About PetersPioneersFrancis Biggins

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Francis Born in 1838

26-Star US Flag 1837-1845Lockport, 1838-1848. Francis Biggins was born in 1838, in Lockport, DuPage Township, Will County, Illinois. In 1838, there were 26 states in the Union, the last being Michigan. William Henry Harrison was President of the United States.

Francis was the third child of Patrick and Bridget Biggins, who had immigrated from County Mayo, Ireland, to Ontario, Canada, to Lockport in the 1830s. Their earlier children were a girl born in 1826-30, Ann in 1835 in Ontario.

In 1840, Francis' brother Philip was born.

In 1840, Francis' sister Catherine was born.

In 1843, Francis' sister Rosanna was born.

In 1846, Francis' brother James was born.

Lockport is 35 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. The town got its name and its start in 1836, when the Commissioners of the Illinois & Michigan Canal selected it as headquarters for the canal and site of Lock No. 1.

Romeoville, 1848-1885. On September 11, 1848, Francis' father Patrick Biggins purchased 160 acres of land from the Illinois & Michigan Canal Commission for $640. The land was on the south side of what is now the equivalent of 755 W. Normantown Road in Romeoville, Illinois. The western 80 acres is now a subdivision called Lakewood Estates. The eastern 80 acres is now the Beverly Skoff Elementary School and the John J. Lukancic Middle School.

DuPage Township, 1873
Six Sections from the DuPage Township plat map for 1873. The Patrick Biggins land is outlined in red: the 1848 plot to the south, the 1866 plot to the north. The road running east-west between the two Patrick Biggins plots is Normantown Road. The road on the east side of the 1866 plot is now called Luther Road. The Sprague school is east of the 1866 plot on Joliet Road. The road running diagonally north of the 1866 Biggins plot is Naperville Road. The James and Owen Biggins land is outlined in blue. The road running diagonally through the James Biggins land is now Interstate 55, which runs between Chicago and St. Louis.

Francis' father Patrick farmed the land he bought. So, Francis, from age 10, grew up on a farm.

Sprague School
Sprague School.

Francis attended Sprague School in a one-room school house on the Thos. J. Sprague farm that abutted the Patrick Biggins farm on the east. The school was on the northwest corner of Normantown Road and Joliet Road. School attendance did not become compulsory in Illinois until 1883. The picture and information about the school were provided by Dorothy Hassert of the Fountaindale Historical Society, which is part of the Romeoville Public Library.

In 1855, Francis' sister Ann married Hugh Gaffey.

Francis' mother Bridget died sometime in the 1850s, when he was between age 12 and 22.

On June 23, 1866, Francis' father Patrick purchased an additional 160 acres on the north side of Normantown Road, just east of the original 160 acres, for $6,500.

In 1874, Patrick's children bought his land for $13,700.

  • Philip, 33, acquired the western half of the 1848 plot for $2,600.
  • Francis, 36, acquired the eastern half of the 1848 plot for $4,000. In 1876, Francis sold this land to Catherine for $4,000.
  • James, 28, acquired the western half of the 1866 plot for $3,100.
  • Catherine, 34, acquired the eastern half of the 1866 plot for $4,000.

Francis' sister Rosanna last appears in Patrick's 1874 Will.

In April 1875, Francis' brother James married Elizabeth Healy. James and Elizabeth had two children: Rosanna in 1876 and Virginia in 1878. Following their wedding, James and Elizabeth lived on the family farm in Romeoville.

In August 1875, Francis' brother Philip married Sarah Ella McNally. Philip and Sarah lived on the family farm in Romeoville. Although the farm had been split up among the children a year before the marriage, they probably continued to operate it as one farm. Philip and Sarah had two children: Leslie in 1877 and Arthur in 1880.

The 1880 census shows Francis living in dwelling 138 with the Benjamin and Sophia Barrett family in DuPage Township. The family was from England. Benjamin was a farmer. Also living there was their daughter Betsy, 35, and sons John, 30, William, 27, George, 22, and Arthur, 18. Francis was working as a farm laborer. Also living there were Robert Chapman, 5, an adopted son, and Leroy Williams, 32, a carpenter. The rest of Francis' family is shown in the 1880 census as follows.

  • Ann and Hugh Gaffey were living in Rogers Township, Ford County, Illinois, with five of their six children. Their daughter Frances Jane “Jennie”, 20, was living with Patrick and Catherine.
  • Francis' father Patrick and sister Catherine were living in dwelling 33 in DuPage with Jennie.
  • Philip and Sarah were living in dwelling 16 with their two children.
  • James A. and Elizabeth were living in dwelling 19 with their two children.

In 1881, the Will County Commercial Advertiser included an item in the DuPage Township section about Francis: "Frank Biggins is the happiest man in town. It’s a boy." Frances was 43. We do not, however, know who the mother was or the name of the child.

In 1883, Francis' father Patrick died at age 75 of consumption. The Will County Commercial Advertiser reported the day after that “consumption, that relentless destroyer of man, was the disease that sought and finally carried him to his long home the morning of April 10th.” Funeral rites at St. Dennis Church included Solemn High Mass.

Probate records for Patrick were obtained from the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northern Illinois University. Patrick’s son James A. Biggins was executor of his estate. Patrick’s will, dated 1874, left $75 to his daughter Ann Gaffey and $5 to his son Francis. Then, the remainder was to pay off two loans: $1,000 secured by the land Patrick sold his son Philip Biggins and $500 secured by the land he sold his son James A. Biggins. Then, the remainder was to be paid equally to four of his children Philip, James A., Catherine, and Rosanna.

In May 1883, Ann Gaffey's daughter Frances Jane “Jennie” married Edward Roades. The Will County Commercial Advertiser reported the marriage took place at the home of her aunt Catherine “Kate” Biggins in DuPage Township (Patrick’s home before his death a year earlier). They were married by Rev. Dr. James J. McGovern, pastor of St. Dennis Church in Lockport. The newspaper reported that “as both parties were young folks of worthy popularity, a large number of friends and relatives were present to congratulate and witness the happy event. After the ceremony a bountiful repast was spread, to which all paid due tribute.”

Joliet, 1885-1891. In 1885, Francis moved to Joliet with his sister Catherine. They lived at 406 Western Avenue.

That same year, Philip and Sarah moved 10 miles north to the east side of Naperville with their sons Leslie, 8, and Arthur, 5.

They still owned the 80 acres of farmland in DuPage Township. Naperville is in DuPage County. The Biggins farm was in DuPage Township in Will County. James and his wife Elizabeth remained on the family farm.

In 1889, the Will County Circuit Court ordered the Sheriff to sell Philip’s 80 acres and Francis’ 40 acres to Fithian & Cowing to settle debts. Each had 15 months to redeem the property. Philip’s debt was to the estate of Barrett B. Clark. Francis’ debt was to the estate of George J. Munroe.

On March 16, 1890, Francis' brother James died at age 44. He was buried in St. Dennis Cemetery at 17th and Jefferson Streets in South Lockport in a plot that is separate from their father's. His wife Elizabeth continued to operate the farm. The 1900 census shows her as a farmer. But, the Joliet city directory shows her as a resident starting in 1904.

Francis Biggins Dies in 1891 at age 53

The Will County Coroner’s Record of September 24, 1891, obtained from the files of the Will County Historical Society, reported that Patrick and Bridget's son Francis was run over by a Chicago & Alton railroad train in Lockport "while trying to board it under influence of liquor." Francis was 53. The Joliet Public Library found three local newspaper stories about the death of Francis.

Daily News, Joliet, Ill., September 24, 1891, page 3
Frank Biggins, who was killed last night in Lockport, was an eccentric character and widely known in this city. His tall, gaunt figure, attired in a long, time-honored coat and pantaloons, rolled up several inches at the bottom, with a battered stiff hat on his head, and an old clay pipe in his mouth, has been a familiar one on the streets for years. He haunted the court house during all the court trials and was a frequent visitor in the fire engine houses and police station. On his own accord he spent one winter at the latter place a couple of years ago, doing the chores for his board. Of late, however, he has been there on charges of drunkenness. There was apparently but little sunshine or anything else of a cheerful nature in the world for poor old Frank, and it is probably best that his aimless, wandering life has ended.

The News, Joliet, Ill., September 24, 1891, page 2
   A patent medicine concern furnished entertainment for about 300 on the streets last night. Many of their jokes were new and good and they kept the crowd in good humor.
   Last night at about 8 o’clock Frank Biggins, whose home is in Joliet, after getting intoxicated, was having a good deal of fun listening to the songs and jokes by the patent medicine man. This morning an inquest was held over his body, which was terribly mangled, having been run over by a Chicago & Alton freight train. Another lesson on temperance.

Joliet Republic and Sun (weekly), September 25, 1891, page 4
A Passenger Train on the C. & A. Railroad Mercifully Ends the Life of a Man who was Worse Plagued than the Wandering Jew
   Almost every man, woman and child in Joliet knew Frank Biggins. He was an oddity. His early years were spent in the town of Dupage. By one of those visitations of Providence, Frank was robbed of that faculty that makes men great in the nation. He was not an idiot, or a fool, but his brain lost a cog when it was being formed. If he had been immensely wealthy he would have been called eccentric. But he possessed only an interest in a small farm in Dupage, which farm was in controversy in court. Consequently his fifty-five years had passed in aimless wandering, sleeping, eating and drinking as the good fortune provided for him. His family have long since passed, consequently he had no one to care for him. For years he had slept either at the police station or fire engine house, the men feeding him.
   But, alas, as age crept upon poor Biggins he took to the whiskey glass, and he was generally intoxicated.
   But everything is all right for Frank Biggins now. He has ceased his aimless wanderings. He is well kicked by every idler no more. If there is a heaven for such unfortunates it is safe to say that he is in harbor at last.
   Wednesday he was in Lockport, where he became drunk, and at 12:40 he tried to jump on a passenger train to come to Joliet. Missing his hold he was thrown under the wheels. Both legs and one arm were broken, and he was hurt internally. Within fifteen minutes he was dead.
   Coroner Mills held an inquest yesterday morning, finding the railroad company blameless. In his pocket was $9.55. The body was taken to Dupage for burial.

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