Since his removal to Waterloo in 1897 Bennett James has deservedly been recognized as one of the most valued and representative of its citizens. He is engaged in the real estate, fire insurance and grain business and has made a success of the combined industries. Mr. James has had a varied experience in business, having been a farmer, school-teacher, merchant, postmaster and levee commissioner, and even this list does not represent a complete enumeration of his previous fields of activity.
Bennett James was born in Mitchie precinct, Monroe county, March 10, 1853, and is not only the son of one of the pioneers of this part of the state but the descendant of a family whose founding in America antedates the Revolutionary war. The family is of Welsh origin and its first American settlers located in Maryland. The subject 's greatgrandfather, Joseph Austin James, was born in Maryland and there married, and subsequently immigrated to Kentucky. There he resided with his family for a space and then came to Illinois, making his home in the vicinity of Chalfin Bridge. After a year or two he removed to Missouri, settling at Florissant, in St. Louis county, and he died some years later in Perry county, Missouri. Of the eight children born to
him and his brave pioneer helpmeet, James A. James, the grandfather of him whose name heads this review, was the youngest, his birth occurring in Kentucky in 1794.
James A. James was educated in the college at Beardstown, Kentucky. He chose as his vocation that of a farmer, and soon rose above the status of the mediocre citizen, being active in public affairs for many years. He was a colonel in the Black Hawk war, was a member of the state constitutional convention of 1848 and served for four years in the senate of his state. He married Susan 0 'Hara, and they became the parents of ten children, Austin James, the father of Bennett, being the second born.
Austin James was born in Monroe county, near the Randolph county line, December 30, 1823. He received the earlier part of his education at Harrisonville, whence his family had moved; later he was entered at St. Mary's College in Perry county, Missouri, and ultimately became a student in the University of Missouri. After finishing his education he assisted his father on his farm, and for a short time, beginning with 1846, was identified with mining industries in central Iowa. In 1847 he returned to Harrisonville and enlisted in a company organized for service in the Mexican war and continued engaged in warfare almost until the termination of that conflict. Upon the return of peace he exchanged, like so many of the young citizens, the musket for the ploughshare, the vicinity of Harrisonville being the scene of his agricultural work. In 1849, at Mitchie (at that time called “Hardscrabble”) he bought a farm on the Mississippi river, and the old homestead and three hundred and fifty acres of the original tract of nine hundred acres remains in the family to the present day. He was married on April 14, 1852, to Caroline E. Walker, formerly of Monroe county, but at that time residing at Dubuque, Iowa. He died on November 18, 1892, and is survived by his wife, who is still strong and active at the age of seventy-nine years, and resides in Waterloo with her daughters, next door to the family of her son Bennett, where both families have resided for the past fifteen years. Mrs. James is one of the few representatives yet living of the old fashioned active, industrious housewife of fifty years ago and is descended from one of the oldest and best families connected with early settlement of Southern Illinois. Her brother, Thomas Walker, was editor of one of the early newspapers of Belleville, where Mrs. James lived for many years, when it was a small village compared to what it now is. Six children were born of this union, as follows: Bennett, William, Mary, Frank, Thomas and Carrie. Frank and Thomas are deceased. William (whose wife is a niece of Colonel William R. Morrison, deceased) is a physician of large practice at Chester and division surgeon of the Iron Mountain and Cotton Belt Railways. Mary is the primary teacher in the Waterloo high school and Carrie is a stenographer for the Estey Piano Company of St. Louis. Austin James was a loyal Democrat in politics and for several years served as justice of the peace. In 1864 he was elected to the state legislature and in 1872 his record in the state assembly was approved by re-election. He served as postmaster at Mitchie from 1857 until 1891, when, advanced in years, he removed to Harrisonville, and there he died a year later, lamented by hosts of friends and former associates who knew him as a good and able man, and one whose judgment was to be relied upon at any and all times.
The early life of Bennett James was passed on a farm and his education was secured in the public schools and in the Christian Brothers College at St. Louis, At about the age of twenty-one he left college and himself became a pedagogue, teaching school in his old home town,
Mitchie. In 1876-7 he went to California, and there for some time acted in the capacity of deputy sheriff to his uncle, Bennett James, whose namesake he is, and who held the office of sheriff there. The following year he came back to Mitchie and again became an instructor, teaching school in that locality until 1882. From that year dates his mercantile experiences on any extended scale, although he had already become somewhat acquainted with mercantile life before going to California, and conducted a store at Lilly 's Landing, a mile south of Mitchie, under the firm name of T. & B. James. He had charge of the river boat landing known as James' Landing, and ran his store very successfully from 1882 to 1887, handling grain at his landing, and from 1891 to 1897 conducted the local post office in connection with the store, succeeding his father as postmaster. In 1897 he left Mitchie and went to Harrisonville, where he lived for a short time and then took up his residence. in Waterloo, which place has since represented his home. Here he embarked in the real estate and grain business on a larger scale, and his success has been above the ordinary. He is agent for the Nanson Commission Company of St. Louis and helped them to secure their right-of-way contracts for the fine line of grain elevators this firm has along the line of the St. L., I. M. & S. Railway in Monroe, Randolph, Jackson and Union counties. He is agent for the large landed interests of William Winkelman, Baer Brothers and others, and has charge of some three or four thousand acres of land in the bottom part of the county, collecting rentals from thirty-five or forty tenants, and it is safe to say that he is as well known in the western part of the county as any man who might be mentioned. He is also in the fire insurance business, and writes a nice line of fire insurance in Waterloo and the western part of the county.
Emily E. Priesker, of Chaflin Bridge, and the two children born of this union are Charles A., a resident of St. Louis and postal clerk on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; and Alfred W., who is a printer, located at Centralia, Illinois. The elder son married Nellie Klinkhardt, of Hecker, Monroe county, Illinois, and the younger married Celia Schmitz, of Waterloo. Mr. James wife died in 1885, and in 1889 he married Katie F. Clear, of Harrisonville, of which marriage there is no issue. They maintain a pleasant and hospitable home and are held in the highest esteem in this section, where their many fine qualities are too well known to require comment.
Mr. James is a man of much influence among his fellow citizens, who hold his opinion of weight and highly esteem his views on all matters affecting the public welfare. Like many of the older settlers, he takes much interest in the early history of his state and particularly the part the James family took in the early settlement of Illinois, and he prizes with more than ordinary interest a copy of General James' “Three Years Among the Indians,” the only copy perhaps of this book in existence this day. For 19 years Mr. James has held the office of levee commissioner in Harrisonville and Ivy Landing, levee district Number 2. He has also been a notary public for the past fifteen years and was a member of the city council for two terms. He is a faithful member of the Catholic church, is one of the trustees of the Waterloo church and is connected with those orders having the particular sanction of his church, namely: The Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Knights of Illinois. He is of pleasing personality and very popular, claiming a circle of friends of generous proportions.