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Below is a family biography included in The History of Adams County, Illinois published by Murray, Williamson & Phelps in 1879.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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KEYES, WILLARD, one of the earliest settlers and one of the three original County Commissioners of Adams county; first came to the county in 1819, though not as a permanent resident until 1824; born Oct. 28th 1792, at Newfane, Windham county, Vermont. The years, of his life until manhood were passed in the hard labor of farm life, interspersed as opportunity favored, with a few months of attendance at school, during each winter. These opportunities, because rare and difficult of attainment, were all the more highly appreciated, and resulted in the formation of tastes and habits of study that had an important influence on his whole after life. In the spring of 1817, his attention was attracted to the advantages offered to such as were disposed to enter with energy and determination upon the development of the resources of the Western country, and in June of that year, without means, and unaccompanied save by a brave heart and a resolute determination to work out a future for himself, he turned his back upon his mountain home in Vermont, and began his journey toward the great West. The hardships and self-denials encountered during this journey were so great, that many another would have abandoned the project and returned disheartened to pass an aimless life in toil upon the rugged Vermont hills. But his purpose once formed, his determination never wavered, and he pressed courageously forward. His course lay through the then sparsely settled regions of New York and Canada, until after many weary weeks, he reached the government frontier post at Mackinac; thence across the desolate country which now forms the great state of Wisconsin, until in the fall of the year he reached the Mississippi river at the Indian trading post called Prairie du Chien.

Here he passed something more than a year engaged in various pursuits, and in the fall of 1818 he joined a party formed for the purpose of passing the winter in the pineries. The early spring found him the owner of a raft of considerable proportions — the result of a hard winter’s toil — and in the month of March, with one hired hand to assist in navigating his craft, he started for St. Louis. On the 10th of May, 1819, he had arrived as far south as the spot where now is situated the city of Quincy, and the natural attractions of the situation were by no means unheeded, as is proved by after events. This, the only point for many miles either above or below where the bluffs skirted the river, seemed by nature intended for a settlement of more or less importance, and when, in the following year, circumstances brought him again to this place, his first impressions were most thoroughly established.

Some two years were passed in explorations throughout the “military tract” in the interest of various owners of bounty lands, in which occupation a good knowledge of the government system of surveys, and the principles of land surveying, made his services of peculiar value.

At this time Mr. Keyes met and formed a friendship for John Wood (since then a Governor of the state) which lasted through the remainder of his life. The two men had much in common — youth, energy, and ambition — common aims and sympathies, that rendered their friendship congenial, and for half a century they watched with jealous interest the growth and gradual development of the settlement their hands had planted. In the spring of 1824 Mr. Keyes erected a house near the place where now stands the railroad passenger depot, and in the only room of this unpretentious structure, sixteen by twenty-four feet in dimensions, was held the first term of court and the first election held in Adams county. Here he lived and labored for almost fifty years, honored and respected as one of the founders and fathers of a large and prosperous city. With what anxious solicitude he watched the gradual growth and development of this infant settlement from a desolate wilderness to a populous city, there are now but few left to testify.

His life was marked throughout its entire course by a rare spirit of enterprise, and progress, coupled with an unyielding integrity that won for him respect and friends from all classes with whom he came in contact. He possessed a quiet, unobtrusive disposition which prompted him to shun, rather than seek for, public life and position, for which otherwise he would have been well fitted. Self-assertion was not a part of his nature. His sphere of usefulness (and it was not a restricted one) was in the walks of private life. He loved a generous and philanthropic act for its own sake and for the sake of the inward consciousness it brought of a duty fulfilled. He was always ready to extend a helping hand to suffering and needy humanity, and the hearty “God bless you,” received in return for a kindly act or word, was for him a more than ample reward. This quality of heart and mind led him to feel and express a large measure of sympathy for the negro in slavery, and he was an active and outspoken abolitionist at a time when to be such was unpopular with a large proportion of the community. A deeply religious tone pervaded his whole life, and he was for many years, and up to the close of his life, a deacon in the Congregational Church, in the establishment of which he was instrumental at an early day. Feeling keenly his own lack of early educational advantages, it was always his earnest wish to give to his children every facility for acquiring a liberal education, and he was ever found ready to give of his means and influence for the establishment and encouragement of educational institutions, both at home and abroad. He lived to see his children, one son and three daughters, all attain manhood and womanhood, and died Feb. 7, 1872, leaving behind a memory cherished and revered by all who knew him.

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This family biography is one of 1444 biographies included in The History of Adams County, Illinois published by Murray, Williamson & Phelps in 1879.  View the complete description here: The History of Adams County, Illinois

View additional Adams County, Illinois family biographies here: Adams County, Illinois Biographies

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