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OLD SETTLERS OF PIKE COUNTY, ILLINOIS

COL. WM. ROSS

Of Pittsfield, Illinois, was born April 24th, 1792, in the town of Monson, Hampden county, Massachusetts, where he resided until the age of thirteen. His father, Micah Ross, was limited in means, though he was what is commonly called a "good liver," and the education of his children was not of the best kind. In 1805, the elder Ross moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the subject of this notice dwelt with him till he reached his twentieth year, gaining among the townspeople a reputation for industry and perseverence, and likewise of success in his general pursuits. Upon the declaration of war in 1812, William Ross obtained a commission as ensign in the 21st regiment United States Infantry, commanded by Co. E. W. Ripley, and was soon after ordered on recruiting service. In the spring of 1813, he was directed to unite his men with those of his brother, Capt. Leonard Ross, of the same regiment, at Greenbush, New York, and was subsequently dispatched to join the command of major Aspinwall, about five hundred infantry of the 9th Regiment, who had been ordered to take up a forced match for Buffalo, then threatened by the enemy's force. Arrived at Utica, the troops were met by an express, informing them of the capture and destruction of Buffalo, and directing their immediate march to Sackett's Harbor. Accordingly, proceeding to Oswego, on Lake Ontario, they embarked in fifty open row-boats, and set out for the harbor; but hardly had they made Stony Island than they heard the roar of cannon, and discovered the British fleet with gun-boats and Indian canoes in the rear. They at once attempted to run the gauntlet of the enemy's armed vessels, and, rushing amid the fire of the gun-boats, twenty-five of their own frail craft succeeded in reaching the harbor, the remainder being captured by the British. Captain Ross and the young ensign were among the successful ones.

     The next day, the 29th of May, 1813, took place the memorable battle of Sackett's Harbor, in which the brothers led about one hundred men, and in which five hundred Americans drove back thirteen hundred British. Of the detachment commanded by the Rosses, one third was either killed or wounded in the conflict. Where every officer and soldier was brave and determined, it is not necessary to distinguish; suffice it, that William Ross was at his proper post, encouraging his men, and rendering valuable service in defense of the harbor.

     Soon after this battle, the Rosses were transferred to the 40th Regiment, infantry, and ordered to the seaboard, where the Captain took command of Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor, and William Ross was detached to Marblehead, to drill the troops of that post, and subsequently removed to the Gurnet fort, near Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he remained till the close of the war. He then returned to Pittsfield, and set up the business of a blacksmith, hiring workmen, however, as he possessed no knowledge of the trade himself. This business he carried on for several years, during which time he was elected constable of the town, and discharged the duties of that office with an energy and punctuality that won the esteem of his fellow-citizens.

     In the summer of 1820, in company with four brothers, and a few other families, he started for what was then known as the Far West — the state of Illinois. For some of the incidents in the pioneer life of the Colonel, the reader is referred to the county history found on page 7.

     For a while the prospects of our settlers were very flattering, but afterwards sickness and death entered their ranks. Col. Ross lost his first wife, one brother, and several of the company the first year. Subsequently the Colonel visited New York, and married a Miss Adams, of that state, after which he returned to Illinois, laid out a town embracing his first location, and named it Atlas, which afterwards became the county seat of the county. There had previously been established a post-office, called Ross Settlement, but this designation soon gave way to the one now adopted by the Colonel, who soon commenced improving a farm, and built a mill, which was much needed at the time. His efforts were now followed by the blessings of a kind Providence; and though he arrived in Illinois a poor man, he speedily, through economy and untiring energy, began to realize an increase of property and popularity. He became judge of probate for the county of Pike, which office he held for many years, enjoying the unbounded confidence of the people. He also served as clerk of the circuit and county courts, and filled with credit many minor offices, among which were colonel of militia and justice of the peace, in all of which he won the esteem of his fellow citizens.

     In April, 1832, at the commencement of the Black Hawk war, Col. Ross was ordered by the governor to raise a company out of his regiment forthwith, and join the forces at Beardstown. He received the order on Friday, and on the following Tuesday presented himself at the rendezvous, in Beardstown, with double the number of men designated in the requisition. He was selected as aide to the commanding general, served with much popularity throughout the campaign, and then returned once more to private life, devoting himself to building operations and the improvement of the country where he resided. Prosperity still smiled on his every effort. In 1835 he was elected to the legislature of Illinois, and while a member of this body procured the passage of a law peculiarly adapted to the Military Tract, which afterwards proved of great importance to that section of country. We are assured that he then possessed as much influence in the legislature as any other member. Col. Ross was subsequently chosen to the senate several terms, serving five or six sessions in that body, in one of which, during the illness of the lieutenant governor, he was selected and served as speaker, pro tem., giving great satisfaction to the senators by his prompt method of dispatching the public business.

     The Colonel has been successfully engaged in mercantile pursuits for many years, and in this connection has been distinguished for firmness, reliability, and sound judgment. In private life he is a warm friend, and willing, moreover, to forgive his enemies. Punctual in his business relations, governed by strict integrity, and zealous in all his labors, he has won the respect and esteem of his fellow citizens in every walk. He was wont to remark that his father's advise to his children in their youth, was to be prompt and true in all their dealings with their fellow-men; and he endeavored studiously to carry out in his life these excellent parental precepts — a habit, doubtless, which contributed much to the establishment of the unlimited credit and confidence which for many years he has enjoyed with all who have known him.

     As early as 1833, it became evident to the people of Atlas that the county seat would at no distant day be removed to some point nearer the center of the county. Col. Ross joined heartily in this movement, and advanced to the county authorities the money with which to enter the land upon which Pittsfield is now located. The county commissioners — Col. Barney, George Hinman, and Hawkins Judd — did the Colonel the honor to ask him to name the new county-seat, which he accordingly did, calling it Pittsfield, in honor of his old home in Massachusetts. In this beautiful place he erected a dwelling house, 1835, and in 1836 he occupied it with his family, consisting of wife, two sons, and two daughters. Himself, wife, and children, are members of the First Congregational church, in Pittsfield, where a fine place of worship now ornaments the little city, a standing monument of his generosity as the donor. In fact, his public spirit is one of his most cherished virtues, as all who know him will testify. It is safe to say that no public enterprise in the county ever escaped his observation or was completed without his aid. Since the Black-Hawk war, in 1832, and up to the death of President Lincoln, Col. Ross enjoyed his confidence and was his personal and political friend, and as such, he gave his administration a cordial support. In January, 1863, he visited Washington. And after a protracted interview with the President Mr. Lincoln said in a note to the secretary of the treasury, "Mr. Chase, see my old friend from Illinois, Col. Ross, who knows a good deal about financial operations in the West." There are many assurances that the great President saw much to admire in the courage and good judgement of the Colonel.

     During the dark days of our late civil war, though incapacitated for the field by an almost total loss of sight, he used his influence and his purse to raise men to defend the flag. He assisted largely in getting up the 99th Illinois regiment, and other organizations of troops raised in Pike county. His influence was felt throughout the state. His biography is a part of the history of Illinois. As related before, he came here in the infancy of the state, poor, but full of courage and perseverence, and has been permitted to live to see it take rank as the fourth state in the Union. Few men deserve more praise, and none ask less. He has retired from an unusually active business life, and we trust he may live long to enjoy the fruits of his honest industry and enterprise. As a relic of early days, we are permitted to copy the following order, issued by the Colonel to his company, upon the first alarm of war, in 1832:--

"COMPANY ORDERS.-- The volunteer company of Pike county will meet at Atlas, on Monday, the 23d inst., ready to take up their march by sun-rise, except such part of the company as are living on the east side of said county, which part will meet the company at the house William Henman, about four miles this side of Phillip's ferry, on the same day, all with a good horse, and rifle, powder horn, half pound of powder, and one hundred balls, with three days' provisions. The commanding officer of said company flatters himself that every man will be prompt to his duty.

[Signed,] "W. Ross, Capt. 1st Rifles, Pike Co. "April, 1832."