HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, pp. 165-166
Not only have many of the citizens of St. Joseph county left honorable names to descend upon those who follow them, but many of them also can trace back their lineage to honorable names left by their ancestors for their inheritance. Such an individual is the subject of our article,--William Rittenhouse Eck, who, though he can as yet trace no descendants from himself, can and does go back in the line of his maternal ancestors to the first paper-makers of America,--the Rittenhouses of Philadelphia,--in the "good old colony times when we lived under the King."
Mr. Eck is the oldest son of Joseph and Mary (Rittenhouse) Eck, and was born in the township of Briar Creek, Columbia county, Pennsylvania, August 31, 1809, where he resided with his father, and obtained such an education as was imparted in the public-schools of that day. He assisted his father on the farm and in the clover and oil-mill until April 13, 1833, when he came west and located at what was then called the village of North Bend, but is now known as the second ward of Three Rivers. When he arrived at Buck’s hotel he had only a French five-franc piece left in his pocket. He worked for Philip H. Hoffman and Christian B. Bowman two weeks, then for George Tuck for six weeks, after which he husked corn on Prairie Ronde, and put in the balance of the fall shaking with the ague. In the winter he split rails for Mr. Hoffman, and helped to raise the first frame-house in Three Rivers,--the store-house that stood near the site of the present bridge over the St. Joseph river. In the spring of 1834 he began to learn the carpenter trade, and worked at it till May 31, when his master left the country, and the apprentice took his "kit" and knowledge (both very limited) and went into the service of John H. Bowman at farming, carpenter-work and milling, indifferently, and never left him until 1845. That year (on October 20) he came to Colon and bought an interest in the Colon mill,--the first stones of which he dressed,--and ground the first grist therein, in 1839. He operated the mill in company with John H. Bowman until 1848, and then with W. F. Bowman for three years longer, when he disposed of his interest to Joseph B. Millard, and in the summer of 1851, together with L. C. Mathews and S. S. Riley, built the saw-mill house known as the Riley mill, and operated in two years, when he retired from the firm, and has not been engaged in any active business since.
He owns property at Three Rivers, and also the seminary building in Colon, and is quietly enjoying a well-earned competency. He has held the office of supervisor of Colon for six years, and represented the county two years in the legislature. Mr. Eck was a Whig in the days of that party, and has been a member of the Republican parts since its organization to the present. He is not a member of any church, but from his good old Quaker mother imbibed principles of justice and mercy, which have actuated him in his dealings with his fellow-men through life.
For reasons satisfactory, doubtless to himself he has never married, but he has not, therefore, ignored the just demands of society, but in all things that would serve to improve its standing has ever been a generous and hearty contributor. No subscription was ever circulated in the township for any charitable object or business enterprise that has not had his name thereon, with a liberal sum affixed thereto. He aided liberally in the building of the seminary, and also in securing the railroad, although at the time owning no real estate in the town. Mr. Eck is highly esteemed by his neighbors, and is passing through life’s later stage with the serenity that a consciousness of a life of rectitude necessarily gives.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 166
On of the thriftiest farmers of the township of Colon is the subject of the present sketch, Adam Bower, who was born December 18, 1813, in Springport, Cayuga county, New York. His parents, John and Mary (Cline) Bower, were born in Schuylkill, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, the former in 1764, and the latter in 1762, and were married in that place in 1795. They emigrated to Cayuga county in 1800, while it was a new and wild country, leading there the lives of pioneers—there Mr. Bowers died, August 10, 1817.
The senior Bower again married, and with his family removed to Colon, St. Joseph county, Michigan, in 1836, Adam accompanying them. He located a large tract of land on section six, on which the father and mother resided till their death in 1844. Mr. and Mrs. Bower are gratefully remembered by the older residents of Colon for their kindness and unbounded hospitality.
In the fall of 1836 Adam returned to the old home in Cayuga county, and brought back Hannah C. Richards as his wife. She was the daughter of Simeon and Mary Richards, and was born September 8, 1814, in Ballston Spa, Saratoga county, New York, and was married on the twenty-second anniversary of her birth.
The new housekeepers went to their own location on section eight in the spring of 1837, where they lived most happily together until December 6, 1848, when Mrs. Bowers sank to her dreamless sleep, mourned sincerely by all who knew her. She was the mother of two sons, Simeon A. and John Francis Bower, of whom the latter alone survives.
Mr. Bower lived a life of loneliness until January 15, 1850, when he was united in marriage with Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Levi and Vilenda Pitts, who was born in Onondaga, Onondaga county, New York, November 3, 1827. Mr. Pitts was born in the same county, March 16, 1797, and his wife, Vilenda Deuel, in Washington, Dutchess county, New York, November 5, 1806.
They were married March 4, 1824, in Onondaga, whither Mrs. Pitts had removed seven years previously, wnad where Mr. Pitts died March 4, 1836.
Mrs. Pitts re-married July 16, 1840, and removed to Michigan in 1842 with her husband, Lewis Shuert, and her daughter, the present Mrs. Adam Bower.
By the second marriage Mr. Bower has had born to him six children: Augustus Levi, Hannah Elizabeth, now deceased; James Elliott, Lewis Adam (deceased); William Emery and Henry F. The two older sons are married and live on their own farms in Colon; one son is in business in Colon village, and the two younger ones are still members of the household on the old homestead of 1837.
Mr. Bower is an active member of the Republican party, and was formerly a Whig in his political affiliation.
Neither Mr. or Mrs. Bower are members of any church, but their preferences are towards the Methodist Episcopal organization.
Mr. Bower owns at the present time five hundred and fifty-seven acres of the choicest land in the township, and has given his son eighty acres besides.
In 1858 he built a most elegant mansion of stone, of which and his ample barns and beautiful grounds by which they are surrounded and connected, we present our readers a fine view on another page.
Mr. Bower is recognized by his neighbors as a man of liberal views, public-spirited and ready to assist generously with his purse and hands any object which bids fair to conduce to the public good; and hence he has been an able assistant is all of the enterprises which have advanced the prosperity of the town and ministered to the progress of its society.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, pp. 166-167
Among the honored names of St. Joseph county, that of Comfort Tyler stand prominently out, as one who has done much to give the old county its proud position in the Peninsular State. His parents, Samuel and Deliverance (Whiting) Tyler, were natives of Connecticut, and removed there from in 1788, to Onondaga county, New York, where Mrs. Tyler lived nine months before seeing another white woman beside herself, and three months longer before she saw the second one. One of Mr. Samuel Tyler’s brothers preceded him to Onondaga a short time before. They were of the very best and foremost families of that region, and gained a most enviable reputation as men of ability and straightforward business character.
Comfort Tyler was born in the town of Marcellus, in the above-named county, on the 7th day of March, 1801, where he received a limited education in the common-schools of the county, and assisted his father in the business of farming, milling and carding wool and dressing cloth, until he was twenty-four years of age, when he began life for himself in the business of his father before him.
In the year 1833 he traveled through Michigan and northern Indiana and returned to Marcellus, and in the spring of 1834 removed with his family to the west, thinking to locate in Indiana; but on arriving at White Pigeon, those of the residents of St. Joseph county who had met him in the previous summer, were so favorably impressed with his bearing, they persuaded him to look further for a location in the county, and on doing so, he made his selection for a home in the southwest corner of the township of Colon, buying three hundred and thirty-three acres on sections nineteen and thirty-one, with the intention of making further purchases on the Nottawa prairie, when the Indian reservation should come into the market, but did not do so by reason of the particular tract he wanted being located by another party.
On this location on section thirty-one Mr. Tyler resided until his decease, bringing it from nature’s dominion to the finely cultivated and productive fields of a thorough farmer.
The people of the township found in him an able and careful counselor, and guardian of their public trusts, and they gave those trusts into his hands in the fullest measure. He was the supervisor of the township for twenty-five years, his last term ending in the year when his health would not permit of further service. He was also appreciated in the councils of the State, representing St. Joseph county in the lower house of the general assembly, in 1841, and in the upper house, as senator, in the year 1859. He was also a member of the constitutional convention of 1867, from St. Joseph county. In politics Mr. Tyler was originally a member of the Whig party, joining the Republican party at its organization, of which he remained a staunch advocate till his death. He united with the Methodist Episcopal church at Centreville, in 1841, and was its recording-steward for twenty-five years, and died in its communion.
On the 16th day of January, 1823, Mr. Tyler married Desire, a daughter of Abel and Desire Belote, who was born in Onondaga county, New York, on the 11th day of March, 1803. The fruits of this union were the following children: JULIA ANN, now Mrs. O. H. Atchinson; SAMUEL, now of Sherman; ANSEL, who succeeds to the old homestead in Colon; ASHER, now in California; WILLIAM, now of Colon, and EDWARD, who died in infancy. The last two were born in Colon.
Mrs. Tyler was also a member of the Methodist church, and a lady of most estimable qualities. She died April 22, 1854. Mr. Tyler followed her on January 16, 1873.
Reverend Job Tyler, a brother of Comfort Tyler, preached to all classes of people without distinction of religious views, though a Sabbatarian himself. He was much esteemed by the people of St. Joseph county, among whom he dwelt and followed his calling until 1851, when he died at San Diego on his way to California.
Mr. Tyler was broad in his views, and liberal and enterprising in schemes for the public good. Though not particularly to be benefited by his act, he nevertheless aided generously in the construction of the railroad through Colon, believing it to be of general value to the people of the township.
In all matters of the public entrusted to his care he was scrupulously exact to see that his duties were promptly and fully performed, and he has left behind him a record as his monument, upon which his children may look with pride, and his fellow-citizens with admiration. His hospitality was unbounded, and he was generous to a fault.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 167
The subject of the present sketch, John Henry Bowman, was born in Mount Bethel, Northumberland county, Pennsylvania, March 13, 1796. He was the oldest of ten children born to Jesse and Sally Bowman. He removed to Brier Creek, Columbia county, Pennsylvania, and resided in that county until 1834, when he removed with his family, consisting of a wife and seven children, to Three Rivers, So. Joseph county, Michigan, where he built, the same year, the first frame-house of any pretensions erected in that city, and which was also, for many years, the best in the country around.
He bought one hundred and twenty acres of land on Johnnycake prairie and began farming; and in 1836, with the Smiths of Prairie Ronde, bought the Beadle mill-property at Three Rivers, and with them erected the Three Rivers flouring-mill, and began the manufacturing of flour in February, 1837, which business the form of Smith & Bowman carried on, together with merchandizing, for about two years, when the mill was leased and afterwards bought by Moore & Prutzman; and Mr. Bowman, in 1838, began the erection of another flouring-mill in Colon village with Dr. Voorhis, but the mill was not completed until after Voorhis’ death.
The mill commenced operations in 1839, and soon after Mr. Bowman sold three-fourths of his interest to his son, William F. Bowman, and in 1845 removed from Three Rivers to Colon to reside.
He retained one-fourth interest in the Colon mills until his death, actively managing the property during the whole period.
On the 19th day of January, 1817, Mr. Bowman married Sophia, a daughter of John Freese, of Brier Creek, Pennsylvania, by whom he had four children: William F., Jesse, Sally and Martha, all of whom are now dead except the latter, who is the wife of Elisha B. Brown, of Columbia county, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Bowman died in Brier Creek, October 12, 1823.
On the 15th day of December, 1826, Mr. Bowman was again united in marriage, to Mrs. Ann Millard, nee Rittenhouse, by whom he had born to him John Quincy, Andrew H. and Sarah Ann, all of whom are now dead; Amelia R., now Mrs. E. R. Hill, and Joseph E., both of Colon.
The second Mrs. Bowman died April 2, 1838; and July 6, 1844, Mr. Bowman took unto himself another companion,--Mary Ann Raymond, of Three Rivers, who still survives him. By this marriage one child was born, John Raymond Bowman, who is a practicing physician in Cheyenne, Colorado.
In the nullification times of 1832, Mr. Bowman was a major in the Pennsylvania State troops.
In his younger days he was a member of the Whig party, but joined the Republican organization at its inception, though he died before he cast a presidential vote therein. He was a member of the legislature of Michigan two terms.
He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church in Pennsylvania, but never united with it in Michigan.
In May, 1855, he went west on a tour of observation, and was attacked by the cholera at Lexington, Missouri, and died after a short illness. Mr. Bowman was highly esteemed by his neighbors, and though sometimes despondent, was mostly of a cheerful frame of mind, and liberal to the extreme towards suffering and distress.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, pp. 167-168
One of the most successful farmers on Colon township is Phineas Farrand. His father, Joseph Farrand, was a success in the same line of business before him, beginning the same with the grandfather of Phineas, in Morris county, New Jersey. At the age of twenty-one Joseph Farrand married Julia, a daughter of Edward Cumpson.
Mr. Cumpson owned and operated the first mill for cutting iron into bars ever used in America. For fear of confiscation by the British forces during the Revolutionary war, he secretly operated his machinery in a cave, in the interests of the colonial armies.
In 1799 Mr. Farrand, immediately after his marriage, removed to Mentz, Cayuga county, New York, where he bought two hundred acres of land, wild and heavily timbered, subsequently adding two hundred acres more, clearing up three hundred and sixty acres of the tract, and bringing it to a high state of cultivation. Mr. Farrand owned and operated in his barn on this farm, the second cylinder threshing-machine, which worked successfully, in the United States.
Of eight children,--five sons and three daughters,--Phineas, the subject of our sketch, was the youngest, and was born in Mentz, December 22, 1820. Here he attended the district-schools of the township, and assisted his father on the farm, until 1837, when he removed with his family, consisting of his father and mother and two sisters, Catharine A. and Abigail E., to Michigan, via Canada, by teams, arriving at Albion, in Calhoun county, in July of that year.
The family remained at Albion during the summer, Phineas occupying the time in driving a breaking-team of ten yoke of oxen, and the father making a tour of observation for a location, which he found in the township of Colon, wherein his son, Henry K., had located a year previous. He bought the location of George Brooks, one hundred and thirty acres, the last public land being entered by his son, Henry K., in 1836, in the township. This original purchase is the present homestead of the subject of this sketch. In the month of October the family removed to their new home, and occupied, for the winter of 1837-8, the small log-house on the premises built by Mr. Brooks.
There were about thirty acres partially broken-up on the location, and Phineas put eighteen of them into wheat that fall, which was the first crop raised by him in Michigan. One term at the district-school, in the Mathews school-house, during the first winter of his residence in Michigan, "finished" his education, and henceforth his "schooling" was that obtained in practical life.
To the original purchase the father and son added a large tract, the farms now numbering four hundred and ninety-one acres in a body, three hundred and nine-one of which are under cultivation, and upon which Mr. Farrand has erected fine, commodious barns and a comfortable dwelling—a view of which may be seen on another page of our work.
Orchards and good fences add to the sense of ease and comfort that pervades this old pioneer homestead, all of which has succeeded wild nature through the steady, persistent strokes of the original purchaser and his worthy successor, who now occupies it.
Mr. Farrand has also been engaged in the breeding of thorough-bred cattle and fine-woolen sheep, and has now upon his farm some of the best-blooded short-horns and American merinos in the county. He has also some very excellent horses, to the breeding of which he pays considerable attention.
During the terrible year of 1838, when death stalked abroad through the country, gathering his harvests with unrelenting hand, the two sisters died within a brief period of each other. In 1845, on the 8th day of January, the mother died, and on the 4th day of December, 1854, the father, too, sank to rest in the old homestead, and of the five persons who came to it in 1837 Phineas alone remains.
In politics Mr. Farrand is and has been a Republican since the rise of that party, and was a Whig previously. His religious sentiments are independent, and he is tolerant of all beliefs.
On the 23d day of October, 1845, Mr. Farrand was united in marriage to Betsey M., daughter of Elias B. and Martha Kinne, of St. Joseph county, Mrs. Farrand being a native of Naples, Ontario county, New York. She is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church of Colon. The children of this household are Joseph K., Grant E. and Ella, all of whom remain at home. The second son, Theron G., died at the age of twenty-five years, leaving a wife, but no child.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 168
The subject of the following sketch, Samuel Gorton, was born in Lisbon, Connecticut, September 20, 1817, and is the second of eight children of John and Almira Gorton. At the age of about four years he removed with his parents to Henrietta, about six miles south of Rochester, N. Y., from whence, five years later, the family removed to Bergen, Genesee county, in the same State, where Samuel continued to reside with his father until 1840, when he came to St. Joseph county, Michigan, to look for a location for himself. In 1841 he finally located on section four in the township of Colon, but subsequently sold his first location and made another on section ten in the same township, in 1842, where he still resides. His homestead contains eighty acres, besides which he owns sixty-five acres in the township of Leonidas. In 1874 he built an elegant house of the boulder stones found in the township,--a view of which we present to our readers in another part of this work.
Mr. Gorton’s political faith in his early days accorded with the Whig policy, and when the Republican parts came into existence he joined it, and remained a member thereof until 1872, when he voted for Horace Greeley for president, and in 1876 voted with the Democrats for Mr. Tilden. Though not a member of any church-organization, he acknowledges the force of a Christian line of conduct, marked out by the golden rule.
On the 8th day of April, 1844, he married Julia A., daughter of Samuel Noyes, late of Leonidas, but now deceased. The fruits of this marriage were: Charles James, who died in 1848, and Clarence Ernest, who is now living at home with his parents. Mrs. Gorton was born in Berlin, Ohio, in the year 1824, and came to Leonidas in the year 1832 with her father’s family. She is a member of the Baptist church of Colon.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 178
Solomon Pier, of Leonidas township, St. Joseph county, Michigan, was born in Chenango county, New York, October 16, 1814. When he was but two years of age his father, Ethan Pier, moved with his family to Ontario county, and subsequently, in 1832, to Orleans county, New York, and finally, in 1838, to Washtenaw county, Michigan.
The facilities for education, as offered in early times, were few, so that Mr. Pier never enjoyed the advantages of extensive knowledge. Up to 1840 he worked on his father’s farm, and then learned the trade of carpenter and joiner, at which he worked for the next sixteen years.
On the 3d of December, 1855, he married Frances, daughter of John and Frances Bird, of Morristown, New Jersey, by whom he had two sons, Nirum J. and Ethan B., who reside with their parents. In 1856 Mr. Pier went to farming on his own account, and, by industry and frugality, has become possessed of a well-cultivated farm of eight hundred acres, on which are neat and commodious buildings. He bought and paid for his place with his own savings, and feels proud of the fact that he owes no man anything, and has besides had to pay about one thousand dollars in endorsements for other people.
In politics he has always supported the Democratic party; in religion he believes in the grand old precept "do unto others as you would they should do unto you." A portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Pier grace our pages elsewhere in this work.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 178
The name of James Bishop will be recognized as among those prominently identified with the history of Leonidas township, where a large portion of his life and energies were spent. Coming into that township in 1837, he was necessarily intimately connected with its growth, development and prosperity, and was always esteemed as one of its most substantial citizens.
James Bishop was born in Dryden, Tompkins county, New York, October 29, 1815. His parents, William and Sybil Bishop, were much-respected citizens of York State of many years, and retained in their new western home the character for industry and integrity which they formerly enjoyed in the place of their birth and early life.
In 1841 the subject of our sketch married Clara, daughter of David R. and Sarah Cooley, an old and respected citizen of Sherwood, Branch county, Michigan, by whom he had four children,--two sons and two daughters,--all of whom are living. They were married by L. C. Hobart, Esq., at the residence of the bride’s parents, and subsequently removed to the pleasant little hamlet of Factoryville, Leonidas township, and from there to Albion, Calhoun county, Michigan, and thence to Leonidas township, where they permanently settled.
In 1849, during the gold rush, Mr. Bishop went to California, the journey thither occupying a year less five days. He had a desperate encounter with the Indians, in which he received a ball in his leg below the knee, which he carried with him to his grave. He remained in the land of gold and beautiful climate for one year and five months, and then returned to his farm in Leonidas, where he died on the 20th of January, 1867.
By industry and careful management he accumulated a fine property, consisting of two hundred and ninety acres of land, mostly under excellent cultivation.
As showing his general character we quote the following from an obituary which appeared in the Spiritual Republic:
"His was a grand triumph of the spirit over disorganized matter. Disease had long been insidiously undermining the system, and had preyed upon it until it had become a mere skeleton, seeming inadequate to hold a human spirit with all the force of former character teeming out through the senses which were retained perfect to the last. As his light became dim to material objects, his spiritual sight opened and he saw a father and brother; the father had been an inhabitant of the spirit realm twenty-one, and the brother four years.
"He leaves many sincere mourners, who will sadly miss him in the physical and material sense; but they do not mourn as those without hope, for they have a knowledge that answers that oft-repeated question, ‘What good does Spiritualism do?’ that man is immortal, and his future home is not far removed from this, nor dissimilar and disconnected."
In politics Mr. Bishop was a Republican; in religious belief a Spiritualist; in character he was genial, kind and honest, and in his habits temperate; a good citizen, a fond husband, and an affectionate father.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 178
The widow of the above, and at present the wife of Mr. B. B. Gardner, of Sturgis, was born at Batavia, Genesee county, New York, March 10, 1818. She removed with her parents to Michigan in the spring of 1837, and settled in Sherwood, Branch county.
As above stated, she was a daughter of David R. and Sybil Cooley, the former of whom died in Sherwood, in 1850, at the age of seventy-five, and the latter six years later, aged seventy-four.
Soon after the death of her first husband, Mrs. Bishop removed to Sturgis, where she became acquainted with, and subsequently, on the the 27th day of May, 1869, married Mr. B. B. Gardner; she now resides on Nottawa street in that city. She is a woman of very positive character, has always been a good wife and loving mother, and enjoys the respect of the community in which she lives.
At the dawn of modern Spiritualism, in 1848, she became a firm believer in it, and has since adhered to that belief. She possesses more than ordinary business tact, and transacts the affairs of her somewhat extensive property personally, and with creditable success.
One of the oldest and most prominent pioneers of Sturgis, was born in Montgomery county, Virginia, March 4, 1809. His parents were also natives of old Virginia, and were among its most reputable citizens.
In 1818 he accompanied them to Gallia county, Ohio, where he assisted in opening up and cultivating a large farm; thus at an early age acquiring those habits of industry which have been so beneficial to him in after life.
After remaining in Gallia county twelve years, they removed to Williams county, Ohio, and in January, 1831, we find Mr. Gardner emigrating to Michigan and settling in Sturgis, where he has ever since remained. When he arrived his possessions consisted of a span of horses, an old wagon, a cow, a wife and child, a mother-in-law and seventy-five cents in money. He entered eighty acres of land, which by subsequent purchase he increased to two hundred and forty-seven acres of finely improved land, in Sturgis township, which he has since divided among his children.
On the 22d of January, 1828, he married Miss Nancy Thompson, a native of the same county as himself, which resulted in a family of eight children, of whom six survive, namely:
PHEBE B., born September 11, 1830.
PETER J. B., born July 5, 1832.
SARAH J. B., born October 26, 1838; died April 8, 1872.
MARIA E. B., born September 26, 1841; died January 12, 1871.
ADELINE B., born May 31, 1844.
LORETTA B., born October 16, 1846.
CALVIN B., born November 30, 1848.
SEPHRINA B., born December 15, 1850.
Those remaining are all comfortably married and settled, enjoying the fruits of their father’s munificence; and are dutiful children, and respected members of society.
On the 15th of February, 1868, he sustained the loss of his wife, whose spirit took its flight to the "beauteous beyond," but still, he believes, hovers near him as of yore, holding sweet communion with his spirit, and awaiting the final reunion in the spirit-land.
In politics Mr. Gardner is a Republican; in religious beliefs a Spiritualist, having, like his wife, embraced that belief at its birth, twenty-nine years ago. He possesses many marked characteristics, one being an aversion to all kinds of litigation. It is a fact worthy of note that he never sued nor was ever sued in his life, nor never defalcated in any business engagement, but while using all judicious economy, and priding himself on his powers of acquisition, he has never become parsimonious, but believing that charity ought to begin at home, he has lived up to that maxim, and having made his children comfortable, uses the proceeds of a neat competence, living in his quiet home surrounded by the comforts and pleasures of domestic life, and enjoying the fruits of his thrift and providence.
HISTORY OF ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, MICHIGAN, WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, Published by L.H. Everts, Philadelphia, 1877, p. 179
Among the staunch pioneers of St. Joseph county, who, in the burden and heat of the olden days bore their full share of labor, fearless in trial, undaunted in defeat, and modest and unassuming in final victory, stood Levi Watkins, one of the earliest settlers of Leonidas.
Captain Watkins came of sterling stock, his grandfather, Captain Nathan Watkins, commanded a company of soldiers of the Revolutionary war, his son, Mark Watkins, father of the subject of our sketch, entering the same company as a drummer boy at the age of fourteen years. The father and son were taken prisoners at the battle of Bennington, but the boy was soon released by General Burgoyne, and sent home to his mother as a present from that gallant officer. The father, Captain Nathan Watkins, was held, but re-captured by the colonial troops a few days afterwards.
When Boston was evacuated by the British troops, the small-pox was raging in the city, and Captain Watkins being the only officer of sufficient grade for the purpose, who had had the disease, was assigned to the command of the city.
The boy Mark went back into the service after his release by General Burgoyne, and served until he was honorably discharged.
Captain Levi Watkins also had the blood of Revolutionary ancestry on his mother’s side. Her name was Esther Legg, and her father was also in the war for independence, serving with distinction.
He, of whom we write, was born in Partridgefield, Berkshire county, Massachusetts, August 5, 1785, and when eight years of age, removed with his parents, who settled on a royal grant in Herkimer county, New York, near Little Falls, where they lived until Levi was sixteen years old, when the family removed to Naples, Ontario county, in the same State.
While living in Herkimer a hurricane passed over the house and prostrated a tree across the same, in such a manner as to imprison Levi until the tree was cut away. He fortunately escaped any serious injury.
He was the youngest of three sons, Elijah and Orrin being the other two besides himself. His father was a farmer, and Levi had no opportunity to attend school except for a single month, but gained his education in the hard school of experience. He always occupied the same farm with his father, but dwelt in a separate house, having everything produced on the farm common.
He followed farming and cattle-droving for a business, driving to Philadelphia and Buffalo large herds.
He entered the army during the war of 1812, and was stationed on picket between Lewiston and Buffalo in command of a company, which gave him his rank and title of captain.
In 1820 he took contracts on the Erie canal, then in process of construction, which business he followed until 1824, but by the defalcation of the canal commissioner, and the fraudulent practices of a party for whom he was surety, he lost heavily, and was stripped of nearly all his property.
In the early part of the autumn of 1832, Captain Watkins came to Leonidas,--then known as Flowerfield—and selected a location on the Nottawa creek, near Dunkin’s (now Climie’s) mill, and built a log-house and put in nine acres of wheat. He brought in a horse with him, which he exchanged for a yoke of oxen, and bought some wheat and corn and had it ground for supplies for his family when they should arrive, and went to work for the Cowen brothers, who were building their mill. He had purchased another yoke of oxen of Judge Meek, of Constantine, and engaged to work two months for the Cowens for sixty dollars, just the price he had agreed to pay for his last yoke of cattle. When his time was up he took the Cowens’ note for the amount due, and exchanged it for his own note, which he had given for his team, and so ""squared"" the account.
On the 20th day of February, 1833, the family arrived, bringing with them a span of horses and a wagon, which was an important addition to the pioneer’s outfit. The location of Captain Watkins proving to be seminary lands, he relinquished it, and bought lands contiguous thereto, on what was afterwards known as the territorial road, in the summer and fall of 1836, and built another house thereon. This location he transferred to his son, William M., with whom he continued to reside until his death. Captain Watkins father, Captain Mark Watkins, and his wife removed from Naples, in February, 1835, and resided with his son, as formerly, until his death, which occurred in June, 1836—his wife Captain Levi’s mother, surviving till October 24, 1847, when she too passed to her rest.
On the anniversary of the National Independence, in the year 1805, Captain Levi Watkins was united in marriage to Miss Silence Clark, a daughter of Major Clark, of Naples, New York, by whom there were born to him two children, Polly and Alexander H. The latter was born February 1, 1808, and his mother died on the 8th day of the following July. On the 29th day of April, 1809, Captain Watkins sought another companion in the person of Lucina D., daughter of Edward and Mary Kibbee, of Naples. The children of this marriage were Martin C., Orrin M., William M., Esther S., now the widow of William Orcutt, late of Leonidas, now deceased, and Lucina S., now Mrs. James Colwell. Of the seven children of Captain Watkins, but three survive, they being the last ones named above.
In politics Captain Watkins was in his early days a Democrat, but being possessed of strong anti-slavery instincts, he joined the Free-Soil movement in 1848, and died a thorough and absolute Abolitionist. He helped many a poor fugitive to freedom, when the underground railway was in operation, even when a Democrat. He never held any superior position in official life, from choice. In his youth he united with the Presbyterian church, and was one of the founders of the first society of that denomination in Leonidas. His first wife was also a member of that church in Naples, and his second one was a member of both that society and the one in Leonidas.
Captain Watkins, after a life of untiring activity, passed to his final rest, October 12, 1851. His partner survived him a little more than ten years, when she fell asleep and was laid beside him, February 19, 1862. And thus passed from the sight of men one of the most active and energetic citizens of his day. His executive ability was remarkable, and the enterprises in which he was engaged while a resident of New York were monuments to his energy and determination, and had the State fulfilled its obligations, and its servants faithfully discharged their trusts, Captain Watkins would have been, notwithstanding his generosity, a wealthy man, living at his ease, long before his death. As it was, death found him with the harness on, every trace taut, and muscles strained for effective work, and he laid down "like a strong man taking his rest."
The second Mrs. Watkins was a pioneer of Ontario county, and set out the first apple-tree in Naples, which is still known as Mother Watkins’ apple-tree.