Biography of Henry I. Purdy

HENRY I. PURDY. In the year 1842 some eight or ten families emigrated from Vermont and settled in Jackson County, Illinois, forming what was and is known today as Vergennes Colony. Isham Purdy’s family, consisting of father, mother and seven children, formed a part of this colony-three boys and four girls. Henry I., the subject of this sketch, being the oldest son.

Edwin P. married and has made his home in Carbondale, Illinois, and has been extensively engaged in the lumber business for the last twenty years. Charles W. Purdy, the third son, married and settled in the old neighborhood and has resided on his pleasant and fine farm ever since the war. He enlisted at the beginning of the war and marched by the side of his eldest brother, Henry, and his sixteen-year old son, John W., making music with his fife and the father and son with their drums through many a weary and dangerous day. He was discharged as disabled in 1863, and was sent home to his family, where he resides today. The girls of the family all married prosperous farmers of the neighborhood and still reside in the vicinity of their father’s old home. After buying land and making a small payment thereon the Purdy family, like all new settlers, found themselves very poor and with many obstacles to discourage them in their undertaking. But that true blue Yankee blood in their veins gave them determination to do or die. After living for a winter on a dirt floor they managed to build themselves a comfortable house, and shelter for their stock, from proceeds earned by the boys teaching school in neighboring districts. After this they prospered and in a few years Isham Purdy was a prominent man in his county. He retired from active farm life at sixty-four, and went to live at Duquoin, Illinois, where he resided at the time of his death in 1883. He was from early recollections a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and politically was for benefiting his fellowman. His boys all grew up in the Republican doctrine. The mother, Miss Roxcea Wiley, came of one of the first families, and was married to Grandfather Purdy in 1821, in their native village, Vergennes, Vt., her family being prominent in politics in the early settlement of Vermont, one brother, Clement Wiley, having served nineteen terms in the State Legislature. She lived to raise all her seven children and see them settled in homes of their own, and her grand and great-grandchildren were always welcome visitors to her. She died at their home in Dupuoin, Illinois, in 1874. Of the seven children, six taught school for their neighboring counties.

After settling in their new home the subject of this sketch, Henry I. Purdy, then nineteen years old, worked for his father on his farm during the crop season, teaching school during the winter months, the proceeds of which he gave to his father. He was born in Vergennes, Vt., February 19, 1823. He was married to Jane Davis in 1846, and, like his father, he commenced life on a dirt floor and slept on a borrowed feather bed until he could buy one. He bought land on time, worked for his neighbors for the money to make his payments, and many were the moonlight nights that he put in grubbing out his farm, so that when in 1862 he was called to defend his country he left his family 240 acres of land out of debt, with plenty of stock and tools to carry it on and money in the bank, and his children can point back today and say, “Our father owed only $3 at the time of his death, and that was to his minister.” To his union with Miss Davis were born three children, viz.: John Westley, who entered the army at the age of sixteen as a drummer boy and served to the end (he now lives on his farm near Makanda, Illinois); Elvira I. married R. A. Hall; Amanda E. married Henry H. Stone, and both reside at Billings, Missouri.

After the death of his first wife he married Polly Ann Varnum, who was a member of the Vermont Colony, resulting in the birth of George, who died in infancy; Alfred H. and Charles E., who are married and live in Billings, Missouri, and Alice M., who married David M. Owen and died in 1885.

When the Civil War broke out Mr. Purdy enlisted in Company K, Seventy-third Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and was in active service until he died in the hospital at Bowling Green, Kentucky, January 22, 1863. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a stanch Republican, a man who took a deep interest in the welfare of his fellowman and his country. His widow married Phillip Griffin in 1865; moved to southeast Missouri, where their only child (David) lives now. Mrs. Griffin died at Clarkton, Missouri, July 15, 1872.


A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region: comprising a condensed general history, a brief descriptive history of each county, and numerous biographical sketches of prominent citizens of such counties. Chicago: Goodspeed Brothers Publishers. 1894.

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