Our Family Legacy
William Wesley Willis, Senior, was born in Hamilton County, Illinois, Aug. 16, 1811. Father of William Wesley Willis was Merrill E. Willis who came from Nashville, Tennessee. Father of Merrill E. Willis was Stephen Willis.
Stephen Willis had five brothers. They were all born in England. Stephen, Joshua, and Thomas came to America with the Puritans. Their father was the Earl of Echelstone. The three brothers that came to America were lawful heirs to a portion of the Echelstone Estate, but they never set up any claim for it.
Stephen Willis married a rich Irish lady, who had just come over from Ireland, by the name of Jane Kirkpatrick, by whom he had two sons, Merril E. Willis and John Willis.
Merrill E. Willis married Margaret Cherry were of English descent. Soon after they were married they moved from Nashville, Tennessee, to Hamilton County, Illinois. They were among the very first settlers in Illinois. They had two sons and two daughters. Their names were William Wesley, Thomas Joshua, Patsy and Dasha.
Patsy married John Wheeler. Dasha married William MacLane. William Wesley married his cousin Margaret Jane Willis, daughter of John Willis. Margaret Jane Willis was born Aug. 17, 1812 in Franklin County, Illinois. By this union there were nine children.
William Wesley Willis, Sr. was the first of the Willis family to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation. His wife also received the Gospel and they were baptized by Elder Milton Hames. His father and mother, also brother Joshua, and sisters, Patsy and Dasha, also received the Gospel and were baptized.
William Wesley Willis, Sr. was the first to preach the Gospel to his relatives. He converted his cousin William T. Willis and his wife Betsy. They were living in Wisconsin.
His mother and father visited Nauvoo and expected to sell their home in Hamilton County, Ill, and move to Nauvoo, or near there. But soon after his return home from his visit to Nauvoo, he died and was buried near his home in Hamilton County, Ill.
After his father's death, his mother and brother Thomas Joshua sold the homestead and moved to Lee County, Iowa where William Wesley was then living.
William Wesley and wife Margaret Jane received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple.
During the Exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters he, with his wife and children, suffered persecution with the other members of the Church. He was compelled to sell his home for almost nothing and they took their departure into the wilderness, as it was then called.
They moved from Winter Quarters to Council Bluff.
On the 16th day of July 1846, four Companies of over four hundred men, all told and a part of the fifth Company, were mustered into the service of the United States. The fifth Company was soon afterward filled. These companies were known as the Mormon Battalion. William Wesley joined the Mormon Battalion July 16, 1846, ranking as Second Lieutenant in Company E. He traveled with the Battalion as far as old Secora, Arizona. Here he was detached to take all the sick soldiers and go back to Pueblo, New Mexico, on the head waters of the Arkansas River to remain there for the winter. In the spring of 1847 Lt. Willis and all of those of the Mormon Battalion who had wintered in Pueblo, Colorado, made their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley. They arrived in the valley just a few days after Brigham Young and his company, July 29. On August 8th he started back across the plains to meet his family. They were traveling with Perrigreen Sessions Company toward the valley. He met his wife and family near Ft. Bridger. He, with his family, reached Salt Lake, Sept. 28, 1847. They lived the winter of 47-48 in the Old Fort Salt Lake City.
He had left his wife and seven children with immigrating Saints. His oldest son was eleven years old, the youngest two months old. They had two yoke of oxen, two yoke of cows, and two wagons. His wife left Winter Quarters in the spring of 1847 with her family.
In the spring they moved to a place on Big Cottonwood Creek. Here he and Sam Tornson built a saw mill in Mill Creek Canyon. While living here (Aug. 13, 1850) his wife died after giving birth to her ninth child. Lieutenant Willis moved the family back to Provo. In the spring of 1851 he remarried Francis Reeves Sweat. Later he married Mary Penkelly, widow of William Harper. Mary bore him four children. They were Jared Arthur, Mary Ellen, August and Hyrum, all born in Utah.
The family moved to Palmyra or Spanish Fork as it was later called, in the Fall of 1851. There he took charge of the Indian farm. In 1853 Lt. Willis was called to Cedar City, Iron County, to help make iron. He also served as mayor of Cedar City.
In Aug 1858 he moved to Beaver City, Beaver Co., Utah. In the winter of 1858-59 he built a saw mill in North Creek Canyon in Beaver Co.
In 1864 he was called by Apostle Erastus Snow to go settle on the Muddy River in southeast Nevada. He raised two crops there, and then they were advised to break up the settlement and return to Utah. He returned to his old home in Beaver City, engaging in lumbermaking, farming, and bridge building.
He lived there until his death, which occurred April 8, 1872. William Wesley Willis Sr. was six feet tall, weighed about 180 pounds, had auburn hair, red beard, and was well educated. He was a good public speaker. He always stood erect, and was dignified and of commanding presence. He was one of the Presidents of the 14th Quorum of Seventies.
He was a good carpenter and wheelright. On account of always being on frontiers, after leaving the states, and being called to assist in building so many new places, he never gained much of this world's goods and died a comparatively poor man. He remained in Beaver until his death November 8, 1870.
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