Biography - John Huitt

HON. JOHN WILKINSON HUITT is a native of the sunny clime of Georgia, and was born in Franklin county of that state on the 15th of November, 1793. He is the fourth of a family of eight children of John and Elizabeth Huitt. John Huitt, Sr., was born in the beautiful and historic county of Brunswick, Virginia, on the 25th of June, 1761. The name of that glorious old state, which has been the "Mother of Presidents," and has produced some of the noblest names that have adorned the pages of American history! Well may that heart throb with honest pride that can trace its ancestral parentage to such a state, with such grand natural scenery and such a history! The name of Washington alone would be sufficient to give Virginia all the glory she needs, but Jefferson, Henry, Madison, and other illustrious compeers, whose names are associated with deeds of renown, and scenes rendered forever historic, impress upon her a dignity and grandeur sacred to every American. Among such scenes and associations the father of the subject of this sketch was born, and the training of his early youth, the development of his mind, indeed, his character and life themselves, were in a great measure modified by these surroundings. His early youth was followed by the advent of those principles, the declaration and establishment of which impart such an interest to that period of American history.
The ancestors of the Huitt family were formerly from the Emerald Isle, the great-grandfather of the subject of this memoir at a very early time having made a settlement in the "Old Dominion." The facilities for education had so improved in the third generation that the father of the subject of our sketch enjoyed tolerable advantages. He was educated in the schools of Brunswick county, and his father was in such circumstances as to enable him to attend the select schools of that locality. After leaving school he became an apprentice to learn the hatter's trade, but the war of the revolution breaking out, he promptly enlisted, although very young, and participated in many of the hard fought battles of that struggle for independence. After victory had perched on the American flag and peace had been concluded, our youthful hero received an honorable discharge and returned to his home, resuming again his trade, which he continued to follow for several years.
On the 14th of March, 1778, he was married to Miss Elizabeth Ratliff. She was born on the first of March, 1760, in Franklin county, North Carolina, of the genuine English stock, her ancestors having settled in North Carolina, among the earliest of that colony.  While yet a single man Mr. Huitt went to live in North Carolina, and it was there that he became acquainted with and married his wife. From the latter state he removed to Franklin county, Georgia, and settled on the Cherokee Indian lands, which at that particular period were the subject of controversy between the general government and the Indian tribe, the Indians claiming by previous treaty the right to their lands; consequently the government ordered the settlers to leave within a specified time, or their property would be confiscated or burned. But it is understood that a short time afterwards the order was revoked, though not until after several of the settlers had left, and it was that circumstance that made Mr. Huitt become a citizen of Illinois, having heard glowing stories of the beauties and unsurpassed fertility of the prairie state, and determined to make it his future home and the place for the rearing of his children.
Accordingly he set out with two pack horses and his wife and children, through the almost trackless forest for the far distant state. They came the greater portion of the way on foot, following the not very distinct paths made by the hunters or wandering bands of Indians, encamping in the groves at night, and subsisting on the game they caught, and the meal which they carried with them. Their route lay through the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, which then were very sparsely settled, and with no conveniences to afford the traveler. We before failed to mention that Mr. Huitt and family were accompanied by three other families, and that after they had crossed Tennessee river, at the mouth of the Linch, they found an opportunity to buy a wagon, after which they made the balance of the way in it to their destination.   After having arrived at the Wabash river they found it necessary to construct a raft, in order to ferry their wagon and teams across the river. Their toilsome and weary trip was concluded by landing at Kahokie, Ill., in December 1804. At that period St. Clair was the only organized county in the territory. Kahokie was the county seat. At the above-named town Mr. Huitt and family separated from the balance of the party, going up to what was called Goshen settlement. Here he built a log cabin and broke up a small patch of ground. In the fall of 1805 moved with his family and settled on the bluff, opposite the confluence of the Missouri river with the Mississippi. At that place he continued to reside till 1820.
On the breaking out of the war of 1812, and troubles arising which threatened the safety of the frontier settlers, he with many others of his neighbors volunteered in the rangers' service. He was a member of Captain Moore's company, as were also two of his sons, Roland and Hiram Huitt. Mr. Huitt was elected ensign, with the rank of lieutenant. His eldest son, William Huitt, was a member of Captain Whiteside's company. In the latter company Mr. Huitt was the only man who could "trail" an Indian on prairie grass, which by old and experienced Indians is deemed the most difficult of anything of that sort to accomplish successfully. William and some others, while skirmishing with a small body of Indians, were killed near the Sangamon river. Mr. Huitt's other sons, Roland and Hiram, served from the commencement until the close of the war, and were present at the treaty at Portage De-Sioux. Mr. Huitt, after the war, returned to the peaceful pursuits of his farm, though he subsequently became a resident of Greene county. He died, at the residence of his son, on the sixth of June, 1848. Mrs. H. survived the death of her husband until July 14, 1852.
The venerable subject of our sketch was eleven years of age when he became a citizen of the territory of Illinois. What a transition it must have been for the young lad, born in the genial clime of Georgia, surrounded by the advantages of civilized life, to be thus at that early age brought to Illinois, and settled down to undergo the hardships and privations which naturally surround the life of the early pioneers! Yet the boy at that time, though young, had not forgotten the early pleasures of his southern home, and he yet remembers with vivid distinctness the happy associations that clustered around his early youth, in the sunny land of the orange, olive and palm. Very early in life he became inured to the hardships of frontier life, the toils of farm labor and the necessities of chopping and clearing the adjacent land surrounding their humble and unpretentious cabin. Like most of the boys at that period, he was in a measure deprived of the advantages of schools, yet by assiduous attentions to his books and other sources of information, he became possessed of a sound, practical education. It is not always the book student that gets the best education; on the contrary, that alone may leave a man very poorly qualified for the practical duties of life. There is an education that is gained by experience and observation more than from books. That intrepid old hunter, Daniel Boone, received the best part of his education with the gun on his shoulder. And so with our young hero. He very early became one of the best marksmen of that locality, and has killed a great number of deer; and now, at the green old age of eighty years, he can easily shoot off the head of a wild turkey, every shot, at fifty yards. This will in a measure illustrate the strength and steadiness of his nerves. In his early boyhood he endured all the perils and privation which characterize border life. If we had space to give a minute detail of all the events that transpired, it would make these pages replete with interest to the reader. On the breaking out of the war of 1812, he enlisted in Captain Judy's company of rangers, which were stationed to guard the frontiers, from the Mississippi river to Vincennes, against the depredations of marauding bands of Indians. After the war was over, Mr. Huitt returned to the quieter pursuits of farm life.
On the 13th of June, 1818, Mr. Huitt was married to Miss Rosanna Herriford, of Chariton county, Mo. Their marriage took place in the old town of Chariton. She was the daughter of James Herriford, of Chariton, though he and his wife were formerly from the state of North Carolina, and after their marriage removed to Kentucky, and it was in Wayne county of that state that Mrs. Huitt was born, on the 27th of December, 1798. In October, 1818, Mr. Huitt with his young bride settled on a tract of prairie land near Phill's creek, now in the present limits of Jersey county. There he constructed a small log cabin and started out in life, on his own account, in real good earnest. After the land was surveyed and came into market, he, with his brother, entered a half section. At that period most of his capital consisted in a well-developed physical organization and active mental faculties, and with the perseverance and energy characteristic of his early life, he set out to do something for himself. Few men are yet living who had the perils, trials, and privations to contend with, that the subject of our sketch was in early life called to encounter. Mr. Huitt and wife had a family of thirteen children, of whom nine are yet living - three sons and six daughters. They may be mentioned, in the order of their ages, as follows: Roland Huitt, residing on his farm, near Kane, in this county; Sarah A. Huitt, wife of Samuel McPheron, residing at Pleasant Hill, Cass county, Mo.; Nancy, widow of William Jackson, residing on a portion of the old homestead; Louisa, wife of Hubbard Liles, farmer, east of Carrollton; William Huitt is one of the leading farmers of Christian county; J. J. Huitt has been twice married, and is now a widower, residing at home and carrying on his father's farm; Rebecca Huitt is the wife of Albert Farrow, of Madora, Macoupin county; Catherine is married to Andrew Johnson, a farmer in Greene county; Fannie Jane is the wife of William Hoskins, an agriculturist of this county.
Mr. Huitt's memory, and the strength and powers of his mind, seem not to have lost any of their natural vigor by age. He distinctly recalls the winter of 1805, when the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark wintered in their boats at a point a little above where the Missouri empties into the Mississippi.
 On the first of May, 1823, Mr. Huitt removed, with his family, to the farm where he now resides, and in October of the same year entered his land. He has continued to reside on the same farm ever since.
Mr. Huitt is a fair type of the southern-born gentleman, and also of the early pioneers of Illinois. He possesses, in an eminent degree, what Peter Cartwright styles "pluck." By the natural instinct, he is a man of sterling honesty and purity of character, and those who acted with John W. Huitt prior to Illinois becoming a state, have an abiding faith in his truth and honor. Such a man is always a valuable acquisition to a new country. Besides making an ample competence for himself and wife in their old age, he has raised a large and intelligent family of children, who are all comfortably settled in life. Mr. Huitt became a member of the Baptist Church in 1853, his wife having joined the same church several years previous.
During the Black Hawk war, in 1832, the old war-worn veteran promptly volunteered in Cap. Thos. Carlin's company, which was joined to what was termed the "spy battalion" of the service. In that capacity he remained until his term of service expired, when he received an honorable discharge and returned to his home.
Very early in life he became a supporter of the principles promulgated by the old Jeffersonian democracy. His first vote for President was cast for James Madison, and he has voted at every subsequent presidential election up to that of Gen. McClellan, which was his last vote for President. He is not one of those who would consent to any change or modification of the principles of the democratic party, as he views them from his standpoint, which is the carrying out of all those old tenets which have held the party together for so many years; and for the dissenters from the old school of democracy he not only has no sympathy, but feels like branding them as traitors to the party. It would afford any one both pleasure and amusement to hear the venerable old pioneer revert, with his keen, cutting sarcasm, wit, and logic, to the course of his political coadjutors in the late campaign, and to note the sparkle of his eye and the animation of his countenance as he discourses upon the subject. One would hardly suppose that the snows of eighty winters would rest so lightly on his shoulders. In appearance, Mr. Huitt is of the medium height, with keen, penetrating, black eyes, a mouth and chin indicative of great firmness, a well formed head of medium size, and prominent brow, and a good growth of gray hair. Mr. Huitt is rather a positive and determined man. As we have said, in politics he is a democrat. He voted twice for that noble patriot, Andrew Jackson, at the mention of whose name his heart seems to burn with patriotic fire. It has been the peculiar fortune of the subject of our sketch to have lived under every administration of our government, from that of the illustrious Washington down to the present. Mr. Huitt has never been a political aspirant, though in the fall of 1856 he was elected, as the candidate of the democratic party, to a seat in the legislature of Illinois as representative from Greene county. Mr. H. proved himself to be an active and efficient legislator. He is a careful and methodical thinker, and did credit to himself and gave satisfaction to his constituents. We venture the assertion that no man in the state sticks closer to the principles of the Jackson democracy than does Mr. Huitt.
In the life of this venerable pioneer we find many things to arrest our attention. The sterling qualities of his head and heart make him a man to be loved and respected in any community; his has been a career marked by long service in a new country, and during all that time he has preserved, untarnished, the purity of his life. Few citizens of the state of Illinois have witnessed more changes in her history. The mind can hardly comprehend the progress and development that have marked the last fifty years of the history of the state that he has known and loved so well. And now, when we take a retrospect of his past life, and meditate on the principles which have governed his actions, we feel that his career has left a noble example which will be safe for the generations that follow him to imitate. Like most of the early pioneers, he is noted for the generous and benevolent impulses of his heart. At his advanced age he is residing, with the partner of his early youth, in the enjoyment of good health.

Transcribed 05 Jan 2017 by Norma Hass from Atlas Map of Greene County Illinois, 1873, pages 30 and 31.

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