Monday, March 12, 2012

Reuben Holcomb I - Short Biography

One of a series of short biographies of individual ancestors. These are undertaken, from time-to-time, when enough information becomes available about an individual.

Reuben T. Holcomb - Wisconsin Pioneer

I find Reuben Holcomb to be one of the more interesting of my ancestors. This might be in part because there is some good information available about him but I think it is also because of the times he lived in and the pioneering path he chose. Reuben was born May 16, 1816 on the western frontier in Monroe County, New York. He was the third born of five known children of Apollas Holcombe (b.1791, d.1823) and Mehitable Bunnell (b.1793, d.1853). Apollas was born in Granby, Connecticut and had come west to Bloomfield, New York with his parents after the American Revolution. Apollas was a veteran of the War of 1812, where he was wounded at the burning of Buffalo in 1814. He would die in 1823 at the age of 32 and leave Mehitable to raise their five young children. Mehitable was the daughter of Jonathan Bunnell (b.1741) and Mehitable Morse (b.1743). The Bunnell family came west from Blandford, Massachusetts and settled near the Holcombe family in Bloomfield.


Rural Green County has changed little since first settled by
Reuben Holcomb and others in the 1840's and 1850's.

Although Reuben had lost his father when he was only six or seven years old, he seemed fortunate to have an extended family to help raise him. His grandfather, Micha Holcombe, a revolutionary war veteran was still alive and Reuben had a number of aunts and uncles living nearby. As he and the other children of Apollas and Mehitable came of age, they would look father west for new opportunities. Reuben's brother Ira would go to eastern Michigan in the mid-1830's followed by others, including Reuben, who would be in LaPeer County by 1841. By 1850, in addition to Ira and Reuben, sister Hannah, brother James, mother Mehitable, uncles Virgil and Micha Jr. and Grandfather Micha Sr. (and possibly others) would all be living in eastern Michigan. Later in life, it seems likely that Mehitable married Reuben's uncle, Micha Jr.

While most would settle-down in Michigan, Reuben seemed a bit restless and in 1844 he would visit the Territory of Wisconsin. He returned to Michigan briefly but then came back to Wisconsin and settled in the Town of Fayette in, what was then, Iowa County. It was noted that he worked as a carpenter and joiner for a few years traveling from job to job in Iowa and Green Counties. His brother James was also in Wisconsin for a time as they are both listed as borders on a farm in the Town of Adams in 1850. About that same time, Reuben began to purchase land on Section 13 in the Town of Adams. Eventually, he would acquire over 300 acres. In 1855, Reuben would marry Sarah Wilderman (b.1826, d.1910). She was the daughter of James Wilderman (b.1790, d.1847) and Sarah Jarvis (b.1795 ,d.1856) of Saint Clair County, Illinois. Sarah had come north to Wisconsin to teach school and was noted as a teacher at a log school house near the Holcomb farm. Reuben and Sarah started out in their own small log cabin and in 1866 built a larger frame house on the property. They would have five children:
  • James (b.1856, d.1937) - would marry Austie Montee, venture west, settle on a farm in South Dakota and raise at least eight children.
  • Ernest (b.1861, d.1931) - would marry Rose Blummer, a neighbor girl. He would take over the farm from Reuben and raise a large family of 10 boys and one girl. Ernest also served as clerk of the Town of Adams. The farm would be passed on to his sons, Ira and Harold.
  • Florence (b.1861, d.1863) - a twin of Ernest would die at the age of two. 
  • Reuben (b.1864, d.1949) - would marry Amber Fessenden and settle in Monroe. After her death, he married Stella Hollister. He would serve as the clerk of the Circuit Court and as County Supervisor and work for the brewery. He would have two children with his first wife and three with his second. One son Ralph, would die in World War I (read about Ralph here).
  • Jennie (b.1866, d.1966) - would teach school, marry Henry Knowlton and settle in South Dakota. Eventually, they would move on to California where Jennie would die just a few days before her 100th birthday.
Reuben Holcomb Jr. and Ernest Holcomb, 1902;
sons of Reuben Holcomb and Sarah Wilderman.
Reuben had settled in Wisconsin in the years just prior to statehood and although he did not get into politics, he was an engaged citizen of the young state. In 1850, he acted as clerk of the local elections as the Town of Adams was first being reorganized after statehood. In 1862 he served as a convention delegate for the Town of Adams for the upcoming, raucous, civil war mid-term elections. On the farm, he was noted to be in the business of raising grain and livestock as well as operating a dairy. The 1859 Assessment Role for the town shows his land value at $1910.00. In 1853, his mother, Mehitable came to live with him and she is noted to have died in Wisconsin.

The Reuben Holcomb farm on section 13 in the Town of Adams. From the
1873 Atlas of Green County, Wisconsin (found at Historic Map Works).

Reuben would retire from the farm in the 1890's and settle in Monroe. In 1899, on a visit back to the farm (then run by his son Ernest), he would suffer a stroke. Reuben would die a day later and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Monroe, Wisconsin.
The obituary of Reuben Holcomb from the Monroe Weekly Times: Reuben Holcomb, a highly respected citizen of Green county, was gathered by death's cycle at 10 o'clock Thursday evening as a result of a stroke of paralysis that he suffered the day before. He died at his farm in the town of Adams, where he located in 1846. Mr. Holcomb lived in this city for a few years past and he and his wife were paying the farm their first visit since they moved to town at the time he was stricken. The deceased was born in Monroe County, New York, on May 16, 1816, and had he lived until Tuesday, he would have reached his 83rd birthday. He was married in 1855 to Sara E. Wilder, of St. Clair county, Ill., the wife who survives him. They settled on eighty acres of land in Adams and later adjoining land was entered until he owned a farm of 300 acres. For years he was engaged in grain and stock raising. He leaves besides his wife, three sons and a daughter.
Reuben Holcomb was typical of many "easterners" who came west as the Northwest Territory was opened to settlement. Born in New York, of colonial ancestry, he was a pioneer in the Territory of Wisconsin, saw the territory become a state, lived through the civil war period and died just prior to the turn of the century. It is interesting to note that Reuben's father was born in Colonial America and his children would live well into the modern era - the 20th Century.


The Holcomb grave site at Greenwood Cemetery in Monroe.
For more on the family of Reuben's wife Sarah, read the series:
  -Wilderman Family (1) - Pioneers and Colonists: German Colonist in a New World
  -Wilderman Family (2) - Pioneers and Colonists: West, Into the Frontier

For more information on Stella Hollister's family, go here . . .

For more on Reuben's father, Apollas Holcombe, go here . . .

Research Notes: Reuben is featured in two county histories written in the late 19th century. Both are about the Town of Adams in Green County, Wisconsin. One article features him and the other is about his son Reuben Jr. Additional information was obtained from the United States Census, the Green County Historical Society, the Holcombe Family website and a few other sources.

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