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William Chopson

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William Chopson

Posted: 3 Aug 2007 7:13PM GMT
Classification: Biography
Surnames: Chopson, Pennington, Darbyshire, Stillings, Miller, Swaim, Irwin, Payne, Dillsworth
From Biographical Memoirs of Huntington County, 1901, pages 496-501

Toward the end of the past year (the last of the old century), a meeting was arranged for and attended in Chicago by two men who had not met for forty-seven years; and a renewal of former relations was effected, the incidents of half a century ago in which they were both participants being rehearsed with the greatest pleasure by each. These two men were step-brothers, one of whom is among the best known citizens of Warren, William Chopson, while the other one, who may be recalled by but a few of those still living here, some of whom may have been among his pupils--was M. B. Pennington. Just one-half of the greatest century ever known in the world's history, in the progess of which each of these men were active as builders and strengtheners of the commonwealth in which each had lived, had been counted off to the credit of old "Father Time" since these men, then young and full of the buoyancy of youth, passed from the old fireside where they had been reared in Clinton county, Ohio, and turned their faces to the west, acting upon the sage advice of that champion of the young men, Horace Greeley, who was then at the zenith of his fame. The two had not only been reared in the same family, the father of William having married the mother of Pennington when William was about twelve years of age, but they had attended the same schools where they had prepared themselves to teach. They were each ambitious, and took advantage of the limited schools of the time, generally attending about forty days each winter, it being the exception when either had the benefit of the full term of sixty days. The family being poor it was necessary for them to shift for themselves, William, at the age of sixteen, working out for a year, to receive, in addition to board, clothes and three months' schooling, ten dollars at the end of the year. He remained two years for the one man; the second year having fifteen dollars. He had attended one term at a graded school at Martinsville, Ohio, which enabled him to secure a license to teach, which he did for one term, when the two, thinking the demands would not be so great upon teachers in Indiana, and not having any too much confidence in their own education, they decided to try their fortunes in the newer country; and we accordingly find them wending their way, with what little clothing they had tied up in a small bundle, and without much definite idea as to where they would find employment. It being in the fall of the year the trip was a very pleasant one, the long stretches of woodland and the leaves turning to gold and yellow presenting a beautiful appearance and tending to add cheer to the anticipations of the companions, who little knew what this state of Indiana had in store for them. Fifty years ago this section of the country was but slightly improved. Most of the houses of the settlers being of logs, and generally pretty well filled with their own children, the accommodations for strangers seemed pretty slender. But what was lacking in room was made up in the hearts of the people; no more hospitable and companionable class of settlers ever attempted the subjugation of the forest; and shelter and a place at the table never had to be asked for a second time. The course of the travelers led them into the country of the Salamonie, where inquiry developed that just such young men were needed, and each secured a school. William's school was in Jackson township, Wells county, while the other taught in Salamonie. They decided to go together to secure a license, the former having to go to Bluffton, where an old man by the name of Upton was the examiner, who began to quiz them upon grammar, taking exceptions to some of the answers. Pennington was specially well posted in grammar and, maintaining his position, was seconded by the old man's son, who sided with him. The old man seeing that the applicants knew more about grammar than he did, asked no more questions, but gave them both licenses. The journey was continued to Huntington, where Lamden P. Milligan was examiner, the first question being, Where are you going to teach? And when they replied, Warren, he said: "Warren is twelve miles north and four miles east, How far is it to Warren?" This struck William where he was strong, and in less than half a minute he gave the answer, which satisfied the examiner, no more questions being asked. Pennington continued to teach for a couple of years, when he decided that he would go farther west, and was soon a resident of Centerville, Iowa, where he remained, and though something of a correspondence has been kept up they had not met until the arrangement first mentioned. The youths who were dependent upon what little income there was at one dollar per day, the general wages for the time for teachers, had each become an important factor in the place of his permanent home, no little credit being due each of them in the part they had taken in the development of their section of the country. Each had remained true to early convictions as to the advantages of a moral life, and to them something is due for the high standing of the communities in which they reside. The schools of those early days were not behind those in the older state, as they had expected; on the contrary, the people and the students were fully alive to their needs, and were anxious to receive all the benefits the schools could give. The truth is, that whatever may be said in criticism of the people of Indiana, they have never been behind in the matter of their schools, many of the other states, which exalted themselves on the merits of their own school systems found much to copy from in the educational system of the "Hoosier" state. As they advanced with their pupils their own confidence grew, until they realized it had been of the greatest value to them that they had not gotten into a section where school interests were lagging. Despite the rumor that much trouble existed in certain schools, and that no teacher could retain his position, the benefits of good schools were so apparent to all that every school taught was closed with the warmest feelings existing betweeen teacher and pupils. Spelling schools were the order of the times, the different teachers taking turns in holding them; and these afforded the best possible means for the cultivation of a most cordial spirit between the different localities, though the rivalry was sometimes very intense. Not so much ground was covered in teaching then as now; but there is no doubt that subjects studied were mastered more thoroughly than now, a power of reasoning from principles being cultivated that made the young men and women master of any subject undertaken. Becoming thoroughly imbued with the spirit of education, Mr. Chopson endeavored to inculcate the desire on the part of his pupils to make strides that would place them in the front rank, the result being that many of them became teachers, some reaching the highest positions open to them in this section of the state. The old plan of "boarding "round" was in vogue when he began, but was soon superseded by the preferable system of the teacher's being fixed at one place, which in his case was some three miles south of Warren, near where the most of his teaching was done. The first school after his marriage was the "Wickersham" school, in Grant county, where he was assisted by his wife and where he received greater compensation than usual, it being a subscription school with nearly seventy pupils in attendance. In the interim between schools, he would work in other lines, recalling the fact that he ran a threshing machine one season, the remarkable thing about it being that it, if not the first, was one of the first in this region. The power was quite like those in use for years, but the thresher consisted simply of a cylinder which threshed the grain, the straw and grain falling in a pile, which was shaken up with a fork by hand, the straw being thrown one side, while the grain was separated from the chaff by passing through a hand fanning-mill. With its capacity of probably a hundred bushels per day this presented a great contrast with the machines now in use, turning out a thousand bushels in the same length of time. He also made brick, the demand for chimnies giving a market at three dollars per thousand, delivering them sometimes three or four miles. He invested what he could raise in a general stock of goods and opened a store in the neighborhood where he was stopping, removing his business in the winter of 1855 to Warren, where he continued for two years, having a very satisfactory trade, by which he accumulated a neat sum of money. All this time he had kept his eye on a certain tract of land that he was determined he would buy for a home, but hitherto the owner would not sell. It now passed into other hands and he was able to make the purchase, which he did, closing up his store and removing to the ninety-five-acre tract upon which was a small but neat house. He soon became interested in the growing and handling of horses, taking pride in owning as good as there was to be had. When the Civil war emphasized the demand for good horses he embarked more extensively in that specialty, handling a good many animals that eventually passed into the service of the government. As his financial strength increased he began to add to the land until he was the owner of something like six hundred acres, the home farm still containing three hundred, the remainder going to others. Before pursuing his personal history further, we will refer briefly to his family and birth, the latter occurring near Uniontown, Fayette county, Pennsylvania, November 18, 1829. His father was George Chopson, whose grandfather is said to have died while en route to America and was buried in the ocean. His son falling into the hands of a German woman the name being corrupted from Ackerman to that it is to-day. His mother was Elizabeth Ann Darbyshire, who, though born in America, was of Irish ancestry. When William was still a child they moved to Guernsey county, Ohio, and soon after to Clinton county, where the parents died. The family is noted for the longevity of its members, William being one of eight children, all of whom are still living, the youngest being past sixty-one. Mary A. is the widow of James Stillings, of Warren; William is the third; John, is a retired farmer of Warren; Martha J. lives in Kansas; Margret E. resides in California, and is remembered by some of the older citizens as having lived here when a girl many years ago; Sarah is also in the same state; and Catherine is Mrs. J. J. Miller, of Warren. Soon after arriving in this community William met a charming young girl of seventeen by the name of Ruth C. Swaim, the daughter of Simeon and Nancy (Irwin) Swaim, and whose birth had occurred in Randolph county, North Carolina, on the 14th of June, 1833, being an infant in arms at the coming of her parents to Preble county, Ohio, and but a child of three upon arrival in Huntington county. The history of her family will be found in another article in this volume. Her own girlhood was passed in the country, a few miles east of Warren, receiving such education as enabled her to assume the conduct of a school. The young teacher from Ohio impressed all the citizens quite favorably, it would seem, and this young lady who had been sought by many others seemed pleased with his attentions to the extent that two years later she became his bride, the ceremony that united them being performed on the 29th of January, 1852. For forty-nine years have this worthy couple traveled the highway of life together, the passing years only tending to emphasize the wisdom of his choice, the ripening wealth of matronly graces being the natural result of the living application of the precepts of the Master, which have ever been made her rule and guide. Not dividing their affections and with no offspring of their own, more secure and firm has the bond that holds them become until the union is now one of hearts and souls as well as hands. Being deprived of children, they have allowed no opportunity to pass to care for "some of the least f (sic) these," their doors ever being opened to the admission of the orphaned and th (sic) distressed. One of these was D. F. Payne, an orphan of seven, who became one of the family, remaining until reaching manhood, and himself assuming the care of a family, having owned a part of the old home; but on April 12, 1901, Mr. Payne died leaving a family of children. E. P. Miller the present hardware merchant of Warren, came into the home at thirteen, remaining as one of their own until engaging in business and taking unto himself a wife. Another, Thomas Dillsworth, grew up with them. He went into the volunteer service during the war, and then into the regular army. What his course has been since then, is not known. Others have been in the family for a time, the hearts of both Mr. Chopson and wife responding at every call for help. Realizing that in these little ones lay the hopes of the nation's future and the perpetuity of the institutions of the country, they have felt a demand was made upon them and have sought to broaden and advance the youthful charges committed to their care. All this has been duly appreciated, every child in the town knowing that in the hearts of these aged people there glows a warmth that the passing years can not congeal, but becomes the more fixed and sympathetic the nearer their own courses are drawn to a close. While a Republican all his life, its foundation and principles appealing strongly to the love of freedom in his own bosom and the abolishment of that curse on the country--slavery--met with his approval, he had not cared to take the lead in public affairs that was his had he but accepted; and has contented his ambition with the holding of the office of trustee at a time when the affairs of the township needed a master mind at the helm. By the exercise of the strictest ecomony all along the line, the obligations of the township were raised in value from sixty cents to one dollar, par. Knowing the value of all public improvements he has given substantial encouragement to all efforts at pike or railroad building, while the public schools have had no warmer or consistent friend and advocate, knowing that in them lies the happiness and proseperity (sic) of the nation.

Believing in the realities of life and that an account must be rendered for the actions on earth, he has frittered away but little of an active life, having no inclination to the passing of time in sports or games. While making the trip with his step-brother, they thought they would like to learn to play cards and securing a pack spent some hours over them, but failing to see the sport in it they had expected, they burned the cards and he has not tried to learn any similar game since. Standing in the forefront of the twentieth century, after a life spent in the service of their Master, this worthy couple hold the confidence and respect of the entire community as few others do, the great pulsations of the heart-throbs of those who have striven and possibly failed finding here a sympathy that takes away much of the sting and pain, trust in God and faith in man having ever characterized them in every emergency in life.

Simple as it may seem, the manner in which this aged couple are addressed by young and old is marked with courtesy and almost veneration, and on being asked by the writer why everybody addressed them as Uncle Will and Aunt Ruth, replied: "We don't known. (sic) But we do know that, no matter who it comes from--high or low, white or black--it creates only the kindest feelings, such as Mr. and Mrs. could never do."

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