William Evans (1775 – 1868)

April 15, 2013 at 9:44 am (Evans Roots) (, , )

From the book; “The Good Old Times in McLean County, Illinois” written by Dr. E. Duis in 1874.

“Containing two hundred and sixty-one sketches of old settlers, a complete historical sketch of the Black Hawk war and descriptions of all matters of interest relating to McLean County.”

One of the oldest of the old settlers was William Evans. He was born September 1, 1775, near Carlisle, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. His father was a soldier in the American army during the Revolutionary war. While the war was raging young William and his mother lived for a while in one of the American forts on the Juniata River. Here he caught the small-pox and so severe was the attack that one of his eyes was made sightless forever. The strength of his other eye was also much impaired and rendered his power of vision always dim. Being possessed of a strong constitution he triumphed over the sickness of infancy.

We hear nothing more of the childhood of William Evans. After Wayne’s treaty with the Indians his father’s family moved to Pittsburg, Ohio. Here young William showed that daring, adventurous disposition which afterwards made him one of the most successful of the early pioneers.

It was customary for the people on the upper Ohio to load their flatboats with goods or lumberandpole them down the stream to New Orleans. After disposing of the cargo the enterprising traders walked back through the unsettled wilderness to the upper Ohio. Young William Evans made this journey twice on foot. This was the stern education which prepared him for the success of after life. While living near Pittsburg he cleared two farms of forty-five acres each; one of these he lost because he could not redeem it from an incumbrance of fifty dollars; the other he sold for one hundred dollars in cash and twenty-five dollars in goods and started for Illinois. This was in 1825. He first settled in Old Town in McLean County, but in 1829 he moved to his farm which is now a part of the city of Bloomington. He was the first settler on the ground now occupied by the present city of Bloomington, although when the city was first laid out it did not include within the boundaries the house where Mr. Evans lived. Mr. James Allin was the first settler on the original site of the city. Both of these men may be considered the founders of Bloomington. On Mr. Evans farm, where now stand the residences of Dr. Wakefield and others, he broke the first sod in Bloomington and in 1828 raised a splendid crop of winter wheat, the yield being thirty bushels to the acre. The wheat brought forty cents per bushel and was sold to settlers moving into the country.

The first addition to Bloomington was laid out by James Allin. The second addition was laid out by Jesse W. Fell and a certain Mr. White. The land was bought by them of William Evans and was a part of his original farm. Mr. Niccolls and Judge J. E. McClun bought thirteen acres of Mr. Evans and laid out a third addition.

In 1825, the family started for Illinois, intending to make a settlement along the Illinois River. But when they arrived at Keg Grove (now Bloomington), they thought the land was so fine that the family decided to settled there. This family was noted as the first settlers on the ground now occupied by the present city of Bloomington. William made the settlement about four miles south of Bloomington, where the Orendorffs had previously built their cabins.

In 1827, a tornado came through Bloomington, tearing down the timber and scattering the trunks and limbs in every direction. The cyclone also destroyed the farmland that William cherished so much. His buildings were leveled, crops demolished, and his fence was swept away. Trees could be seen, uprooted and twisted, and in some places, piled up twenty feet high. After the storm passed, a resident of Bloomington, Cheney Thomas, offered to sell a claim of land to William for a cheap price – one hundred bushels of corn. Yet, the corn William planted was covered up with the debris left behind by this magnificent storm.

William Orendorff, who was standing near the other two men, said, “Take it Evans. If you haven’t enough corn, I have. William made the bargain, and in order to help fulfill it, Mr. Orendorff gave William five acres of growing corn. The land claim now forms a part of Bloomington and is worth a large amount of money.

According to the book, History of Bloomington and Normal In McLean County, Illinois:

“The great hurricane of June 27, 1827, broke down his timber and appeared to have ruined his corn crop. Mr. William Orendorff gave him 5 acres of young corn, which, with the unexpected good yield of his own, made Mr. Evans a fair crop, and enabled him to harvest 100 bushels of corn, this being what he had agreed to give Cheney Thomas for his ‘claim’ to a tract of land where the city of Bloomington now sits. In 1828, Mr. Evans built his log cabin, on a piece of ground between Grove and Olive streets, near the present residence of J.S. Roush. He afterward built a good home at the same location, and here he spent his days in peace and happiness, made wealthy by the advance in the value of his farm.”

“The hurricane unroofed the houses of William Evans and William Walker, although they were not in its immediate track. It passed through the timber and piled up the trees in some places twenty feet high. Nothing in the forest could stand before it.”

“In June 1826, four years before the year of the deep snow, the terrible wind storm occurred which passed through the south end of Blooming Grove eastward to Old Town. This terrible tornado swept down everything in its way; the trees were twisted off, and everything was leveled with the ground. At this time Mr. William Evans, of whose life we have written a sketch, had a crop of several acres of corn in Old Town. The hurricane passed over it and it was gone. But the old settlers were friends in need. Mr. Orendorff, whose place at Blooming Grove Mr. Evans had rented, gave the latter a patch of from five to seven acres of corn, so that, notwithstanding his misfortune, Mr. Evans was again encouraged.”

From Rob Day;

The Evans family were obliged to travel for many years to mill in Attica, on the Wabash, a total of one hundred and twenty miles in distance. Afterwards, they travelled along the Fox River, adding another eighty miles. They frequently milled at Peoria and Pekin. Orendorff’s mill was put up some time afterwards, on Sugar Creek, about twenty miles in distance.

During the winter of 1832 (know as the “Winter of Deep Snow”), the Evans ground corn in a coffee mill, and sometimes they pounded it by hand. Before the snow became packed, they would travel four miles to Bailey Harbert’s mill, struggling through the drifting snow.

Mr. Evans married in the year 1800 Miss Effie Winebriner. He had a pleasant family of children. His wife Effie died in 1839 after thirty-eight years of happy wedded life. In 1840 he married Mrs. Martha Day. He lived with her a contented and happy life until the year 1868 when he died at the advanced age of ninety-three years two months and seven days. Mrs. Evans is still living, and resides with her youngest daughter, Mrs. Haywood, who almost worships her.

From Rob Day:

Just before his death, William asked his wife to lift him up and give him some water. After drinking the water, he said, “Now, lay me down upon my side.” Martha did just that and with the water still moist on his lips, without a struggle nor a groan, William sweetly passed away. Shortly after William’s death, Martha (his second wife) moved to the home of her daughter, Mattie, and her husband.

William Evans was of mixed Welch and Irish descent, his father being Welch and his mother Irish. He had a tolerable common school education which he obtained at a district school near his birthplace in Pennsylvania.

William Evans was a quiet, unassuming man. He had in him a great deal of the “milk of human kindness.” His good acts were done without ostentation; he never allowed his right hand to know what his left hand did; and there are many who will remember his generosity until their latest day. He gave many building lots to poor widows and it is probable that all of his generous deeds will not be known until the final day when the Lord makes up his jewels. Mr. Evans possessed a remarkable influence over the Indians. These wild men of nature are wonderful in their quick and accurate estimate of character. They saw instantly that Mr. Evans was a man in whom they could trust. They rested often before his door and delighted in his presence. They often slept on his floor at night and sometimes  covered it, and he always made them welcome. ( From Rob Day; The Kickapoo Indians maintained villages at Peoria and Danville. Tribes frequently crossed McLean County on a trail that ran from the northwest to the east, over the Bloomington ridge, on the way from the Illinois River to the Wabash.) He was a man who would have many friends wherever he went. The Rev. Mr. McElroy, who preached his funeral discourse, said:

“He was wont to say: ‘A man always takes his neiglibors with hirn wherever he goes;’ and was fond of relating the following anecdote as illustrative of the truth: “Two men had emigrated at an early day to the West. They put up together at the same tavern at night. The landlord inquired of one where he was going and why he came to the West. “I am going to settle in the bottom here,” said he, “and I came West to get rid of my troublesome neighbors.” “You will have bad neighbors where you are going,” said the landlord, and turning to the other he asked the same question. “I came “West,” said he, “because my farm was small and I desired to get more land, as I have a large family of children. I am going to settle in the bottom, and the only regret I have in leaving my old home is,  I have left many good neighbors.” ” You will have good neighbors where you are going,” said the landlord. “How is this?” said the first, when we are going to the same place?” “Simply,” replied he, “a man takes his neighbors with him when he goes.’ “

This quaint little story shows the influence of character and a kind and neighborly disposition.

Mr. Evans was a man of God, a quiet, earnest, devoted Christian. He united with the Methodist church in 1835 and patiently upheld the cross of Christ until the day of his death.

According to the book, History of Bloomington and Normal In McLean County, Illinois:

“He [William Evans] died in 1868, at the age of ninety-two years. Mr. Evans was a man of good habits, one of the best men of the good old times.He was the first settler in the territory now know as the city of Bloomington.”

As to his personal appearance, William Evans was quite heavily set and weighed perhaps two hundred pounds. He was careful in business matters, and in his old age when sight and hearing had partially failed, his mind was always sufficiently clear to allow him to riianage his business. All who knew Mr. Evans speak of him as a kind and excellent neighbor. He took great delight in playing the violin which was nearly always the musical instrumint of early days. Music was a rare treat to the early settlers and the old airs played by Mr. Evans were gladly received.

From Rob Day:

(About William’s parents): William EVANS was born about 1750 in Wales.34 He served in the military in 1776/77 in Pennsylvania. William was a Private during the American Revolution. He enlisted at Cumberland County, Pennsylvania on 1 Oct 1776. William joined the Continental Line and was under the command of Captain Jeremiah Talbot’s Company, Colonel William Irvine’s Regiment, 6th Pennsylvania Battalion. He was honorably discharged on 15 Mar 1777. 

After the Waynes Treaty with the Indians were signed in 1794, William took his family and moved to Ohio, where they settled in Pittsburg, along the Ohio River. He died about 1794 in Miami County (now Darke County), Ohio. Darke County started its formation in 1809. He was married to Margaret Davis on April 16, 1771.


1 Comment

  1. Vince Spaeth said,

    Mr Day,

    I have found a lot of info on William and Effie as they passed from Pa-OH-IL. They were married in 1803 in Steubenville, OH (Have copy), bought land in Huron County Greenfield TWP OH in early 1820’s with both their names signed to it, History of Huron County stating when they moved in from PA/OH just after war 1812, additional info from Indiana County, PA with other Evans and widow Margaret Evans……… William’s mother? I am from William Evans – Francis Evans b 1812, Francis Evans b 1841, Francis Evans b 1874, Francis Evans b. 1898 with my mother a daughter in Peoria, IL. Yes, (4) Francis Marion Evans linked. Would enjoy sharing and confirming more.

    Note – Pittsburg OH did not exist till near 1900. Believe the obit meant that they lived near Pittsburgh, PA and the Ohio river.
    Best Regards

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