James Wiley

About James Wiley

James Wiley came to America from Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s with his sister, Eliza.

The decade of the1840s was a difficult period in St. Louis. There was a flood, a cholera epidemic and a fire that nearly leveled the town. James and Eliza were working, although we're not sure what their jobs entailed. James lived in the home of his uncle, Foster Wiley, Esq., where he received several letters that are still extant. Eliza's mail was addressed in 1848 in care of William Glassberry, St. Louis.

His father, John Wiley still in Ireland, wrote to James that he was pleased that he and Eliza were in a "decent service of a decent respectable gentleman and virtuous and moral mistresses."

Even though he was well educated, apparently James didn't like writing letters. He was often chastised by relatives and friends for not keeping in touch.

He received a letter in September 1849 stating "I expect that your parents are becoming very destitute on account of the heavy taxes they have to pay to support the poor...your mother complains she had no letter from you since she wrote - you should write and send them some help". On November 22, 1949, James sent five pounds sterling to his father via the Irish Immigrant Society in New York. The receipt is extant.

James wrote one letter to a Thomas Gordon in Rochester, New York, in 1849 stating he was thinking of getting married. It was two years before he tied the knot with Mary Brown. There was a cholera epidemic in St. Louis in 1849. Perhaps his first love died, or perhaps he wasn't one to rush and courted Mary for two years.

James and Mary lived in St. Louis about six years after their marriage and had two daughters and a son there. James purchased land in Van Buren County, Iowa, in December 1857. James took his wife and children, and his wife's sister, Sarah Brown, to Iowa by way of a Mississippi river boat. It must have been an exciting trip filled with apprehension and the anticipation of beginning a new life in the country after working and saving their money for several years in the growing metropolis of St. Louis. They arrived at their farm March 4, 1858.

James built the house and barn, planted an orchard, dug a cistern and fruit cellar. His infant son died in September 1858 and was buried in a small cemetery on the Prall place, about a mile north of the Wiley farm. Young Robert Wiley's grave was one of the first in the cemetery. When James died in 1879, he was buried next to his infant son. Mary and her sister, Sarah Brown, were also buried at Prall Cemetery.

James donated a piece of his land where the one-room Wiley School was built. As well as many neighborhood children, four generations of Wiley descendants attended the school, which operated for nearly a century. It closed in 1956. The building no longer stands.

It should be noted that Indians camped along the nearby Fox River as late as 1878.