Biography of John W. Bocock

John W. Bocock, a retired business man at Sidney, has had an unusual range of experience varying from that of an old time telegraph operator to a cotton planter and farmer. Much of his active career has been passed in Champaign County but his business acquaintance is widely extended.

Mr. Bocock was born near Washington Courthouse in Fayette County, Ohio, December 20, 1849. His parents were Elijah and Louisa (Gregory) Bocock, both natives of Ohio. His father came to Sidney and Champaign County October 12, 1856, and identified himself with the pioneer element in this county as a farmer. He did not live long after coming, his death occurring July 4, 1864, in the village of Sidney. There were four children: Nancy Maria, who died June 3, 1862; Martha Jane, who died October 16, 1864; Belle, widow of J. S. Frantz and living at Danville, Illinois; and John W.

John W. Bocock was fifteen years old when his father died. His mother and two sisters being left upon their own resources it was necessary for the only son to put forth his efforts in assisting to support the family. His sister Belle did likewise but Martha Jane was ill and able to do but little. In June, 1866, the mother married Paul Laybourn, of Sidney, and John W. Bocock and his sister went to the new home in that village, Belle remaining until she married a few months later, while John W. was part of the family circle until the spring of 1870.

Paul Laybourn by his marriage to Mrs. Louisa Bocock had one child; Roberta, now Mrs. R. L. Thomas, of Detroit, Michigan. Paul Laybourn died in March, 1872. Mr. Bocock’s mother, left twice a widow, survived to the good old age of seventy-eight, passing away March 24, 1901.

Even before his father’s death, as early as 1863, John W. Bocock contributed in a measure to his own support by clerking in a grocery store owned by John Upp of Sidney. Later he did similar service in the grocery store of T. J. Youngblood & Company, in which his parents had a small interest. On April 1, 1870, he entered the store of Henry Coffeen at Homer, Illinois, his position on the payroll being at ten dollars per month. Three months later he went to Lafayette, Indiana, and spent some time peddling goods from a wagon throughout the country district. Returning to Homer, he worked for M. D. Coffeen in a general store until May 1, 1871. His next experience was at Chicago, where in Porter’s National Telegraph College he was a student three months. In those days of his early career his means were very limited; consequently with three other young men he did the janitor work of the office and college hall for his room rent. This gave him free access to the instruments out of school hours and this opportunity was utilized late and early.

After three months Mr. Bocock secured his certificate for capability in sending thirty words and receiving twenty-five words per minute. Returning to Champaign County he entered the office of John Shutts, agent and operator for the Toledo, Wabash & Western Railway at Philo, in the capacity of a cub, and remained there until February 22, 1872, when he was assigned to the night office at Catlin, Illinois, and ten months later was transferred to the night office at Homer. He was finally advanced to day operator and continued handling the telegraph key there until December 22, 1874, when he was given the joint position of agent and operator at Philo. On March 1, 1881, he resigned his position, thus closing his railroad and telegraph service. During these years of employment as an operator Mr. Bocock taught nine young men the art of the Morse system, and all of them did good work for themselves and their employers. Two of these young men have since risen to places of eminence in the railroad world. One is Mr. H. A. Boomer, now general manager of the Lake Erie and Western Railway, with headquarters at Indianapolis. Another is S. A. Hess, of Decatur, traveling passenger agent of the Wabash Railway.

On giving up railroad work Mr. Bocock came to Sidney and bought the old park elevator. He remained in the grain business there until the following winter, when he sold out, and on April 1, 1882, engaged in the general merchandising business at Sidney with his father-in-law, under the firm name of Fisher & Bocock. That firm continued for five years. The stock of merchandise was then traded for land in Coffey County, Kansas. It is only fair to say that Kansas land proved to be a poor investment and after a few years was disposed of at a discount. After the closing out of the general country store Mr. Bocock was associated with Winston’s Bank for three years in the capacity of bookkeeper and cashier. Then with A. C. Woody he engaged in the wholesale confectionery and fruit business at Decatur, Illinois, for one year when they moved the business to Champaign. On February 7, 1893, the whole plant was destroyed by fire.

In 1896, when J. S. McCullough was elected auditor of public accounts, Mr. Bocock was chairman of the County Board of Supervisors while Mr. McCullough was county clerk. Hence they were closely associated in county affairs. Without any solicitations the newly elected auditor tendered an appointment to Mr. Bocock as state inspector of building and loan associations. This was. accepted and in January, 1897 he was assigned work in Chicago. Just at that time there was much trouble among the building and loan associations and Mr. Bocock, together with Inspector C. B. Phaler, did a valuable work in putting Chicago associations in a more prosperous condition. For some of the associations he acted as custodian and otherwise entered vitally into the management and rehabilitation of the concerns. After a few years in building and loan association work Mr. Bocock was transferred to the banking department of the auditor in the capacity of bank examiner, serving the state altogether ten years in these two positions.

On July 1, 1900, Mr. Bocock was one of the four men who organized the Cotton Exchange Bank at Cleveland, Mississippi. Having acquired some interests in the south he gravitated naturally into real estate investments and with Mr. G. D. Boone bought a cotton plantation adjoining the town of Cleveland, consisting of 1,003 acres. They took title on March 1, 1904. For six years they continued as extensive cotton growers, Mr. Bocock spending much of his time on the plantation. He then bought out the interest of his partner and continued the operation of the plantation alone until 1912, when he sold out.

On September 1, 1912, Mr. Bocock bought the Nelson Sampson farm of 170 acres in Sidney Township and he still owns that property, and he and his wife jointly own the A. P. Coffeen farm. While he thus owns some of the best situated and most valuable farm lands of this part of Champaign County he has been practically retired from active business for several years.

Mr. Bocock married September 16, 1874, Mary Fisher, daughter of Martin and Jane (Hays) Fisher. Three children were born to their marriage: Oral F., wife of E. J. Lehman, of Sidney; Jennie L., wife of W. C. Rice, of Fairmount, Illinois; and Mattie Fay, who died February 15, 1888.

In the spring of 1874, while he was working as a telegraph operator, Mr. Bocock bought a small residence property in Homer. This was the initial step toward making a home and he partly furnished it before his marriage. The newly wedded couple began housekeeping September 25th of the same year and on the 22nd of December following he took up his new work at Philo, as before stated. In 1877 he traded the Homer property in on 152 acres of land in Philo Township, getting a fair price for the town property and taking the land at a little less than $25 per acre. About 1883 he sold this land for $41.65 an acre on ten years time. Less than five years later he offered to buy it back at $75 an acre, but the owner refused to part with it.

In 1880 Martin Fisher settled upon each of his four children 160 acres of land, Mrs. Bocock receiving the northwest quarter of section 7, township 18, range 10 east, a tract which she still owns. At the death of her father by mutual consent of the heirs she received as her portion of her father’s landed interest in Sidney Township the undivided one-half of the A. P. Coffeen farm, which had been acquired by the firm of Fisher & Bocock. In 1899 Mr. Bocock bought from A. M. Coffeen the west half of the northeast quarter of section 23, township 18, range 10 east for $75 per acre in cash. In 1904 he and his wife deeded this eighty acres to their two daughters. As already noted, on returning to Sidney in 1881 Mr. Bocock bought the residence property he now occupies and which has been the home of the family during all the passing years.

In matters of politics Mr. Bocock is a Republican. He has long been identified with public affairs in his home locality and county, has been president of the village board, a school director, member of the county board, and for several years acted as chairman of the county board.



Stewart, J. R. A Standard History of Champaign County Illinois. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York. 1918.

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