JAMES RUSSELL BRIGGS
That fruitful and healthful Scotch-English ancestry which has done so much to populate the United States worthily and which has carried success to every state in the Union produced James Russell Briggs, of Modesto, California, one of the best known and most prominent retired farmers of Stanislaus County. Mr. Briggs was born in Pennsylvania, April 26, 1827, a son of John and Mary (Coulter) Briggs. His great-grandfather Briggs came from England to Pennsylvania at an early date and there Mr. Briggs’s father and grandfather Samuel were born. Samuel Briggs was a soldier of the Revolutionary War and was with General Washington at Valley Forge. His mother was of Scotch descent and his father was a successful farmer and for some years a class leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He died when in his forty-first year, and his widow survived him to the ripe old age of ninety-eight years. They were the parents of ten children, of whom only three survive.
James Russell Briggs, the eldest surviving member of his family, received his early education in the public schools of Pennsylvania and was later a student in public schools in Marion County, Ohio, where his father removed with his family in 1834, when the boy was seven years old. He had begun life on his own account as a farmer when the Civil War began, and, inspired by the example of his father, who was a veteran of the War of 1812, he enlisted in Company D, Sixteenth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which was commanded by “Dick” Yates, afterward the celebrated war governor of Illinois, and was elected its first lieutenant. He fought under General Sherman in several minor engagements in Mississippi and Tennessee and participated in the five day fight at Vicksburg. While encamped with his regiment on the bank of the Yazoo River, he contracted an incurable kidney disease and was honorably discharged from the service by reason of disability; and, he was injured also by a fragment of a shell which exploded near him. He has never recovered from the chronic ailment mentioned and in consequence of it he is to this day in a sense an invalid. He had volunteered for three years and had served gallantly for about nine months, and he deeply regretted his inability to fight longer for the preservation of the Union. After he had partially regained his health, his physician advised him to go to California, in whose glorious climate it was hoped he would fully recover, and in 1864 he joined a large party of California emigrants and crossed the plains with a mule team. They chose the northern route, which while it was more dangerous on account of Indians, afforded more and better feed for their stock than the southern route, and made the journey without serious adventure, and Mr. Briggs and his wife and five children pushed on to San Joaquin County, where they found a temporary home at Captain Weber’s place.
Mr. Briggs began farming on one hundred and sixty acres of land and as he prospered he bought more land until he owned six hundred acres adjoining the town of Modesto, which increased in value rapidly as Modesto grew in wealth and population. The building of the railroad was also an aid to Mr. Briggs in a financial way, and he eventually sold some of his land, at one hundred dollars an acre, and more of it at sixty dollars an acre, and was enabled to retire on a competency to pass his declining years in a pleasant home at Modesto. He is well known as a member of the Masonic fraternity, belonging to Santa Cruz Lodge, No. 38, Santa Cruz, California, and has been an unswerving Republican since the organization of that party. He has never sought or accepted any political office. His career as a citizen and as a soldier has shown him to be a patriotic lover of his country, who in his life and works has done it honor.
Mr. Briggs was married March 29, 1849, in Crawford County, Ohio, to Miss Elizabeth Bush, and of their children we make the following observations: Mary Jane is the wife of Reuben Pixley, of San Joaquin County. Abraham is a resident of Modesto. John lives at Santa Cruz. Katie is the wife of Charles Rice, of Modesto. Ora married James Sample, of Santa Rosa. Albert is a member of his father’s household in Modesto. After a happy married life of forty-seven years, Mr. Briggs was bereft of his wife by death November 28, 1896. His loss is an irreparable one and he refers to her as having been one of the best of women, such a woman as is “God’s best gift to man.”
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.