J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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and, as his task demanded his entire attention, the Indian caller missed the cus-
tomary friendly greeting. Having served his apprenticeship in the Maine wilder-
ness, Willett returned to Plymouth, where he engaged with equal success in sea
trading. His ventures on the ocean were directed largely to dealing with the
Dutch colony at N-ew Amsterdam, and the position he attained in the community
of his adoption is indicated by his election to the captaincy of the Plymouth Mili-
tary Company after the departure of Miles Standish. Boundary disputes between
the Dutch and New Englanders arose frequently and when at length it was decided
to settle such questions by arbitration, each party to name two commissioners,
whose decision would be final, New Amsterdam manifested its esteem for Thomas
Willett in choosing him one of the city's representatives and the quarrel was satis-
factorily settled. In 1660 Thomas Willett obtained a grant of lands west of Ply-
mouth, extending southward to Narragansett Bay, and later became owner of
other property, including the promontory known as Boston Neck, near Narra-
gansett Pier. He was one of the Atherton Company, which held from Connecticut
a grant of the most southerly part of Rhode Island. When King Charles granted
the colony of New Amsterdam to the Duke of York, the latter sent his representative,
Nicolls, across the Atlantic to take pqssession of Manhattan, hitherto controlled
by the Dutch. Learning of Thomas Willett's familiarity with life in that vicinity,
he summoned the former merchant to accompany him, and at Mr. Willett's repre-'
sentations that resistance was useless, New Amsterdam surrendered to Nicolls with-
out a fight, and after the city's name had been changed to New York, Willett, in
June, 1665. was appointed mayor with the approval of English and Dutch alike.
After a year in that office he became a member of the board of five aldermen of the
city and later served a second term in the office of mayor. He afterward again
acted in his old role of peacemaker between the English and the Five Nations
when the former went to take possession of Albany. He had gained considerable
success and prominence when in 167S the Dutch recaptured Manhattan, at which
time Thomas Willett decided to return to his farm on the shore of Narragansett
Bay. There his last days were spent. His old homestead stood until a few years
ago, when it was destroyed by fire. A relic of this man, once prominent in the life
of New England and of New York, is found in a silver communion service which
he gave to the Newman (R. I.) Congregational church, and in the town which he
largely owned two and a half centuries ago a fine, broad highway is named in his


In 1636 Thomas Willett wedded Mary, daughter of John Brown, and their
children were: Mary, born in 1637, who became the wife of Samuel Hooker;
Martha, who was born in 1639 and gave her hand in marriage to John Saffin; John,
whose natal year was 1641 ; Sarah, born in 1643, who wedded John Eliot; Rebecca,
whose birth occurred in 1644; Thomas, born in 1646; Esther, born in 1647, who be-
came the wife of Josiah Flynt; James, born in 1649, who wedded Elizabeth Hunt,
of Rehoboth; Hezekiah, whose birth occurred in 1651; Hezekiah, the second of
the name, who was born in 1653 and married Andia Brown, of Swansea; David,
Andrew and Samuel, who were born in the years 1654, 1655 and 1658 respectively.

Alvin T. Willett was a direct descendant of Thomas, the sixth child of the
founder of the family in the United States. Albert L. Willett was born in Waldo,
Maine, November 2, 1803, and died May 17, 1877. His first wife, Agnes Leven-
seller, died December 25, 1846, and on the 21st of November, 1848, he married
her sister Salome, who died August 12, 1874. Albert L. Willett was a prominent
farmer and landowner of Waldoboro. His two wives were descendants of the old
Kensel family from Holland. That family settled in Maine, and the first blockhouse
ever built in the state was erected on the Kensel farm, which is still in possession
of their descendants.

A Mr. Kensel, a brother of Mrs. Peter Levenseller, the maternal grandmother
of Mr. Willett, played a fife in a band at the signing of the Declaration of Inde-
pendence and this fife is now in the possession of one of his descendants.

Alvin T. Willett was the sixth in order of birth in a family of fifteen children
and pursued his education in his native town, dividing his time between his text-
books and work upon his father's farm. He also assisted his uncle in the manage-
ment of a hotel in Waldoboro and thus received his initial training in a work in
which he afterward became widely known. When twenty years of age he took up
the profession of school teaching, which he followed for two years. In 1860 he
left home and went to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he engaged in the hotel
business, remaining there until 1865, when he came to this city. Here Mr. Willett
managed the old Transit Hotel at the Union Stock Yards, then owned by Baldwin
& Tucker. After a few months, however, he resigned that position to become
manager of the Richmond House, then owned by Richard Summers and located
at the corner of South Water street and Michigan avenue. It was at that time
the finest hotel in Chicago. While there Mr. Willett met and became the friend
of Josh Billings, Artemus Ward, Donald Mitchell and many other notable men
of the time. Owing to ill health he gave up hotel management after serving for
three years and when he had spent a short time in recuperating he turned his at-
tention to the teaming business, which proved profitable, owing to his capable
control and unfaltering industry. In this he continued until his death, and his sons,
Walter D. and Howard L., still carry on the business under the name of the A. T.
Willett Company.

On the 3d of February, 1868, Mr. Willett was married in Cleveland, Ohio,
to Maria J. Davidson, a daughter of William and Mary (McMann) Davidson, the
former born in Scotland and the latter in Nova Scotia. Her father was one of the
early settlers of Cleveland, Ohio, and was the owner of the only fancy fruit farm
of the state. The farm is now part of the city of Cleveland. The children of Mr.
and Mrs. Willett are three in number. Ralph A., now department manager for


the N. K. Fairbank Company, married Corinne Cummings, of Chicago, and they
have one child, Norman C. Willett. Walter D., of the A. T. Willett Company,
married Rose McClory, by whom he has two children, A. T. and Helen. Howard
L., of the A. T. Willett Company, wedded Grace Williamson, by whom he has
a son, Howard L., Jr.

Alvin T. Willett was devoted to his home and was most loyal in his friend-
ships. He gave his political support to the democratic party but always refused
office, feeling that he could do his best service for his fellowmen in other ways.
He was always considering others and was especially interested in the welfare of
young men, many of whom he assisted on their way to fame and fortune. He loved
music, enjoyed social gatherings and was of that nature which sheds around it so much
of the sunshine of life. Wherever he went he won friends and his life was an effective
force for good cheer and good fellowship in the world.


Not by leaps and bounds but by the steady progression which is the legitimate
result of close application and indefatigable industry, has Adam John Weckler
reached his present enviable financial position a position which now enables
him to live retired in the enjoyment of the success that came to him as an active
representative of industrial interests here. He was born in St. Joseph, Michigan,
April 2, 1842, a son of John and Barbara (Berg) Weckler. His parents were
married in Chicago in 1841 and became permanent residents of Chicago in 1843,
after a brief period spent in Michigan. It was thus that Adam John Weckler
acquired his early education in the Kinzie school, while later he continued his
studies in St. Joseph's Private School and in St. Mary's of the Lake College.
Early in life, however, he became one of the wage earners in the great city, se-
curing employment when a lad of thirteen in the retail grocery store of John L.
Gray, at the corner of North Water and North Clark streets. He was afterward
employed in the retail dry-goods store of Mills, Brown & Dillenbeck Brothers, at
100 Lake street, and from 1857 until 1869 was in the employ of G. & C. W. Church,
wholesale grocers. His first independent venture was made in October of the
latter year when he established a wholesale and retail business in liquors and
cigars. This was conducted with profit until the Chicago fire, of October 9, 1871,
in which he lost very heavily. Not having sufficient capital to embark immediately
again in business alone, he was employed by Lill's Chicago Brewery Company,
of which he became the secretary, and such was the confidence and trust reposed
in him by his employer, William Lill, that he was named as one of the executors of
the estate, which he aided in settling up. In 1874 he became connected with the
brick manufacturing business as a partner of the firm of Lill & Weckler and after
the death of William Lill, in 1875, he was president and treasurer of the Weckler
Brick Company. Further extending his efforts in that field, he became president
and treasurer of the Weckler-Prussing Brick Company, so continuing until the
plant was sold to the Illinois Brick Company. He is president and treasurer of the
Weckler Boat Company, of Chicago, Illinois, which was organized upon the re-


tirement of his son, Adam F. Weckler, from the United States navy. As prosperity
has rewarded his labors Mr. Weckler has invested largely in property until his
real-estate holdings are now extensive. He was also a director of the Home In-
surance Company.

While his business interests have constantly grown in volume and importance,
Mr. Weckler has found time and opportunity to aid in works of public moment.
He was assessor and ex-officio member of the board of trustees of the town of Lake
View from 1873 until 1880, having been first elected on what was called the
"water ticket." During his first three terms in that office the Lake View water
works were constructed and twelve miles of pipe laid in 1875. He has always
given his political allegiance to the democratic party and keeps thoroughly informed
on questions and issues of the day. At one time he was a member of the Chicago
Light Guards and his religious faith is that of the Catholic church.

Mr. Weckler was married in Chicago on the 26th of February, 1867, to Miss
Catharine Diversy, and their children are: Mrs. Gertrude Prussing, who died
leaving three children, Edna, Alice and Carl; and Adam F., his son, who completed
a term of four years and two months in the United States navy, in June, 1904, and
received an honorable discharge, after which he became interested in the Weckler
Boat Company. The family residence is at No. 3446 Evanston avenue and the
summer months are 'passed at Pistakee Bay, in McHenry county, Illinois. It is
men like Mr. Weckler who are intelligent factors in the work that helps to develop
the success in all big cities. He has qualities which differentiate the possessor
from the common place and which have enabled him to pass many another who
perhaps started out ahead of him on the pathway of life.


Wherever Major Augustus J. Cheney was known, deep sorrow was felt at his
passing, his name was honored, and his memory is cherished. He was a man of
generous purposes and kindly heart and the purpose of his life seemed to be, to
make his every act tell for progress, for development and for righteousness. In
educational circles he occupied a prominent position, and yet that was but one
phase of a life that reached out along countless lines in benefit and helpfulness
toward his fellowman. Mr. Cheney was born in Georgetown, Essex county, Massa-
chusetts, March 1, 1887, and was a descendant of William Cheney, of Roxbury,
Massachusetts, who came to America from England in 1-639, having been a promi-
nent land owner in the latter country. The history of the Cheney family is insep-
arably interwoven with the early annals of Massachusetts. The parents of Major
Cheney were Moody and Sarah Susan (Burbank) Cheney, the latter a native of
Byfield, Massachusetts, and a descendant of the famous Burbank family of that
state. Spending his youthful days under the parental roof, Major Cheney sup-
plemented his early educational advantages by study in Thetford Academy and was
graduated from Dartmouth College with the class of 1857. Following the com-
pletion of his college course, Major Cheney took up the profession of teaching in
the Fifth Ward school at Racine. During the succeeding two years he was prin-



cipal of the schools of Delavan and afterward was elected the first county superin-
tendent of Walworth county. The educational system of the state, now one of
the most efficient in all the United States, owes its advancement largely to his ef-
forts. In the days when he was engaged in teaching the township school super-
intendent system prevailed. The superintendent of schools was elected with the
other town officers, and usually political lines were drawn. It not infrequently hap-
pened that a man who could little more than write his name, whose spelling was a
reminder of modern attempts at reform in spelling, and who knew little or nothing,
frequently nothing, about mathematics, geography, reading, and grammar, was
elevated to the important station of school superintendent, to pass upon the educa-
tional standing and other qualifications of applicants in whose keeping were to
be entrusted the educational instruction of the boys and girls of the township. The
inefficiency of superintendents so often resulted in unqualified teachers as to attract
the serious attention of educators who were fitted for their high calling. This
worthy class of teachers united in agitating for a change. The first in his county
to point out and ridicule the township system and explain the advantages of a
county superintendent, chosen to the office because of his education, and other es-
sential qualifications, was young Mr. Cheney. The campaign was prosecuted with
great vigor. The legislature made the change fifty years ago. Much to his sur-
prise, Mr. Cheney was among the first in his county to be brought forward as a
candidate for county school superintendent. He was elected and filled the impor-
tant station so well that his work is gratefully remembered by venerable men and
women who as pupils in those days largely benefited from the change of systems.
After filling the position for one term he was reelected without opposition, but he
felt that higher duties were then demanding his attention and he raised a company
of teachers and students for the Fortieth Regiment of Wisconsin Volunteer In-
fantry for the one hundred days' service and on the 26th of May, 1864, was com-
missioned captain of Company F. His command was sent to the district of Mem-
phis, Tennessee, and was engaged in guarding railroads and doing picket duty
and also participated in several skirmishes. In what was known as Forest's raid,
August 21, 1864, the Fortieth played a prominent and creditable part, Captain
Cheney showing rare skill and courage in handling his company. With his regi-
ment on the expiration of its term, on the 16th of September, he was mustered out,
and returned to Wisconsin, but at President Lincoln's last call for troops in 1865,
he was commissioned second lieutenant of Company K, Forty-ninth Wisconsin
Infantry, commanded by Captain Bishop Samuel Fallows, of the Illinois Command-
ery, and his commission bore date February 7. Captain Cheney was stationed in
the early spring of 1865 in Rollo, Missouri, and had charge of the fort there.
Nine days from date of his commission as second lieutenant he was raised to the
rank of captain, with which he served until mustered out in November, 1865. He
was appointed major of the regiment, but owing to the early muster-out of the
command was never officially given that rank, though for more than forty years he
was best known as Major Cheney, a title awarded him by the governor of Wiscon-
sin. During the last six months of his service he was on provost duty in the city
of St. Louis and was commandant of Gratior Street Military Prison and the Cha-
teau Avenue Barracks. With his command he was mustered out at Camp Randall,
at Madison, Wisconsin, November 8, 1865.


With the close of the war Major Cheney resumed his work along educational
lines, becoming principal of the schools at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, but after a year
thus passed he entered the service of Ivison, Blakeman & Company, publishers of
school books, becoming their agent for Wisconsin, Minnesota and the two Dakotas.
He was with that company for twenty-seven years and after a year's rest, during
the World's Fair at Chicago, became general western agent for the G. & C. Mer-
riam Company, publishers of Webster's dictionaries, on the 1st of May, 1893.
While he retired from the field as a teacher, in his connection with the book busi-
ness he was closely associated with school work and manifested the deepest interest
therein. It is said that no other educator ever had as great influence in Wisconsin
as he and that his influence was scarcely less in Minnesota or Dakota, while in the
National Educational Association he was a leader from the first. He was made
one of its life members in 1884 by the state superintendent, presidents of the nor-
mal schools and leading educators of the state of Wisconsin, which membership
he prized most highly. He probably attended more sessions of the National Edu-
cational Association and of the department of superintendence than any other
man. He was frequently spoken of by his associates in that work as a "prince of
good fellows."

On the 4th of August, 1862, in Racine, Wisconsin, Major Cheney was married
to Miss Sybil A. Sinclair, who was born in Moscow, Hillsdale county, Michigan,
January 29, 1837, a daughter of Duncan and Lucretia (Ashley) Sinclair, who were
natives of the state of New York. Major and Mrs. Cheney have no children of
their own but adopted a son, Lafayette Moody Sinclair Cheney. Politically Major
Cheney was a republican and while he never sought nor desired office was always
loyal to his party and its principles which he believed most conducive to good gov-
ernment. He was always well informed on the questions and issues of the day and
able to support his position by intelligent argument. In Masonry he attained the
thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite. He attended the Oak Park Congrega-
tional church and was a member of the Chicago Congregational Club. For many
years he made his home in Oak Park, where he passed away February 27, 1907,
when about seventy years of age. All through his residence there he took an active
and helpful interest in everything pertaining to the welfare and progress of that
attractive suburb. He was a man of fine personal appearance, the embodiment of
the highest type of honorable old age. At his death various resolutions of respect
were passed as a tribute to his memory. One of these reads as follows: "The
Chicago Congregational Club, assembled for the celebration of its twenty-fifth anni-
versary, counts the vacant places of many former members of this body. Of those
who have passed away within the last year, none will be more truly missed than
Major A. J. Cheney. Major Cheney was first an educator, and both as a teacher
and a man of influence in educational affairs, he exerted wide and wholesome power
on behalf of the public schools. At the outbreak of the great war for freedom, he
offered his life to his country, abandoning all other ambitions and throwing into its
service all the ardor of a well trained mind and a strong nature of heroic mold.
He was a valiant soldier on the battlefield, exposing himself to special peril for the
flag he loved and leaving behind him a record of unfaltering devotion to his coun-
try and its principles. He was a loyal citizen and a faithful friend, a man of


generous purpose and kind heart. The members of his club cherish his memory
and express to his family their sincere sympathy."

Phil Sheridan Post, of which Major Cheney was a member, adopted the fol-
lowing memorial:

"Whereas, The trumpet of the Lord has again sounded in our midst and Com-
rade Augustus J. Cheney has answered to the final roll call and now rests from care
and labor, therefore be it

"Resolved, by comrades of Phil Sheridan Post, No. 615, department of Illi-
nois, Grand Army of the Republic, in regular meeting assembled this first day of
March, 1907, that with deep sorrow we mourn the loss of our old comrade, who
peacefully and without a struggle yielded up his life on Wednesday last in obedience
to the summons of our Great Commander, that we commend his soul to the God
who gave it, praying that His loving mercy may give happy shelter and merited

"Rugged of form, brusque of speech, yet courteous unto all, ever seeking to
play well the part of a true and ideal citizen of the republic, jealous as a lover
of the good name of the village, state and nation, a true and loyal lover of wife,
family, home and country, a just and honorable man, a hearty whole-souled com-
rade, such was Past Commander Augustus J. Cheney. He was heartily interested
in and a loyal member of Phil Sheridan Post, and we shall miss his cheery manner,
good judgment and ever willing aid in our councils."

In its memorial the Wisconsin commandery of the Loyal Legion of the United
States said: "Though a resident of another state the past thirty-five years, Major
Cheney never lost his interest in the educational and other affairs of Wisconsin.
He was one of the early members of the State Teachers' Association, has served
as its president, and taken an active part in its building up, seldom, if ever, failing
to attend its sessions. We need not hesitate to claim that but few men in Wiscon-
sin have had a greater part in bettering the condition of the public schools. There
is no risk run in saying that no other man had as many personal acquaintances in
the state. His field as manager for school book publishers included this state,
and he visited every city and village more or less frequently. It was for that rea-
son that his membership was placed with Wisconsin Commandery of the Military
Order of the Loyal Legion, in July, 1885. It was for that reason he became, a
quarter of a century ago, a member of Wisconsin Consistory of Scottish Rite
Masons. It was for that reason he attended nearly all of the political and other
large conventions held in Wisconsin. Few, if any, members of this commandery
have been more regular in their attendance upon its meetings than Companion
Cheney. He loved Wisconsin; he loved Wisconsin institutions; he loved Wisconsin
people, and in return he was loved and honored by the people of this state. He
was a lovable man. He was so constituted that he could make friends on every hand,
and seldom, if ever, an enemy. Though all his life an ardent republican, and an
aggressive one, he seems to have missed all of those rough and rugged paths that
most men of strong party bias encounter, and which result in bitter animosities.
Men of his own and of the opposite party admired him so thoroughly as a large
hearted man, a genuine friend, and a genial associate, that political differences
never created other differences."


The Wisconsin State Journal wrote of him as follows: "Major Cheney made
friends everywhere he went, and he held them, too. He was just as much at
home and welcome in the private office of Dr. Harris as in the district school with
the rural teacher. In fact, this remarkable acquaintanceship was due to his recog-
nition of the younger element in the profession. Advancing years did not dim his
vision of those who soon would be at the helm. He will be missed at state and
national educational gatherings, where for more than fifty years he has been a
familiar figure. His genial disposition, his big souled nature, his record as a teacher,
a scholar, a soldier, a man are the elements of his character which will long
live in the memories of those whose good fortune it was to know Major Augustus

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.5) → online text (page 29 of 74)