Lee County Biography

GILBERT MESSER


All honor is due to the noble pioneers of this county who braved the hardships of frontier life, endured many privations and sacrificed much in order to redeem the land from the wilderness and establish comfortable homes for themselves and their families. It is to their patient and persistent labors that the growth and prosperity of this section of the country were laid on enduring foundations. Some of these men are still living among us, although four or five decades may have passed by since their settlement here, and they are among our most valued citizens. One of these, whose name appears at the head of this biography, may well lay claim to respect as one of the old settlers of the county, in whose development he has borne a part for a length of time lacking scarcely a year of half a century. The land in South Dixon Township that he purchased of the Government so long ago he has transformed into a farm that is classed among the very best in this locality in point of tillage, productiveness and a high state of improvement.

Our subject is a sturdy representative of the sons of New Hampshire who have become adopted citizens of Illinois. He was born in the old Granite State, May 7, 1812, his birthplace being in the town of Hopkinton, near the town of New London, in Merrimac County. His ancestors, who were of Scotch origin, were some of them among the early settlers of New Hampshire, which was the native State of his grandparents on both sides of the house, and of his parents, Richard and Ruth (Giles) Messer, his mother, a native of Merrimac County, being also of Scotch descent. The Messers and Giles were mostly farmers for generations, as far back as anything is known of them. When scarcely past the prime of life, Richard Messer died in Merrimac County, where he had always lived, and an honest-minded, industrious and well-respected citizen was lost to the community by his untimely death. His widow subsequently married Austin Cheney, and continued to reside in her native county until her demise, at the age of three-score years and ten. By her second marriage, she became the mother of thirteen children, of whom Giles Cheney is the only survivor. He is married and lives at Plaistow, N. H.

Our subject was the only child born to his father, and he was very young when the latter died. He was reared by his mother and step-father amid the beautiful scenery of his native county. A healthy, self-reliant, independent spirit, thrift, capability, and a sturdy common sense in business matters, traits so common to the New Eng­land character, were his by the right of birth, and to them he owes his good fortune. In his youth he learned the trade of a blacksmith after his school-days were over, and followed it in a general way for some years before he left his native hills to try life on the. prairies of Illinois. He came to this State m 1843, and, as we have seen, was well fitted to cope with the trials of pioneer life. He at first established a smithy in Dixon, but that was only a preliminary step until he could obtain some land and settle down to farming. He soon purchased a tract of school land in South Dixon Township, and the deed which gave him the title to it, which was signed by Gov. French, is still in his possession. He has here nearly two hundred acres of choice farming land, which he has developed into a fine farm, upon which he has placed modern improvements, his well-built, commodious buildings being supplied with every convenience, and comparing with the finest in the neighborhood; his neatly fenced fields are under an admirable system of tillage, and the rich pastures are capable of sustaining a great deal of stock. Besides this place, Mr. Messer has some valuable timber land in Dixon Township, and he is one of the substantial men of his community. Although he is a quiet, unassuming man, the people among whom he has dwelt in peace and amity these many years hold him in warm regard, as they have always found in him a true friend, ever considerate and pleasant in his manner, and they have a high opinion of his personal character, knowing him to be a man of principle and sound integrity. In politics, he is a sound Republican.

While a resident of his native State, Mr. Messer was married, in Francistown, to Miss Eliza Cary, and for more than half a century they have traveled life's highway together. Mrs. Messer was born February 22, 1809, in Hillsboro County, N. II., near where she was married, and she there grew to womanhood in the pleasant home of her parents, Charles and Martha Cary, who were natives of New Hampshire. The Cary family belonged to the old settlers of the State, and were of common ancestry with the poets, Alice and Phebe Cary. Charles Cary was a butcher, and followed that trade the most of his life, living to be quite an old man. His wife survived him several years and attained the venerable age of ninety-three years. They were of Scotch blood. They were Congregationalist's in religion, as were the Messers also. Our subject's wife was one of a good-sized family, of whom she and her two sisters, Mrs. Abby Clarston and Mrs. Sarah Bigsby, residents of New England, are the only survivors. She is a member in high standing of the Presbyterian Church, with which she has been connected for many years.

Mr. and Mrs. Messer are the parents of eight children, of whom these two are deceased: Charles, who died young, and Martha J., former wife of C. Clogston, who died in 1880. The remaining children are: Dennison, a harness-maker in Dixon, who married, but has lost his wife; Eliza A., widow of William S. Dodge, who died in California; Ruth A., now at home with her parents, who is a successful teacher, and for four years taught at Sitka, the capital of Alaska; Anna, widow of Capt. George W. Fitch, who was accidentally killed at Englewood, Chicago; George G., a successful farmer of South Dixon, residing on the old homestead, who was a Sergeant in Company A, Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry, and though he fought bravely with his regiment in every campaign in which it took part throughout the war, escaped unhurt; and Frank, who is a progressive, well-educated young man, and assists in the management of his father's farm.

Mr. Messer's son-in-law, William S. Dodge, was a man of much prominence in his lifetime and was well known as an historian, writing on topics connected with the war, his connection with the commissary department during that time giving him peculiar advantages for collecting facts concerning the Rebellion. He wrote the history of the old Second Division and of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Regiment, and he was the author of the "Drummer Boy of Shiloh." Capt. Fitch was also prominently connected with the war as a brave officer. He was Captain of a colored regiment, and at one time was captured and shot by the guerrillas in a hard fight with them. They left him for dead on the field, with six others, who were shot outright, lying around their gallant leader. He revived, and was taken a negro to the Union lines. He, however, carried the bullet in his head the remainder of his life, and at times it affected him. After the war he became a lumberman, and was engaged in that business when his career was cut short by his untimely death.

Portraits and Biographical Lee County IL 1892

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