venerable and highly honored citizen of Centralia is eminently entitled to
conspicuous mention in this history, owing to the fact that he might
properly be called a pioneer of this section, having seen and participated
in the development of the same from the early days and the life he has led
is one of commendation and worthy of emulation by younger generations, for
it has been led along lines of usefulness and integrity.
J. W. Skipworth was born in Maury county, Tennessee, September 25, 1823, therefore he is at this writing in his eighty-sixth year, hale and hearty as a boy, active and in possession of all his faculties as if he were many years younger. His parents, Hosea and Cassander (Ward) Skipworth, were both natives of North Carolina, the former having been born in 1776. The paternal grandfather of the subject, Nathan Skipworth, was in the American army at the time of the Revolutionary war for a period of six years. Our subject was present at his death. Eight children were born to the parents of the subject, four boys and an equal number of girls. J. W., the youngest of the number, is the only one living in 1908.
Captain Ward, the father of our subject's mother, owned and operated a merchant sailing vessel on the Atlantic ocean from Wilmington, Delaware, to Liverpool, England. This was before the days of the Revolution.
Hosea Skipworth, the subject's father left Tennessee and came to Illinois because he was opposed to slavery and the seceding of the Southern states from the Union.
Our subject was five years old when his parents moved to Lebanon, Illinois, settling on a farm. Hosea Skipworth died at Lebanon in 1832, his widow having survived until 1846, having died two miles south of Centralia, Marion county. Our subject's education was obtained at Centralia. He lived in that vicinity until he was sixty years old, when he moved to Centralia in 1873. He followed farming, trading and stock shipping. Our subject saw Centralia grow from a wilderness which abounded in wolves, deer, wild cats and some bear, when there were no houses except cabins in the woods, from one-half to three miles apart. The country round about was open prairie. Most of the residents of this community lived on wild meats during the winter, such as deer, prairie chicken, quail, wild turkey and squirrels. Often as many as one thousand prairie chickens were seen in one flock. Deer was more plentiful than cattle is now. The wolves killed the sheep and pigs. The bridges were all built by the neighbors, being constructed of heavy logs.
The subject recalls the campaign of James K. Polk for President, when the wagons throughout the country were decorated with polk-berry stain and those taking part in the parades and rallies used polk-stalks for canes. The market post for all trade was sixty-five miles away, St. Louis. The hogs were fattened for the most part on wild nuts or mast. It was then the custom for several neighbors to place their hogs in one drove and drive them to St. Louis for market. Mr. Skipworth says that the amusements in those days consisted principally in shooting matches, dances or "hoedowns," also horse races. The first choice of a beef was its hide, tallow and horns; meat was the second choice. July 4th always called for a big barbecue of beeves, mutton or pork, cooked in large trenches. The Declaration of Independence was always read, the drum and fife were very popular and the orator of the day was in evidence. During election times the candidates furnished kegs of whisky, which was poured into buckets, by which sat a tin cup, and each one helped himself. The bucket always bore the name of the candidate. Where the railroad yard is now located in Centralia our subject says, he once saw a thousand wild geese and as many ducks in the water. The swampy place was filled with cinders and made solid.
It was 1835 when our subject came to Marion county, through which no railroad was built until 1854. Coal mines were then unknown and government land and "squatter sovereignty" were the conditions prevailing here. Not one man in twenty owned his land. It was the cheaper not to own land, for then there were no taxes to pay. The first land sold for one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre, then two dollars and fifty cents per acre. When the Vandalia Railroad came through in 1852 the farmers bid in all their land; then came the speculators. This land now sells for one hundred dollars per acre.
Mr. Skipworth was married to Martha Crabtree, daughter of William and Mary Crabtree, who lived in Jefferson county, later moved to Southwest Missouri. They were the parents of four children, the subject's wife being next to the youngest in order of birth. The date of the subject's wedding was January 3, 1841. The subject's wife had three brothers in the Mexican war. Four children were born to our subject and his first wife, namely: Julian, deceased; John H., deceased; Ellen, living; Virenda, deceased. The first wife of the subject passed away April 4, 1854, and on May 29, 1855, Mr. Skipworth was married to Nellie Hoskins. Eight children have been born to this union, namely: Louisa, who married Phillip Straus, living in Chicago; Charles, who died in 1875; Rhoda married Edward Root, living in Chicago, and they are the parents of one son, Charles. The other five children of the subject and his last wife have all passed away.
Mr. Skipworth ably served his community as School Director for a period of fifteen years. He first voted for John Crane, of Nashville, then the county seat, Mr. Crane making the race for the Legislature from Washington county. Our subject was then eighteen years old. He cast his first vote for President for James K. Polk in I844, and voted for Abraham Lincoln twice, but since then has voted the Democratic ticket. Religiously he was reared a Protestant Methodist, but is not a member of that church, and he was at one time an Odd Fellow, of the Centralia lodge. Our subject has been prosperous during his long and active life, and he now owns three valuable lots in Centralia, on which he makes his home, surrounded by poultry and pigs, and he enjoys the peaceful retirement of his twilight of life, happy in the thought that his life has been well spent and his old age is free from regret or trouble. He is known as a man of scrupulous honesty, careful and judicious in all his dealings with his fellow men, and he enjoys wide acquaintance throughout the county, where he numbers his friends by the hundreds.
Extracted 03 Nov 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 288-290.