J. W. WATKINS, who owns and operates a good farm in Steuben township, where he has spent his entire life, first opened his eyes to the light of day on the old family homestead in this county. He is a son of David WATKINS, who was born in Athens county, Ohio, February 18, 1817. His parents were Isaiah and Mary (DOUGLAS) WATKINS, both of whom were natives of Virginia, the former being of Welsh descent and the latter of Scotch lineage. Isaiah WATKINS was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and his grandfather came from Wales, establishing his home in America, in early colonial days. He served during the Revolutionary war under General Washington for seven years. His mother bore the maiden name of DOUGLAS and her father was a descendant of the famous DOUGLAS family that owned and occupied the DOUGLAS castle of Scotland. He too was a Revolutionary soldier under Washington and served at the same time as Isaiah WATKINS, with whom he became acquainted during the days of their military experience. The maternal grandmother of Mr. WATKINS was Mary Jane ADDINGTON, who was of English descent. It was after the war that Isaiah WATKINS married the daughter of Mr. DOUGLAS. They were married in Ohio, where they resided until the death of the husband and father, when, in 1834, the widow with three children, emigrated to Illinois, locating in Marshall county. One son, Jehiel, preceded the family and had made a home here, and through his advice the remainder of the family came out. Jehiel, after remaining here twenty-five years, removed to Taylor county, Iowa. The family located within one mile of where David WATKINS lived, taking up a claim and improving a farm. Here the widow lived until called to her reward at the age of about eighty years. The three children coming with their mother were David, father of our subject; Mary J., who wedded Isaac TANQUARY, and removed with him to Livingston county, where both died; and Lucinda, who married James TANQUARY, of Steuben township, and both are now deceased.
On coming to this country the WATKINS' were in very limited circumstances, and on the death of the mother David kept the family together until the marriage of his sisters. He commenced life for himself, working for ten dollars per month, using the wages obtained in payment of the home farm. He was twenty-eight years old before he felt that he could safely wed. He was then united in marriage with Eliza Jane HOSKINS, a daughter of Josiah HOSKINS, a pioneer of Steuben township. Immediately after the wedding ceremony he removed with his young bride to a farm adjoining that of J. W. WATKINS, and which was the first one opened on the prairie. An industrious, hard working man, he settled right down to business, and from time to time added to his original purchase until he became the possessor of about eight hundred acres of as fine land as lies within the borders of Marshall county. While carrying on general fanning, if it can be said that he made a specialty of any one line, it was that of a cattle grower, having at all times upon his place from one hundred to one hundred and fifty head of fine cattle. He was not what is usually termed a feeder of cattle, but raised a high grade of animals. Attending strictly to his business he made a success in life.
In 1856 Mr. WATKINS was bereft of his wife, she dying leaving two children Lucinda, who died at the age of sixteen; and J. Wesley. Mr. WATKINS subsequently married Eliza Jane BREWSTER, of McDonough county, Illinois, who also died leaving two children Albert W.; and Eliza Jane, who was educated in music and elocution at Eureka College, and is a lady of rare attainments, a member of the order of the Eastern Star, well known and universally esteemed.
David WATKINS was in all respects a self-made man. His education, obtained in the old pioneer log school houses, was necessarily limited, but he was a silent though a close observer of men and events, and therefore became a well-posted man. He was an attendant but not a member of any church. In his younger days he was quite a sportsman with gun and rod. He was always an admirer and lover of a good horse, and even at the age of eighty years loved to be astride of that noble animal. He enjoyed fair health almost to the very last and lived at peace with all mankind. In politics he was a democrat, but never an office seeker: His death occurred in 1900 and thus passed away one of the honored pioneer settlers of the county.
Albert WATKINS, a brother of J. W. WATKINS, married Mary Eva VanANTWERP, by whom he has four children: Mary Ethel, Albert Leslie, David Timothy and Eliza Mabel. Albert WATKINS is the owner of three hundred and twenty acres of good farming land across the road from his brother's home and is one of the enterprising agriculturists of Steuben township. He belongs to the Methodist Episcopal church and votes with the democracy.
J. Wesley WATKINS is one of the oldest settlers of Steuben township, having spent his entire life within its borders. He was reared to the occupation of farming and has always followed that pursuit. As the years have passed, he has prospered, owing to his earnest labor and capability in managing his affairs, so that today he is the owner of six hundred and forty acres of valuable land in Steuben township, together with land in Iowa. Here he carries on general farming in connection with the raising of stock and both branches of his business are proving profitable.
Like his father, Mr. WATKINS has given his political support to the democracy, having been reared in the faith of that party and seeing no occasion to change his views since attaining his majority. He has been called to several local offices. He was first appointed supervisor to fill out the unexpired term of John HAYDEN, deceased, and has several times been re-elected to that office. For thirty-six consecutive years he has acted as school director and he has frequently been a delegate to county conventions of his party and has served as a member of the democratic central committee. His fraternal relations are with the Masonic fraternity and he belongs to Sparland lodge, No. 441, A. F. & A. M., and to Sparland chapter of the order of the Eastern Star. He represents a family that has long been prominent in connection with the agricultural interests of the county and his own record entitles him to mention with the prominent representatives of agricultural life in Marshall county.
Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.