Reed, James F.

Born: 1800-11-14 Armagh, Ireland, United Kingdom

Died: 1874-07-24 San Jose, California

Reed’s parents came from Ireland to America and settled in Virginia. Reed remained there until he was twenty, when he left for the lead mines of Illinois. In 1831, Reed arrived in Springfield, Illinois. Reed served as a private in several companies during the Black Hawk War, serving alongside Abraham Lincoln in two of them. After the war, he returned to Springfield and went into the mercantile business, at which he was successful enough to buy a farm near Springfield. He began to manufacture cabinet furniture at a point on the Sangamon River seven miles east of Springfield. Reed employed a large number of men, and a village grew up there, which was called Jamestown in his honor. The name has since changed, first to Howlett and then to Riverton, Illinois. In 1835, Reed married Margaret Backenstoe in Sangamon County, Illinois. In April 1846, Reed and his family were part of the Donner party, which started overland for California. Along the way, the party became stranded in a pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where forty members of their party died of starvation. Those who survived resorted to cannibalism in order to stay alive. Reed’s family was one of only two in the party to survive intact, and claimed to be the only family that did not resort to eating human flesh. Reed went on to settle at San Jose Mission, California, where he made a fortune buying and selling real estate.

Illinois Times (Springfield), 25 January 1996, 10-11; State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), 14 April 1996, 5; John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 600-601; Ellen M. Whitney, comp., The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832: Illinois Volunteers, vol. 35 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1970), 1:172-74, 206, 227-29, 544-46; Muster Roll of Captain Jacob M. Early's Company of Mounted Volunteers; Muster Roll of Captain Elijah Iles' Company of Mounted Volunteers; Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, Sangamon County, 14 October 1835, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, IL. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.