare. He proceeded to Richmond, Indiana, for a short visit to relatives and friends, and was very favorably impressed with the country. At that time there was much talk and excitement about the sale of cheap Government lands at Fort Wayne and Northern Indiana, and Mr. Votaw resolved to invest his small means in the purchase of lands. He accordingly returned to his native home, collected his money, and started on foot and alone for Fort Wayne, Indiana, arriving at his destination about the middle of May, 1836. He was there informed that the receiver's office was closed, and would remain so about two months, and this gave him a good opportunity to explore and prospect for land. He received much information and kind advice from Mr. Brackenridge, the Registrar of the land office. After remaining three days at Fort Wayne he started for the wilds of Northern Indiana, sometimes going from ten to twenty miles between cabins and settlements, passing through a part of De Kalb, Noble, and LaGrange counties, entering the State of Michigan at Sturgis, going on to Kalamazoo, which at the time had but a dozen small houses. Finding that the Michigan land had been taken up he returned to Fort Wayne, and in the meantime he had taken the numbers of forty-six tracts of land, numbering from first to forty-sixth choice. At this time the country was full of land hunters, and at the opening of the land office at Fort Wayne, about July 1, 1836, there were at least 2,000 people in the village, most of whom were land buyers from New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, and the speculators and money sharks took advantage of the honest, unsuspecting land buyers, getting the number of their lands, to come in conflict with them. Then for the sole purpose of making money they would offer to release and compromise for $50 or $100, called hush money. Mr. Brackenridge, seeing how matters stood, gave notice to those desiring to enter land to prepare their numbers by section, township and range by writing, and hand the same into his office the following morning, and that no other entries would be made until those applications were gone through with, and this to a great extent stopped the land sharks from imposing on the people. Mr. Votaw had to remain in Fort Wayne fifteen days before his entries could be reached, he finally entering five eighty acre lots, four hundred acres in all, his selections being among the choicest tracts of land, one tract being on the north branch and another on the south of the Elkhart River. All of said land he sold within three years of the date of entry, receiving on an average $7 per acre before any tax has accrued thereon, Government land being exempt from taxation for five years from date of purchase. He had paid for these lands $1.25 an acre. After closing his purchases at Fort Wayne Mr. Votaw,with sixteen other eastern land buyers, purchased a large canoe, in which they floated down the Maumee River to Toledo, then a village of not more than fifteen houses, and from there proceeded to Cleveland by steamer, subsequently reaching his home in Columbiana County, Ohio, with but sixpence in his pocket. The news of his land purchase created no little excitement among his relatives and former associates, and in the fall of the same year his father, John Votaw, his brother-in-law, Preston Beck, and James Ferrel offered to pay Mr. Votaw's expenses if he would pilot them to Fort Wayne, which offer he accepted, and all mounted on good horses they soon arrived at their destination. There learning that the choice land had all been sold in northern Indiana, they went to Jay County, where they found an unbroken forest of heavy timber land subject to entry, and here his father bought 400 acres. Preston Beck 240 and James Ferrel eighty acres located on the Limberlost Creeknear the present site of the village of Westchester. These three gentlemen then returned to their homes, and our subject went to his lands in Noble County, where he remained over a year, making some improvements, and in the meantime cut and split 6,000 rails for other parties. He still kept his plats in Noble, LaGrange and Elkhart counties marked up by sending them to the registrar of the land office, thus being able at all times to show the vacant lands to those wishing to purchase, which occupation he followed when called on. He was an expert woodsman, often making as high as $5 a day. In the fall of 1837 he was taken sick with bilious malarial fever, followed by an attack of ague, and on recovering he returned to his native home in the latter part of 1838. He remained with his father the following summer and winter, recuperating his health and helping on the farm. In the fall of 1838 his father, with his two sons, John, Jr., and Isaac, sold their farms, and in the spring of 1839 came with our subject to Jay County, Indiana, and settled on their land near Westchester. The father having money hired help, and in a little over one year he had fifty acres of cleared land. In the fall of 1840 he was taken sick with typhus fever and died September 7, 1840, in his seventy-first year, his death being a source of great grief to his family. He had left a home, surrounded with all the necessary comforts of life, and many friends and relatives in Ohio, where, with such a constitution as his, he might have been spared for many years. Jonas Votaw, having previously purchased 280 acres of land in the vicinity of Westchester, built a frame house on his land, and cleared forty acres in 1840-'41. In August, 1841, he was elected treasurer of Jay County, being nominated by the Whig party. He was three times re-elected by the people, and held that office twelve consecutive years, serving with credit to himself and satisfaction to his constituents. He resigned the office of treasurer June 10, 1853, he having previously been elected treasurer of the Cincinnati, Union & Fort Wayne Railroad, which he held four or five years. While treasurer of Jay County he acted as agent for many non-residents in selling their lands, buying and selling many tracts of land, and it was a common saying that "Votaw never bought a poor piece of land, and you can bet the title thereto is good." He was married September 8, 1842, to Ann Brown, daughter of Aaron and Mary Brown, and immediately after his marriage located at Portland, and at once became interested in the improvement and development of that city. He has since lived in Portland, or the immediate vicinity, his present residence being about one mile from the business center. To Mr. and Mrs. Votaw were born seven children -Wilson C., was born August 10, 1843; August 10, 1861, he volunteered in Company C, Thirty-ninth Regiment Indiana Infantry; was a Sergeant of Captain George F. Winter's Company (C), Eighth Regiment of Indiana Veteran Cavalry Volunteers; was enrolled on the 122th day of February, 1864, to serve three years, or during the war; was honorably discharged from the service of the United States July 20, 1865, at Lexington, North Carolina, by order of the Secretary of War; and was married October 21, 1866, to Jane Simmons; Ruth A., born April 18, 1845, was married in September, 1860, to A.J. Callahan, a farmer residing near Johnstown, Bates County, Missouri; Mary R., born May 7, 1847, was married September 20, 1866, to D.A. Henry, a farmer living near Clinton, Henry County, Missouri; Sarah G., born August 6, 1851, was married September 7, 1879, to J.R. Coulson, a farmer residing two miles southwest of Portland; Howard E., born December 30, 1853, married November 14, 1885, to Ollie M. Milligan, and is engaged in farming two miles west of Portland; Homer S., born January 26, 1856, is a ticket and freight agent, and also telegraph operator for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company, now located at Smith's Mill, Minnesota; John J., born March 10, 1859, died October 23, 1859. Mrs. Votaw died March 18, 1859, aged thirty-three years, ten months and twenty-seven days. Mr. Votaw was again married June 17, 1861, to Lizzie K. Dresser, a daughter of John Dresser, who lived near Old Stockbridge, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. She had a liberal education and followed school teaching for several years. She was an exemplary Christian, a member of the Congregational church. To this marriage were born five children - James F., born and died June 19, 1862; Clara B., born June 26, 1863, is now clerking for her brother, Homer S., in the office of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company at Smith's Mill, Minnesota; Lillian K., born January 22, 1866, was married April 9, 1887, to John E. Bishop, a teacher in the Portland City Normal School; Henry J., born September 12, 1867, a teacher in the Portland Normal School; Emma L., born June 17, 1871. Mrs. Votaw died July 13, 1874, aged forty-three years, seven months and nineteen days, and lived and died a devoted Christian. August 10, 1875, Mr. Votaw married at Little York, Ohio, Mrs. N.J. (Perdew) Case, daughter of Philip and Amy M. Perdew. Her father was a native of Pennsylvania, born September 2, 1805, and her mother was born near Providence, Rhode Island, August 2, 1813. The latter was of French extraction, the third cousin of Marquis de La Fayette, her maiden name being Des Trees. Mrs. Votaw is a Christian woman, in early life joining the Methodist church. She was first married July 9, 1857, when seventeen years of age, to Augustus B. Case, and to them were born two children -Amy L., born June 18, 1858, and died the day of her birth; Cecil E.A., born May 16, 1880, was married February 19, 1881, to Etta B. White, who died September 20, 1884, aged twenty-one years. Both were members of the Christian church. Augustus B. Case was a soldier in the war of the Rebellion, enlisting in 1861 in the Fifty-fifth Ohio Infantry. He veteranized January 22, 1864, and was killed at the battle of Reseca, Georgia, May 15, 1864, at the age of twenty-six years. He was a brave soldier, and a true Christian. Cecil E.A. Case now lives with his parents, and is engaged in farming. Jonas Votaw was appointed and commissioned by Governor Oliver P. Morton director of the Northern Indiana State Prison to serve for a term of two years, from march 11, 1861, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Colonel Milt. Robinson, which position he accepted and filled with satisfaction to the State. He was also postmaster at College Corner, Jay County, for five or six years, which position he filled satisfactorily for six years, when the company failed, and was finally dissolved in 1863. The citizens of Portland and Jay County were heavy losers by the failure of this enterprise, theyhaving expended about $100,000 in grubbing and grading the railroad bed from Union City to Portland, Indiana, a distance of twenty miles. This railroad bed still remains unironed, but the prospects are that in the near future it will be utilized. Mr. Votaw was appointed chairman of a commission by a Congress of the United States, said commission being to partition the Me-shin-go-me-sia reservation in Grant and Wabash counties, Indiana, under Act of Congress of June 1, 1872. In said reservation there were about ten sections of land which had never been surveyed. In the spring of 1873 the commission commenced work and was occupied about ten weeks, by which time they had sectioned of the land, and divided it per capita among the band of Me-shin-go-me-sia, consisting of sixty-six Indians, making each division almost 100 acres. Mr. Votaw took an active interest in the organization of the Jay County Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Joint Stock Company, which was incorporated December 1, 1871, with which he has since been identified either as president or director. The fairs have always proved a success financially, and the growth and breeds of all kinds of stock have been greatly improved, and the general interests of the country have been developed by the society's progressive course. Mr. Votaw was chosen a delegate from the Eleventh Congressional District of Indiana to represent said district in the National Republican Convention that convened in Chicago, June 3, 1884, which resulted in the nomination of James G. Blaine for President, and John A. Logan for Vice President. He took an active part to secure the nomination of Mr. Blaine. Mr. Votaw is a public spirited citizen, and has given liberally of his means to all public enterprises for the development of the city of Portland, and the country at large, doing all in his power to secure railroads to Portland, and gravel roads throughout the county, and has aided in the support of schools and churches from the early settlement of the county to the present time. In his religious views he is liberal and progressive, not recognizing the Jewish ceremonies and ordinances as essential to salvation.

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