William H. Billings
By Pamela Pattison Lash
He took his civic duties seriously. He founded an early village in two states, a post office in two locations, and held almost every local governmental post available. He loved gardening and in later years was well known for his large varieties of fruit trees. The Williams County histories never mentioned his later life in Kansas nor his sad personal life, but William G. Cutler’s History of Kansas, stated, “his first marriage did not prove to be a happy one.”
William H. Billings, born in Broome Co, NY on 6 Sept 1812, was the son of William and Sarah Morse Billings. He moved to Rochester, NY with his parents and siblings as a youngster and later married Angeline Butler, a NY native, c1833. Together with his own family and that of his brother, Ozias Morse Billings, the settlers moved to Ohio and William eventually built the first cabin in what would be called NW Twp, Williams Co, OH, but was within Bridgewater Twp of that time. In 1838 he opened a store on his frontier claim as soon as there were others in the area who could patronize his venture. By 20 June 1839 the families of Adolphus Rogers, and the Whaley brothers, Thomas, TF, and JC, had secured government land at cheap prices and had settled in the Billings area.
According to the 1840 Bridgewater Twp, Williams Co, OH federal census p215, Ozias Billings had a party of six and William was listed as having one male aged 5-10 and himself aged 20-30 years old. Note the absence of a female in the household. Later in Dec 1840 he and others petitioned to have NW Twp established from parts of Bridgewater. The township had ten voters, which was enough to hold an election on 7 Dec 1840. William was elected as township trustee and justice of the peace. He helped to organize a Free Will Baptist Class in his home but that did not survive very long as other denominations took over. The Billings brothers each paid personal tax in this county as early as 1841.
On 30 Aug 1843 William Billings was selected as the NW Twp’s first postmaster and his settlement, Billingstown, was included in the early maps. County histories claim that Billings held every governmental post except that of constable. Billings’ land purchases were in Sections 17 and 21.
From the 1850 NW Twp, Williams Co, OH federal census p53 the Billings family was listed as William 38 NY farmer, Angeline 26 NY, Chancy 15 NY, and Claracy 9 OH. The gap in the ages of the children, the absence of Angeline in the 1840 census, and the follow up details suggest this marriage was not a happy one. Brother Ozias had left the area and established his home in LaGrange Co, IN. On 15 Dec 1854 William H. Billings purchased a parcel of land in Sec 21 (T9S, R4W) along the MI-Toledo Strip, expanding his holdings.
Our story shifts back in time and geographical location to Stark Co, OH. According to the 1850 Lexington Twp, Stark Co, OH federal census the William Butterfield family was enumerated as William 30 OH, Keziah 30 NJ, and children, Elizabeth, Harriet, Hannah, and Charles, all born in Ohio. Stark Co, OH was also the site of the marriage between this couple – William B. Butterfield and Kezia Grifs (Griffith) on 17 May 1838. Mexican-American War veteran William Butterfield died on 6 Oct 1857 @39Y 3M 23D and was buried in Billingstown Cem, NW Twp. Apparently the Butterfields had moved to NW Twp sometime between the 1850 census and William Butterfield’s death.
The Williams County Gazette, 30 Dec 1858, mentioned the death of John Billings a possible relative to the Billings brothers, who had died in Wisconsin; he had lived in Stark Co, OH and Noble Co, IN previously. Perhaps it was his association with Butterfields that helped to acquaint them to William Billings?
In 1860 William Billings left Ohio and traveled west with his “wife”, Keziah. They were part of a group that left New Paris, IN on 1 May 1860 finally locating in Kansas on the Cottonwood Creek just west of present day Marion, KS cJuly 1860. The 1860 Cottonwood area federal census showed William Billings living with a group of men next door to Keziah Billings and her Butterfield children. An online record of a divorce proceedings demonstrated that William divorced wife Angeline Butler Billings in Noble Co, IN on 17 Sept 1863, clearly three years after establishing a home with a second wife. No divorce record has been found in Williams County. Keziah Griffiths was born in July 1820 in NJ; she was the daughter of an unknown father and a mother Hannah, and a sister to George Griffith who also moved to Kansas with the Billings party. Angeline Billings was listed in the 1860 NW Twp federal census as living alone.
Back in Kansas the first three families to settle in Marion Centre, KS were William Billings, George Griffith, and William P Shreve. They went where surveyors claimed was the best land in the territory. Their wagons halted at the crest of a hill on the east side of the Luta Creek and they gazed at the fertile valley of the Cottonwood River. There was a clear spring of water for their campsite, which today is called the Marion Central Park. William’s nephew, Levi Billings, joined them in 1865.
From the 1865 Kansas State Census William and Keziah were listed as married with son C. Butterfield 16 OH and A. Palmerton 6 MI. In June 1865 William petitioned to have Marion County established from Chase Co, KS. He was successful and at the election held on 7 Aug 1865 he was chosen as one of the county’s first commissioners and its first probate judge along with nephew Levi. The first meeting of the new county was held in William’s home on Dec 1866. On July 1869 William and Levi Billings joined an organization to bring a newspaper to Marion Centre.
The Billings family was located on the 1870 Marion, Marion Co, KS federal census, the 1875 Kansas State Census, and the 1880 Marion, Marion Co, KS federal census records. Note that son Chauncey Billings lived with his father in 1880. William loved to garden and to grow different varieties of fruit. His community service extended to being a justice of the peace, a register of deeds, and postmaster of Marion, KS.
William died in Marion on 19 Sept 1890 and was buried in Highland Cem, Marion, KS. Keziah, his widow, lived in Marion until her death on 19 Aug 1902. From the 1900 Marion Co, KS federal census one learns that she was the mother of five children, all living.
Back in NW Twp Angeline Billings 56 NY lived with her brother Johnson Butler, an early Bridgewater-NW Twp settler, 54 NY, his wife Lucy 48 NY, and a Nancy Billings 35 NY as stated in the NW Twp, Wms Co, OH federal census p143B. Angeline died on 11 Feb 187* and was buried in Billingstown Cem. Note that Nancy Billings may have been Angeline’s daughter or more likely a misspelled/written entry for Chauncey Billings, her son, who would have been 35 from NY. Chauncey as stated above later moved to Marion, KS to live with his father.