Biography of William Tomlinson

William Tomlinson. One of the oldest residents of Champaign County is Mr. William Tomlinson, whose home is at Penfield in Kerr Township. Mr. Tomlinson has experienced more than the average trials and ordeals of existence and he is well entitled to the esteem and respect that he enjoys in his community.

Mr. Tomlinson was born in the Village of Franklin, near the City of Indianapolis, in Marion County, Indiana, a son of Robert and Rachel (Sheets) Tomlinson. His parents were both born in Indiana and his Grandfather Sheets was of German descent. Mr. Tomlinson was one of eight children, seven sons and one daughter. When he was a child his father died and a little later his mother passed away at Carlyle on the Mississippi River.

William Tomlinson came to Vermilion County, Illinois, with his uncle, Elisha Crawford, in 1849, when ten years old. He came to Champaign County in 1852, and arrived here a poor and friendless boy with no money and with nothing except his own determined ambition to stand him in good stead while making a way in the busy world. For a year he worked for a farmer at $6.50 a month, and his hours of employment were from sunup to sundown. When Mr. Tomlinson came to Champaign County there were no railroads and very few towns. The nearest market place for mail and other supplies was Danville or Urbana. The young man had instead of money a boundless supply of push and energy, and he has used his industry to secure the living which he believed the world owed him.

At the age of twenty-two he married Miss Lydia Carter. She was born in Vermilion County, Illinois. After his marriage Mr. Tomlinson bought eighty acres on the middle fork of Vermilion River, paying $7 an acre. There he started the task of founding a home of his own. Not long afterwards his plans were temporarily shattered when his young wife passed away at the birth of her first child. Mr. Tomlinson married for his second wife Mary E. Walker. Four children were born to their marriage, three sons and one daughter, John, Albert, Andrew and. Rachel. These children were educated in the Kuder school. Again death visited the family and the mother passed away, leaving her youngest child only thirteen days old. Mr. Tomlinson again took upon himself the duties of a homemaker as well as a farmer, and proved both father and mother to his children. Some of the time he depended upon a housekeeper, but for months at a time he did his own housekeeping. For his third wife he married Ellen Rigleman, who died within two years. For his next wife he married Miss Louisa Lingo. A son and daughter were born to that marriage. The son while plowing corn in his father’s field was killed by a stroke of lightning. The daughter, Effie, is now the wife of Harry Shumate and they live in Penfield. For his last wife Mr. Tomlinson married Mrs. Ellen Bates, who died about twelve years ago.

Few citizens of Champaign County have been so severely tested as Mr. Tomlinson. With remarkable fortitude he has withstood the vicissitudes and trials of existence and everyone must wonder at his endurance and admire his faithfulness to family and children.

His son John married Mahala S. Chenoweth and they live in South Dakota and are the parents of two children, George and Nellie. The son Albert married Erma Deidrich, and their four children, Alberta, Russell, Earl and Marlin, with their parents, all live in the home of Mr. William Tomlinson, and he takes great delight in these grandchildren. Andrew Tomlinson, the third child, now deceased, married Alta McClaren, and her children are Rosetta, Raymond, Merle and Arthur. The daughter Rachel married Mr. Gray, now deceased, and she lives at Penfield, the mother of three children, Orin, Elden and Grace.

During the passing years Mr. Tomlinson added to his land until his estate now comprises 130 acres, his home being about the center of the farm. His house is located on a fine bluff overlooking a rich valley of fertile bottom lands, with the Vermilion River sweeping gracefully around a border of trees. Thus he can live like a king, monarch of all he surveys, whose right there is none to dispute. He has for years been recognized as one of the successful and energetic farmers of Champaign County and the earth has yielded abundantly to his labors. He is a man of great public spirit and a thorough American in every sense. For a number of years he served as road commissioner of his district and also as a school director. Politically he is a stanch Republican. He cast his first vote for President Abraham Lincoln. Though a boy at the time, he has recollection of the stirring campaign when Polk was candidate for President in 1844, and he acquired his first knowledge of political issues in that time. Mr. Tomlinson’s life has been closely identified with Champaign County. Coming here an orphan boy, he worked hard for his daily bread, and his industry has been steadfast through all the years of vicissitude and change and today he lives in a beautiful home, surrounded with children and grandchildren, and none will begrudge him his comfort and prosperity.



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

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