Elder Joseph Woodman was born in Barrington, N. H., Feb. 12, 1790. When quite young, his father, John Woodman, with his family became a pioneer settler in Caledonia Co., Vt. Joseph was the second child, and eldest son in the family, and in early life he developed those active qualities of labor, perseverance, and prudence, which crowned his life with success and honor. He was married to Tryphena Johnson of the same county, Jan. 1, 1810, with whom he lived a happy union fifty-three years, she dying June 14, 1863, in the seventy-second year of her age, having had ten children, six of whom still survive. Riley, the eldest son, resides in Powhatan, Kan., the other five, viz.: David Woodman (2d), J. J. Woodman, Mrs. Joseph Luce, Mrs. Freeman Ruggles, and Mrs. H. P. Nelson, are residents of Van Buren County.
Soon after his marriage he with his wife, joined the Free Will Baptist Church. Earnest in his religious convictions, he soon to the labor of his hands joined that of the ministry, and engaged in preaching the gospel. In the spring of 1831 he sold the farm (among the hills) in Sutton, on which he had lived several years, and which he cleared and improved with his own hands, also the saw-mill which he built on the stream near his residence, and in July of that year emigrated to Western New York, and settled on a farm in Riga, Monroe Co., where he resided until the spring of 1835, when he with hi family moved to Michigan, and settled upon the land which he located and which became his future home, on the Territorial road in the township of Antwerp, east of and adjoining the village of Paw Paw. He was the first white settler, and built the first log house, built in three days and finished ready for occupancy, and into which he moved his family on the 10th day of May, 1835, was built on the spot now occupied by the fine residence of his congest son, Hon. J. J. Woodman, to whom he sold all of his farm in 1861, except forty acres on which his residence stood, which he built in 1838, and in which he lived forty-one years, and until his death, April 2, 1879, at the advanced age of eighty-nine years, one month, and twenty-one days.
When he settled upon his farm there was but one small frame house, three log cabins, and a saw-mill on the territory now occupied by the beautiful and flourishing village of Paw Paw. There being no church of his faith near him at the time, he united with the Protestant Methodists, and was soon after ordained, and was actively engaged in the ministry until within a few years of his death, when advancing age compelled him to retire from the pulpit and active duties of a long and useful life, and seek the quiet and comfortable surroundings of his home and fireside. His second wife, Mrs. Mary Osmer, to whom he was married in the winter of 1863, faithfully ministered to him in his declining years.
He was a representative man of his time, and took an active part in the early politics of the State. He was magistrate of his township for nine years; and many were the suits tried before him, in which Charles E. Stuart, Miller and Balch, of the Kalamazoo bar, were engaged as counsel. His name is associated with nearly all of the stirring events and public enterprises connected with the early settlement and development of the county; and he lived to see his children settled around him in comfortable homes; the red man and the forests pass away, and in their place a refined civilization with broad and rich cultivated fields and thriving villages.
From the records of the Woodman family, which have been carefully compiled and published, it appears to have been remarkable not only for numbers and longevity, but for uniform morality. Their ancestor, Edward Woodman, came from England and settled in Newbury, Mass., in 1635, and in 1856 his descendants numbered seven thousand four hundred' and we have been unable to ascertain that any one of this vast multitude, or their descendants down to the present time has ever been arrested for crime. As an example of longevity, we note the twelve children of Joshua and Eunice Woodman, who settled in Kingston, N. H., in 1736. Of this family, one died at the age of ninety-seven, one at ninety-three, two at eighty-six, two at eighty-four, two at eighty-one, two at eighty, one at seventy-six, and one at sixty-eight. The combined ages of the twelve amounted to nine hundred and ninety-six years.
At a reunion of the Woodman family, at the residence of Hon. J. J. Woodman, in 1877, over eighty representatives of the family were present, and the occasion was one of interest, and of unusual occurrence. The venerable father was conducted to the parlor, where an agreeable surprise awaited him. On the walls hung the life-size portraits, recently painted, of himself and the wife of his youth, the mother of his children, who though not lost or forgotten, is gone before. After looking at them earnestly and well, he simply remarked, "Yes, yes, that's Tryphena," and "Yes, that's me." The whole company were arranged upon the lawn in front of the house in the following order, and were photographed by an artist who had been employed for the occasion; Elder Joseph Woodman, the subject of this sketch, who was then nearly eighty-eight years of age, and whose descendants numbered fifty-two -occupied the centre, with his three brothers and two sisters seated according to their respective ages upon his left; the united ages of the six amounting to five hundred and one years - the youngest of whom was Rev. Jonathan Woodman, father of Dr. L. C. Woodman, of Paw Paw, in his eightieth year, and who had been constantly engaged in the ministry for sixty-two years; and is now pastor of a church, and preaching regularly in his native State, Vermont. On his right was his eldest child, Mrs. Sabra Luce, and her daughter, Mrs. Emily Abrams, and her daughter, Mrs. Ella Wattles with her infant son. Six octogenarian brothers and sisters on one hand, and five generations on the other, with seventy representatives of the family standing in the rear, all but four of whom are residents of Van Buren County.
History of Berrien and Van Buren Co's Michigan - D. W. Ensign & Co., 1880
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