William C. Talcott, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of William C. Talcott


Over seventy-eight years have passed over the head of the venerable man who is the subject of this sketch, leaving their impress in the whitening hair and lined features, but, while the outward garments of the soul show the wear and tear of years, the man himself is richer and nobler and grander for the experience that each successive decade has brought him. He is one of the oldest pioneers of Porter County, and, so far as he knows, is the oldest resident of the county now living. Since 1837 he has been prominently identified with the public interests of Porter County, and was one of the first schoolteachers, tax collectors, surveyors, preachers, jurists and editors in this part of the state. Judge Talcott is one of those few remaining pioneers whose characters are typical of early Western growth, and his love of truth and great benevolence are combined with practical good sense. In many ways Judge Talcott resembles Abraham Lincoln and other Western men of his stamp. He comes of old Puritan stock, and was born in Massachusetts, where his ancestors were among the founders of the state. His father was Joseph Talcott, his grandfather Joseph Talcott, and his great-grandfather was Elizor Talcott, who was the son of Samuel and Thankful (Belding) Talcott, who was the son of Capt. Samuel and Hannah (Holyoke) Talcott, who was the son of Worshipful John and Dorothy (Mott) Talcott, who was the son of John and Hannah (Skinner) Talcott, who was the son of Sir John Talcott, of Colchester, England, thought to be the first man of the name, either from some peculiarity about his tall cot or tailed coat, or it may be both or neither. The early spelling of the name, sometimes Tailcoat and other times Talcott, appears to assign the name a double or doubtful origin. The three Johns were natives of England, and the one entitled "Worshipful" came to this country and his descendants were all born here. Joseph Talcott, grandfather of subject, was a farmer by occupation, and was married in his native state to Miss Mary Thomas. After the birth of all his children, or in the winter of 1816, he moved with his family to Warren County, Ohio, where he passed the remainder of his days, dying when eighty-four years of age. He was one of the early pioneers of the Buckeye State. His son, Joseph Talcott, father of subject, was born in the Old Bay State, and there grew to manhood. He was married in that state to Miss Rebecca Warren, and in 1816 came with his father and family to the Buckeye State, being one of the earliest settlers of Salem. To his marriage were born eleven children, three of whom were born after moving to the Ohio wilderness. They were named as follows: Asa, Polly, Martin, Ezra W., Eliza, Rebecca, Caroline, William C., Silas N., Armeria M. and Asenath Catherine. Joseph Talcott and family remained at Conneaut, formerly Salem, Ohio, about one year, and while there Salmon Swetland, an uncle of our subject, who was an expert hunter and boatsman, seeing a deer swimming the lake, jumped into a skiff, and while in pursuit of the deer was overtaken by a severe storm which drove him rapidly across Lake Erie to Canada. He had a narrow escape, and after enduring great hardships made his way home by way of Buffalo, after his funeral bad been held. About the year 1817 Joseph Talcott moved to Madison, Lake County, Ohio, settled on a farm, and there passed the closing scenes of his life, reaching the age of about eighty years. His wife lived to be about eighty-three years of age. In connection with farming Mr. Talcott was a carpenter, and for many years a singing school teacher. In politics he was an Old Line Whig. He was a hard-working, industrious man, who reared a large family and gave them the common education of the day. He was well known for his sterling qualities of mind and heart, and in every walk of life his career was upright and honorable. His wife was first a member of the Congregational Church, but later became a Universalist. William C. Talcott, son of the above and subject of this sketch, was born December 25, 1815, in Dalton, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and was but an infant when brought by his parents in an ox wagon to Ohio. The incidents in his early life were not materially different from those of other boys living on farms in the pioneer country. He was trained to work at anything necessary for him to do, and from the age of five until about ten he attended the poineer log school-house. When he had reached the latter age his father's house was destroyed by fire, and for a year and a half after that he made his home with one of his neighbors. From that time oil young Talcott made his own way in life, and being the carver of his own destiny, has made it an honorable one. For some time he lived with another neighbor, a widow, Mrs. Brewster, who, with her children, was very religious, and while our subject earned his living by his labor on the farm, he was taught religious principles with the aim of his becoming a Presbyterian minister. Here he began the study of Latin and Greek under Mrs. Brewster's son, who had attended college and studied theology. This son afterwards became an adherent of the Latter Day Saints or Mormons, that doctrine then being preached in its original power and simplicity by the founder, Joseph Smith, and his disciples, at Kirtland, Ohio. When seventeen years of age Mr. Talcott attempted to gain a collegiate education, and with this end in view entered the Western Reserve College at Hudson, Ohio. His means being limited he gave up the idea and walked back to Madison, a distance of fifty miles. Soon after that he attended Jefferson Academy, Ashtabula County, Ohio, for eight months, the sons of Joshua Giddings, the famous Ohio statesman, being his schoolmates. He was then eighteen years of age, and returning to Hudson he passed a good examination for the Freshman class, and was encouraged to pursue his studies. However, he gave up the idea of entering the ministry, as he had many doubts and could not conscientiously preach Orthodox doctrine. After that he taught school in Madison, Ohio, and in 1835 went to Union Mills, Indiana, where he found his brother Ezra. After a variety of experiences he went to Joliet, Illinois, and passed through the site of Valparaiso, the northern part of the town, there being no signs at that time of any settlement. After three months he returned to Indiana and taught school in LaPorte County, where he learned surveying of one of the early surveyors. Purchasing his instruments, he came to Porter County, Indiana, in the spring of 1837, and did some surveying. Here he met the original proprietor of Valparaiso, Benjamin McCarty, who employed the young surveyor to lay off the west tier of blocks of the old survey, and the out-lots on the west, south and east of the old survey. He was appointed commissioner by the county surveyor, to select swamp lands in the north half of Porter County as the property of the state. When he began surveying the town of Valparaiso, in 1837, there were only about a half dozen houses in the town. The following winter he taught school in the Morgan school-house, three and a half miles northeast, on the LaPorte road. The school-house was a log cabin with floor of bass-wood bark, rough side up, stick and mud chimney, and slab benches. Among his scholars was Ann Rinker, afterwards the wife of William Stoddard and mother of Sheriff Heber Stoddard, also Joseph Rinker, now an old citizen of the county. The Clines, Billingses and Bells were among the principal families in his district. The young teacher boarded with Wilson Malone, and carried the youngest daughter, Elizabeth, then four years of age, in his arms to school and taught her to read. Simeon Bell was one of his old pupils, also James Shinabarger and other members of that family. In 1837, while surveying, he also rode horseback over the south part of Porter County as tax collector, being the earliest tax collector in the county. On the first of May, 1838, Mr. Talcott was married four miles southeast of Valparaiso, to Miss Maria, daughter of James and Irene (Ransom) Luther. Mr. Luther was one of the pioneers of Porter County, and came originally from the Empire State. He was one of the prominent early politicians of this county. After marriage Mr. Talcott spent the summer with his wife's parents, on the farm, and the next winter taught the school in the Lutheran district. For a period of four years Mr. Talcott laid out and surveyed all the roads in this county, having been appointed by the state legislature in the winter of 1837-8 as surveyor of state roads through Porter County, and commissioner of several roads. In 1837 his natural inclination to theology induced him to begin preaching the Gospel in LaPorte County, and in 1840 he was ordained at Valparaiso a Universalist minister, laboring among the people in this cause for about ten years. In 1840 he moved to Valparaiso, and while preaching employed his leisure moments in reading law, and for a number of years practiced this profession. In 1849 he was appointed by Lieut.-Gov. Dunning the Probate Judge of Porter County to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Nathaniel Campbell. Having completed the term, he was elected by the people for a term of four years, but after completing three years he resigned and became a candidate for the state legislature, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William M. Harrison, but failed to be elected on account of his temperance views. In 1843 Judge Talcott brought the first printing office to Valparaiso, and leased it to James H. Castle, who published "The Republican," the first newspaper in Valparaiso. This was intended to be a weekly newspaper, but its publication was semi-occasional. In 1844 Judge Talcott sold this office to William M. Harrison, who founded a Democratic paper the same year, called "The Western Ranger." This year Judge Talcott's attention was called to the confusion of the English language, and he originated a system of phonetic spelling, with both written and printed characters, and in this style published in "The Western Ranger," in the fall of 1844, an extract from the Declaration of Independence. This was before he had seen or known of Pittman's publications in England. From 1845 to 1847 Judge Talcott lived in St. Joseph County, and was one of the founders of an industrial association on the co-operative plan, which was not a success on account of financial reasons. He also established a newspaper in South Bend in 1846, called "The Spirit of Reform," which was in existence only a few months. In the spring of 1847 the Judge returned to Valparaiso and bought a half interest in "The Western Ranger," which he conducted in company with Mr. Harrison for two years. After this he bought out Mr. Harrison and changed the name to "The Practical Observer," which he conducted in the interests of anti-slavery principles, although he was at that time a Democrat, and the paper was in the interests of that party. When the Kansas trouble broke out and the new Republican party began to be talked about, Judge Talcott became one of the principal supporters and founders, and he might well be called the father of the Republican party in Porter County. After conducting this paper for ten years Judge Talcott sold out to Dr. Cameron, who changed the name to "The Republican," and the judge was elected Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, which office he held to the satisfaction of the people for twelve years. After this he practiced law in Valparaiso until 1872. This year he bought "The Vidette" and "Republican," two papers which had been consolidated. Shortly afterward he took as a partner his son, Charles R. Talcott, and "The Vidette" was continued in this manner until some time in the '80s, when the judge sold his interest to his son. The latter conducted the paper alone about a year, when the judge again bought the property and conducted it for some time. He established a daily paper, "The Porter County Vidette," which he carried on for five years, but in 1888 he sold out his newspaper interests. In 1890 he re-purchased one-half interest in "The Vidette," with Capt. Chas. E. Welty as partner, to whom he sold out in March, 1894. "The Vidette" has ever been strictly Republican, a fearless advocate of advanced views, and the vanguard of all reforms. It has never hesitated to express the truth, has ever been a leading paper, and has the largest patronage of any weekly paper in the county. It is the oldest paper in the county. To the Judge and Mrs. Talcott have been born three living children, all boys: Henry W., Joseph F. and Charles R. Throughout his long life Judge Talcott has been a man of industrious and economical habits, and has accumulated a handsome property. At the age of seventy-eight years he is still able to attend to business and come regularly to the office. For many years he has contributed phonetic notes to the "Vidette," and is a firm believer that the spelling of the English language will finally be reformed. His religious views are: That the Worshipful Divinity, however variously idealized, is the goodness, intellect and power manifest in life as seen in facts or contemplated in the faith of spiritual life. That proper understanding of this matter naturally prompts our reverence, love and service of this excellence at once both human and divine. That providence in life has always done and will in future always do its utmost in behalf of pleasure and to make the least pain. That ills exist because volition with best possible direction is thus far unable to control involuntary tendencies of really beginningless causation so as to prevent them, but the utmost efforts of our Gracious Providence, for such relief is always made. That death is just the same to man as to the lower animals - an end of consciousness - but he is cheerfully resigned to this, not only as a fate to which we should resign ourselves, but as a state which, while it promises no future glory to ourself, has this fair compensation that it leaves one free of apprehension for the sad fate of the lost. And yet he sees an after-death arraignment before the sacred bar of public sentiment, and retribution there rewarded of the measure of esteem or disesteem the course of life has really engendered to endure indefinitely. He regards the Bible as a fallible but sacred, venerable, valuable book, consisting of some mythological traditions as to how the world began, prehistoric stories of some early times, imperfect history of ancient nations and religions, proverbs, songs, prophecies, and a foundation for the Christian system. Christianity, he thinks, had two prime features: A faith about future life, and a rule of social practice. Christian faith about the future was that the appointed time for Daniel's dream about the resurrection, day of judgment and eternal retribution to take place 490 years from Daniel's time was nearly out, and that great crisis sure to come in that then present generation, to occur immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem. This phase of the system, varying but little from the prevalent ideas of the world about the after-death condition, and so of but small importance, failed, he reverently thinks, as dreams are likely to; but that great Christian practical idea of ignoring sacrifices, forms and ceremonies, and resolving human duty into doing as one naturally wishes to be done by, although its progress in adoption has been very slow, entitles its originator to immortal honor.

Source: Goodspeed Brothers. 1894. Pictorial and Biographical Record of La Porte, Porter, Lake and Starke Counties, Indiana. Chicago, Illinois: Goodspeed Brothers. 569 p.
Page(s) in Source: 118-123

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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