Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
Among the earliest settlers of Menard County was Harry Riggin, who, with his children, has been ever closely identified with its interest. The Riggin family dates back to Ireland, and there bore the name of O'Regan. One of it members was Sartago O'Regan, who, three or four centuries ago, was governor of Charlamount. Renouncing Catholicism after their settlement in America, and espousing the Protestant faith, the family name was changed to Riggin, a form which it has since retained. Mr. Riggin regrets that a change in the name should ever have been deemed necessary.
The ancestors of the present members of the family came from Ireland at an early date, and settled on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where James Riggin was born. In his younger days he was a Methodist preacher, and traveled extensively through Virginia and Ohio, zealously engaged in the arduous labors of the itineracy. On one of these journeys to Ohio, he became acquainted with a Miss Friend, whom he afterward married. He was then thirty-five, and the young lady sixteen. With his wife he soon after removed to Tennessee, and engaged in farming. Mr. Riggin resided here, an influential and respected citizen, till his death, at the age of seventy-eight, his wife surviving him ten years. In the latter part of his life he was well acquainted with General Jackson, and was one of the first to suggest the name of the hero of New Orleans for the Presidency, in which he was seconded by Judge Porter, one of the leading men of East Tennessee. He was the father of nine children, of whom two now survive, -Harry Riggin, the subject of our present sketch; and a widowed sister, Mrs. Sarah Huffaker, of Tunnel Hill, Georgia. The former was born September 2, 1793.
Harry Riggin spent his boyhood among the hills and mountains of East Tennessee, receiving his early education in the schools of Sevierville, near which was his father's homestead. When a young man he emigrated to St. Clair County, Illinois, to the fertile lands of the American Bottom. The winter succeeding his arrival, that of 1817-18, he taught school at a French village opposite St. Louis, and the next summer, with a younger brother, James, settled in Madison County, where they were the principal parties in laying out the town of Troy. The brothers here pursued the business of merchants in the first house erected in the town, built by James Riggin. Harry Riggin's business operations proved unsuccessful. Large quantities of State script, a currency then in circulation, were received in payment for goods, which, rapidly depreciating on his hands, and finally becoming worth only fifty cents on the dollar, involved him in serious financial difficulties.
While residing here, March 2, 1820, he married Miriam Lee Rogers, whose ancestry is worthy of more than a passing notice, springing as it does from the same stock with the celebrated John Rogers who was burned at the stake-a martyr to his devotion to religious principles. Her great-grandfather was one of the emigrants from England to Connecticut, and afterward proved a brave soldier in the Revolutionary Struggle. Her grandfather was a lad when the family came to this country. He married a girl of Irish descent. Matthew Rogers, the father of Mrs. Riggin, was the second of nine children. He was born in Connecticut, but in early life removed to Otsego County, New York, where he married Anna, daughter of Timothy and Miriam Lee Morse, through whom the family is connected with the late Professor S. F. B. Morse, the illustrious inventor of the electric telegraph. Nine children were the fruits of this union, of whom Miriam, now Mrs. Riggin, was the eldest. She was born in Burlington, New York, August 7, 1794. While in New York, Matthew Rogers occupied a prominent position in the community, and was a colonel of militia. In 1818 the family emigrated to Illinois, leaving home in September and not reaching Troy, so tedious and slow were the means of travel in those primitive days, till the following February. Mr. Rogers, after the marriage of his daughter, removed to Menard, then a part of Sangamon County, and located in Town 18, Range 6. West P.M., where he built a frame barn, the first frame building erected in the State north of the Sangamon River. He was also the first postmaster north of the river, the post-office being called North Sangamon; and likewise established the first nursery in the same limits.
In 1821, Harry Riggin, with his wife and the one child which had blessed their marriage, followed to Sangamon County. He purchased land, and engaged in farming. The county north of the Sangamon was still a wilderness, and some time after his arrival he was compelled to go to Madison County to mill, a hundred miles away. He acquired influence as a prominent and public-spirited citizen, and was a member of the first board of County Commissioners, whose duty it was to locate the County seat. There was a spirited contest for the location between Calhoun, a village occupying the site of the present city of Springfield, and Sangamon town, on the Sangamon River, seven miles to the northwest. Mr. Riggin was in favor of the latter locality, though, after a spirited contest between the friends of the two places, the former carried the day. After filling the office with eminent satisfaction to the people of the County, he retired to private life, and has since devoted his attention almost wholly to agricultural pursuits.
But while occupied with the cares of his farm, Mr. Riggin has not been unmindful of the duties he owed his country and the community in which he lived. At the breaking out of the Black Hawk War he volunteered his services, and continued in the ranks until peace was declared, participating in the many hard marches and varied adventures of the war. He has always been a close and intelligent reader, an attentive observer of the issues of the day, and in consequence his political convictions have always been very deep and earnest. Throughout his life he has been an ardent and unswerving supporter of the principles of the Democratic party. The County was largely Whig, but notwithstanding, Mr. Riggin's friends, at different times, presented his name as a candidate before the people. He was defeated, but his competitors for popular favor were such men as Stephen T. Logan, Vivian Edwards, and Abraham Lincoln-men who afterwards achieved success in a wider field of fame. At one time he came within a few votes of an election on a local issue, the question being the division of Sangamon into four counties. The County was divided, and three additional ones were formed from a part of the territory, Logan, Menard, and Christian. By this division Mr. Riggin was thrown into Menard County, where he has since resided.
The disastrous failure incident to his early business operations in Madison County left him with little capital, save a resolute spirit, strong and willing hands, and faith in the future, wherewith to begin life in Sangamon County; but by dint of intelligent industry and untiring energy he has succeeded in acquiring a comfortable competence. His first failure was a lesson for his future life. He always avoided indebtedness. His principle has been to owe no man a dollar. Mr. and Mrs. Riggin are now in the enjoyment of a comfortable old age, the former being eighty-one and the latter eighty years old. Both are members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Six children have been born to them, two of whom died in infancy. The others are now living, and, in the order of their ages, are as follows: Mary Ann, now the wife of Claiborne Hall, a man popular in the community, in business at Athens, whose biography appears in another column; Augustus Keer, Eliza Marie, and Arminda Priscilla, the wife of McKinley Jones, who, as a neat farmer, is not surpassed in the County. Eliza remains at home, manifesting in her care for the aged parents a beautiful example of filial devotion.
Augustus Keer Riggin, the only son, has had a prosperous businss career. He received the first elements of his education in the common achools, displaying from boyhood an ardent thirst for knowledge. He subsequently spent two years at college, the first at McKendree, and the second at Illinois College, his studies lying chiefly in the scientific departments. It is now a matter of regret with him that he did not take a complete classical course. After leaving college, he taught school for three years during the winter months, and in the summer was busy on the farm. On the breaking out of the Mexican war he remained in the law office of Major Harris, of Petersburg, who entered the army. For two years he here devoted himself to the assiduous study of law, and was admitted to the bar, but never actively entered upon the practice of the profession. In 1848 he was a candidate for Circuit Clerk, and after a severe contest was defeated by David A. Brown, by only thirteen votes. The following year was spent in the South, and upon his return to Illinois he again engaged in his favorite pursuit of farming. In 1852 he was again a candidate for Circuit Clerk, and was elected to the office over his old opponent by twenty-six votes. During his term he gave close attention to the duties of his office, performing the labor without the aid of a deputy, except during time of court. He was a candidate for re-election in 1856, and though his opponent, Mr. W. W. Lynn, was a gentleman of great popularity, Mr. Riggin was returned by a largely increased majority.
At the conclusion of his second term of office he retired to private life, with a determination to thenceforth devote himself to a pursuit which he considers the freest and most independent of all, -agriculture. He owns over a thousand acres of land in Menard County, besides other farms in Illinois and Missouri. He has made a specialty of raising fine cattle, and among his herds are numbered some fine and valuable stock. He has largely increased the modest capital with which an intelligent and prosperous farmer can take pride. Affable in his manners, popular in the community, few men have done more toward the development of the County, or proved better citizens.