Family Farms

The James Connection

by J. Nash
Paper written for a class at Cobden High School, 2003. Reprinted by permission.

All photos included on this page are courtesy of descendents of the James Family

Following is a brief description of the James family. I am a recent member of this long line of interesting people who came here, loved the land, and chose to cherish it as a homestead forever. Most are now gone, but their memories live on with each generation passing the stories, pictures and other memorabilia to the new generation.


photo of Wilson James familyWilson James was the son of George W. James, who migrated to Kentucky from Virginia and then in 1820 moved to Union County. Wilson James was a pioneer in that he was "one of the very first to discover how well one could grow fruit in the southern Illinois soil." Wilson devoted most of his life to the growing of delicious apples. But, he eventually died an early death from small pox, which was so prevalent after the Civil War.


Wilson James family, left


scanned photo of George W. JamesWilson James had a son named George W. also, and after Wilson died, George W. James was left with six brothers and sisters whose mother had died four years earlier. His home farm between Cobden and Alto Pass became known throughout the area for the magnificent apples and peaches. He also was one of the first to diversify with his crops, growing and selling at one time 2500 packages of rhubarb.

George W. James, son of Wilson James, right




photo of Fountain JamesMr. James had two children, George W. (who was always referred to as Uncle Joe) and Fountain E. Fountain was my great-great-grandfather. In later years, Fountain would have four children, one of whom was Pat James, my great-grandfather.

Fountain James, son of George W. James, left


In History of Southern Illinois published in 1912, George Washington Smith had this to say about Wilson's son, Mr. G. W. James: "Having had heavy responsibilities thrust upon him early in life, knowing what it meant to work early and late, enduring many privations Mr. James' sympathy and kindness toward all who need a helping hand have won him the affectionate regard of his fellowmen and he's fortunate in living to see the fruits of his labors returning to him tenfold."

"Jamestown - The Town"

My great-great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were what were known as "gentleman farmers." They had people who lived on their farms who worked year-round in the orchards. In the summer and on through the harvest season many other workers would come from Missouri and Arkansas, and stay during the entire growing and harvesting season. They would live in little buildings on the farms, and some would even stay in tents. The same people migrated year after year, and established such a bond with one another and with my ancestors that it was as though it was a big family reunion which lasted all summer long.

I have heard many stories of all the campfires, cook-outs, and games that the children played after the work was done. There weren't trips to the mall. Baseball and softball games were not organized like now, but rather came together on the spur of the moment, and were played anywhere there was a large enough grassy area on which to play. Sometimes the playing area would even extend over the roads. The campfires were especially fun. Old time songs were sung by little children and old grandparents as well. The teenagers especially liked to tell ghost stories to the younger children who would then be too scared to walk back to their cabins and tents.

On the weekends, some of the older workers would get a ride to town and bring back whiskey. As the night wore on, some would get loud and rowdy, causing the mothers to gather the younger children.

This area where everybody stayed became practically a village in itself and the entire farm was known by people throughout the area as "Jamestown." In later years, my aunt, who was a teenager at the time, opened up a little market called "Midget Market" where she sold bread, coke, and many other items which the working people on the farm needed to live. This little building was there until just a few years ago.

photo of Kathleen James

Kathleen James, left

The house that was near it was the house my mother lived in until she was five years old. This was the house that George W. James (known as Uncle Joe) and Aunt Ann lived in when they helped to raise my grandmother, Kathleen. Her mother died when she was six weeks old, so they helped my great-grandfather, Pat James, raise her. Pat lived across the road in the James home where I now live. When my great grandfather died, my mother, and her parents, who were Kathleen and Herb Modglin, moved across the road to the other "James" house. At about this time, my mother was starting school.

The McCleland family then moved into the G.W. James house. The McClelands had six children. My mother and the McCleland children practically lived at one another's houses and were closer than most brothers and sisters. The McClelands lived there for many years. That was the beginning of the long relationship my family has always had with the McCleland family.

photo of Fount James Fruit Farm shed and a group of people posed for the photo

Photo of Fount James Fruit Farm shed, right

The house that Fountain James built between Alto Pass and Bald Knob in 1901 is now owned by the Joseph Gray Family. The Fountain James Fruit Farm was also famous for the huge amount of quality apples grown there. In the year 1913 the Illinois Horticultural society had its annual meeting at the Fountain James farm drawing hundreds of people who shared their knowledge of the various methods of growing apples, peaches, and various types of vegetables. This also was quite a social event.

"The James House"

one of the James homesThe house, which my mother moved into at age five, is the house that my family and I live in now. The log cabin, which is now our living room, was built in 1849. I am the sixth generation to live at Jamestown. My mother says that even when she didn't live at Jamestown, she always knew that she would return there some day. She says that Jamestown is the thread that connects us to all those who came before us and all of those to come. The closest my family came to losing Jamestown was when my grandfather and grandmother were raising fruits and vegetables and were devastated by hailstorms two years in a row. They had to sell off part of their beloved homestead to get out of debt. My grandfather left the farming profession and became a forest fire warden for the state of Illinois. The nucleus of the old home place therefore still remains intact. There is still the original James home and there is the house that my grandparents built the year my mother started college.

"The James Outlaws"

To say Jamestown has a history is very much an understatement. People who knew my great-great-grandfather told tales of the legendary Frank and Jesse James stopping by the house to visit their so-called "distant" cousins. Of all the characters in the world, Jesse and Frank James were two of the most famous outlaws. Some people regarded Jesse as America's "Robin Hood", while others saw him as a cold-blooded killer.

For over fifteen years the James brothers roamed throughout the United States robbing trains and banks of their gold. On April 3, 1882 Jesse was shot in the back by a former partner for the ten thousand dollar reward, which had been on Jesse for some time. Historians argue over whether he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, or just kept it.

The tale that I have heard regarding their visits to Jamestown was that Frank and Jesse visited on their way to a carnival which was held in Williamson County. Over the years, relatives who saw Jesse and Frank as "Robin Hoods" have claimed them as being related to our James family. Those relatives that saw the brothers as killers and common criminals have denied being related to them. Whether or not they are related or were actually in my living room, it sure makes interesting conversations in our living room.

"Jamestown - The Road"

When Union County became a 911 county, all roads and streets which were not already named had to be officially named. If roads or streets had a nick-name already, that was usually the name which was given to them. Fortunately, highway workers for years had referred to the road on which I live as Jamestown Road. The 911 board officially named it Jamestown Road.

"James - Full Circle"

When I was born, we were living at Jamestown on Jamestown Road. My grandmother's maiden name was James. My father's first name is James. My mother said there was only one name for me - Jamie.

"James References"

For this project, I already knew a lot of the information because I have heard the stories from my relatives over the years. However, just to get all my facts straight and learn a few new things that I did not know, I talked to my 84 year-old grandpa, Herb Modglin, who married my grandmother, Kathleen James, to my aunt, Pat Lingle, and to my ninety-six year old great-great aunt, Nina Kidd. I also used the books History of Southern Illinois by George Washington Smith and The History of Alto Pass, Illinois by Louise James Norton and Thomas L. Anderson.

P.A.S.T. appreciates Jamie's essay as our first Web Project research page to be published on the web site submitted by a community member and student. P.A.S.T. also thanks Jamie and her family for sharing the photos to be used in this presentation.