William Spicer

Full name

William Spicer

Presence at Shimer


Presence on Earth



Seminary period staff

William Spicer was an early member of the maintenance staff of Shimer College. He had been a friend of Frances Shimer in her youth in Saratoga County, NY.

In 1855, he and his wife Emeline Weed Spicer moved to Mount Carroll to work at the Seminary, he as the janitor at $4 per week and she as the matron at $3 per week. A draft of his employment agreement was among the documents copied into the Seminary stock book. After a year they moved on to Iowa to take up a claim.


  • in A Biographical Record of Hamilton County, Iowa, 1902:
    William Spicer, whose name introduces this record, attended the schools of Ballston until he was twelve years of age. His educational privileges were somewhat limited, but reading, experience and observation in later years have greatly added to his knowledge. On putting aside his text books he accompanied his father to the forest in order to chop wood and thus aid in the support of the family. At the age of fourteen he left home to work for his board and clothing and afterward arranged to enter the service of Reuben Simmonds, with whom he was to remain until he was twenty-one years of age and was to receive in compensation for his services one hundred dollars in money, two suits of clothing and his board. He fulfilled the terms of his contract and afterward he began working for four dollars per month, copping wood. He also used the flail in threshing wheat. His money received from Mr. Simmonds was put out at interest at seven per cent. He then entered the service of a man with whom he remained for nine months, receiving twelve dollars per month. Thus, through the most indefatigable labor he made a start in life. As a companion and helpmate for the journey Mr. Spicer chose Miss Emeline Weed, their marriage being celebrated in Ballston, November 24, 1852. The lady was born in Saratoga county, New York, February 28, 1828, and was a daughter of George and Anna (Hall) Weed, also natives of the Empire state.
    After his marriage, Mr. Spicer worked upon a farm for fifteen dollars a month and board for himself and wife. He was thus employed for about a year when he started out upon an independent venture, renting two hundred acres of land which he was to cultivate upon shares, receiving one third of the crop. There he remained three years and after much labor which he was to cultivate upon shares, receiving one-third of the crop. There he remained three years and after much labor during that period he found that he had one hundred fifty dollars as the surplus of his work. He then purchased a land warrant for seventy-five dollars, giving him the right to enter a claim of eighty acres.
    Believing that he might have better opportunities in the west, Mr. Spicer made his way to Mt. Carroll, Illinois, and entered the service of the Mt. Carroll Seminary as a janitor, receiving sixteen dollars per month. His wife was employed as matron in that institution and was paid three dollars per week. Mr. Spicer, at the end of a year, took his land warrant to Dubuque and had it located in Howard county, Iowa. Locating thereon he at once began to clear and improve his farm and made it his home for eight years. While living there he had to haul his grain to McGregor's Landing, a distance of one hundred miles. He sold dressed pork there for two dollars and thirty-three cents per one hundred pounds. It was extremely cold in the winter months at that period and the pioneer settlers suffered greatly. There was no market for corn, and wheat brought only fifty cents per bushel when hauled to the market. Eggs sold for four cents a dozen in trade and none of the settlers could get credit. Times were indeed very hard. They had to pay five cents a pound for salt, and many of the farmers were so poor they could not buy that article and became ill from eating fresh fish. They cut up wheat sacks in order to make over-alls and only those who have gone through such experiences can fully know the history of pioneer life. Mr. Spicer, however, had come to the west to make a home and his great persistently of purpose enabled him to continue his work, winning success by reason of his indomitable will. In the early days they had to use lard for an illuminant fluid until tallow candles could be made.
    During the Civil war Mr. Spicer sold his land in Howard county and removed to the vicinity of Homer, Iowa, purchasing a farm of one hundred sixty acres for five dollars an acre. He also bought forty acres of timberland at five dollars per acre. He improved his property, placing the prairie tract under a high state of cultivation, and as his financial resources increased he added to his place until it comprised four hundred and forty acres. In 1890 he was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife who died the 14th of October of that year and was laid to rest in Webster City, Iowa. He then determined to abundant farming and remove to the city. Accordingly he sold his two hundred and forty-acre farm and on the 1st of November, 1892, he took up his abode in the county seat.
    Mr. Spicer was married November 2, 1892, to Mrs. M. Sibley, who was born in Erie county, New York, August 9, 1833, a daughter of Adam and Abigail (Churchill) Gensman, both of whom were natives of the Mohawk valley. They were married in the Empire state and her father there followed the trade of blacksmithing. Afterward, however, he turned his attention to agricultural pursuits, but spent his last days in retirement in Webster City, Iowa. His political support was given the Democracy, and he was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His religious faith was that of the Baptist church, with which he long held membership. He died January 11, 1889, at the age of eighty-six years and his wife passed away May 25, 1891, at the age of eighty-three years, their remains being interred in the cemetery at Webster City. Mrs. Spicer was one of a family of four children, being the eldest of the number. The others are: Levi, a blacksmith, who married Lucinda Middleditch and resides in Webster City; Olive, the wife of LaFayette Irish, of Erie county, New York; and Edward, who married Ann Grady and after her death wedded her cousin, and resides in South Lyons, Oakland county, Michigan. Mrs. Spicer was first married on the 24th of November, 1852, in Erie county, New York, becoming the wife of Dr. Marvin Sibley, who was the first dentist to locate within the borders of Hamilton county, where he continued to practice up to the time of his death. He was the son of Orion and Mahitable Sibley. By this marriage there were two children, one son still living.
    Mr. Spicer has disposed of all of his farming interests but is the owner of two acres of land and some residence property in Webster City in addition to his home. He certainly deserves great credit for what he has accomplished and well may he be called a self made man, for without any pecuniary aid or influence in his youth he steadily worked his way upward, being entirely dependent upon his own resources from the age of twelve years. He has known hard work, has labored persistently and energetically, and as the years have passed success has come to him and he now is enjoying in honorable retirement from labor, the fruits of his former toil. He holds membership in the Baptist church and in politics is a stanch Democrat. His circle of friends is indeed very extensive and he is known as a citizen who has a deep interest in everything pertaining to the general welfare. Having no children of his own he has reared the orphan children of his brother. His is a kindly and generous nature, and one worthy of the highest regard. He has held a number of positions of trust in the county, and for eighteen years has been a treasurer of the school board. Having endured all the hardships and privations of pioneer life in Iowa, he is a splendid type of a frontiersman and with a courageous spirit he has met difficulties and obstacles, overcoming these by determined purpose. His work in improvement and development has closely linked his name with the pioneer history of this portion of the state and with pleasure we present to our readers his life record.



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