Alternate Spellings - Willet, Willete, Willets, Willett, Willette, Willetts (The name is often confused with the Willits family name so it is worth looking under the various Willits spellings as well when doing research. We have not included public land records on this page as the Willett and Willits family names are very garbled in the early records and it is impossible to sort them out with any confidence.)
Links - New Boston Ferry, Denison, Jackson , Brass/Trask
Contacts - Albert James [Jim] Willett has researched this family extensively. His book The Willett Families of North America, 1985, is out of print, but a later book The Willett House Collection is available from Heritage Books. We greatly appreciate his assistance in putting together the Mercer County families. We thank Janet Sue Milam for providing additional information on the family of Abraham Willett.
There were several Willett families in Mercer County before 1850. While Zebulon Pike Willett, William Willett, and Edward Willett were the ones connected with our townships of interest, we will include some information here on other families. Zebulon Pike Willett, James Essary Willett, Thomas Willett, Edward Willett, and William Willett were all brothers.
Zebulon Pike WillettAledo Weekly Record, 10-16-1860 "We are informed that a young man named Snyder was severely bitten by a dog supposed to be rabid, in several places about the hand and arm on Saturday evening last - finding it impossible to get away from the brute, he seized him by the throat and choked him to death. We understand that he has gone to New Boston to try the virtues of the mad-stone in the possession of Mr. Z. P. Willett."
Aledo Weekly Record, 4-9-1861 "Notice to Ferrymen - The subscriber offers to sell on reasonable terms the Ferry Landing at New Boston, Ill, also the landing on the opposite side of the Mississippi River. Parties desiring an opening for good ferries - apply to subscriber at New Boston, Z. P. Willett."
The above two advertisements refer to Zebulon Pike Willett, New Boston Ferryman. (See the New Boston Ferry page for his ad when he started his business.) Z. P. is found in the 1850 New Boston census, age 33, born Kentucky, wife Rachel, 38, born Pennsylvania, and daughters Mary E., 8, and Louisa J., 6, born Illinois. Albert Willett tells us that Z.P. was son of Richard Willett and Sarah Essary, and grandson of William Willett of Nelson County, Kentucky. Richard Willett married Sally Esrey 4 March 1799 in Bullitt County, Kentucky.
In the 1860 census Zebulon & Rachel are still in New Boston Township with daughters Mary E., age 18, and Louisa, age 16. Mary is also listed in the census as a domestic in the William Willett household in Keithsburg. Mary E. Willett married Gustavus H. Trask in Mercer County on 6/9/1864. We do not find a marriage record for Louisa in Mercer County. None of the family is found in Mercer County in 1870.
Rachel died 6/12/1869, age 57 yrs, 2 mo, 12 dy, and is buried in New Boston Cemetery. It was not unusual for a family to move after the death of an important member.
Mary E. Willett Trask married second to Thomas N. Brass on 5/25/1887 in Henderson County, Illinois.
James Essary WillettIn Mercer Township in 1860 we find Mary (actually Lydia) A. Willett, 47, farmer, born Kentucky. She is the widow of “Ezra” Willett found in Township 14 North, Range 4 West in the 1850 census. Ezra was born about 1804 in Kentucky. His full name was James Essary Willett and he was brother of Z. P. Willett. He was often called Ezra.
Jim Willett tells us James Essary was married to Lydia Ann Stout and that he died in 1854. We do not know why the wife's name is carried as Mary A. in
the 1860 census. James E. Willett is mentioned as a judge in an election in Mercer Township in 1853 in the History of Mercer County, 1882. In 1860 Mary (Lydia) has children Thomas J., age 23, born Kentucky, Edwin A., 20, born Illinois, Richard S., age 18, Julia C., age 16, George W., age 15, and Lydia A., age 11 living at home. Thomas Willett married Sarah A. Durning 7/25/1867 and Richard S. married Selia E. McWhorter 12/25/1866 in Mercer County. Richard served in Co G, 30th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War, along with cousins Thomas and David Willett. Miss Julia C. Willett was a schoolteacher in Keithsburg Township in 1882. There are two children buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery in Mercer Township: William P., son of J.E. & L. A. Willett, died 9/3/1854, age 1 yr 11m 29d; and John E., son of J. E. & L. Willet, died 4/13/1857, age 10y 7m 23 dy. The tombstone inscriptions verify that James E.'s wife's given name was indeed Lydia. We have not followed this family further as they are not in our area of study.
Thomas WillettThomas Willett came early to Mercer County and is also brother of Z. P. Willett. He married Amanda Moseley 9/7/1842 in Mercer County. She was daughter of Churchill and Nancy Moseley. Thomas died before 1850 and Amanda married Orla C. Richardson. They are found in the 1850 census in Township 13 North Range 4 West: O. C. Richardson, age 25, farmer, born Kentucky, Amanda, age 24, born Kentucky, Samuel Willet, age 7, Nancy Willet, age 5, David Willet, age 4, Thomas Willet, age 3, and Ellen Richardson 3/12, all born Illinois. Amanda died March 6, 1854, age 27 yr 5 mo 11 dy, and O. C. Richardson remarried.
There is an interesting note in the DAR Cemetery Records of Mercer County for the Jackson/Greer Cemetery:
"Thomas Willitt (sic) was the owner of the land on which the Jackson Cemetery is located. He died of lung fever on April 26, 1845 at the age of 35.
"He had expressed a wish to be buried on his own land. After his death, his widow decided otherwise and his body was taken to the Candor Cemetery for burial. There was water in the grave which had been made ready, so Mrs. Willitt had him taken home and interred in what is now the Jackson Cemetery.
"According to family tradition the burial of Thomas was the first in the plot, but a earlier one has been discovered. It is that of Jane Atkinson, who died Dec 15, 1839 at the age of 20. She was the wife of C. W. Atkinson."
This note was also included: Mr. Jackson later owned the farm (Richard Jackson of Peoria, an heir.) Mr. Jackson and his cousin Mrs. John Retherford of New Boston provided the information - both are great grandchildren of Thomas Willett. The death date as given for Thomas in this piece may be wrong as he had son Thomas Willett born August 1846 (see below).
The four Willet children are found living with their grandparents, Churchill and Nancy Moseley, in 1860 in Keithsburg Township. They are living next door to merchant William Willett and Orla Richardson is working as a clerk for William. William was brother of Thomas and Z. P. Willett.
Son Thomas Willett is mentioned in the History of Mercer County, 1882. He was born August 22, 1846, and married September 18, 1871, to a daughter of David and Nancy Brought [Phebe Braucht?], who was born in Hancock County, Ohio, December 9, 1848. Thomas served in Co G, 30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, along with his brother David, and cousin Richard S. Willett.
Daughter Nancy Willett married 11/7/1865 to William T. Jackson. Son David Willett is in Ohio Grove Township in 1870 with wife Elizabeth, son Thomas and daughter Margaret. We do not find a marriage record for David and Elizabeth.
William WillettWilliam Willett of Keithsburg, was born 11/3/1814 in Kentucky. According to the 1903 Historical Encyclopedia of Eillinois and History of Mercer County, William came to New Boston in 1838, took 160 acres of land and ran a saw mill on Pope Creek from 1839 to 1842 for Isaac Brown. In 1842 he built another saw mill and sold it to Brown. We find his land record as William Willit, W2SW Sec 18 T14NR3W, 77 acres for $1.25/acre on 9/28/1939.
William Willett was married to Nancy Denison on 7/20/1843 in Mercer County and they moved to Keithsburg City. Nancy was born 4/4/1826 in Wayne County, Indiana, and was daughter of John and Margaret Swafford Denison who were among the first settlers in Mercer County . The History of Mercer County, 1882 tells a charming story about Nancy. "Nancy Denison, daughter of John Denison (now Mrs. William Willett, of Keithsburg), was another white child whom the savages were bent on possessing, and several times attempted to kidnap. The squaws would pick her up and wrap her in a blanket, but before they could get away the vigilant watch dog would discover their movements, and assailing them furiously, compel them to leave her. They were often at the house, and by making much of her, and giving her presents, had artfully won her childish confidence so that she was greatly pleased at the prospect of going with them. She learned to converse in the Indian as early as in her own tongue."
William and Nancy had children: James Willett, born about 1846, Richard Willett, born about 1848, Margaret Willett, born 9/8/1850, died 8/8/1851, Henry Willett, born about 1852, Emma Willett, born about 1854, Margaret Willett, born about 1857; Vashti Willett, born 9/11/1862, died 10/17/1862, John W. Willett, born 7/10/1864, died 8/8/1864, Fannie Willett, born 2/18/1868, died 7/20/1868, and Julia Willett, born about 1861 (from 1860/70 censuses and Mercer County Cemetery Records). In the 1860 census, Mary E. Willett, daughter of William’s brother, Zebulon Pike Willett, is working in the household as a domestic.
There is a great deal about this family in the 1882 Mercer County History. William Willett apparently had a partnership in a dry goods store in Keithsburg, as the following ad appeared in the March 28, 1855, issue of The Golden Age: "Dissolution. The co-partnership heretofore existing between Abram B. Sheriff, James W. Doughty and Wm. Willett, in the Dry Goods business, in the town of Keithsburg, Ill, under the name, style and firm of Sheriff Doughty & Willett, was on the Fourteenth day of June 1854, dissolved by mutual consent. All debts due by said firm will be paid by said Sheriff & Willett; and all persons indebted to said firm will pay the same to said Sheriff & Willett, who are also authorized to settle the same according to the agreement under the dissolution of co-partnership. A. B. Sheriff. J. W. Doughty. Wm. Willett."
William died 6/16/1890 and Nancy died 3/12/1907 and both are buried in Greenmound Cemetery at Keithsburg.
Edward WillettEdward Willett voted in the first election held at the formation of Mercer County in 1835. Edward was born about 1812 in Kentucky and was brother of Z. .P. Willett. His wife Mary Jane was born about 1807 in Kentucky. The family is found in the 1850 census in Township 14 North, Range 5 West under the name Willits: Edward age 38, farmer, born Kentucky, Mary Jane, 43, born Kentucky, Sarah Jane, 16, born Illinois, Nancy C., age 14, Martha A., age 11, Clarinda, age 8, Virginia (or Verona), age 6.
Sarah Jane Willett married Edward Johnson, 10/5/1854, in Mercer County. Her sister Clarinda is a domestic in their household in the 1860 census. There are no children in the household and they are not found in Mercer County in 1870.
Daughter Verona died 4/5/1864 in Mercer County and is buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery. The family is not found in the 1860 census except for Sarah Jane and Clarinda.
Abraham WillettOne family, not directly connected to the others in Mercer County, is that of Abraham Willett. Abraham Allen Willett lived in Rivoli Township. He is a son of Andrew and Julia Benson Shropshire Willett of Alabama. Abraham was the only one of the family to come to Mercer County and ultimately his sons rejoined his other relatives in Kansas. He married (1) Martha Sprague in 1849 in Warren County, Illinois. He married (2) Mrs. Catherine Matilda Green on 1/1/1865 in Mercer County.
Children of Abraham and Martha are Amelia, born about 1849, William Chester, born about 1851, Oregon Sardinia, born about 1855, Julia, born about 1857, Sarah Sophia, born about 1859, and Abraham Allen, born about 1861, all in Illinois.
Children of Abraham and Catherine are Perry D., born about 1866, Schuyler S., born about 1868, and Lucy S., born about 1869, all in Mercer County. Abraham was a charter member and treasurer of New Windsor Lodge No. 518, I.O.O.F. when it was organized in 1873. Abraham and Catherine are buried in the Willet Cemetery (also called Hopewell) in Rivoli Township. Abraham died 1899 and Catherine in 1919. We have not followed this family further since they are not in our area of interest.
P. Waters WillettThere is a P. Waters Willett listed on the Soldier's Monument in Aledo. He was a corporal who had enlisted from Preemption Township on August 5, 1862 in Company K, 102 Illinois Infantry. The Regimental History of the 102nd gives his name as Walter P. Willett. He was killed at Resaca, Georgia on May 15, 1864. If anyone knows the parents of this Willett we would appreciate hearing from them.