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Biography of The Wilson Family

Chester E. Bryan [B.F. Bowen & Co.: Indianapolis, 1915]

Page 889

From a sketch written by Dr. William Morrow Beach, December 20, 1882, and revised by the Editor of this volume.

Jacob Wilson, the earliest ancestor of the Wilson family in Madison county, Ohio, so far as known, was an Irishman, who had married a German wife. In the year 1790 he left the south branch of the Potomac river in Virginia, not far from Harperís Ferry and emigrated to Kentucky, to what is now the county of Clark. In the year 1802, after having lived twelve years in Kentucky, he came to Ohio and settled on the headwaters of Beaver Creek, Bath township, and county of Greene, near the present site of the village of Fairfield.

Jacob Wilson was the father of thirteen children or of twelve, as some of his friends believed. Their names, although probably not in the order of their births, were as follows: Jacob, William, Michael, John, James, Valentine, Jeremiah, Isaac, Daniel, Mary, Eleanor, Elizabeth and Rachel. Some of the friends have believed that there was not one by the name of Rachel.

Jacob Wilson, the first born of Jacob, the first known ancestor, remained in Kentucky until the time of his death, which was at a ripe old age. He became very wealthy. He became the largest holder of slaves in that portion of the state. He enjoyed the uneviable notoriety, also, of being the heaviest man in that part of the state, weighing at one time over four hundred pounds. He and his wife together weighed seven hundred pounds. He became the father of eight children, one of whom, probably, remained in Kentucky.

William Wilson died during the War of 1812, at Fairfield, Ohio, of "cold plague" or cerebro-spinal meningitis. he left three children, Susannah, Elizabeth and William.

Michael Wilson died in 1813, at Fairfield, Ohio, leaving three children, Washington, Josiah and Michael. Josiah is said to have been the brightest and handsomest man ever born into the Wilson family. He died at an early age.

John Wilson emigrated from Kentucky to Putnam county, Indiana.

James Wilson emigrated from Kentucky to Indiana, settling in the vicinity of Wolfe Lake. He became the father of five children.

Valentine Wilson, son of Jacob, the first known ancestor, came to Ohio with his father in 1802. He was born near Harperís Ferry, West Virginia, October 1, 1785, and moved to Kentucky with his father in 1790, when five years of age. He was seventeen years old when he came to Ohio, in 1802. In 1806 he was married to Eleanor JUDY of Greene county, Ohio, daughter of John Judy, a Swiss, and Phoebe (LAMASTER) Judy, his wife a woman of French parentage. To them were born six children: William D., born on February 27, 1807; James, December 20, 1808; John, October 19, 1810; Eli, July 12, 1812; Matilda, October 12, 1814; Malinda, January 12, 1817. Eleanor (Judy) Wilson died in 1819 and Valentine Wilson was next married to Susan HUMBLE, who was born in Ohio, in 1799. To this marriage was born one son, Washington Wilson, September 7, 1821.

On August 18, 1825, Susannah (HUMBLE) Wilson died. On June 18, 1827, Valentine Wilson was married to Nancy ROBERTS, who became the mother of nine children. Caroline M., born on June 28, 1828; Alexander Hamilton, February 7, 1830; Emeline, September 12, 1831; Mary Ann, October 1, 1832; Valentine C., January 19, 1834; Margaret, May 5, 1835, who died in infancy on June 3, 1835; Jacob W., April 29, 1836; Daniel Boone, December 4, 1837, and Nancy Frances, October 26, 1840. By the three marriages he became the father of nineteen children, seventeen of whom became heads of families. Margaret died in infancy and Daniel Boone died, unmarried, at the old homestead, April 26, 1860.

That Valentine Wilson was a man of no ordinary gifts, both mental and physical seems to be a fact of general acceptance among those who knew him the most intimately. He was a man of great presence of mindówhich gift stood him in good stead on more than one occasion. Once, when riding after night, he was halted by highwaymen who suspected him of having money in his possession, and when he completely disarmed by answering in a calm and unruffled tone of voice: "Well, well, boys, you have got me this time; I have twenty-five cents in my pocket, and if you will go back to the tavern with me we will take that out in a treat all round." They then let him pass without a search or further parley, without suspicion of the fact that he had upon his person, in "genuine coin of the realm" more than seven thousand dollars besides his twenty-five cents. He was also an unconscious psychologist. He could divine a manís errands when approaching him, when a long distance off, forming an opinion which was seldom founded in an error, as to whether he was coming to buy, to sell, or to borrow money, and he often robbed a refusal of its poignancy from this latter class by forestalling them with the question if they knew of any of their neighbors who had two hundred or three hundred dollars that they would loan for a few days. He died of dropsy, July 2, 1855, on the farm where he settled in 1816. From the small beginning of one hundred and sixty acres, his first purchase, in the thirty-nine years of his after life he accumulated about seven thousand acres of land besides over sixty thousand dollars in personal property, and died the wealthiest man who had ever been a citizen of Madison county.

Having come to Ohio with his parents in 1802 and settled on the headwaters of Beaver creek, Bath township, Greene county, where he remained until 1816, when he removed to Madison county, Valentine Wilson began his career on the headwaters of Deer Creek by buying one hundred and sixty acres. He added to the tract until he had at the time of his death nearly ten thousand acres of land, a thousand head of cattle and sheep. Nancy (ROBERTS) Wilson survived her husband more than a half century. After her husbandís death, she continued to live for many years on the old homestead on the banks of Dear Creek. She was a devoted member of the Christian church, and died at Summerford in 1912.

Jeremiah Wilson, another son of Jacob Wilson, remained in Kentucky until the time of his death in 1864.

Isaac Wilson came to Ohio with his father in 1802. He remained at Fairfield, Greene county, Ohio, until his death in the spring of 1859. he was a short, heavy, very fleshy man who, in walking, stepped out a little more than the length of his feet.

Mary Wilson married Daniel FUNDERBURG, of Green county, Ohio, but died early in life.

Eleanor Wilson married John BRADLEY, of Greene county, Ohio, but subsequently came to Madison county and both lived and died one mile north of Summerford, where Washington Wilson later lived.

Elizabeth Wilson married Charles HEFFLEY, of Greene county, Ohio, but afterward came to Madison county, and settled near Summerford, where both died advanced in years.

No information is available about Daniel and Rachel except what has already been stated.

William D. Wilson, the "land baron" of Madison county, was the first born of Valentine and Eleanor (JUDY) Wilson. He was born in Bath township, Green county, Ohio, February 27, 1807, and died of erysipelas at his homestead on the Darby Plains, March 25, 1873. In 1829 he married Nancy MOORE, of Madison county, Ohio, who died at the old homestead in September, 1882. Her father was killed by the Indians in the War of 1812. By this marriage there were born to them eight children: Alexander, Ellen, James Monroe, Lafayette, William M., Sarah, Washington and Taylor. William D. Wilson was no ordinary man. Those who knew him intimately and well related that in many respects he was the most remarkable man they ever knew.

There is no photograph or other likeness of William D. Wilson left, while living. There was a post-mortem photograph taken, but it is not a true likeness. He stood six feet in his boots. He was straight and with well-rounded and comely proportions, up until late in life, when he inclined to corpulency. His hands and feet were small and short; his hair dark brown, thick and oily; his head large number seven and one-half hat well rounded, and well balanced phrenologically; his complexion clear, and slightly florid; his lower jaw strongly set; his teeth short, even, pearly white, and without signs of decay up until the time of his death. His face was full, and his checks full, round and solid, like Bob INGERSOLLíS. There was an irresistible charm in his full, round, Saxon face the honest inheritance from his Saxon grandmother. If one was, at first sight, when his face was severely in repose, impressed with the idea that he was somewhat gross and sensual, the varied expression of his wonderful eye, when he became animated, soon set that illusion aside. he was a good and entertaining talker, with an inclination to ask more questions than he was called on to answer. If you were not on your guard, he would cautiously and quietly pump you dry, without giving back an equivalent, unless it was in the pleasure of his company. In conversation his voice was agreeable and pleasing, but when it was raised to a high pitch, one would be reminded of the fable of the lion and the foxes "One, but a lion."

In the race of life William D. Wilson commenced as his father before him had done single handed and along. He served his father faithfully and well up until he was twenty-one years of age. He then hired as an ordinary farm laborer, for three months "wet and dry," at seven dollars a month, to Judge John ARBUCKLE, a near neighbor. Shortly after this term of service, he married and bought two hundred acres of land, out on the Darby Plains, at eighty cents an acre. This was bought with borrowed money, his uncle Daniel going on his notes. The Darby Plains were mostly under water in those days during the wet season of the year; but they grew a rank, coarse kind of wild grass, which, if cut and property cured, contained just enough nourishment to keep cattle from starving to death. As it had been with his father before him, when a boy at home, so it became with him now. They were not raisers or breeders of cattle. They bought them when two or three years old, and then kept them until fat enough for market. Sometimes a seven-dollar steer brought from the timber land in Indiana in the winter or spring and put on the open grass land of the Darby Plains, would bring twenty-five or thirty dollars in the fall of the year. These fatted cattle passed into the hands of another class of dealers who took them on a six weeksí slow journey over the mountains, to the Baltimore or Philadelphia markets.

The motto of Mr. Wilson became like that of Emperor Constantine: "By this sign ye conquer." Money began to grow. Each year his herds grew larger, and soon he began to add new acres to his first purchase. His first cabin stood over across the road from where he died, in a cluster of apple trees that are still standing. About a year before he died he was at the home of Doctor Beach, and on being questioned as to his mode of accumulating so much property, his answer was: "Easy enough, easy enough. No mystery about it. Gather in and spread out. Gather in and spread out." It probably seemed easy enough to him, for he was not a common or ordinary man. But if it was all so easy and simple, how did it happen that he absorbed nearly a half township of improved farms, whose tenant houses, or solitary chimneys, scattered for miles across his possessions, looked like a vast and limitless harbor, with fleets lying dreamily at anchor?

The free turnpike leading from London to Plain City passes for nine miles through his farm; and within three years he paid twenty-eight thousand dollars in taxes for free turnpikes alone. His farm begun on the west, adjoining "Dun Glen," the farm of John G. DUN, in Deer Creek township, and stretched continuously to where he was buried on his own farm, in the old Baptist burying ground, on Big Darby.

Mr. Wilson was social and convivial in his habits, fond of good company and plenty of itóupon all of which occasions he was the central figure. He did nothing by halves; it was either all work or all play. He was a natural-born wit, and when in a merry mood kept everybody around him in a roar, excepting himself. He was never boisterous; never off his balance in any direction. His wit was keen, original and generally practical, with a vein of philosophy running through it. He never indulged in any repartee that was bought second hand. He was original or nothing. He was never profane. On one occasion, while a fiddler was tuning up and resting his arm, "Uncle Bill" reminded him of the prodigal waste of time, by saying, "Mr. Tucker, Mr. Tucker, you must remember that every time a sheep stops to bleat it loses a mouthful." He was never quarrelsome or contentious. Neither he nor his father before him were ever engaged before any court, either as plaintiff or defendant, and he never spoke ill of any man.

Like his father, William D. Wilson had great presence of mind; and like, as it was with him, it stood him in good stead on many occasions. His nearest bank, seventy years ago, was at Columbus, twenty miles away. Sometimes it required a large amount of money to carry on his business, and he was often suspected of having money upon his person or about his house. Once when traveling at night, not many miles from home, he was halted by highwaymen, and with the muzzles of some old-fashioned brass-mounted, horse-pistols in unpleasant proximity to his head, was ordered, peremptorily, to hold up his hands. He suspected the identity of the parties and jocularly called them by name. The question with them then was, either cold-blooded murder or joining in the laugh, as if the whole thing has been intended for a joke. This they do. They wilted, and allowed him to pass on home.

It was generally his custom to not go out after night without company. One of these protectors, not infrequently, was Ira KILBURY, an infant who kicked the beam at two hundred and forty pounds, and who could "whip his weight in wild cats." Returning from Plain City after night on one occasion, his carriage was flanked by highwaymen, who began to close in on either side; but his coolness saved him then. He spoke very loudly, and in a peremptory tone: "Ira, Ira, my boy, whip up, whip up, or we wonít get home before midnight." Visions of the bodyguard who could whip his weight in wild cats struck terror in the heart of the foodpads, and they gave a wide berth and a fair field, when Ira, in reality, was snoring away in the quiet and security of his own cabin home, more than five miles away.

William D. Wilson has been spoken of as a "land baron." In 1870, the state of Ohio contained fifty-six cultivated farms of over one thousand acres each. Of these fifty-six, thirty-six were in Madison county. William D. Wilson, in 1870, owned the largest improved farm in Ohio. He had twelve hundred acres in one pasture, upon which one could not find a bush large enough for a riding whip. There were giant burr oaks in clusters or groves, but no brush. And in all the fifty or more miles of fence on his farm there was no one rod that did not look like it had been put up for corraling mules or wild deer. His farm had a capacity for more than two thousand head of cattle, but he usually had a variety of stock. Before the Civil War he was in the habit of "turning off" about ten thousand dollars worth of mules of his own raising annually. Once, since the war, in a time of depression in that line, he sent down among the hills of southeastern Ohio, and bought about eighteen thousand head of sheep at about one dollar a head. Times soon changed for this class of stock, and when the boom reached seven or eight dollars a head, he sold out and changed to something else.

Mr. Wilson amassed a great fortune. Is this the story of his life? Not at all. He was a remarkable man aside from his fortune; he could as easily and would have as surely attained to great responsibilities and honors, had his great genius been early directed in the channels that led that way. He had natural capacity enough to have been a railroad magnate, like Vanderbilt, a financier like Alexander Hamilton or Chase, or a general of an army, for he was naturally a leader, and never a follower of men. But was this fortune accumulated without fraud, misrepresentation, treachery or the oppression of the poor? Every dollar of it was. William D. Wilson was an honorable and an honest man.

James Wilson, the second child born to Valentine and Eleanor (JUDY) Wilson, and the grandson of Jacob Wilson, the first known ancestor, was born in Bath township, Greene county, Ohio, December 20, 1808, and came to Madison county with his father in 1816, when eight years of age. He, like his brother, William D. Wilson, remained in service with his father until he was twenty-one years old. In 1832, when he was twenty-five years old, he went to Kentucky and bought, at two dollars an acres, of a man named Morgan, four hundred acres of land out of the Darby Plains, this county, and which is now a part of the Taylor Wilson estate. Of this he kept one hundred and sixty acres, sold fifty acres to his brother, John, and the remainder to his brother, William D.

In June, 1833, James Wilson was married to Lucy BALLOU, of Milford Center, Ohio, a daughter of Martin Ballou, a native of Providence, Rhode Island, and the grandniece of Hosea Ballou, the Boston publisher. In September, 1833, three months after his marriage, his wife died of "milk sickness," just as he had a cabin on his farm on the plains nearly ready to commence housekeeping. The associations connected with his tenantless cabin were unpleasant to him and, in 1835, he sold his Plains farm and bought the John SCOTT farm, in Somerford township, where Uncle Sammy PRUGH later lived. He boarded with the Scott family, and raised a large crop of corn, which he fed to the hogs, but this class of stock ran so low that year that he lost all his summerís work.

On October 2, 1836, James Wilson was married to Eleanor SMITH, who was born on June 20, 1818, near Granville, Ohio, the daughter of John and Sophia (BOND) Smith. Her father then lived two miles east of Lafayette, on the farm later owned by Jonathan BOOTH. At the time of her marriage she was teaching the distant school in Valentine Wilsonís district. They went to housekeeping on the John Scott farm, and there John S., the first child, was born. To this marriage there were also born three other children, Valentine H., Thomas B., and Lucy E. Mrs. Wilson possessed to a marked degree those homely but enduring traits of character that make ideal womanhood, as wife, as mother, as help-mate, as neighbor, as friend, as a model of industry, as a worker in the church and as a companion in every walk of live. On all occasions she excelled. Her intellectual gifts and accomplishments were many as well as entertaining. Her love of reading was great; her memory was remarkable; her knowledge of the bible and her familiarity with its grand, true and great characters made her personality at all times instructive as well as charming. The recollection of her broad charity, her sympathetic quality and her tender impulses for the needy or distressed still survive, and will outlast the marble monument erected to mark her last resting place.

In 1837 James Wilson bought two small parcels of land, one of which was where his brother, Eli, died. In 1838 he sold out in Somerford township; he had lost faith in raising hogs to make a fortune out of and preferred risking in cattle and grass. He went back to the Darby Plains and bought the Charley ARTHUR farm of four hundred acres, which was later a portion of the John PRICE farm. He moved there and lived on it for five years. Two of his children, Valentine Henry and Thomas Bond, were born there. In 1838 he bought fifty acres of the MacCUMBER farm; and in the fall of 1841 bought three hundred acres of the Russell BIDWELL farm, at an administratorís sale. In the fall of 1842 he left the Darby Plains and moved over to the CHRISTMAN farm, one mile south of Summerford, and entered into a partnership with his father, as a general trader and business manager. On this farm, on March 28, 1844, his only daughter, Lucy Eleanor, was born.

In 1846, his half-brother, Jackson, being old enough to take his place as a partner with his father, James Wilson moved back to the Darby Plains, and settled on the Russell BIDWELL farm; but in that same year he bought the Paul ADLER farm of three hundred and ten acres, where his son, John, later lived, and then moved on it. In this same year he also bought fifty-seven acres of Nathaniel SAWYER. In 1847 he bought the Paul SMITH farm of one hundred and seventy-five acres. In 1854 he sold the ARTHUR farm to his brother, William D., and bought the Stanley WATSON farm, of four hundred acres, adjoining the village of Lafayette, where he moved, and where he lived at the time of his death. He paid sixteen thousand dollars for this farm and it is believed that it was the first forty-dollar farm sold in the county. In 1855 he fell heir, by the death of his father, to three hundred and eighty-one acres adjoining the WATSON farm, and in 1856 he bought the CARTER farm of four hundred acres, where his son-in-law, Dr. William Morrow BEACH, later lived. In 1860 he bought his half-brother, Hamiltonís, share of his fatherís estate, comprising four hundred and sixty-three acres, adjoining his home farm, while Hamilton bought his brother, William D. Wilsonís, share adjoining the village of Lafayette, on which stood the old Anderson tavern.

For more than thirty yeas James Wilson was a member of the Methodist Episcopal church. The seventy-fourth anniversary of his birth found him a hale and vigorous old man, in full possession of all his faculties, and the owner of twenty-three hundred and fifty acres of well-improved land, with accompaniments, a part of which he had passed over to the control of his children. He was then the patriarch of the Wilson family, having attained a greater age, it was believed, than any other one every born into the family. He was far famed for his charity, honesty and agreeable personality. He died on June 12, 1886, in his seventy-eighth year, full of honors and beloved by all who knew him. His beloved wife survived him many years. After his death she resided with her daughter, Mrs. Lucy E. BEACH, until her death, on February 15, 1904.

Washington Wilson, a son of Valentine and Susan (HUMBLE) Wilson was born on September 7, 1821, in Madison county, Ohio, and when twenty-one years old, began working by the month and thus continued for thee months, as he wanted to get money enough to get married. At the expiration of the period he had twenty-seven dollars, and was then united in marriage with Linnie WEST, the daughter of Edmund and Margaret (SHAW) West. After their marriage, he began farming as a renter and continued for four years, when he purchased sixty acres of land, to which he added until he owned about eight hundred acres altogether. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and served as a township trustee of Somerford Township for fourteen years. Washington and Linnie (West) Wilson were the parents of eight children, of whom only two, Valentine and Caleb Griffin, survive. Caleb Griffin lives on a part of his grandfatherís original estate. Jackson spent his life in Clark county, but died in Summerford, in 1914, at the age of seventy-two. Alexander, a farmer and merchant at Summerford, died in 1909, at the age of sixty. Charles inherited his fatherís old homestead and spent his whole life on the farm, dying at the age of thirty. Belle married John Potee, the scion of an old family of Madison county. They lived on a part of her fatherís estate. She died at the age of fifty, in 1911.

Alexander Hamilton Wilson, son of Valentine and Nancy (ROBERTS) Wilson, married Isabella Parsons KOOGLER, the daughter of Simon Koogler of Greene county, Ohio. He was a justice of the peace, and an influential citizen of Lafayette, Ohio. He died at Summerford, in 1895, at the age of sixty-five. His wife died in 1900. They had five children: Charles A., Walter A., Lamar P., Laura B. and Alice C.

Valentine C. Wilson, the son of Valentine and Nancy (ROBERTS) Wilson, was graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio with the class of 1860. The first classical graduate in his fatherís family. He died on August 23, 1861, of epidemic dysentery.

Jacob W. Wilson, son of Valentine and Nancy (Roberts) Wilson, resided at Summerford, Ohio. He was a man of great inventive genius, his latest invention being a twine grain binder which promises great success.

Of the daughters of Valentine Wilson, only the names have been given, but they must have inherited something of the sagacity and psychological characteristics of their father. They all married poor boys. But the names of such men as Robert BOYD, Hiram W. RICHMOND and Thomas John STUTSON, who all married into the family, offer a sufficient evidence of the soundness of their judgment.

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