GEORGE W. ROBERTS.
At this juncture in a volume devoted to the careers of representative citizens of Southern Illinois it is a pleasure to insert a brief history of George W. Roberts, who has ever been on the alert to forward all measures and enterprises projected for the good of general welfare and who has served his community in various official positions of important trust and responsibility. He served twelve years as a magistrate of Herrin's Prairie precinct, in Williamson county, and for several years was the efficient incumbent of the office of school treasurer. He devoted the greater part of his active career to agricultural pursuits but at the present time, in 1912, is living retired on his fine little estate just outside of Herrin.
George W. Roberts was born in Robertson county, Tennessee, on the 26th of March, 1838, and he accompanied his parents to Illinois in September of the following year. He is a son of Ephraim A. Roberts, known by his associates in Tennessee as “Young Ephraim,” and a native of Virginia, where he was born in 1811. In early life Ephraim A. Roberts went with his father, Ephraim Roberts, to Tennessee, where he was reared on an old plantation worked by slaves. His mother was a Harris and she bore her husband a dozen children, but died before all of them grew to maturity.
Ephraim Roberts, Sr., was one of the old-time men of the south. He carried on his farm with slave labor, owned and operated a distillery, as was customary with men of means in those days, and seems to have been a robust figure. He was three times married, but had children only by his first wife. Those were: William; Riley; Winnie, wife of Calvin Holdeman; Ephraim A., father of the subject of this review; “Booker,” or Pleasant, as he was christened; Jesse B.; Polly, who married Caven Mason; Nancy became the wife of Meredith Long, the son of Ephraim's second wife; Martha became Mrs. Robert Thompson; Rachael married a Mr. Parker; and Elizabeth married her cousin, Jabez Roberts, who passed his early married life in Texas and after the war settled in Arkansas. All the above except Elizabeth, Ephraim and Jabez, passed their lives in Tennessee, where the father was called to the life eternal in 1854, at the age of sixty-eight years.
Ephraim A. Roberts, Jr., married Miss Mary Williams, a daughter of Rev. John Williams, a Baptist minister who died in active religious work in Robertson county, Tennessee. Mr. Roberts died not long after his advent in Illinois, and subsequently his widow married William Parsons. They had one son, John S. Parsons, a resident of Herrin, Illinois. The Roberts children were: Nancy, who died in childhood; George W., the immediate subject of this review; and Amanda, who married Captain David G. Young and went to Dade county, Missouri, where she passed away.
George W. Roberts has always lived in the atmosphere he now breathes. No other community has contributed aught to him and his efforts have all been put forth here. He acquired enough education as a student in subscription schools to enable him to assume the role of school-master himself. During his boyhood persons aspiring to teach made up their school by going around and “getting up their scholars” on a cash basis or other arrangement with the patrons of the district. When a teacher came to the home of young Roberts his mother seldom had the money with which to pay tuition for her son and if she couldn't get in a “pattern of jeans” or a batch of carded wool or some of the
products of the farm George did not get to go to school. By actual count, Mr. Roberts found that he was in school a few days more than fourteen months. He knew when he took his first school, before the war, that he was not properly equipped for the work but, like many of the teachers of that time, he became the hardest student of his classes and eventually made himself not only proficient as a teacher but a decided scholar as well.
He moved to a farm adjacent to the east line of Herrin when he married, in 1861, and he continued to reside there for a number of years, teaching school during the winter terms. Often, at night, he cut the supply of wood for his household while he should be absent and his chores about the farm became a matter of “night work” during the short days of the year. He continued teaching for a time during the period of the Civil war and today the evidences of the constant sharpening of his intellect and the polish of his mother tongue manifest themselves in the syntax of his conversation. Finally abandoning the schoolroom, Mr. Roberts gave his full time to the management of his farm. He raised grain and stock and from his profits he added to the extent of his dominions until he owned something over five hundred acres of fine land. When the mining of coal was begun in this locality overtures were made him for a portion of his farm and he parted with some of it in 1895. In 1900 he disposed of the remainder of the old estate to the Big Muddy Coal & Iron Company.
For a new home Mr. Roberts bought a small square of land adjacent to Herrin on the north and improved the same. Here his wife lived out her life and here he is passing the declining years of his life. He was married, March 28, 1861, to Annie Herrin, a daughter of Alfred Jackson Herrin, one of the early settlers of Williamson county. Mrs. Roberts was born in the vicinity of Herrin and she died in 1901. The union was prolific of the following children: William J., who died April 10, 1897; Ephraim A., who died January 17, 1902; George Edgar, who died December 16, 1891; Ida is the wife of William Fultz and they reside with her father; Artemisa passed away unmarried, December 5, 1899; and Clara is the wife of Harry Grandstaff, of Carbondale, Illinois.
Mr. Roberts owns to some partisanship as a Democrat during his vigorous life. He was a close observer of events as a result of neighborly antipothies during the War of the Rebellion. His antecedents were intensely southern and many of his kin were in the Confederate service. He remained out of the army out of regard for his convictions and found no good reason for reforming his politics during subsequent events. He served twelve years as a magistrate of his precinct, for a number of years was school treasurer and has ever allied himself with the temperance sentiment of his community. He was chairman of the Temperance League a few years back when an anti-saloon campaign was waged and when almost the whole county was placed in the “dry column.” He has been upbraided for his share in thus “driving out the very life of a growing town like Herrin” but his conscience is his guide and it has suffered no punishment as a result of his attitude toward saloons. In early life he united with the Methodist Episcopal church but the animosities engendered between church people by the issues of the Civil war broke up the congregation and he found himself without a church home. Subsequently he united with the Baptists, his wife having been a devout member of that faith, but the Baptismal doctrines of the body were insisted upon so strongly that, rather than be rebaptized, he asked for a rescinding of the vote that had made him a member of the church and withdrew. He holds sacred the Christian religion and his life is governed by the same precepts that brought consolation to him and his family
in the junior years of his life. He is past master in the time-honored Masonic order and has been a delegate to the Grand Lodge of the state. Though venerable in years, Mr. Roberts is still erect and he retains in much of their pristine vigor the splendid physical and mental faculties of his prime. He is held in high esteem by his neighbors, and the citizens of Herrin love and honor him for his kindliness and true gentlemanly spirit.