Biography of William Burd

William Burd, a distinguished figure in Lee County’s agricultural community, has significantly contributed to transforming the region’s landscape since settling nearly four decades ago. Born in 1827 in West Virginia, Burd embarked on a journey to Illinois in 1852, navigating through untamed wilderness to establish his farm. His diligent efforts have culminated in a well-equipped and flourishing farm, testament to his hard work and agricultural acumen. Married to Mary Frances Thompson since 1867, their partnership has furthered the farm’s success, producing a legacy of prosperity and three children. Burd’s life story is a testament to perseverance, embodying the essence of the self-made American farmer.

William Burd, though not one of the earliest settlers of Lee County, may well be classed among its pioneers, as he has done valuable work in helping his fellow farmers to redeem the rich, virgin soil of this part of Illinois from its former wild condition, since he settled within its precincts not far from forty years ago. He has a farm that compares with the best in its equipments and improvements, its fertile fields neatly fenced, its buildings well-kept and conveniently arranged, and its surroundings made attractive by the beautiful shade and choice fruit trees carefully planted by his own hands.

Our subject was born May 17, 1827, in Hampshire County, W. Va. His father, whose name is Peter Burd, was born in Hunterdon County, N.J., and when a young man went from his native state to that part of Virginia now included in Hampshire County, W. Va. He bought a tract of wild land seven or eight miles from Romney, built a log cabin on his place, and entered heartily into the hard pioneer task of improving his land, on which he made his home until his untimely death in 1839. His community lost a good citizen, the people among whom he had lived a kind neighbor, and his family a good husband and father. His widow, whose maiden name was Julia Ann Willard and who was born in Bucks County, Pa., a daughter of Jacob Willard, was left with seven children to care for. Nobly did she perform her duty and kept her offspring together on the old homestead until they were grown to manhood and womanhood, and then came to Illinois and spent her last years a welcome inmate of their homes. Four of her children are still living.

Our subject was a strong, self-reliant lad of twelve years when his father died and was already of much use on the farm. At the age of fourteen, he was bound out to learn the trade of a tanner and received his board and clothes in recompense for his services. At the end of seven years, he was given $50, and with that, and a good knowledge of his trade, he began life on his own account. He went to Bucks County, Pa., and carried on the tannery business there for the ensuing three years. He then went back to his native state and was a resident of West Virginia until the fall of 1852 when he came to Illinois, traveling by the most convenient route at that time, and journeying by rail, by stage, or on foot. After seven days, he arrived at Twin Grove, in what is now Willow Creek Township. At that time, Nature had it pretty nearly her own way in this part of the country, as but few settlers had ventured here. There was no railway in this part of the state for two years after he came here, and deer and other kinds of wild game were plentiful and furnished an agreeable addition to the fare of the pioneers.

Mr. Burd began life here on a farm in someone else’s employ for a year and then bought a land warrant for a quarter of a section of land, which comprises his present farm in Willow Creek Township. The warrant cost him $150, and there was an additional expense of $4, making the total cost of the homestead $154. Buying the land exhausted his finances, so he was obliged to resort to renting improved land for the next two years in order to earn his livelihood. At the expiration of that time, he entered vigorously upon the work before him of reclaiming a farm from the wilderness, and the success that has met his efforts has been recorded in the first part of this biography.

Our subject is eminently a self-made man, and through the sheer force of industrious habits, close attention to his work, and by exercising close calculation in the management of his affairs, no less than by fair and honest dealings in all his transactions, he has risen to be one of the substantial farmers of the township with whose interests his own have so long been identified.

Since 1867, when he was united in marriage with Miss Mary Frances Thompson, he has had the active cooperation of a wife who is a true helpmate. Mrs. Burd is also a native of Hampshire County, W. Va., and is a daughter of Robert and Emma Thompson, of whom an account appears in the biography of R. J. Thompson. Three children have blessed the union of our subject and his wife: Mary F., James W., and Nettie May.


Biographical Publishing Company, Portrait and biographical record of Lee County, Illinois, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, together with biographies of all the governors of the state, and of the presidents of the United States, Chicago: Biographical Publishing Co., 1892.

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