McLean County, Illinois
ROBERT COLLINS, one of the honored pioneers of Downs Township, is now a resident of Le Roy, where he lives retired from active labor, and is enjoying the comforts obtained by early industry and economy. He has watched with deep interest the growth and prosperity of his adopted county, and has contributed his full share toward its prosperity. Mr. Collins is a native of the Buckeye State, having been born in White Water Township, Hamilton Co., Ohio, Jan. 25, 1819. His father, Robert Collins, settled in Hamilton County at an early period in the history of that section, upon a tract of timber land, where he cleared a farm and established a comfortable home, which he occupied with his family until his decease, in 1826.
After the death of the father, our subject was bound out to a shoemaker in Harrison Township, with whom he served an apprenticeship of four years. Then, on account of the death of the wife of his employer, young Collins went to live with a brother of the same man, who was a farmer, and in company with him and his family came to Illinois. The journey was made overland, and after sixteen days' travel they arrived in this county on the 16th day of October, 1836. Our subject lived with his employer, Amos A. Miller, one year after their settlement in Randolph Township, and the two years following with John Mayberry. He then engaged with a carpenter in Empire Township, with whom he worked one year, and then purchased a claim of forty acres on section 25 of what is now Downs Township. Upon this there was a log cabin, in which our subject, who had already taken unto himself a wife, removed and they commenced housekeeping. He had no money with which to enter the land at this time and was obliged to earn it, and worked at whatever he could find to do. He used to take jobs of splitting rails, and in due time by close economy had earned enough to pay for the land. Mrs. Collins had a spinning-wheel and loom, and manufactured the cloth, then made the clothing for her family. For a number of years they kept sheep which provided them with yarn for stockings, and they raised flax, and in this manner kept the household supplied with linen. Mrs. C. also did considerable weaving for her neighbors, and thus earned much of the money which served to support the family, while her husband applied his toward the payment of their land. For a number of years the nearest market was Peoria, sixty miles away, it requiring four days to make the trip, and they carried their provisions along and cooked and camped by the wayside. Wheat sold at different prices, sometimes as low as 35 cents per bushel, and for corn at times they would only receive 15 cents per bushel. Mr. Collins with his family remained upon their first purchase for a period of nearly forty-six years, or until February, 1886. He had been prospered in his farming and business transactions, and is now the owner of 224 acres, all in a good state of cultivation and furnished with a shapely and substantial set of frame buildings. Mr. Collins, in 1884, purchased the residence he now owns and occupies in Le Roy. In connection with it there are six lots, this being in block 137, and he also has six lots in block 135.
The marriage of our subject occurred June 25, 1840. Mrs. C. before her marriage was Miss Miranda Buckles, and she was born Aug, 25, 1825, in White County, Ill. Her father, Abraham Buckles, was a native of Kentucky, and her grandfather, John Buckles, was one of the pioneers of McLean County and spent the last years of his life in Empire Township, where also his son, Abraham Buckles, the father of Mrs. C., died. His wife, formerly Miss Mary Williams, departed this life in Empire Township.
The household circle of Mr. and Mrs. Collins was completed by the birth of seventeen children, as follows: John A. is a resident of Empire Township; Andrew J. lives in Monroe County, Mo.; Sarah E., the wife of Thomas Phillips, is a resident of Jefferson County, Mo.; Miranda P., Mrs. George W. Johnson, lives in Downs Township; Mahala L. married George Mayberry, and they live in Gage County, Neb.; Clarissa Bell became the wife of John Vanhohenstien, and is a resident of Paxton, Ford Co., Ill; Barbara F., Mrs. Alvin Carr, lives in Downs Township, this county; Rosetta lives at home with her parents; Mary A., the third child, was born Jan. 29, 1848, and died April 20, 1879; Tabitha J., born March 31, 1849, died July 20, 1880; Americus E., born May 31, 1850, died in March, 1882; William R., born March 26, 1855, died March 25, 1864; Alfaretta, born Feb. 26, 1857, died Jan. 20, 1880; Ira, born Nov. 3, 1860, died March 24, 1862; George E., born Oct. 12, 1862, died Aug. 16, 1863; two died in infancy unnamed.
Mr. and Mrs. C. and all but two children, are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which our subject joined in 1838, and his wife in 1841. Mr. Collins has been Steward and Class-Leader thirty-eight years, and has contributed liberally and cheerfully to the support of the church at this place. The church edifice, called Pleasant Hill Chapel, was built on his farm in Downs Township in 1865; services were held in his own house prior to the building of the church.
For many years Mrs. Collins cooked by a fireplace and her wash-tub was a trough dug out of a log by Mr. Collins; he also made the wash-board.
The farm implements were the old-fashioned wooden mold board plow, and the harrow was likewise homemade. Wolves and deer came near enough to be distinctly seen by the inmates of the cabin. The family, in common with their brother pioneers, distinctly remember the winter of 1836, which was unusually severe and opened with a violent change of weather. Mr. C. had just returned from a rabbit hunt at the time. Ice covered the ground so that his horses refused to travel, and for days he was obliged to carry corn three-quarters of a mile to feed his stock. He then thought that as soon as he could travel he would leave the country never to return, but circumstances would not permit of this, and he does not now regret that he was compelled to stay.
To such men as Robert Collins is McLean County indebted for the present proud position which she holds in the Prairie State. The energy and perseverance of the old pioneers can scarcely be realized by the people of the present day who are surrounded by all the conveniences and comforts of modern life. Too much credit cannot be given to those old heroes, who, with their lives in their hands, as it were, made a pathway through the forests and prepared the prairies for a prosperous civilization. Mr. Collins cast his first presidential vote for Van Buren in 1840 and since that has been a full-fledged Democrat.
As an honored pioneer of McLean County, and an esteemed and worthy citizen of Le Roy, the publishers are pleased to present the portrait of Mr. Collins in this connection. That of his wife is also given as a fitting accompanying picture.
Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 547. Transcribed by Judy Rosella Edwards.
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