Was born a slave in Louisa county, Virginia, in the year 1798. He remained a slave, and was owned by several masters until the year 1834, when he bought himself from his master, Ostan Sanders, for the sum of three hundred dollars. He had saved up this amount, and something more, by devoting all his spare time to working a "patch" of ground which his master allowed him. After doing a hard day's work in the field, John would spend a part of the night at work on his "patch," cultivating his corn, tobacco, onions, beans, &c., which he was allowed to sell, and retain the proceeds. He would sometimes go hunting and trapping, and would catch rabbits, mink, coon, muskrat, &c., and sell the pelts. He would also trap and shoot quail, which he generally sold for a fair price. By working in that way for fifteen years, he finally succeeded in saving up enough money to buy himself and a cheap team. He then rented a small piece of land, on which he raised corn, tobacco, beans, &c. Owing to a peculiar law in Virginia he could remain there but one year after obtaining his freedom; but through the intercession of a friend he got the law so changed as to allow him to remain three years longer. He continued to work his rented ground in summer and trap the game in winter, and at the same time buy butter, eggs, poultry, &c., through the country, which he would take to market and sell at a profit. He worked along in that way until 1838, when the man who owned his wife and children was about to move to Missouri, so, in order to be near them, he too moved to Missouri. He had a good team, and money enough after he got there to purchase eighty acres of land, which he did, and went to farming, raising tobacco, corn, and hogs, at which he was quite successful. In 1850 he purchased two of his children — Letty, a daughter, and Peter, a son — for four hundred dollars each. In the year 1858 he purchased his wife, Lucy (who was then fifty years of age, and had been a slave all her life), and his son Oregon, who was eighteen years old, for whom he paid eleven hundred dollars. He remained in Missouri until March, 1861, at which time he was the owner of four hundred and sixty acres of land and a large amount of personal property, consisting of horses, mules, cattle, and hogs.
After the purchase of his wife he became dissatisfied with Missouri, and in 1861 he sold his lands and a large portion of his other property, and moved with his family to Pike county, Illinois, where he purchased a good farm on section 22, in Hadley township. Here he has resided ever since. He now owns five hundred acres of good land, with good buildings, where he and his family are living in comfort. At the time he moved to Illinois he left one daughter, one son, and two grandchildren (slaves) in Missouri, and in 1862 he returned and purchased the four at a cost of $1,600, and brought them home with him, where they are now living. The rest of his children were freed by the emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln. John is now the father of sixteen children, eleven of whom have deceased, and five are now living. He is the grandfather of twenty children and the great-grandfather of five.
Mr. Walker is now one of the wealthy men of Pike county, being worth at least forty thousand dollars. He has made it all by his own untiring industry and economy. He has no education whatever, but he has a natural ability rarely found with the uneducated. He is a man of strict moral and religious habits, and has always lived quietly and peaceably with all men. He has no animosity towards any person, has always recognized the right to hold slaves where it was allowed by law, and says he never received any cruel treatment from any of his masters. He is very highly respected in the neighborhood in which he lives, and his word is considered as good as his note.