Biography of William H. Hilles

William H. Hilles, born in Western Pennsylvania and passing away in Dixon, Illinois, in 1882, led a life marked by diligence and principle. Moving from Pennsylvania to Ohio and then to Indiana during his youth, Hilles eventually settled in LaSalle County, Illinois, where he became a successful farmer. His life was characterized by intelligence, a love for horticulture, and a steadfast commitment to the abolition movement, leveraging his resources and influence for the cause of freedom. A Quaker by upbringing, Hilles embodied the values of honesty and integrity, contributing significantly to the development of Lee County and leaving behind a legacy of community betterment and moral fortitude.

William H. Hilles, deceased, was born in Western Pennsylvania and died at his home in Dixon on the 7th of November, 1882, at the age of seventy-three years. His father, Hugh Hilles, came from a very intelligent Quaker family of the Keystone State. He followed the trade of milling throughout the greater part of his life. From Pennsylvania, he removed to Ohio, and in later years was a resident of Jay County, Ind., where he owned large tracts of land. His death occurred in that county when he was past the age of sixty years. His life had been a busy and useful one, and his efforts met with a just reward in the shape of a handsome competence. His wife, who was also descended from a highly respected family belonging to the Friends Society, also died in Indiana.

Our subject was an infant when, with his parents, he removed from the Keystone State to Columbiana, Ohio, where he was reared to manhood and acquired his education. Most of his life was spent in his father’s mill, and in the early ’40s, he emigrated westward, locating in LaSalle County, Ill., where he improved a good farm, making it his home for about ten years. He was there residing at the time of the great storm, never to be forgotten, which visited that section. The storm continued for about two months and was a blizzard the greater part of the time. As many people in the community had built only temporary houses, expecting to erect better ones later on, they were ill-protected from the cold, and there was considerable loss of life. Much stock was also frozen, and that long period of stormy weather was one which will never be effaced from memory by those who experienced it.

Returning to the State of Ohio, Mr. Hilles wedded Miss Mary A. French, who was born among the beautiful hills surrounding Gillhampton, N. H. [EN: There being no such town as Gillhampton, we have to believe this may references Gilmanton.] She came from one of the old and highly respected New England families. Her parents were Joseph and Mary (Stewart) French, also natives of New Hampshire. The grandmother of Mrs. French was a sister of President John Adams, but her father was of Scotch descent. Amidst the hills of their native state, Joseph French and his wife were reared to manhood and womanhood, and in the vicinity of Newburyport, their marriage was celebrated. There, and at Concord, N. H., they spent the greater part of their lives, but in their declining years followed their children to the West and passed their last days in the town of Painesville, Ohio. Throughout his life, Mr. French was a member and an active worker in the Congregational Church, and for many years filled its offices. The upright, honorable lives of himself and wife won them the highest regard of all with whom they came in contact, and when called to their final home, their loss was sincerely mourned by many friends.

Mrs. Hilles, wife of our subject, received good practical educational advantages and is a lady of marked individuality. She inherits some of the best characteristics of her New England ancestors and is a refined and accomplished lady. In early years, she was zealous in church work, and her labors in its behalf have been productive of much good. But on account of conflicting views, she withdrew from the church in 1835, and since that time has been connected with no religious organization. In her early life, she was much interested in the cause of abolition and bent her whole energies to aid in the work. When only eighteen years of age, she became identified with the movement, although it was in opposition to the stand which her church had taken, and from that time forward worked untiringly in the interest of the slaves until their freedom was declared. She possesses a remarkable memory and can recall many incidents of early history in this community which are very entertaining. Out of the kindness of her heart, she has reared and educated several children and aided others in starting in life. Kindness, generosity, and warm-heartedness have won her many friends whose high regard she will retain to the last.

In 1853, Mr. Hilles sold his farm in LaSalle County and came to Lee County, where he purchased the farm he owned at his death. In every instance, he set out good orchards as he was a lover of horticultural work. At the time of his death, he owned four hundred acres of highly cultivated land and was quite well-to-do. Although he began life empty-handed, he worked his way upward, overcoming all obstacles until he had gained a competency. Mr. Hilles was a man of superior intelligence and was always well-informed on the questions of the day. He was reared under the auspices of the Society of Friends, and in accordance with its teachings, lived an honest, upright life. His influence was great, and he exerted it ever in the cause of right. During slave days, he spent many hundred dollars in the cause of freedom, and when the war broke out, in every possible way supported the cause of the Union and the administration. He lived to see much improvement in Lee County, and not a little of the growth and development were due to his efforts. His life was well and worthily spent, and he left behind him many friends to mourn his death. At the age of seventy-three, wishing to live retired, he removed to Dixon and on the following day died from a stroke of paralysis.


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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