John Henry Wilson, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of John Henry Wilson


This gentleman, who is presiding elder of the Valparaiso District, Northwestern Indiana Conference, was born in Kings County, Tallamore, Ireland, May 5, 1846, and his father, George Wilson, was a prominent shoe merchant of that place. The father died when our subject was but one year of age, .and when six years of age the latter came, with his mother, grandmother and two uncles, to America. They landed in New Orleans and immediately came north to Cincinnati. His parents were members of the Church of England, and the mother subsequently married an Irish Catholic, who insisted in converting our subject to his religious views, enforcing his teaching with cruelty. Young Wilson had a mind of his own on such subjects, and when seven years of age ran away from home, going to Gambier, Knox County, Ohio. There he worked for a Mrs. Cleaveland for his board and clothes, and at the end of a year she took him to a large coal farm near Zanesville, Ohio, where he remained with her until twelve years of age. She did not send him to school and endeavored to make him believe that he was bound to her, working him like a slave and treating him like one. Her children, especially, were cruel to him, all except the eldest daughter. When twelve years of age young Wilson left this place without warning and worked for William Young, of West Zanesville, until sixteen years of age. In the summer of 1862, when but sixteen years of age, he enlisted at Zanesville in Company A, One Hundred and Twenty-Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private under Col. William H. Ball, and served three years, being mustered out at Camp Chase, Ohio, in the spring of 1865. His service was all in Virginia, in the army of the Potomac, and his first battle was at Winchester, although, previously, he had been in severe skirmishes at New Creek, Morefield and other places. He participated in many prominent engagements, and on the 6th of May, 1864, he was wounded at the battle of the Wilderness by a minie ball, once in the leg and once in the right arm. Falling on the field, he came very near bleeding to death, and about four hours after being shot he was taken prisoner by the enemy. He was sent to Millesburg, and here the prisoners were stripped of all their possessions. He had no care and was taken in a cattle car to Lynchburg, thence to Danville, Virginia. There he remained three days and there his wounds were dressed. From there he was taken to Macon, Georgia, thence to Augusta, Georgia, where the people were kind and attentive - much in contrast to all the rest, and later sent to Andersonville, Georgia. This was about July 4, 1864, and he remained a prisoner there about ten months. The prison covered about twelve acres, enclosed by pine logs twenty-five feet long. Sentry boxes were fifty feet apart, and the dead line ten feet from the stockade. Four acres were swamp and four acres were added during the summer, as the number of prisoners increased to 35,000 men. During August and September the deaths were 300 per day. A great religious awakening was started by Sergeant Shepherd, in the fall when the suffering was the greatest. 6,000 were converted during this revival, and religious enthusiasm ran high. When the revival was closing one night, Sergeant Shepherd preached on Faith and alluded to the Rock of Israel. Our subject and many others prayed and petitioned the Almighty for water, many perishing every day for want of it. The prayers were directly answered in the most astonishing manner, for the next morning a beautiful spring of pure, clear water appeared. It was called Providence Spring. Although the soldiers had no shelter provided by the Confederates, many made holes in the ground and covered the same with any kind of covering to be found. There were very few men who could endure the meager rations doled out, and twenty-eight per cent of the entire number died and a very large proportion were injured for life. The horrors of this prison life could not be described by tongue or pen. These prisoners would engage in all kinds of enterprises, buying and selling, manufacturing many kinds of things, pipes, rings, canes, etc., and some even engaged in the saloon business, manufacturing a crude kind of beer from various substances. Mr. Wilson started a soup business, making the same from cornmeal and beans, and as this sold readily he made a little money. He also made a kind of beer by fermenting cornmeal and sorghum in the sun, flavoring it with sassafras, and using a little soda. Later he ran a sort of restaurant and bakery, so that he came out of prison with $100 in greenbacks and about $1,000 in Confederate money. If the prisoners had money concealed they could buy of the prison sutler, huckster or guard, and in this way get a start. On March 1, 1865, Mr. Wilson was exchanged at Willington, North Carolina, and in April was discharged at Camp Chase, Ohio. He came out of his prison experience in fair condition. Some time after he went to Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, where he attended school, his previous education being so limited that he could hardly read or write. He was such a profound student that he made two years' progress in one, and in the fall of 1866 he attended Wittenburg College, Springfield, Ohio, where he obtained his education. In September, 1868, he entered the ministry of the M. E. Church and soon after joined the Central Ohio Conference. He first preached on the Gilboa Circuit in Ohio, then Bettsville, Ohio, then Perrysburg, Ohio; after that Toledo, Ohio, Wasseon, Ohio, South Bend, Indiana, Rochester, Indiana, where he was recalled, and then was appointed presiding elder of the Valparaiso District, September, 1891. June 30, 1868, he married Miss Anna E. Lindsey, of Findley, Ohio, and to their union were born Anna, Ollie, J. H. and H. M., four children, one now living, Mrs. M. K. Berger, of South Bend, Indiana. Mrs. Wilson died December 10, 1889, and on the 17th of November, 1892, Mr. Wilson married Miss Mary DeMott, daughter of Hon. M. L. DeMott, postmaster of Valparaiso. Socially, he is a Mason, Odd Fellow and Knight of Maccabees and member of the Royal Arcanum. He is a member of the G. A. R., and was chaplain of the post at South Bend. For three years he has been a resident of Valparaiso, and during that time he has won many warm friends, and is one of the representative preachers of the city. He has a breadth of culture and strength of mind that would enable him to rank among the first preachers, and his highest ambition is to preach, with success, the unsearchable riches of Christ. In politics he is a Prohibitionist.

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: 147-149

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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