Reuben and Mary Harris Willits of Mercer County, Illinois

Reuben and Mary Harris Willits Family

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Alternate Spellings - See Willits Families Page (link above)

Links - Isaiah & Susanna Boone Willits, Isaac & Elizabeth Willits, Kirlin, Crapnell, Finch, Lewis, Pullen, Vanatta, Burns (Misc Families), Pat Chapman's Web Site The Willits Brothers and Their Canoes. Much excitement: Pat Chapman's book about the Willits Brothers and their Canoes has been published and can be ordered at the McFarland & Companies Web Site.

Contacts - Ken Willits, descendant of Horace Greeley Willits; Patrick Chapman has researched Earl and Floyd Willits of Tacoma, Washington (grandchildren of Milton Willits). Karen Gray is researching her husband's ancestor, Mary Lucinda Willits Cooper, and furnished much information on the children of Reuben and Mary.

Reuben Willits was born 5/2/1805 in Wayne County, Indiana. His father was Isaac Willits, son of Isaiah & Susanna Boone Willits, and his mother was Rachel Willits, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Willits. Reuben was thus a birthright Quaker. On 1/28/1826 he was given a certificate at Milford Monthly Meeting in Wayne County, Indiana, to Springfield Monthly Meeting to marry. On 2/23/1826, Reuben Willits married Mary Harris, daughter of James and Hannah Harris, at West River Meeting House in Wayne County, Indiana.

Reuben and Mary Harris Willits had children: Milton Lacey Willits, born 11/13/1826; Minerva A. Willits, born 12/29/1829; Mary Lucinda Willits, born 8/10/1831; Hannah M. Willits, born 4/13/1833. A son Thomas is mentioned, under the guardianship of his uncle, Brady Willits. Note that some descendants carry Thomas as a son of Brady Willits. Since some of both Reuben and Brady's Quaker records are missing there is really no way to resolve this problem at the present time. We have only one census record for Thomas indicating a birthdate of 1825, but more likely he was born 1827 or 1828. Note that Milton Lacey Willits was no doubt named for his aunt, Susannah Lacey Willits, wife of Brady Willits.

According to descendant Ken Willits, Reuben and Mary Harris Willits died in January 1834 at Nettle Creek in Wayne County, Indiana. According to a sketch of their daughter Minerva in the History of Mercer County, Illinois, 1882: "Her parents both died in the spring of 1834, of milk sickness; the mother dying in the evening and the father the following morning." This was a common occurence in Wayne County, Indiana, where cows ate poisoned plants and passed on the poison in their milk. The milk fever was referred to as Tire's disease (see Mercer County Medicine Page). It is rather curious that only the parents had evidently consumed milk. Perhaps, since this effect was well known in Wayne County, parents routinely drank the milk first before giving it to their children.

The children of Reuben and Mary were parceled out to relatives.

According to a sketch of son Milton Willits in the History of Mercer County, Illinois, 1882: "He came west with his grandfather, Isaac Willits, in the spring of 1836, and settled in New Boston township, where he has lived ever since, with the exception of three years spent in California." It is likely that Thomas Willits came at the same time as he is found with guardian Brady Willits (son of Isaac and brother of Reuben) in the 1850 census in Mercer County. Minerva also came to Mercer County in 1836 with her uncle, Thomas Moore, son-in-law of Isaac Willits. Mary Lucinda and Hannah Willits were in Mercer County by 1850 as they both married there shortly after.

Found among the miscellaneous papers accompanying the will of Isaac Willits in 1844:
"The agreement made between Milton L. Willits and Isaac Willits was as follows: That Milton L. Willits should reside with Isaac Willits from that time (AD 1841) until twenty-one years of age and receive one years schooling, a freedom suit of cloths, a horse saddle and bridle and one hundred dollars." "Due Milton L. Willits by the above named agreement for the time herein mentioned the following account: to five months in the year A. D. 1841, $25; to five months in the year AD 1842, $25; to five months in the year AD 1843, $25." Note that a "freedom suit" was a suit of clothes typically given to a man on his 21st birthday (also sometimes a "freedom quilt"). There is a bill entered into Isaac's estate by Warren Shedd: March 30, 1842 to school tuition $1.37 1/2, received from township treasurer, 0.37 1/2, balance due $1.00. Shedd noted that the bill was unpaid as of April 1846. There are also records of bills at the store of Drury and Willits in New Boston on December 18, 1843: 1 speller, 0.13; 1 Fourth Reader, 0.88; 1 quire paper, 0.13. These bills are no doubt in connection with Isaac's agreement to furnish one year of schooling for his grandson. Milton would have been 17 years old in 1843. Isaac also bought him a pair of boots for $2.00 on September 16, 1843 and a pair of shoes for $1.00 on July 27, 1844. Isaac may have paid for more than Milton's schooling, as another bill in Isaac's estate by Simeon P. Smith: "To tuition of children during the years 1842-3, $3.56 1/4, entered 17th day of November 1746. The History of Mercer County, 1882 tells us "Mr. Willit's [Milton] education was limited in youth but improved by study in later life. He was one of the pupils of Simeon P. Smith, one of the first and best teachers of the county." (See Schools page for more on Warren Shedd and Simeon Smith.)

Families of Children of Reuben and Mary Harris Willits

Minerva Willits Greer

On 4/15/1847 daughter Minerva A. Willits married Thomas Greer, a farmer. There is a sketch of the family in the History of Mercer County, 1882 They lived in Abingdon Township and had fourteen children: Reuben H., James M., Mary J., Thomas F., Alice A., John E., Samuel I., Arthur, Lewis W., Albert C., Ella F., Dora E., Robert F., and an unnamed daughter who died at birth. Thomas Greer was born June 10, 1818, in Ohio and moved to Mercer County as early as 1836. He lived out his life in Abingdon Township and most of his children remained nearby. They are found in the 1870 Census in Abingdon Township: Thomas Greer, 51, farmer, born Oh; Minerva A., 41, born In; Reuben H., 22; James M., 20, Mary J., 18; Thomas F., 15; John E., 13; Alice Ann, 12; Samuel I, 9; Albert, 5; Ella F.; 3 (all born Illinois).

Hannah Willits Crapnell

On 8/10/1851 daughter Hannah M. Willits married Edwin Crapnell, son of William and Keziah Crapnell of England. They are found in New Boston Township in the 1870 Census: Edwin Crapnell, 39, farmer, born England; Hannah, 35, born In; Harry, 15; Charlie, 13; Clyde, 11; Bert, 10; William, 9; Frederick, 6;, Ida, 2. They have a housekeeper, Anna Johnson, 17, born Switzerland; and a farm assistant, Jasper Commons, 27, born Il. There is much more on this family on the Crapnell page.

Mary Willits Cooper

On 5/9/1852 daughter Mary Lucinda Willits married Jacob Sheets Cooper. Karen Gray (email in contacts above) is related to this family through her husband. This Cooper family is living very near the Gray family in Keithsburg Township in 1860: J. Cooper, 33, cooper, born Virginia; Mary L., 28, born In; Warren A., 6; Dora, 5; Rowland S., 3; Charles, 3/12, all born Illinois. We do not find them in the 1870 census in Mercer County.

Milton Lacey Willits

The History of Mercer County, 1882 tells us that Milton Willits spent three years in California (see Gold Page for the California Gold Rush): "He crossed the plains in the summer of 1850, and returned in the spring of 1853 to New Boston, and started a lumber yard in partnership with Anderson Kirlin. They continued business until fall, when they dissolved, and Mr. Willits started a grocery store, which he continued till the spring of 1854, when he traded his grocery in part payment on seventy-six acres of land five miles northeast of New Boston, where he has been engaged in farming ever since." His land can be seen in Section 22, 23, and 24 on the New Boston plat map (and it appears to be a good deal more than 76 acres!).

On 10/25/1854 Milton Lacey Willits married Sarah J. Kirlin, daughter of William Getson and Lydia Thompson Kirlin, and sister of his erstwhile partner, Anderson Kirlin. (More on the Kirlin page linked above). Milton and Sarah Kirlin Willits had children: Horace Greeley Willits, born 7/31/1855; Mary L. Willits, born 12/23/1856 (died 10/31/1857); Clinton Homer Willits, born 1/8/1858; Lavina H. Willits, born 3/35/1859; Elias M. Willits, born 12/13/1860 (died 1/14/1946 unmarried); William R. Willits, born 9/23/1862 (died 10/25/1879); Minnie Della Willits, born 3/3/1864; Frederick Willits, born 6/22/1866 (died 1/5/1873); Ruth Willits, born 11/6/1867 (died 8/26/1869); Sarah J. Willits, born 2/8/1869 (died 3/17/1869). Ruth and Sarah J. Willits are buried in the Davis Cemetery in New Boston Township.

Sarah Kirlin Willits apparently died as a result of the birth of her last child as she died on February 13, 1869. Milton and children are found in New Boston Township in 1870: Milton L. Willits, 43, farmer, born In; Horace, 14; Clinton, 12; Luvina, 11; Elias, 10; William, 8; Minnie D., 6; Frederick, 4, all born Il. Harriet W. Burns, 37, born New York, is working for them as housekeeper. On 4/30/1871 Milton Willits married Harriet W. Burns. As far as we know, there were no children from this marriage.

Descendants of Milton and Sarah Kirlin Willits

Son Horace Greeley Willits married Ida Louisa McGrew on 10/30/1878. According to descendant Ken Willits, Ida was born 9/4/1857 in Muscatine, Iowa, daughter of John Chevalier and Louisa Stout Adams McGrew. Horace and Ida evidently lived in Muscatine, Iowa, for quite awhile as they had a son Walter Lacey Willits born 2/28/1882 in Muscatine. A daughter Verdie O. Willits was born and died in 1898 in Muscatine. The family ultimately moved to the Los Angeles area of California, where two more children, Fannie and Alta were married. Fannie married a Peter King of Westwood Village, California, and Alta married a McGrath of Los Angeles, California.

Son Clinton Homer Willits married Adda Kiddoo on 9/16/1880 in Mercer County. We will not be putting up a Kiddoo family page as they lived in Millersberg Township, but will include here some information on Adda from the History of Mercer County 1882 that seems to be born out by census and cemetery records. Adda was daughter of Richard and Eliza Vannatta Kiddoo who married in Pennsylvania October 12, 1837, and came to Mercer County about 1845. Richard was born April 25, 1816, son of James and Mary Kiddoo who also came to Mercer County. (We will be putting up a Vanatta page.) Adda, age 8, is found with the Richard Kiddoo family in the 1870 census. Richard (1816-1882) and Eliza (1821-1907) Kiddoo are buried in the Peniel Cemetery. James (1786-1862) and Mary (1792-1855) Kiddoo are buried in the Kiddoo-Peniel Cemetery. Pat Chapman tells us that Clinton and Adda Kiddoo Willits had children: Dwight Elmer Willits (July 2, 1881-Oct 19, 1957; died Santa Barbara, Ca) Clyde Oron Willits (August 19, 1883-June 4,1972; died Davenport, Iowa) Ray Clinton Willits (September 19, 1886-October 28, 1948) Ruth Van Atta Willits (August 27, 1888-January 10, 1967) Earl Carmi Willits (November 22, 1889-April, 21,1967; died Tacoma, Wa) Floyd Calvin (March 13,1892-June 10,1962; died Tacoma, Wa)

Adda died in Muscatine County, Iowa on May 8,1894 of peritonitis and is buried in the Peniel Cemetery next to Clinton's brother Elias. Her tombstone gives her birthdate as 1860 but Pat Chapman tells us the Social Security Death Index gives it as 1862. Clinton moved to Tacoma, Washington, remarried in 1913 to Mrs. Ellen Jane Matthews (widow Blight), and had a child Leonard Homer (June 11,1914-September 15,1973; died Tacoma, Wa). Clinton died in Tacoma, Washington April 25, 1934. Pat Chapman has much information on this branch of the family and in particular sons Earl and Floyd of Tacoma, Washington. He says they built wooden canoes there for over 50 years, and his book about them has been published. Read the description and purchase copies at his publisher's Web Site. Pat previously published an article in the Wooden Canoe Journal which tells about the family canoe building enterprise in Tacoma, including photos. It can be read on Pat's Web Page. (Pat’s Links at top of page)

Daughter Lavina H. Willits married Levi Lewis, son of William and Sarah Jane Finch Lewis. We do not find a date or place for this marriage but it is given in the History of Mercer County, 1882. There is a short sketch of William Lewis in the History: He was born in Wayne County, Indiana, April 25, 1832. His parents were from Greene County, Virginia. He came in 1854 to Mercer County where he has since resided. He was married October 30, 1856 to Sarah Jane, daughter of Pettis and Maria J. Finch. They had only one child, Levi Lewis. Mr. Lewis owned 620 acres of land in New Boston township and engaged in stock raising and shipping. A portion of his land can be seen in Section 35 on the New Boston plat map. William and Sarah Jane are found in New Boston Township in the 1880 census: William Lewis, age 48, born Indiana, father born Va, mother born In; Sarah Jane, age 42, born Il, father born NC, mother born Ky; Levi, born ?, Il, working on farm; Lavina, 20, born Il, parents born In; John M. Besmer, 40, NY and Lewis Willets, 35, born Il, working on farm. (we are not certain of the identity of this Lewis Willets.)

Daughter Minnie Della Willits married Hollis Pullen, son of Elias and Susana Cunningham Pullen on 8/5/1885 in Mercer County. We know that Minnie Della died April 2, 1936 in Altadena, Los Angeles, California, but have no further information on the family.