Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
Page 31a & 31b
If the author of the biographical pages of this volume shall be enabled to awaken in the hearts of the present and future generations a higher veneration for, and a more grateful recollection of, the memory of the pioneer fathers of the West, then he will have accomplished much of his pleasant task. The ties of consanguinity and the dictates of policy alike demand the recognition of the services of these hardy men, who laid broad and deep the foundations upon which have been reared our present national greatness. Assuredly, there are none of earth's people who have more cause or occasion to congratulate themselves upon the character of their origin, than those in our midst. The pioneers, unlike the forerunners of many other sections of earth, were civilized men and women, many of them Christians, and a few distinguished for their wisdom, their talents, decision of character, and inflexible integrity. When we consider the rude, primeval era in which they moved, and the semi-civilized system that then prevailed, we sometimes wonder that these rugged parents were enabled to evolve a piety and morality as devoted and pure, a patriotism as disinterested, and a state of society as happy, as that which characterized them. Passing, then, from the general review of the pioneers, and the veneration due to their memories, we now come to the contemplation of the career of the Kirbys, -a family that were comprised in the vanguard of western civilization, and who have lived to witness in the evolution of systems the attainment of that high order of Progress that marks the Present, shedding a flood of meridian splendor over the pages of literature, science, and art.
George Kirby, a synopsis of whose career is herewith connected, is a native of Madison County, Illinois, where he was born on the 20th of December, 1812, -the year the County was organized, and six years before Illinois was a State. He is the third child of Cyrus and Kissiah (Keziah) Kirby, who were natives of Kentucky.
Cyrus Kirby, who is worthily represented in the immediate subject of this sketch, was a farmer - the product of rustic growth and culture. His youth was spent on the farm of his father in Kentucky, and he early became inured to the hardships and privations incident to a life in the "Dark and Bloody Ground" at that early period - a period when the war-woop of the savage resounded through its forests, which were then but too often lit up by the lurid glare of the settler's burning cabin. Mr. K.'s early education was only that he was enabled to obtain in floorless log cabins, where schools were taught a few months in each year by well-disposed but half-tutored preceptors. Removing to Illinois with his family, about the year 1811, he settled in what was then St. Clair County, but which subsequently comprised a part of Madison (the third county organized), in 1812. He served under General Samuel Whitesides, in the ranger service, previous and subsequent to the war of 1812-14, and was in several battles and skirmishes. At the conclusion of hostilities Mr. K. again returned to his farm in Madison County, where he remained until the organization of Sangamon County, in 1821, about which period he removed to what was then known as "Clary's Grove," now embraced within the limits of Menard County. To illustrate the hardships many of the pioneers underwent in opening farms, we will here state that Mr. Kirby planted one of his first crops of cereals by digging up the ground with a common mattock. The wooden mold-board plow, which merely rooted up the surface, was even at that period a luxury that was not within the reach of many of the first settlers. Farming, in those days, we are assured, was comparatively a slavish occupation, and when we take into consideration the indifferent implements with which they were compelled to labor, we feel to pardon much of the evident aversion of the hardy pioneers to farm-labor. Reaping wheat with a sickle, threshing it with a flail, or tramping it with horses, and winnowing it with a sheet, and grinding it in a hand-mill, or, in the case of corn, beating it in a mortar, were not operations that were calculated to impress the early farmers with a fondness for agricultural pursuits. Cotton and flax were, at the period of which we write, universally grown and worked up into home-made woolens, cottons, and linens of their own manufacture, and wore moccasins (when they wore anything) on their feet. Men then wore leather shoes considerably, with pants of buckskin, and generally a hunting-shirt. Dandies affected a blanket-coat and a fox-skin cap, with the tail turned up over the top. We mention these incidents that the youth who con over these pages may understand something of the habits, customs, and inconveniences to which the first settlers were subjected, and that those who read may, by comparison, more fully appreciate the grand strides that have been made in our civilization within the last half-century.
Mr. Kirby, however, kept even pace with the spirit of improvement that characterized the advancing years, and, as his sun descended and neared its eternal setting, he looked with pride upon his broad acres that lay smilingly before him, wrought to he highest state of perfection in tillage by his own tireless energy. His life throughout was one of incessant toil, and it may be truthfully said of him that he never, during his long and active career, tasted the bread of idleness. Generous and charitable to a high degree, upright in his demeanor, honest in his convictions, and pure-minded and truthful in all his dealings with men, Mr. Kirby left to his posterity a legacy of virtues, more priceless in intrinsic value than royal titles or magnificent estates. Mr. Kirby died in 1858, at the advanced age of seventy years. Mrs. K. Preceeded her husband to the grave as early as 1834.
Referring now directly to the early life of George Kirby, or subject, we find him devoting a portion of his time during the winter seasons to attending the district school, which were then as rare as the oases of the desert. The reason for these meager school advantages is found partially in the fact that the country was sparsely populated, and a large scope of country was required to furnish pupils sufficient to justify the organization of a school and the erection of a school building; and, in the second place, the services of the youth of the period when Mr. Kirby was a boy were required almost constantly at home - the boys to aid the father, in either the arduous labors of clearing up the farm (the prairies were not cultivated then) or assisting in the tillage of the crops, etc.; while the girls were required to aid their mothers at the wheel or loom, or in the multifarious labors of the household, which were then a part of the education of femininity. These disadvantages largely account for the lack of culture noticeable among the large proportion of our senior population, whom we jostle in our everyday walks, whose lives limited advantages as above, was disposed to be diligent and careful of his leisure and succeeded in securing a practical business education, which has enabled him to prosecute his business operations quite successfully.
Remaining with his father on the old homestead until he had reached his twenty-second year, Mr. Kirby erected him a rude cabin upon an eighty acre tract of land which he had previously entered. This land he at once improved, and in a brief period had a small but comfortable home located, lands open for tillage, etc. This done, he removed his young wife thereon, and commenced life earnestly and hopefully for himself. His estimable helpmeet, who, with true womanly devotion, has struggled onward with him in sunshine and storm, mingling her sweat-drops with his, was a Miss Dorcas Atterberry, daughter of those well-known pioneers, Daniel and Nancy Atterberry, of Menard County. This marriage was solemnized on the 22d of October, 1834. The issue of this union was eight children, only five of whom are now living. Of the latter, one son and two daughters are married, and reside near the Kirby homestead.
Agriculture has been the favorite pursuit of Mr. Kirby through life, and he has ever followed it with an enthusiasm and persistent energy that enabled him to triumph over every obstacle that beset his path, and to carve success where others less energetic would have fallen by the wayside and yielded to useless repinings. Thrift followed his well-directed efforts, and as the years multiplied he saw around him in abundance a vast domain of more than seventeen hundred acres of arable land, upon which grazed fine herds of cattle, horses, hogs and sheep, all of which he had accumulated by the hard toil of years, aided by his frugal wife and an industrious offspring. Of this fine estate, Mr. Kirby has already given to his children about six hundred acres.
Mr. Kirby is an admirer of fine horses, and but few men excel him in his taste and judgment in the selection of horse-flesh. The finer grades of equines are esteemed by him as is only the case with those who have spent years in constant contact with these useful animals. His keen eye and well-matured, correct judgment rarely fails him in making up his deductions and drawing aright his conclusions as to the points of a horse.
Like the great mass of those engaged in agricultural pursuits during his day and generation, Mr. Kirby has paid but little attention to the seductive wiles of the politician, and, save the mere casting of his ballot intelligently, gave little heed to partisan matters; preferring the quiet of his plain, unpretentious farm-life to the tumultuous and discordant elements that thronged upon the hustings, and assumed to mould and shape policies, creeds, and platforms. He has always been identified with the Democratic party, and has sustained its nominees at all general elections. In the war for the preservation of the Union, in 1861-5, he was an ardent sympathizer with every laudable effort to suppress the rebellion, and the true cause of the Union had no more zealous supporter than he.
Mr. Kirby is liberal in his religious views, although a member of the Baptist denomination.
Surrounded in his pleasant home with those comforts and conveniences which are the result of a lifetime of careful and well-directed effort, and beloved by the community, his closing years should be tinted and silver-lined with the sun-gleams of contentment and purest happiness.