Biography - Sylvester Whitehead

SYLVESTER WHITEHEAD was born in Arkansas November 15, 1849, and was brought to Illinois by his parents when three years of age, and in this State he has since resided, being located in Tunnel Hill Township, Johnson County. His father, James Whitehead, was born in Mississippi in 1820, and was a son of Matthew Whitehead, a farmer, and a native of South Carolina, who was born about, 1795. The father of Matthew Whitehead was James Whitehead, a wealthy farmer, who operated a number of mills on his farm, and was born in either Maryland or South Carolina. His wife’ was a Miss Melton, who bore him four children, two sons and two daughters, Matthew being their first born, James was a local Methodist preacher, and both he and his wife died when about sixty years of age. Their children were Matthew, Mary, John and Sophia. The first-named son married Anna Walker, a native of Maryland and a daughter of Hezekiah Walker, who was a wealthy planter and slaveholder in Mississippi. His son Hezekiah owned many slaves until they were set free by the War of the Rebellion. Matthew Whitehead and his wife went to Mississippi soon after their marriage, about 1815, and bought large farms, and were engaged for the most part in growing corn and cotton. They subsequently removed to the northeastern part of Arkansas, where they resided until their death. He died in 1860 and his widow, who was in frail health at that time, died very soon afterward. They had a family of six sons and five daughters, in all of whom have died except James and his brother Alfred, who is now a farmer in the same township.
The father of our subject was reared on a farm, and when seventeen years old married Minerva Payne, who was born in Tennessee. They settled on a farm of eighty acres on the line between Mississippi and Alabama, and about seven years later removed to Arkansas, where they bought one hundred and sixty acres of wild land worth then about $4 per acre. After living on this farm until the fall of 1851, he came to southern Illinois, in company with two other families, making the journey in a large covered wagon, drawn by two yoke of oxen, and camping out on the way. Mr. Whitehead first stopped in Franklin County, Ill., but the face of the country there was too low and flat for him, as he was seeking a more healthful climate than he had left in the South. He therefore removed to Johnson County and bought one hundred and twenty acres of land with a small log hut upon it, into which he moved, and in which he lived two years. He then built a good hewed log one, which was one and one-half stories high, now a part of his present abode. He has since then owned as much as six hundred acres of land, much of which cost him but twelve and a-half cents per acre under the Bitt Act. He has sold off and deeded to his sons portions of the six hundred acres, until now he has left but two hundred and twenty acres. His sons, however, own here in a body over one thousand acres. His first wife died April 8, 1891, about seventy-five years old, leaving three sons: John, a farmer on an adjoining farm; Finns, a retired farmer living at Creal Springs; and Sylvester, a merchant at Tunnel Hill.
Our subject’s father was again married, August 7, 1891, this time to Mrs. William Penfield, nee Martha Phillips, daughter of John and Mary (Holly) Phillips, from Tennessee, where she was born in 1849, When Mrs. Whitehead was a child her mother died in Illinois, and her father, who resides in Kentucky, is about sixty-seven years old. She has three children living, viz.: John Johnson, a farmer at Norris City, White County; Theodore, aged fifteen; and Robert, aged thirteen years, both at home and in school. Mr. White head is a Master Mason.
Sylvester Whitehead was reared on his father’s farm, and attended the district school winters until he was twenty-one, and spent two summers in school in Vienna. He was married May 29, 1873, to Miss Mary E. Brooks, of Tennessee, who came to Johnson County in 1860. Her father, Samuel Brooks, died about 1849, before she was born, and her mother died in 1884, at the age of sixty-eight years, leaving her and a brother, Joseph, who is a farmer. She has lost one brother and three sisters. Mr. Whitehead and his wife began life in their present home, and he bought the store building of J. F. Graham; they were in partnership for about eighteen months, when the firm was dissolved, Mr. Whitehead continuing the business alone. He was burned out in February, 1881, losing $7,000, and had no insurance. In 1882, he built his present large two-story brick store, 65 x 26 feet in dimensions, in which he carries a large stock of general merchandise, and is doing a business of about $12,000 per year. He has been Notary Public twelve years, and Postmaster nine years, since 1881, and was again elected to the same position in 1890. He has always been a Republican in politics, is a Royal Arch Mason, and has been an Odd Fellow for twenty years. He owns five hundred acres of well-improved land. He has been the father of five children, three sons and one daughter, infants, deceased, and one son living, Noel, born March 7, 1874, who is at college in Quincy, Ill., taking a business course. Mr. Whitehead is one of the prosperous farmers and successful business men of this section of the State.

Extracted 11 Sep 2009 by Vera Burnham from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois, pages 440-441.

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