Squire James M. Watkins
SQUIRE JAMES M. WATKINS, a popular Justice of the Peace and one of the most prosperous farmers of Cass county, Illinois, residing in township 18, range 9, was born in Richmond precinct, same county, February 5, 1839.
His parents were Elijah and Lydia A. (Montgomery) Watkins, both natives of Kentucky, the former born in Green county, in 1797, and the latter a native of Hart county. His father's parents were Samuel and Mary (McClure) Watkins, the former a native of Wales and the latter of Maryland. Samuel Watkins came to America when a very young man and settled in Maryland, where he was married, and whence he removed to Kentucky. He was a prominent pioneer of the latter State, in which he made his home for many years, and where he died at the age of eighty-five years. His wife also died in that State, aged sixty-five or seventy years. They were the parents of twelve children, eleven of whom survive. Two of these, Lewie and Hank, were brave and efficient soldiers in the war of 1812. The mother of this subject was a daughter of Simpson and Salie (Gum) Montgomery. She was one of five children, two of whom were half brothers. Her father was of Scottish descent, his parents never coming to America, and her people were mostly farmers. Her father was a boatman, and lost his life by being struck on the head with a gun.
The father of the subject of this notice resided at home until he attained the age of nineteen. He then worked for a while by the day and month in Kentucky until he had accumulated some means, and when, about the year 1833-'34, he emigrated with his wife to Illinois, at that time the frontier of civilization. They came overland with one wagon, drawn by oxen, and brought some stock. They first located in Wayne county, but shortly afterward removed to Menard county, where he continued to live until 1838, when he sold out and came to Cass county. Here he first rented land for five or six years, then bought eighty acres, a few of which were broken, and the place having an old log house on it. This house served as their home for about a year, when it was replaced by a better one. The father was an exceedingly energetic man, and his success in this new country was a foregone conclusion. He added, from time to time, to his original purchase, until he possessed 300 acres of choice farming land, 160 of which was received from the Government. His death occurred on the old homestead in 1884, to the great sorrow of many friends, who esteemed him for his ability, industry and uprightness of character. He and his worthy wife were earnest and useful members of the Primitive Baptist Church, and he helped to build the first church in his locality. He displayed his usual activity in church and all good work, and acted as a Deacon for many years.
The subject of this sketch was reared to farm work and attended subscription school during the winters, working on his father's farm in the summer. Owing to his busy life, his education was limited, and he is essentially a self-educated and self-made man. Extensive reading, supplemented by excellent judgment and an active mind, have combined to render himself successful in life and a leader among men. He lived at home until after his marriage, and the following year moved to his father-in-law's farm, on which he remained until the next year. He then bought twenty-five acres, a few of which were broken, and built on it a box house, 16 x 18 feet. He and his family lived in this house for twelve or fourteen years, when he erected his present substantial and comfortable home. He has lived on the same place ever since, which now contains 120 acres, devoted to mixed fanning, and is one of the finest farms in the county.
He was married June 14, 1859, to Miss Nancy Jane Lewis, an estimable lady and a daughter of Azariah and Sarah Lewis, a sketch of whom appears in this work. She was born April 4, 1842. They have eleven children, as follows: Sarah E., born March 10, 1860, married H. Speulda, and they have seven children; they live in South Dakota; Charles L., born October 16, 1861, married Susan McNeil, a native of this county; they have three children; Simpson Lee, born November 13, 1863, married Ida Taylor, and lives in Chandlerville; William B., born December 28, 1867, married Belle Miller, and they have two children; he lives in this neighborhood; Laura, born December 15, 1865, married James Cooper, and they have three children; John R., born March 29, 1870, married Dora Lucas, and they have one child; Azariah, born August 20, 1872; Stella M., born December 19, 1874; Miamia B., born June 16, 1877; Josephine, born August 28, 1880; Casper, born June 25, 1884. All of Mr. Watkins' children have had educational advantages.
Mr. Watkins is an old Andrew Johnson Democrat, and cast his first vote for Stephen A. Douglas. With the exception of his vote cast for General Weaver for President, he has voted a straight Democratic ticket ever since. Acknowledging his ability, his constituents have sought the advantage of his judgment and experience by electing him to various local offices. He went from the school room to the position of school director, in which capacity he has served ever since. He has held the responsible position of Justice of the Peace for twenty years, discharging his duties with justice and impartiality.
His wife is a faithful member of the Primitive Baptist Church, and, both by her influence and means, contributes to its support.
Mr. Watkins' life is a brilliant example of what may be accomplished by intelligent and persistent effort, which not only insure material prosperity but also crown their votaries with honor and happiness.
Biographical Review of Cass, Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois, Biographical Review Publishing Co., Chicago, 1892, pages 224-226.
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