JOSEPH A. PITTS, one of the most skillful and intelligent farmers of Mt. Hope Township, and a gentleman of more
than ordinary capacity, is possessed of an excellent education, is an extensive reader, and keeps himself well
posted in regard to the important questions of the day. He has made a science of his farming operations, and while
carrying on the tillage of the soil has at the same time cultivated his intellect, and in this vicinity is looked
upon as one eminently fitted to be a leader and counselor in the ordinary affairs of life.
Mr. Pitts is a native of Bristol County, Mass., and first opened his eyes to the light in the town of Dighton on the 14th of November, 1823. He comes from a line of excellent ancestry, his father having been Hon. Joseph Pitts, who was also born in Dighton, Mass., on the 14th of July, 1794. His grandfather, Capt. George Pitts, of English ancestry, was a native of the same locality, and of substantial English ancestry. He was a ship carpenter by trade, and at one time owned a vessel which operated in the merchant service. During the struggles of the colonies for their independence, he engaged in the Revolutionary War; when peace was declared, he returned home and died in his native town of Dighton, on the 31st of October, 1839. He was an energetic business man, and established a store in Savannah, Ga., where he spent a part of each winter.
Joseph Pitts, the father of our subject, in early life learned the trade of a shoemaker, but abandoned it after a short time. Thereafter he spent his winters at his father's store in Savannah until 1833. Previous to this he had been appointed Collector of Customs by President Jackson for the Fall River District, and served until the election of Gen. Taylor as President, when he returned to his home in Dighton. He was the owner of a small farm there, and afterward for some years devoted his time to the culture of his land. He served a number of years as Justice of the Peace, and represented his district in the State Legislature for four terms. In 1868 he came to McLean County, Ill., and the following year engaged in the hardware trade, until 1874, when he retired from active business, and lived with his son, our subject, until his death, which occurred Jan. 30, 1878.
The father of our subject was twice married, his first wife being Mrs. Elizabeth Slade, who was born in Somerset, Bristol Co., Mass., in March, 1795. She departed this life on the 20th of November, 1839, leaving two children: John, who was born May 20, 1820, became a sailor, and died at sea in 1843; Joseph A. is the subject of our sketch. The second wife of Joseph Pitts, Sr., was Miss Harriet Briggs, to whom he was married Nov. 25, 1840; she also was born in Dighton, Mass., Nov. 22, 1809, and after becoming the mother of one child, died Nov. 10, 1886. Her son, James K., now lives in Topeka, Kan., where he is engaged in the hardware business.
Joseph A. Pitts was placed in school at an early age, and continued his studies uninterruptedly until he was fifteen years old. He was then apprenticed to the blacksmith trade at Dighton, Mass., and after one year of service met with an accident which deprived him of the sight of one eye, the ball having been pierced by a piece of steel which flew from the anvil. He suspended operations one year, then went back to his trade, this time at Mansfield, Mass., for two years, during which he completed his apprenticeship, and worked as a journeyman for the three years following. He then went to Taunton, where he was employed in the locomotive shop for a short time, and was afterward placed in charge of a stationary engine at Dighton, where he remained until 1849. Then, in company with twenty-five others, he purchased a sailing-vessel, organized a company, and on the 9th of March started for California, and while passing the Straits of Magellan, on the 26th of June, they were shipwrecked and their vessel destroyed. The crew was picked up by a Boston brig, and taken to Callao, Peru, whence the American Minister sent them on to San Francisco. Mr. Pitts there entered the mines, and spent one year searching for the yellow ore, and then with the assistance of twenty-one mules, packed goods from the trading-posts to the mines. He remained at the mines selling the goods, and his partner attended to the transportation. He was thus employed until February, 1852, and then started homeward via the Isthmus to New York, and thence by rail to Dighton.
On the 24th of March, 1852, Mr. Pitts was married to Mrs. Betsey V. Briggs (nee Peck), and on the 24th of May started for Chicago where he expected to meet his partner from San Francisco. Their plan had been to purchase horses and take them across the plains, but his partner having been taken sick, the project was abandoned. Mr. Pitts then came to Bloomington to look at the country in that vicinity, and concluded that it would be a good place in which to locate. There was some Government land and a great many unimproved claims for sale at from $1.50 to $3 per acre, much of it being owned by Eastern parties. In June, Mr. Pitts returned to the East, and from parties there purchased 640 acres of land lying on sections 27, 28, 33 and 34, of what is now Mt. Hope Township, and in October he returned to McLean County, accompanied by his wife.
The land which Mr. Pitts had purchased was unimproved, and he and his wife set up housekeeping in a rented dwelling, which they occupied for a year, Mr. Pitts in the meantime erecting a frame house 16x26 feet in dimensions, and hauling the lumber from Pekin, forty miles distant. In 1854, the residence being completed, Mr. Pitts and his wife moved into it on the 14th of March. Mr. Pitts then engaged vigorously in the improvement and cultivation of his land, and established the homestead which he at present owns and occupies. It is now all improved and supplied with good buildings. The first little house has given place to a handsome and commodious farm residence which, within and without, gives evidence of cultivated tastes and ample means. The barns and out-buildings correspond with the residence, and the estate presents one of the most attractive spots in the landscape of the Mississippi Valley. It is especially adapted to stock-raising, and to this Mr. Pitts has given considerable attention. The farm is well watered by Sugar Creek, a never-failing stream which passes through it. It is supplied with the requisite amount of timber, and adjacent to the residence are orchards of fine fruit, and patches of choice shrubbery. He has continued to add to his farm estate until it now comprises 800 acres.
Mr. Pitts was deprived of the partner of his youth, by death, on the 24th of November, 1867. They had become the parents of four children, as follows: John J. is a practicing attorney of Bloomington; Elizabeth S. is an invalid and remains in her father's home; Lemira is the wife of Emmons Snow, of Mt. Hope Township; Augustus D. is engaged as clerk for a druggist of Brooklyn, N. Y. Mr. Pitts was the second time married, on the 16th of May, 1876, to Miss Augusta A. Starbuck, who was born in Cumberland County, Ill., in 1851. Of this union there have been born five children—Herbert A., Sarah A., Lewis E., Ralph L. and George W.
Mr. Pitts has always been Democratic in politics, and cast his first presidential vote for James K. Polk. He is one of the representative men of McLean County, and in all respects is fulfilling the obligations of a man of influence, and a valued citizen. A fine lithographic view of the residence of Mr. Pitts is shown elsewhere in this work.
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), 428. Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards