Needham, James MAGA © 2000-2007
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Virginia, Ill.

By: J. N. Gridley

Printed by the Enquirer

By Hon. J. N. Gridley


The subject of this sketch, was born in Oldham, Lancashire, England, on the 26th day of May, in the year 1812. His father, John Needham, born in England in the year 1779, was a cotton spinner, and his son James learned and followed the same trade.

The parents of James Needham, were poor people, and schools for the poor were few indeed; but James had an intense thirst for knowledge, and found a "night school" that he closely attended, and on Sunday he went to Sunday School, twice each Sabbath, and in that way,, he acquired the foundation for a fair education. It is said that on the eve of his wedding day, as soon as the ceremony was pronounced, he left his bride to take his place with the pupils of the nigh school, he was then a member of, and as late as 1856, when his son John was attending the district school kept by Archie Campbell, he took home the higher arithmetic, to assist his father in mastering it, in night lessons.

In his youth, James Needham was a quiet boy having but little to say, avoiding the excesses of his companions, and maintaining a straightforward course. His mother made a liquor called ale for the use of her husband and sons, of which James took his share, until the advent of a primitive temperance lecturer, and out of curiosity James went to "hear what the babbler would say" as he expressed it. the arguments of the "babbler" convinced James Needham, of the folly of drink, and he resolved to quit its use; his mother severely chided him, declaring that his health would suffer from his proposed abstinence, but James, with the native English bull-dog tenacity that characterized him all the way through life, stoutly maintained his course, and at the end of six months, others of the family began to follow the example of temperance that James had set for them.

It was to be expected that a youth of this description would naturally incline to religion, and we find that he made a profession when but eighteen years of age, was soon made a class leader in the Methodist church and in a short time was licensed to preach to the Independent Methodists on Oldham Circuit in Lancashire.

Martha Ogden, was born in Royton, England on the 5th day of May 1811, and was married to James Needham on August 31st 1835, then being a few months older than twenty-four years, her husband being a year her junior. Although James Needham spent a part of his time in ministerial labor, he was obliged to continue his work in the cotton mills to support himself and family; he was not allowed to vote, because he did not own sufficient property, although they taxed him not only to pay civil taxes, but added something to the burden to be used in maintaining the Church of England; the payment of this tax to force James Needham to help to support a Church, the doctrines of which he was totally opposed to caused him to often complain.

In 1840, he found himself with a wife and two children, one three and the other one year old, with poor prospects for financial betterment; his sister Mary who had married Charles Nicholson, with her husband and family had emigrated to Springfield in Illinois in the United States, and James Needham decided to follow them. Accordingly he and his family set sail from old England in September 1840, bound for the little faraway town in the Sangamon valley, and altho' he met with many hardships, he was never heard to utter a regret for having set out toward the western sun. He arrived in Springfield in December of that year, and finding that Mr. Nicholson had gone a few miles west to Jacksonville, he followed after.

In this new and strange land James Needham looked about him for something - anything to do to sustain, himself and those dependent on him. The first job he struck was a chance to earn a dollar per day and expenses in driving hogs to St. Louis Market, and gladly set off on foot toward his destination. he had not proceeded far, until the weather changed, and an old fashioned January thaw succeeded; the mud became something awful; the larger of the hogs could not make their way through it; teams and wagons were procured and the helpless animals bodily lifted into the wagons, and by slow and easy stages, the journey was completed by the end of twelve days, when the pork was sold, and the drovers came up the river by boat to Meredosia, and made the rest of the distance on foot. He next got a job to cut timber; he had never used an ax, but found one end of a cross-cut saw, and gon on very well with it.

Hearing of the Haskell carding mills in Virginia, Cass County, he came here to interview the proprietor, and soon made a bargain to work at the wool business, his experience in the cotton mills of England, being of great benefit to him. For a time his family remained in Jacksonville. Mr. Needham took his young nephew, the son of Charles Nicholson, to assist him in the work in the Haskill mill; this nephew was none other than John S. Nicholson, editor of the Illinoin-Star, and one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Beardstown. Mr. Needham and John Nicholson would walk over to their work, a distance of sixteen miles, on Monday and return in the same fashion at the end of their week's labor. In case the Mauvaisterre Creek was at a high stage, they would seek a tree that hd been felled for a bridge, and crawl over on all fours. He soon rented a house on the east side of the square, near the Dunaway hotel, and brought his family over to become permanent residents of Cass county. In 1843 he purchased a house on lot 128 now owned by Miss Patty Green, where he lived until he removed from the town in 1849.

At that time the only church in Virginia had been built by the Protestant Methodists, on lot 64 in the original Town which had been donated to them by Dr. H. H. Hall who laid out the town in May 1836. Rev. William H. collins and Rev. Reddick Horn were preachers of that denomination; the members comprised the Freemans, the Coxes, the Beadles, the Outtons and others. Virginia, Bluff Springs and Concord formed one circuit, and of this church, James Needham became a member.

In the sketch of Rev. William H. Collins, by his niece, Mrs. Emily Collins Brady, that lady said she did not know the distinction between the Protestant Methodists and the Episcopal Methodists. Very few people have any knowledge on this subject, and it may interest some to look a little into the history of Methodism to discover the difference, and how the division came about.

A considerable number of the clergy and membership of the Methodist church, in an early day in this country, became dissatisfied with the Monarchial form of their church government. In most respects their government was admirably adapted to the needs of a pioneer people. Francis Asbury was the only bishop of that church up to 1796, at which time his health failing him, to the extent of disqualifying him for full service, Thomas Coke was chosen to assist him; at this time the United States and France and the West Indies were included in one jurisdiction. Asbury died in 1815, more than 70 years of age, having served 55 years in the ministry, of which 45 were spent in the United States. the bishop had absolute power in the church; no man could be admitted as a traveling preacher, without his consent. For a long time, Lorenzo G. Dow, a most able but eccentric man, was refused admission to the traveling connexion because Bishop Asbury, did "not like his manner." He sent the preachers here, there and yonder, according to his own sweet will, and many of them became tired of this tyranny. At length, a leader appeared in the person of Nicholas Snethen, who was born on Long Island, New York, in 1769; was educated in country schools, studied Greek and Hebrew privately; converted when 20 years of age, began preaching at 21. When but 25 was traveling on the Fairfield circuit in New England; was the first preacher formally appointed in the state of Vermont. In 1799, he was appointed to preach in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1802-2 he traveled with Bishop Asbury and later preached in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1828 he presided at Baltimore at the convention of seceders to organize the Associated Methodist Churches, later known as the Protestant Methodist church. Snethen was the leader of the convention which formed the articles of association of the new church, and was afterwards elected president of the Maryland annual conference district.

These seceders were entirely satisfied with the doctrines of the Methodist Episcopal church, but were only dissatisfied with its form of government. These leaders adopted a form, very similar to that which now governs the M. E. church which later adapted lay representation, and made other changes, more nearly to correspond with the principles of the civil government of this country.

As James Needham was an Independent Methodist in England, we may readily believe that the doctrines and government of the Protestant Methodists in the United States were entirely satisfactory to him. He at once became an active and zealous member of the little Virginia church, assisting it, in every way in his power. Here he remained in the employ of John E. Haskell, occasionally assisting neighborhood farmers with their work until the spring of 1849, when he removed from the town of Virginia.

On August 6th, 1835, William Blair entered the east half of the southeast quarter of Sec 25 in T 18 R 10 and began improving it, and built thereon a double log cabin. In June, 1836, Edward Direen entered the 80 next adjoining on the west and built a cabin on it, and began clearing it for the plow. It may be a matter of surprise to some to learn that William Blair went so far into the barrens to make his entry, when he could have bought government land on the black prairie south of Virginia, but it should be remembered that in those days it cost more to break the heavy prairie sod, than the price paid for the title to it, and timber was more accessible in this barren district. this 160 acres then entered by Blair and Direen now constitute the James Needham homestead farm, and lies immediately west of the Anderson station on the C.P. & St. L. R.R. James Needham rented the Blair 80, in 1849, and on Feb 19th, 1851, he and his brother-in-law, Thomas Williamson, who had married Nancy Needham in England and emigrated to America in 1842, bought the Blair 80, and the two families lived in the double cabin for about two years; in April, 1854,, James Needham purchased the interest of Williamson, and the following year he bought the Direen 80; Edward Direen moved over to the north a mile or two, and the Direen cabin was used as a church and schoolhouse, until the Needham schoolhouse was built by William S. Douglas, in 1857, on the site of the present Needham schoolhouse at Anderson station.

A society of the M.E. Church of the Chandlerville circuit was formed in the Needham neighborhood in 1859 by Rev. Wingate J. Newman, preacher in charge, to which James Needham attached himself, and the following year he was ordained a deacon, by Bishop Baker and admitted as a local preacher of the Chandlerville circuit, and so remained to the end of his life.

To form a proper estimate of the value of the character of an individual, one should know of his surroundings. James Needham was a cool-headed solid man of great tenacity of purpose; he moved forward turning neither to the right nor to the left, guided solely by what he thought was right. As a preacher he made no pretensions to eloquence; his sermons were plain, forceful and practical. The morals of the people who came within his influence were at a very low ebb. A few facts here related will fully demonstrate this to be true. Man of the settlers who lived in this section of the country regularly repaired to the little towns in order to get drunk and hunt for trouble. On one occasion a number of drunken brawlers, who were gathered at the south west corner of the west square assaulted an old Englishman. A much younger man there present protested against their conduct, and without further ceremony the mob turned from the old man to the younger one, who soon found himself flat on his back on the ground, with as many of the ruffians who could get near him, severely beating him. He succeeded in getting a knife from his pocket, and after opening it, plunged the blade into the side of the man directly over him, and broke off the blade in the body of his assailant, who immediately set up the cry of "cold steel." The party at once sprang to their feet, and the young man succeeded in making his escape. The wounded man who knew not who had injured him soon began to lose his strength and flesh, and despaired of his life. After a season in a violent fit of coughing, the knife blade which had made its way into his lung, was ejected through his windpipe, and a rapid recovery at once followed. He exhibited the blade to the young man who had introduced it into his body and made him a full explanation of the circumstances, and it is needless to say that the listener appeared much interested in the recital, and made no claim to the ownership of his lost property.

On a quiet Sabbath day in the year 1856, a man named Davis, who operated a water mill a short distance northeast of the town came in on a horse, with a rifle, loaded for squirrels, on his shoulder. As he neared the northwest corner of the east square, he was discovered by a half-dozen young men, who had previously agreed to "do Davis up," as soon as a convenient opportunity presented itself; as they had nothing particular to do that afternoon, they concluded to attend to the matter then and there. One of them ran across the street to a pile of timbers, bricks and other building materials to get a brick or two, and Davis noticing what was going on, raised the rifle and fired; the man with the bricks dropped to the ground in the shelter of the timbers, and saved his head from the bullet by a scratch. Davis turned about and returned home. the young men hitched a team to a wagon and drove after him to complete their enterprise. Davis saw them coming and slipped out of sight; the party tied up their horses and passed through the waterway made of planks, in search of their victim, who seized a club, and stationing himself at the entrance of the waterway, felled his assailants one by one as they emerged from the waterway. By this time Davis had become so blood thirsty, that he might have committed murder had he not been restrained by a neighbor, who happened to pass that way. The subdued party slowly returned to the town, their heads swollen, and their clothing besmeared with blood. one of them died soon after, and it was generally believed that his death was the result of the blow upon his head received at the hands of Davis. The descendants of these drunken fighters still live among us, and are quiet and orderly people. As late as 1870, one or more Saturday street fights were weekly expected in Virginia; if none occurred it was a dull and disappointing day. Such scenes have disappeared from public view, but we have no reason to boast of our civilization. The first day the writer saw the town of Chandlerville in this county, a man with long legs, long hair and strong lungs, was walking down the middle of the main street of the town swinging a revolver, and strenuously declaring that he could whip any man in town. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to him as he was not "doing anything." That was the middle of an October day in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty three. What progress has been made toward the civilization in that community since that date?

In the Chandlerville Times of July 27, 1906, in a signed statement, Rev. Charles Coleman, pastor of the Christian church of that village, in speaking of the oral status of the community says:

"Saloon-keepers run their saloons with back doors wide open during the better part of the day, Sunday, when, as an outcome of this, our Lord's day is turned into drunken carousals, brawls, fights and pistol-plays, and our girls, whose fond mothers' hearts are caused to ache, girls, many of whom, can scarcely be said to be in their teens are seen to reel on the street, uttering oaths so vile as to bring a blush of shame to the cheek of our city's manhood and womanhood; drunk on liquor bought by their young men companions who are even more drunk than themselves; bought, I say, by them, from our Sunday saloons.

A few months ago, a woman, a granddaughter of the late Victoria, Queen of England, upon her bended knees renounced the religion of her mother! For this act of treachery, she was made the Queen of the most perfidious people of Europe. A few days later, this wretched creature witnessed a Spanish bull fight; here is an account of it.:

"The bulls, according to the testimony of an eye witness, appeared to be peaceably disposed, and it needed many a sword thrust to rouse them into furious onslaught. High born cavaliers were the first to draw blood from them on this so-called field of honor. Waving red flags, and amid the roars of the wounded creatures, the bull fighters roused them, at last, to rip up the blindfolded horses of the pleadors. The populace howled their applause at the sight, and pretty women breathed faster and rained influence, with warm glances upon their favorite cavaliers, and their enthusiasm rose higher as the arena reddened with the blood of butchery. And the white blonde Queen, England's fress and flower-like daughter, a woman brought up with all the cultivated tastes of aristocracy, was untiring in waving her veil as a signal for fresh bloodshed."

How does this picture of 1906 compare with the spectacle of the bloody fighters returning from the Davis water mill to the town of Virginia on the Sunday evening of 1856? Have we made progress during the past half century; or is it true that when human beings cast off self-restraint, they are not one whit better than the savage maniacs of the Dark Ages?

Men like James Needham were like lights in dark places fifty years ago. The Methodist preachers then believed in and boldly preached of a hell of fire and brimstone. Many of these preachers had no better records than had the renowned Peter Cartwright, who, in his early days, was a whisky drinker, a horse racer and a gambler. He knew there ought to be a hell and firmly believed there was one. The horse thieves, counterfeiters and blacklegs, who crowded to his camp meetings, were easily convinced that there was a future of endless punishment for them if they pursued their evil ways, and great was the good resulting from the labors of the pioneer preachers of the M.E. church; they were more active and zealous than the clergy of other denominations. To understand the debt we owe to the Methodist church, a few historical facts are here set forth:

Bishop Asbury was forced to travel with armed convoys, who kept watch by night, to protect the bishop from murderous assaults. The preachers pursued their travels in continual hazard of their lives. Their fare was the hardest; the habitations of the settlers were log cabins, clinging to the shelter of "stations," or blockaded block-houses. The preachers lived chiefly on corn and game; they could get little or no money except what was sent them from the eastern conferences. They wore the coarsest clothing, often tattered or patched. Their congregations gathered at the stations with arms, with sentinels stationed around to announce the approach of savages, and were not unfrequently broken up, in the midst of their worship, by the clamor of the war whoop and the sound of muskets. Bankrupt refugees from justice, deserters of wives and children, and all sorts of reckless adventurers came from the east to the western wilds. The preachers, many of whom had come from comfortable eastern families, some of whom were men of no little intelligence, shrank not from their mission. Methodism quickly pervaded the imperilled population and it is hardly too much to say effected the moral salvation of the west.

The first Methodist preacher in Illinois was Joseph Lillard, who in 1793 formed a class in St. Clair County and appointed Captain Ogle leader. The next Methodist preacher was John Clarke who originally traveled in South Carolina from 1791 to 1796, when he withdrew on account of Slavery. He was the first man who preached the gospel west of the Mississippi in 1798. Hosea Riggs was the first Methodist preacher that settled in Illinois, and he revived and reorganized the class at Captain Ogles, formed by Lillard, which had dropped its regular meetings.

The first three months of ministerial labor performed by Peter Cartwright, during which he traveled a large circuit, preaching every day and every night, was paid for at the rate of two dollars per month, with board, of hominy and wild meat. Previous to 1800 the pay of Methodist preachers was fixed at sixty-four dollars per year and traveling expenses. At the general conference of 1800 the salaries were raised on account of the higher prices of living as follows: to the preachers $80 per year; to the wives of the preachers $80 per year each; to each child of the preacher under seven years of age sixteen dollars per year; to each child between seven and fourteen years of age twenty-four dollars per year; for children over fourteen nothing allowed. These rates prevailed until 1816 when the salaries of the preachers were fixed at $100 per year with the same provisions for their children. Up to this time, no parsonages were provided for them.

When the great battle in Illinois occurred over the question of making it a slave state, which battle began in 1822 and ended in 1824 nearly all the preachers of all the denominations arrayed themselves upon the side of freedom, and but for their efforts Illinois would have been cursed with African slavery. For this service, the memory of the pioneer preachers of Illinois should ever be held in grateful remembrance.

As late as 1860 the Methodist preacher in Virginia, named Webster was paid but $100 per year and board. The circuits were larger in those days and the traveling preacher could not get over his territory in less than three or four week's time and in order to keep the societies together in a healthy condition the help of the local preachers was invoked, and but for the faithfulness of these loyal workers, the cause of Methodism would have languished.

From 1860 on, the Rev. James Needham was a regular local preacher of the Chandlerville circuit, preaching regularly at the various appointments thereof, with excellent success. he never received nor expected any pecuniary compensation for his labor; he was only too glad to do all in his power for the advancement of the cause of religion. His character was without a blemish; he was never guilty of the use of tobacco, because he believed it a sinful habit. His even temper and strict integrity and kindly disposition, made hosts of friends, and the righteousness of his daily life gave great force to his ministerial work. Such men have more influence in their respective neighborhoods, than the traveling preachers. For many years no preacher was retained by any charge for a longer term than two years, and the majority of them departed at the end of one. It was thus impossible for any such traveler to acquire a solid reputation and to gain profound confidence and respect, for no sooner were the people thoroughly acquainted with their pastor, than they were compelled to bid them goodbye. This was a great objection to the Methodist itineracy, which of late years has been much changed. Men like James Needham whose religion sustained them, amid the cares of a busy life, such as fell to the lot of their neighbors and friends, men who went in and out in the presence of the neighbors and acquaintances for a long term of years and who maintained their christian integrity in spite of all their trials and temptations would naturally acquire a greater influence than was possible for the wandering preachers to acquire, who were here today, and gone tomorrow. The church has never sufficiently appreciated the value of their unassuming local preachers.

Mr. Needham was a good farmer, and as time passed on he improved his farm of one hundred and sixty acres, reared comfortable buildings thereon and added to its extent. An event occurred in October, 1858, which disturbed the monotony of farm life. The Needham schoolhouse, built by Wm. S. Douglas, in 1857, stood on the site of the present school building at Anderson station. James R. Miles taught the first school in it, in 1857-8, and in the fall of 1858, Archie Campbell began as the teacher. A dangerous appearing cloud approaching, from the southwest caused him to send the children to their homes as fast as possible,, but he remained in the schoolhouse. the storm began a mile or two west of Virginia, passed over the Col. West farm northwest of town, now owned by J. T. Robertson, and moved in a northeast direction felling the timber in its path. There were no houses along the route until the Needham neighborhood was reached. Nothing was left of the schoolhouse except the sills and floor and a few specimens of the painted siding mixed up with the startled but unharmed teacher. What became of the remainder of the building was never known although the school boys made a diligent search. The Jenkins house was wrecked, a little farther on to the northeast, and at that point the storm rose from the ground and spent its force in the air. James Needham happened to be near his home, and going to the house attempted to close the door, which was wrested from its hinges, and with Mr. N. clinging to it was carried several yards distant and left him badly frightened and somewhat bruised. His house was completely unroofed, but no member of the family harmed.

The wife of James Needham died on the 19th day of August, 1851, aged 40 years, 3 months, and 14 days. A year later Mr. Needham was married to Mrs. Cecilia Cooper, a widow; she was a sister of George Wilkie, who lost her first husband in Scotland, and came to this country with her two young children; this second wife survived him. Of the first marriage there were born eight children, as follows:

Ann Needham, born May 24, 1836, and died in England, January, 1837.
John Needham, born in England, December 26, 1837, now a resident of Virginia, Illinois.
Rebecca Needham, born in England, October 26th, 1839; married William Russell and died in Virginia, Illinois, on January 14th, 1905.
Joseph O. Needham, born April 13, 1842, and died in Virginia at the age of six years.
Horatio O. Needham, born in 1844, and died in 1849.
George S. Needham, born March 18, 1846; now living on the Needham farm.
James H. Needham, born August 21, 1848; died in Cass County, Illinois on January 24th, 1889.
Mary J. Needham, born June 12th, 1850; married Henry Millner on February 12th, 1873; now living on a farm near Anderson station, Cass county, Illinois.

Of the second marriage there were born four children, as follows:

David Needham, born September, 1853, died in 1855.
Elijah Needham, born October 31, 1855; now living in Virginia, Cass county, Illinois.
Mary E. Needham, born August 16, 1857; now a teacher of a Preparatory School, at Epworth, Iowa.
Cecilia Needham, born January 5, 1860; married John W. Miles, May 14, 1891; now living in Champaign, Illinois.

Professor James G. Needham, one of the faculty of Cornell University, New York, a man of national reputation in the educational world, is a grandson of James Needham; his father is John Needham, of this city; he was born in this county in 1868.

Elijah Needham was for several years a successful teacher; was once a candidate for the office of County Superintendent of Schools of Cass County and ran ahead of his ticket. He is now, and for several years has been President of the Board of Education in this city; served the people as their postmaster with such entire satisfaction, that he was reappointed to the position with out opposition.

James Needham's father, John Needham was born in England in the year 1779; as before stated he was a spinner in the British cotton-mills; his wife died, and was buried in the old country; when he was sixty-six years of age, he came to America, with his younger son Samuel Needham who brought his wife over; when they got as far as Cape Girardeau, Missouri, they were stopped by the freezing of the Mississippi river; Thomas Williamson and Joseph Needham, then residents of Jacksonville, Illinois, went after the immigrants, and brought them into Morgan County on the first Saturday of January 1846; the wife of Samuel, being dissatisfied with this new country, soon left it, and proceeded to Brooklyn New York, where her mother was living; soon after her husband followed her, but found that she had died before his arrival; he soon returned to his native land. John Needham, the father, remained, living with his children until the year 1852 when he died on month less than seventy-three years of age; he was buried in the Cunningham burial ground at Sugar Grove a few miles east of this city. In personal appearance Mr. James Needham was five feet six inches in height; hair and eyes dark; weight about one hundred and sixty pounds.

Although his hearing was much impaired, James Needham retained the use of his mental faculties to the last; his health was quite good, up to a very short time before his death; he suddenly expired at his home on the 12th day of January, 1903, at the age of 90 years, 7 months and 16 days. The last words of this good man were: "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

His widow survived him less than one year, expiring on December 14, 1903; they lie side by side in the Walnut Ridge cemetery.