RHEA, STEPHEN EDWIN, who owns an excellent property in Island Grove Township which he devotes to farming, is one of the old and honored residents of that part of Sangamon County and a son of one of the first settlers there. He was born November 4, 1843, in a log cabin in Island Grove Township, a son of John Rhea.
James Rhea, the grandfather of Stephen e. Rhea, was a native of Barren County, Ky., where he was married to Rachel Jolloff, and came to Illinois prior to the great snow which began falling December 28, 1830, killing man and beast alike. Some of the pioneers attempted to drive their hogs and other live-stock to St. Louis to provide shelter for them, and but few of these were saved, one pioneer losing his entire drove of 500 animals. James Rhea had settled first in Jefferson County about 1820 or '21 and engaged in farming government land, but later took up freighting and made a trip to Galena. Returning through central Illinois, he was so impressed with the possibilities of Sangamon County that on his return home he gave his Jefferson County land to his eldest son and came to Sangamon. This son, who was a soldier during the Black Hawk War, died of sickness contracted during his service, and his sword and shoulder straps are now in the possession of Stephen E. Rhea. James rhea came to Sangamon County in time to be one of those who suffered during the great storm, but with true pioneer grit started all over again, and built a log cabin of hewn logs on his new property in Island Grove Township. This log cabin boasted a huge fireplace in its north end and doors on the east and west sides, and the logs for the fire were hauled right into the cabin by an old ox named Buck. Greased paper formed the means by which light was admitted to the cabin which was one and one-half stories high and the finest in the section at that time. Mr. Rhea used pioneer methods in farming his land, but was a faithful, energetic worker, becoming successful and possessed of much property. A faithful member of the Baptist Church, he was ever charitably and hospitably inclined, and in his death Sangamon County lost one of its noble pioneers, who was extensively mourned. During the War of 1812 he served under Admiral Perry on the Great Lakes. Mr. Rhea was the father of these children: James, Richard, William, John, Thomas, Mrs. Mary Ausbury and Mrs. Nancy Foutch.
John Rhea, father of Stephen E. Rhea, was born July 14, 1811, and was married November 14, 1839, to Julia Starks, who was born June 21, 1823. They had these children: James B., of Midland, Tex.; Stephen E.; Mary Ann, deceased, who was the wife of John F. Wilcox, of Arizona; Thomas, a farmer in Fremont County, Iowa; John H. and Abigail, who died in infancy; and Martha E., widow of J. R. Smith, of Polk County, Mo. John Rhea was born in Barren County, Ky., whence he accompanied his parents to Illinois at an early day, becoming one of the leading men of Sangamon County and a leader in the Baptist Church, which was organized in his father's house, and of which he was the first clerk. Mr. Rhea was a great bible student and an authority on all matters pertaining to the church, his advice naturally being much sought. Mr. Rhea died June 19, 1883, his wife having passed to her rest April 23, 1879.
Stephen Edwin Rhea was born in the original log cabin on the Rhea homestead, but when he was still a small boy his father erected a more commodious abode. He well remembers the trials and tribulations of pioneer days, as he was rocked in a cradle made of a hollowed log, worked as a lad at the hard, unremitting toil of the sugar camp, and was compelled to use a second-hand corn dropper, by which he was supposed to drop straight, like the present check row drops so that the corn may be ploughed both ways, an invention then undreamed of. His education was secured in the district schools of his day and he was reared to the life of a farmer, remaining at home until he was twenty-one years old. He was married November 2, 1865, to Lucy A. Wilcox, who was born March 9, 1846, in Island Grove Township, a daughter of Joshua and Matilda (Carruthers) Wilcox, early pioneers of Illinois, who now lie buried in the Moore burial ground. One child was born to Mr. and Mrs. Rhea, Edwin L., a sketch of whose life will be found in another part of this work. After marriage Mr. and Mrs. Rhea spent four years in Iowa, and at the end of that time returned to the old homestead, of which he took charge. Eventually he purchased the interest of the other heirs of the property, which he has since developed into one of the finest farms in his part of Sangamon County. Mr. Rhea united with the Baptist Church when fifteen years of age and his wife joined that denomination after their marriage. Fraternally he is a Mason, having joined that organization when about twenty-two years old, and he is also a member of New Berlin Camp of Modern Woodmen. He is a Democrat in politics, but of late years has been giving his vote to the man whom he thinks best qualified to fill the office, and he has always been a foe to liquor interests. For two years he represented Berlin Township on the Board of supervisors and on two different occasions has been foreman of the Sangamon County Grand Jury.
Personally Mr. Rhea is a pleasant, sociable gentleman, and his strict integrity in all walks of life have gained the confidence of all who have come into contact with him, while his fund of experience and reminiscence of early days in the county make him an excellent companion.