Biography of William S. Brierton

Joseph Brierton, an influential pioneer, settled in Lee County’s Nachusa Township and contributed notably to its development. His son, William S. Brierton, born November 25, 1839, in Nachusa, continued the legacy, becoming a progressive farmer in Nelson Township. Possessing a well-farmed quarter-section, his land boasted modern improvements that reflected advanced agricultural methods. Joseph, originally a Pennsylvanian brewer and blacksmith, had migrated to Illinois for a better life. There, he settled, farmed, and established a smithy, living to the extraordinary age of 96. William’s first wife, Mary E. Stetler, bore him four children before her death; later, he married Anna Hewitt from Ireland. William held no religious creeds, voted for Abraham Lincoln, and remained a staunch Republican. His father’s $100,000 estate was amicably settled, showcasing the family’s unity and fiscal prudence.

William S. Brierton. In the early days of the settlement of Lee County, there came hither from his old home in Pennsylvania one Joseph Brierton, who was among the first to settle in Nachusa Township, and from that time, the name of Brierton has been linked with the history of the development and welfare of this section of Illinois. The gentleman who is the subject of this biographical review is a son of that honored pioneer of whom mention has just been made, and he has risen to an honorable place among the intelligent, progressive farmers of his native county, his agricultural interests being comprised in a well-stocked, finely improved farm, lying on sections 16 and 17, Nelson Township.

Our subject was born November 25, 1839, on his father’s homestead in Nachusa Township and was reared and educated under the pioneer conditions that prevailed in this county during his youth. He early adopted the calling to which he has been bred, and at first engaged in it in his native township, of which he remained a resident until 1874. He purchased his present farm in Nelson Township sixteen years ago and has since busied himself with its cultivation and improvement. He owns nearly a quarter of a section of land, which is finely tilled, and is amply supplied with modern improvements, neat and well-appointed buildings adding to the attractiveness as well as to the value of the place, and on all sides are evidences of well-considered and systematic arrangements for conducting agriculture in an enlightened manner, thoroughly in keeping with the advanced methods of farming in use by the most progressive and thoughtful farmers of today.

Joseph Brierton, the father of our subject, was born in Luzerne County, Pa., of foreign parentage. His father was a native of England, who had come to this country when a young man, had married a Pennsylvania lady of Dutch descent, and they had lived and died in Luzerne County when past middle life. The father of our subject grew up in the county of his nativity and learned the trade of a brewer, which he followed for a time, and then abandoned that to fit himself for a blacksmith, which calling he pursued for a while in the county where he was born. He was in the prime and vigor of a stalwart, active manhood when he decided to improve his fortunes by migration to the wilderness of Illinois, where land was cheap, and there were other advantages to compensate for the rough, rude life on the frontier, with which he was well fitted to cope. He set forth from his old home with his family in 1836 or 1837 and traveled over the intervening country to his destination with teams.

After Joseph’s arrival here, he purchased a squatter’s claim on section 26, Nachusa Township, and was one of the original settlers of that place. He at once began to improve his land and also established a smithy, which he operated in connection with farming for some years. He built up a comfortable home, in which he rounded out a life of unusual length, he being past ninety-six years of age when he died, and the eldest but one man in the county. He was of a quiet, thoughtful disposition, of an even temperament, and irreproachable habits, and was reverenced by all who knew him. He was a strong Methodist in religion, and in politics, he was a downright Republican to the day of his death. As one who witnessed almost the entire growth of this county, actively aiding his fellow-pioneers in their great work of redeeming it from the hand of nature; and as one of the original settlers of Nachusa Township, his memory will always be cherished by all who take an interest in this section of the State.

Mr. Brierton’s wife died in 1872, at the age of three-score years and ten. She too was a native of Luzerne County, her parents also being of Pennsylvanian birth, and living and dying in that county, and her maiden name was Elizabeth Garrison. She was a noble type of the pioneer women who assisted their fathers, brothers, and husbands in the making of comfortable homes and in the upbuilding of Lee County, where she had many warm friends. She was a consistent Christian and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Our subject is one of twelve children, five of whom are living, all married and residing within the borders of this county. After attaining his majority he was first married in Nachusa, his native township, to Miss Mary E. Stetler, a native of Pennsylvania, who came to this county when a child with her parents. Her death occurred in Nelson Township, August 3, 1886, when she was still in life’s prime, and she left behind her a beautiful memory as a daughter, wife, and mother. Four children were born to our subject by that marriage, namely: Joseph, a farmer in Amboy Township, who married Miss Silvie Collins; Charles, a farmer in Nelson Township, who married Miss May Poorbaugh; Alva and Rhoda A., who are at home. The second marriage of our subject, which took place in Taylor Township, Ogle County, was with Miss Anna Hewitt. Mrs. Brierton was born in Ireland, in the County of Downe, March 24, 1860. Her parents are yet living at their old home in that Irish county. She came to the United States in December 1885, ambitious to make more of her life than was possible in her native land. Our subject has in her a true wife, and the Presbyterian Church a good working member. Mr. Brierton is an earnest thinker, with a mind well-stored with facts, and with opinions of his own on all subjects with which he is familiar. He has no faith in religious creeds, but his principles are high, and his conduct in all the affairs of life is irreproachable. He cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln and has ever since been loyal to the Republican party. Mr. Joseph Brierton left an estate of over $100,000, and the division of the estate was made without an administrator, with the help of one man outside the family — Jason C. Ayers — and each heir was entirely satisfied with the division, and the whole cost amounted to $100 only; something remarkable in the history of settling up large estates.


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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