An essentially representative citizen of Chester and one who is the
owner of extensive farm lands in Illinois is Whitney Gilbreath, who is
the sole representative of an old pioneer family of the name in this
section of the state. Mr. Gilbreath was born on the 21st of February,
1849, in Grant county, Wisconsin, and is a son of John R. Gilbreath, a
native of Randolph county, Illinois. After the death of his father John
R. Gilbreath went to Grant county, Wisconsin, where he lived for a time
and where was solemnized his marriage to Miss Caroline Hill. The
children born to this union were: Henry, of Guthrie, Oklahoma; Isabel,
who married Thomas Holmes and is now residing in New Orleans, Louisiana:
Marion, of Cora City, Illinois; and Whitney, the immediate subject of
The grand rush to the gold diggings of California caught John R. Gilbreath in its maelstrom, and in 1850 he joined a party from his locality in Wisconsin and crossed the plains in an ox wagon to the Eldorado of the Pacific slope. While a resident of Wisconsin he was a mine operator, owning lead mines in that state, and his advent to the gold regions naturally found him interested in mining operations there. He seems to have operated from Marysville, where his demise occurred in 1856. In 1855 Mrs. Gilbreath removed from the Badger state to Illinois, locating at Rockwood. in Randolph county. Her children were reared and educated at Rockwood and there she died. James Gilbreath, father of John R. Gilbreath and grandfather of the subject of this review, came to Illinois about the opening of the nineteenth century, for Montague's history of Randolph county shows him to have been sheriff in 1805. He came west from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and bought down the Ohio from that point the brick with which the first brick building in Illinois was erected. This was in 1803. This building was subsequently utilized as the first capitol of the new territory and sessions of the legislature were held in its. second story. In later years the above building was devoted to store purposes and it was washed into the Mississippi river in 1899, while the property of Augustus Pape, of Chester. James Gilbreath brought a number of slaves with him to Illinois and was engaged in farming and trading for a number of years prior to the inception of the Civil war. While sheriff of Randolph county he executed the first man legally hanged in the state. Concerning that thrilling event the following brief data are here inserted. A settler named Reed lived with his wife and a young girl of another family on Reed's creek in the southern part of Randolph county. A ruffian named Jones wanted the young girl but his advances were met with the determined opposition of Mr. and Mrs. Reed. Jones then resolved to kill the Reeds and to take the girl by force. In the fight which followed his appearance at the Reed home Mr. Reed was slain and his wife left for dead. Mrs. Reed, however, revived in time to warn the scattered neighbors and sheriff of Jones' violence and the latter was ultimately found at the mouth of Jones' creek, ready to embark down the river with his prize. He was arrested, tried and convicted and died a legal death at the instance of Sheriff Gilbreath.
James Gilbreath was married in Pennsylvania and became the father of two sons, namely, John R. and Barton. Mr. Gilbreath died in the ante-bellum days and is buried in the old cemetery on the hill, above Fort Gage.
After completing the curriculum of the public schools of Rockwood, Illinois. Whitney Gilbreath entered upon an apprenticeship to learn the miller's trade and he followed that line of occupation for a period of sixteen years. He built and operated a mill at Elkville, this state, and owned another at Ava, Illinois, but eventually disposed of his milling interests in order to engage in trading and farming. At the present time, in 1912, his land accumulations comprise more than two thousand acres in Jackson and Alexander counties, Illinois. A large portion of this estate is under cultivation. In 1902 Mr. Gilbreath engaged in the construction of drainage canals through the swamp lands of Jackson county and his work resulted in bringing a tract of twenty thousand acres of land back to the sunlight and into rich and producing fields. Mr. Gilbreath is now engaged in superintending the construction of twenty miles of levee along the Mississippi river in Jackson county, as one of the commissioners of the levee board, created by the circuit court of that county.
At Sparta, Illinois, on the 15th of April, 1875, -Mr. Gilbreath was united in marriage to Miss Mary E. Dean, a daughter of James and Anna (Charles) Dean, the former of whom came to Randolph county, Illinois, from Boston, Massachusetts, in 1830. James Dean was a merchant by occupation and he died in 1882, at the age of seventy-two years, while his cherished and devoted wife died at the age of forty years. Concerning the children, AVilliam resides at Ava, Illinois; Mary E. is the wife of the subject of this review; Murry resides at Ava, as does also Nellie, who is the wife of H. L. Jones; and George maintains his home at St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. and Mrs. Gilbreath became the parents of three children, as follows, Lee, a farmer in Jackson county, Illinois, married Miss Laura Hobbs; Nellie is Mrs. Walter Husband, of Ava, Illinois; and Matie, who became the wife of John DeVine, died in August, 1906, without issue.
The Gilbreath home has been maintained at Chester since 1902 and the attractive residence, which was formerly the Anderson home, is situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river and the lowlands of the Missouri in the distance. This residence in regard to location and modern remodeling is one of the most beautiful in Randolph county. In politics Mr. Gilbreath is a stanch supporter of the cause of the Republican party, and while he does not participate actively in local politics he is ever ready to do all in his power to promote the general progress and improvement. He is a member of the Masonic Order.
Extracted from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, by George W. Smith, volume 2, page 933.
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