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The Withers

           Peter Withers brought his family to Bloomington in 1832, including son William and daughter Matilda.  In the 1840 census there were ten persons in his household, but by 1850, only four adults named Withers were found on the McLean County Census Allen, John, Peter (a son) and Mary. Sisters Eliza and Matilda were married and still living in McLean County. Allen and Matilda would be the only Withers to live their adult lives in McLean County and neither of them would have children.


            Allen Withers (1807 - 1864) came to Bloomington two years after his father and clerked for Merritt Covel. Later that year his father bought out the store and the two went into business together on the southeast corner of Main and Front Streets. He was also the census taker in both 1834 and 1837. (These census reports were hash mark censuses with no family member names.) Allen Withers was a great lover of town ball and played it a great deal near his store. It was said that he would send customers to Gridley’s store because he was too busy playing ball to wait on them. In the 1860 census his occupation is designated “gentleman,” which was probably a mark of his southern origins. He married Sarah Rice of Jessamine, Kentucky in 1835 but their marriage did not result in any children. Instead, Sarah Withers was one of the great philanthropists of Bloomington, choosing to endow the Withers Home for aged ladies and the Withers Library on Washington Street. Withers had a wandering streak, which caused him to travel to Mexico, where he spent time trading horses and to set up his own farm in Missouri from 1837 - 1847. Although both Withers had a reputation of being extremely refined, while living in Missouri Sarah Withers operated a boarding house and cooked the food and made the beds of strangers for several years.  He returned to Bloomington at the request of his father sometime during the forties. Allen Withers was a true southerner and was disliked by some in Bloomington for his tolerance of slavery. Withers stood six feet and two inches tall and was quite powerful as well. James Ewing told the story of Withers defending Asahael Gridley’s bank during a run on the bank. A mob was assaulting the bank and breaking the windows. Withers strode through the crowd and began picking up the men closest to the door and throwing them back into the crowd.

            William Price Withers also came to Bloomington and lived here intermittently. He had a hemp farm in Missouri for two years in the 40s and left with the gold rush men in 1850. However, instead of mining, took up stock raising in Stockton, California. He returned to Bloomington before 1860 and was here to organize soldiers for the Illinois Cavalry in the Civil War, in which he was a captain. He was sheriff of McLean County in 1859.


            William Withers had several children with his first wife, Mary Cole, but she died in 1863. He must have been absent at that time and in the 1870 census, three of those children: Nellie, Ned and Allen were living with his sister Matilda and her husband Charles Dodge, a local banker. William Withers remarried in 1867 and moved to Missouri, and none of his children by his first wife were living with him in 1870. His daughter Nellie became a school teacher in Illinois and in the 1890s she was living in Colorado as a teacher. She went on to become a Deaconess and worked as a nurse in the East, where she died at the age of 96 in a state hospital outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Deaconess nurses served as nurses in Deaconess Hospitals as volunteers. In their retirement they would live in Deaconess Homes and receive their care there. Matilda Withers never had any children of her own, but raised her brother’s children and one step daughter.


            Although eight Withers children appeared in the 1840 census, only the three named here created a record in the history of McLean County. The Withers were divided by the question of slavery and states rights. William Price Withers fought for the Union cause, but his brother, James Madison Withers (1824 – 1891), was a captain with the Missouri State Guard and was taken prisoner by the Union Army at the Battle of Springfield. He was held in St. Louis and Alton before his parole. At his home in Lafayette, Missouri, he told stories of Stephen A Douglas, Abraham Lincoln and Judge David Davis all of whom he had seen while a resident of Bloomington, Illinois. He served with the Illinois National guard during the Mexican War of 1847 and travelled to California with the 49’ers of Bloomington.             

            To read full biographies of Allen and Sarah Withers, follow the links below to the McLean County Museum of History website.

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