James Brown McWilliams

James Brown McWilliams

With the passing of James Brown McWilliams on March 11, 1896, Allamakee county lost one of its valued pioneers. His career furnished a link between the past, when crude conditions still prevailed, and the more modern era of the coming civilization of the twentieth century. A sturdy agriculturist, he passed practically his entire life in that vocation and attained to success by reason of his industry and energy. Although over seventeen years have passed since his demise his memory is still cherished by the older generation and the seed he has sown as one of those who have been prominent in the agricultural development of his district is still bearing fruit.

James B. McWilliams was born in Fayette county, Pennsylvania, near Masontown, February 6, 1832, a son of Samuel and Sarah (Huston) McWilliams, both natives of Pennsylvania, in which state they passed their entire lives. The father was an agriculturist by occupation and prominent in his district. James B. McWilliams attended school in his native state and there was reared and grew to young manhood, marrying on March 15, 1860, Sarah E. Neeling, who was born at Mount Vernon, Chester county, Pennsylvania, June 22, 1840, a daughter of James and Anna (Cameron) Neeling. The father was also born in Chester county, Pennsylvania, but the mother called Maryland her native state. The father always followed agricultural pursuits and they came to Iowa in 1854, locating at National, Clayton county, where he engaged in the hotel business. Later the parents moved to Algona and invested in land which the father cultivated with such good success that he was enabled to spend the latter part of his life in retirement in Algona, where he and his wife passed away.

The father of our subject had died in his native state when Mr. McWilliams was but two years of age and when about twenty-two, he came to Iowa accompanied by a brother and his wife. He first located at Colesburg, in southern Iowa, but after a few years returned to Pennsylvania. A year later, however, he and a brother returned to Clayton county, Iowa, taking up land in Meadow township, and there he continued until he came to Postville, where for five years he made his home, when a removal was made to a farm near this city, to the cultivation of which he gave the rest of his life. For thirty-seven years he made his home in this district and during that long residence gained a reputation as a straightforward, reliable and honorable man in all of his dealings. He built up a substantial fortune and upon his death left his wife and children sufficient to set them up independently in life. Mr. and Mrs. McWilliams became the parents of ten children, of whom six, four sons and two daughters, survive. Those born to this union were: Huston, who died at the age of eleven months; George, a resident of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, where he is engaged in the real-estate business and is a large landowner; May, the widow of Edward Clough, residing in Eureka, Montana; Edgar, who passed away in June, 1896, at the age of twenty-five years; Minnie, who died at the age of five; Zilla, whose death occurred at the age of three years; Vergil, an assistant bank cashier, who resides at Chester, Iowa; Carey, a druggist of that city; Emmet, cashier of the German Savings Bank of Chester; and Ethel, the wife of F. J. Thoma, who is engaged in the grocery business at Postville.

The death of Mr. McWilliams occurred on March 11, 1896, and was caused by a lamentable accident brought about through ptomaine poisoning. All of the family were taken sick but Mr. McWilliams was afflicted so severely that he was unable to withstand the shock and after two weeks’ illness passed away, deeply mourned by his immediate family and a large circle of friends who had learned to esteem him for his manly qualities of character, his sturdiness, his straightforwardness and for what he had done in promoting advancement and development. His political adherence was at first given to the democratic party but he later affiliated with the republicans, always keeping intelligently informed upon all public questions, although he never desired public office. Fraternally he was a member of the Masonic lodge at Garnavillo and of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. It was on March 13, 1896, that the last remains of Mr. McWilliams were laid to rest in the Postville cemetery, the reverend L. S. Hand officiating. A large gathering of friends and neighbors had come to do the last honors to one who had been much to them and who had ever had their full esteem and confidence. Mrs. McWilliams survives and now makes her home in Postville, where she is highly esteemed and respected for her womanly qualities of character and that sweet, charitable view of life which makes her beloved by all who know her.

-source: Past & Present of Allamakee County; by Ellery M. Hancock; S. J. Clarke Pub. Co.; 1913
-transcribed by Linda Earnheart

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