William Henry Briggs
William Henry Briggs was born on the family farm at Leesville, Henry County, Missouri on April 4, 1853. He was the son of James L. Briggs and Nancy Collins. Franklin Pierce was president of the United States. Three months later commodore M. C. Perry negotiated a treaty with Japan that opened her doors to U.S. ships.
It was a difficult time for America. State's Rights and Slavery were the "hot topics" of the time. And, after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the Civil War began shortly after William's eighth birthday.
While a boy, William had poor health and found it difficult to attend school regularly. His first school was in the old Tebo church and was taught by his grandfather, the Rev. Daniel Briggs, during the Civil War. The war ended when William was twelve.
He was converted at the age of twelve during a prayer meeting held in his father's home, and officially joined the Tebo Church on February 25, 1866. In his own words he says, "I was baptized by Elder William A. Gray the same day. The creek was bank full, and I was so small the pastor lifted me up in his arms and carried me out."
A son and grandson of Baptist ministers, William learned to love and fear God. He took his faith seriously and was an astute student of the Bible, learning fast and understanding more than most children his age.
William first met Laura Etta Gray while attending school. Laura was born October 3, 1856 in Preble County, Ohio, the daughter of Joseph Gray and Unity Campbell. The Gray family moved to Henry county in 1866, by wagon from Iowa, crossing the Missouri River at Booneville on a ferry. She was converted (saved) at the age of fifteen and joined the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church.
Briggs Family - circa 1905
Left to Right, Standing - Jesse, Julia, James, Jennie, John
Sitting - William Jr., Laura, William Sr., and Euna.
William wore his first ready-made suit when he married Laura Gray on a cool, windy day in April, the 9th, 1874. He picked up his bride-to-be in a lumber wagon. William's uncle, Thomas Briggs, performed the ceremony.
This union would produce eight children:
Five years after his marriage, in May 1879, William was ordained to the gospel ministry at Tebo Baptist Church, and over the years became affectionately known as "Uncle Billy."
Actively in the ministry for some forty years, William, or Uncle Billy, was District Missionary of the Osage Association for two years, and pastored the churches of Tebo, Shady Grove, Spring Grove, Bethel, Mt. Olivet, Oak Grove, Fredonia, Pleasant Hill, Cold Springs, Post Oak, Mt. Zion, Peaceful Home, Pleasant Ridge, Clear Creek, Stone Mission, Good Hope, Grand River, and Finey, with the longest period being fourteen years at Shady Grove.
During their years together, Laura was a wonderful "helpmeet" to William. "My God given companion," said William, "has been a true and loving helpmeet in the home and in my ministry and in every way. Her children call her blessed like the virtuous woman Soloman spoke of in proverbs 31: 10-30."
William also said, "When I look back over my life, I say surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. I have a godly heritage but like Paul, these hands have ministered to my wants many days. I followed the plow and got my text like the sower, so I have no regrets."
During the last few years of his life William was confined to the home. He died August 10, 1939.
At the time of his death, William was survived by six children, nineteen grandchildren and twenty-seven great grandchildren.
Laura died two years later, on November 3, 1941. Both are buried in the Tebo Baptist Church cemetery at Leesville, Missouri.
Both William and Laura were born before the start of the Civil War and saw our nation go to war with Spain in 1898, fight the Boxers in China in 1903, and enter World War I in 1917, with both passing away shortly before America entered World War II. However, over their lives, they also witnessed the advent of transcontinental railroads, automobiles, electric lighting, airplanes, radio, motion pictures, and many other wondrous inventions never dreamed of at the time of their birth.
Also see: A Brief Account of the Life of William Briggs in his own words, and a newspaper article of his 65th Wedding Anniversary, as well as an account of his and Laura's Golden Wedding Anniversary.
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