Van Buren County
Also see [Railway Officials in America 1906]
Jonathan Eastman Miles, the father of the above, was born June 2, 1782, in Hampden Co., Mass.; was one of a
family of six sons and one daughter. Mr. Miles followed the occupation of a farmer his life long; was very successful
as such, and a man of great ability. When about four years of age his parents removed with him to the State of
New Hampshire; located at a point nearly opposite St. Johnsbury, Vt. At the age of sixteen he passed one year in
Connecticut, and in 1799 went to Whitesborough, N. Y., and attended a school taught by one Dr. Stedman, under whom
he completed his education. In 1800, with a sack of apple-seeds upon his back, he journeyed on foot to Watertown,
N. Y., a distance of eighty-five miles. At that time but three families resided in what is now the township of
Watertown, and but one; Hart Massey, on the site of the city. Johnson Howk, who lived about three miles from Massey's,
allowed Mr. Miles to sow his apple seeds on his place; and from this nursery sprang, and were transplanted, many
of the best orchards in that region. He remained in Watertown until 1807, and there became acquainted with Miss
Mary Sheldon, whom he afterwards married. She had come from Connecticut, about 1804, with her parents. In the fall
of 1801 he took a prospecting trip through many of the Southern States, purchasing a pony in Alabama, which he
brought to Watertown on his return, in the fall of 1808. The same season he was married to Miss Sheldon, who died
in 1809, after giving birth to a daughter, Caroline May Miles, who is now living in Crete, Neb. After his marriage
Mr. Miles settled upon the farm he continued to occupy until his death, which occurred in February, 1860. In 1810
he was married to Miss Lucinda Sheldon, a younger sister of his first wife, she having been born in 1791. By her
he had seven sons and five daughters, all of whom reached maturity except one son, who died in infancy, and eight
of the number are now living. One son, Pliny Miles, was for some time associated with his brother Fabius in the
book business, in 'Watertown, afterwards becoming a noted newspaper correspondent, and wrote able articles upon
various reforms in the government service, especially Postal Departmant; held situations with the New York Tribune,
Hartford Courant, Boston Post, and the New York Herald. For three and a half years he was a very successful lecturer
on certain scientific subjects in Great Britain, finally locating in London as correspondent from that city for
the New York Herald. While on his way to witness and report the opening of the Suez Canal, in 1865, died on the
island of Malta, in the Mediterranean, A sister of the above, Mrs. Eloise M. Abbott, well known in Van Buren County
as a newspaper correspondent, in which business she has for many years been engaged, is now residing with her only
child, a daughter, at San José, Cal. Emily, another sister, was a successful teacher in a female seminary
at Watertown, of which a sister of Gen. Joseph Hooker was principal.
Fabius Miles was born in the township of Watertown, Jefferson Co., N. Y., Dec. 31; 1814. He received a good common-school
education in the district where he lived, and in 1831-32 attended school in Buffalo; returning to Watertown in
1832, he continued his studies in the Watertown Academy, and for several years taught school during the winter
months, and continued the prosecution of his studies, including that of the French language, which he studied under
the instruction of a French professor, who was a lieutenant under Napoleon in his campaigns in Spain.
In 1838, Mr. Miles established the Watertown Normal School, which he continued with good success until 1844. Among
the pupils was Dr. Bartholomew, of Keeler. Among the numerous patrons of his school was Madame De Lafola, the former
wife of Count Joseph Bonaparte, an American born lady, who, after her removal to Paris, became the wife of a wealthy
Paris silk merchant, named Be Lafola, subsequently returning to America. She was an accomplished French scholar.
May 1, 1844, Mr. Miles left Watertown, and came to Michigan to visit his brother-in-law and cousin, Chas. P. Sheldon,
then living on the north side of Paw Paw River, on section 2, Hartford township. Mr. Miles then had no idea of
locating here, but journeyed to Chicago, thence to Beloit, Wis., back to Elgin, down the Fox, Illinois. and Mississippi
Rivers to Island Number Ten, finally returning to Michigan, locating where he now lives, on the north bank of Paw
Paw River, Hartford township. In the fall of that year (1844) lie commenced to build a saw-mill. He had brought
with him to Michigan the sum of twelve hundred dollars, his net earnings as a teacher in Watertown, and had about
one thousand dollars left when he began his mill. The best mill wright in that section agreed that a mill on the
plan he wished to follow would cost abont three thousand dollars; but lie expended his own capital and two thousand
dollars borrowed, and his mill was not then nearly eompleted. Finding it impossible to obtain further credit, he
took his valise on his back and started afoot towards Ins native town. He walked to Battle Creek, fifty five miles,
and there met a friend who loaned him seven dollars. This, in addition to tile solitary English sovereign he had,
made lum feel more light hearted, and lie took the cars to Detroit, and a boat from there to Buffalo, where he
arrived with twenty five cents left. He boarded a packet boat on the canal at Buffalo, and, fortunitcly, found
friends who aided him to get to Watertown. He succeeded in raising five hundred dollars, and in the latter part
of July, less than a month after he left Michigan, he started back, and arrived in due time at his mill, on which
he resumed work. With money sufficient to pay his men, it was again easy to obtain credit, and his mill was finally
completed, and commenced operations in April, 1847. The irons for the mill were procured at Mishawaka, Ind., forty
miles away. In 1859 he took a cargo of lumber to New York City via St. Joseph, the lakes, the Erie Canal, and the
Hudson. He continued in the lumbering business, exclusively, until 1860. His first purchase of land was nine acres,
including his millsite to that lie has added at different times until he now has six hundred acres, of which nearly
two hundred are improved.
On Christmas eve, in Watertown, 1839, Mr. Miles married Miss Bethiah Mantle, a native of that place, born in July,
1817. She was of New England parentage, her mother being a daughter of Capt. Tilly Richardson, of Massachusetts,
a Revolutionary soldier, who settled at Watertown in 1804. He had a large and respectable family, his children
being mostly daughters, nearly all married, and continued to live near that place until their death..
In September, 1844, Mrs. Miles came alone to Michigan, and joined her husband, occupying, for a time, the house
of Chas. P. Sheldon, with him and his family. There, on the 16th of October, 1844, a daughter was born to Mr. and
Mrs. Miles, and named Rebecca Jane. She became the wife of Edward S. Jelley, and the mother of three children,
and died in February, 1875. Her only living child, Isabel B., is now living with Mr. Miles. When their child was
ahout three weeks old Mr. and Mrs. Miles moved into a log cabin, which had been erected on their own place. It
was a characteristic structure of true backwoods style, with no floor, and a roof made of basswood troughs. While
Mr. Miles was absent on his several trips, in 1845, his wife remained at home without fear of molestation, often
for days and weeks together. On one occasion when her health was delicate he carried her on his back to the house
of a neighbor, who had recently located, and lived about eighty rods distant, leaving her there during his absence.
The trials and experiences of those days are yet fresh in the memory of Mr. and Mrs. Miles, and bind them more
closely together. They had lost an infant son before leaving Watertown, and after the birth of the daughter mentioned
became the parents of the following children Florine, horn in November, 1846, died in Apmil, 1847 Silas Wright,
born Sept. 1, 1848, now an invalid from consumption, sojourning at Colorado Springs, educated at Hillsdale College,
and was always an active, industrious young luau, possessing noble qualities; Pitt, born Aug. 2, 1850, was possessed
of fine business ability, but died in December, 1873 ; Florine L., born Oct. 3, 1853, now living with her parents
; Lydia May, born in May, 1859, married to Marsh Worthington, and now living at South Haven, Mich.
Politically, Mr. Miles was originally a Democrat, and voted three times for Martin Van Buren for President. He
was an adherent to the school of Democrats in which Martin Van Buren amid Silas Wright were leaders, and was thoroughly
imbued with anti slavery principles. He was an active worker in the Free Soil movement of 1848, and one of the
organizers of the Republican party in Michigan in 1854. He was elected to the lower house of the Michigan Legislature
in 1858, has been supervisor of Hartford township several times, and was for many years its principal school examiner.
In 1872, Mr. Miles voted for Horace Greeley for President, and for Peter Cooper in 1816. Otherwise he has supported
the Republican nominees. He has always been active in political affairs, and his voice has often been heard advocating
the merits of his party candidates. In 1868 he was a delegate to the State Convention which nominated delegates
to the National Convention. To the Greenback movement he now gives his support.
The hand of fortune has not always been held out to him, and he has undergone many trials; yet the noble heart
of the man shows over all, and, with his excellent family to aid him, he, it is hoped, may triumph over all difficulties.
History of Berrien and Van Buren Counties, Michigan
With Illistrations and Biographical Sketches
of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers.
D. W. Ensign & Co., Philadelphia 1880
Press of J. B. Lippincoff & Co., Philadelphia.