William BEBB, who was governor of this State during the Mexican war, was born on the Dry Fork of Whitewater, in Morgan Township, December 8, 1802. His father, Edward BEBB, emigrated from Wales, Great Britain in 1795, traveled across the mountains to the valley of the Miami on foot, purchased in the neighborhood of North Bend an extensive tract of land, returned to Pennsylvania and married Miss ROBERTS, to who he had been engaged in Wales, and, with his bride, riding in a suitable conveyance, again crossed the mountains, and settled in this land in what was then but a wilderness.
He was a man off sound judgment, and, in common with many of his countrymen, of a joyous and ever hopeful disposition. His wife was a lady of culture and refinement, and her home in the valley of the Miami, with no near neighbors, was a great change from her previous life. There were, of course, no schools near to send her children to, and this was a matter of grave concern to the parents, and the son was, in consequence, taught to read at home. In those years the "Western Spy", then published in Cincinnati, and distributed by a private post-rider, was taken by his father, and William read with avidity the contents of it, especially the achievements of Napoleon Bonaparte. A strong desire to acquire a better education induced him to make extraordinary efforts, and in this matter he was much assisted by Mr. David LLOYD, a graduate of a college in Philadelphia, who resided in the neighborhood. BEBB began teaching school at Oury's school-house, in the village of New Haven, Hamilton County, and afterwards at North Bend, the residence of General Harrison. He remained in this latter place a year, during which time he married Miss Sarah SCHUCK, the daughter of a wealthy German resident of the village.
Proving a success as a teacher of boys, he conceived the idea of extending his usefulness, and resolved to open an extensive boarding-school on part of his father's large place and farm, some two miles north of the Oury's school-house. With the assistance of his father and the encouragement of his neighbors, who had much confidence in him and his learning and ability, and with the goodwill and aid of some Cincinnati friends, he had a large and commodious two-story-and-a-half frame house and additions erected on the banks of the Dry Fork of Whitewater. The large building consisted of a middle two-and-a-half story house, and commodious wings on each side one-and-a-half story high; one of these, the northern wing, being devoted to himself and young family as a dwelling; the other, the southern wing, being the school-house, and dormitory for the boys above. The center building contained a large dining-hall, entered from a beautiful covered portico, reached by a flight of steps extending the whole length of the building, and as a large dormitory for the boys immediately above, and rooms and large kitchen at the rear. The whole house was painted white, adorned with blue. Thus situated, Mr. BEBB began his boarding-school about the year 1827 or 1828, and, being an energetic man, he began to prosper, and his school was soon filled with pupils and boarders from the boys of Cincinnati and elsewhere. This was the first and pioneer boarding-school in the vicinity of Cincinnati. It was distant just twenty-five miles from that city, and it was reached by tolerably good roads for those days, either by way of Millcreek and Colerain townsips, through the town of Venice and Crosby townships, through the villages of Cheviot, Miamitown, and New Haven. In and about the locality, particularly on the Dry Fork Creek, there were a great many large, full-foliaged, and grand sycamore-trees, and Mr. BEBB named the place Sycamore Grove. This name became celebrated in Cincinnati and throughout the country, and BEBB's school and Sycamore Grove became a distinguished place. He carried on his school until the end of the year 1832, when, being filled with ambition to make a still greater mark before the public eye, he gave up his well-established school.
In 1831 he rode to Columbus on horseback, where the supreme court judges examined him and passed him to practice in the State. He then removed to Hamilton, Butler County, and opened a law office, being for a long time in partnership with John M. MILLIKIN, where he continued quietly and in successful practice fourteen years. During this period he took an active interest in political affairs, and advocated during his first, called the hard-cider campaign, the claims of General HARRISON, and no less distinguished himself during that "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too," campaign, in which the persons indicated were successful, and the Whigs,in 1840, for the first time succeeded in electing their candidates. Four years afterward he was elected governor of the State, and the war with Mexico placed him, as the governor of Ohio, in a very trying position. As a Whig he did not personally favor the war, and this feeling was generally entertained by the party who made him their leader in the State; but he felt that the question was not of party but of cordial support of the general government, and his earnest recognition of this fact eventually overcame the danger that had followed President Polk's proclamation of war. His term of office (1846-48) was distinguished by good money, free-schools, great activity in the construction of railroads and turnpikes; the arts and industry generally were well rewarded, and high prosperity characterized the whole State. In 1847 Governor BEBB purchased five thousand acres of land in Rock River County, Illinois, of which the location was delightful and the soil rich. Five hundred acres were wooded, and constituted a natural park, while the remainder was prairie of the best quality, with a stream of water fed by perpetual springs. No man of moderate ambition could desire the possession of a more magnificent portion of the earth's surface. Three years after making his purchase he removed to it, taking with him fine horses and a number of the choicest breeds of cattle, and entered upon the cultivation of this fine property. Five years afterward he visited Great Britain and the continent of Europe. In the birthplace of his father he found many desirous to immigrate to America, and, encouraging the enterprise, a company was formed, and a tract of one hundred thousand acres purchased for them in East Tennessee, where he agreed to preside over their arrangements and the settlement of this land. In 1856 a party of the colonists arrived on the land, and Governor BEBB resided with them until the war of the Rebellion began, when he left the State with his family. The emigrants, discouraged by the strong pro-slavery sentiment, scattered and settled in various parts of the Northern States. On the inauguration of President Lincoln, Governor BEBB was appointed examiner in the Pension Department at Washington, and held this position until 1869, when he returned to his farm in Illinois, and the peaceful pursuit of agriculture. His scale of farming was the cultivation of two thousand acres in a season, while another thousand formed his cattle pasture. While in Washington he received the appointment of consul at Tangiers, Morocco, but declined.
He took an active part in the election of General Grant, and the first sickness of any consequence he ever experienced was an attack of pneumonia following an exposed ride from Pecatonica, where he had addressed the electors, to his home. From this he never recovered, and, although he spent the following Winter in Washington, occupied mainly as a listener to the debates in the Senate, he felt his vital forces gradually declining. Returning home the next Summer, and feeling that he was no longer able to superintend his farm operations, he purchased a residence at Rockford, and there resided until his death, which happened October 23, 1873. His widow still survives him, and has now reached the age of seventy-eight. She lives in Rockford, Illinois.
A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County Ohio, With Illustrations and Sketches of its Representative Men and Pioneers Cincinnati Ohio. Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1882.