Jarvis Pierce was born September 28, 1800, possibly in Craftsbury, Vermont or in Westminster, Massachusetts.1 His father was Jarvis Peirce Sr. and his mother was Rhoda Darby. Coming from a long line of Massachusetts ancestors, Jarvis was the third of eleven children born to his parents. His Peirce ancestry went back to John Pers of Norfolk, England, who came with his wife and younger children to Massachusetts in the 1600s.2

Jarvis' grandfather, Josiah Peirce, married Sarah Gale in 1744 and they later moved to Worcester, Massachusetts. Jarvis Sr., Josiah and Sarah's sixteenth and last child, married Rhoda Darby in 1794 in Westminster, Massachusetts. Jarvis Jr. was their third child and eldest son. The family was in Craftsbury, Vermont, by 1810 and sometime after that they headed to Illinois, moving first to Springfield and then to White County in southern Illinois.

Jarvis Jr. married Sally Wilkerson in 1821, the first of his three wives. They married June 12 in Jefferson County, Illinois.3 According to probate records for Jarvis, he had at least three children by Sally: Eliza Pierce, born about 1822, Permelia, born about 1835, and James. Jarvis must have had more than one son though. According to a county history for Jefferson County:

Jarvis Pierce went to Harrisburg and was a "court-house fixture" there till he died. James, one of his boys, was elected County Clerk there and served many years.4

Eliza Pierce, the oldest child, married John R. Allen in 18385 and had at least seven children.6 Permelia Pierce married Amos Shain in 18547 and died in 1859 from childbirth just after the birth of their only child, Robert.8 James Pierce died sometime before his father's death.9 James' daughter, Eliza, married Pleasant N. Pope and had four children, all mentioned in Jarvis's will.

Sally must have died because in 1845 Jarvis married the widow of William Jefferson Gatewood, a lawyer living in Gallatin County.10 His new wife, Elewisa Hubbard Gatewood had four Gatewood children. In 1850 the courts appointed Jarvis Pierce their legal guardian.11 In 1850, three of the Gatewood children were living with Jarvis and Elewisa in Equality, Gallatin County, Illinois.12 Permelia Pierce was also living with them at this time. Another Pierce daughter listed in the census is Mary E. [ E for Elewisa?] who was two years old in 1850, the daughter of Jarvis and Elewisa. In 1862, Mary E., nearly fifteen, married Zephaniah Phillips. 13

Jarvis Pierce, who in one account14 was said to be a lawyer, listed himself in the 1850 census as a plasterer. In subsequent censuses, he is listed as a common laborer and a contractor, never a lawyer. In 1853, it was decided by the county court that a new courthouse needed to replace the old one in Raleigh, the county seat. Jarvis Pierce was given the contract for the building on March 11, 1854.15 By 1860, Jarvis had moved to Harrisburg. His real estate went from $300 in 1850 to $1000 in 1860. Living with them in 1860 was Unity Barnes, a servant, and her three-year-old daughter, Louise Barnes. 16

In July 1866 Jarvis filed for divorce on grounds of desertion.17 According to the divorce proceedings, Elewisa treated Jarvis poorly and gave him no peace. While he was ill, she left with several wagonloads of household goods. It was believed she went to St. Louis, Missouri. Elewisa did not appear in court so her version of their marital situation was not recorded.

In September 1866, the divorce was final and Jarvis married Unity Barnes, a widow, who had been a servant in the 1860 census.18 In the 1870 census, there was 10-year-old Dora, Jarvis and Unity's daughter, who later married Fred Burgner.19 Lucy Bender, who wrote a history of the Pierce family, says Jarvis married Unity in 1859, but the marriage record says 1866.20 According to the 1880 census, Dora's mother was born in Illinois, which was Unity's place of birth.21

In 1880, Jarvis was 79 years old, still living with Unity, his wife.22 Dora, nineteen, was married to Fred Burgner, and all were living in the same house. Dora was a big source of information for Lucy Bender, who wrote the family history.23 Jarvis would have been around sixty when Dora was born.

Jarvis died July 4, 1880, in Harrisburg.24 Unity died in 1886.25

An obituary for Jarvis Pierce appeared in the Harrisburg Chronicle, Saturday July 17, 1880. Attempts to find the original obituary have been unsuccessful, but an abstract was found at the Harrisburg Public Library, Harrisburg, Illinois, in Gallatin County, Illinois, Newspaper Abstracts Vol. II:

DEATH - Uncle Jarvis PIERCE, the oldest man in Harrisburg, died at his home in this place last Sunday morning. He was one of the founders of the town. He has many relatives in White and Jefferson counties, as well as Saline, and the greatest pleasure of his declining years was to attend the old settlers' meetings at Mt. Vernon. He was an untiring worker to the day when his last sickness commenced, and the trees about the Saline county court house are a living monument to his industry and taste. He did not die, but fell asleep.26


The locations of Jarvis' burial and those of his wives are unknown.


Related Links
A brief history of the Pierce family
Pierce descent reports and charts
Marriage of Jarvis Pierce and Elewesa Hubbard Gatewood, 1845
Marriage of Elewisa Hubbard to William Jefferson Gatewood, 1828
Hubbard and Gatewood families


  1. The town records of Craftbury list all of the first seven children together but the parents names are not given. More research needs to be done on why Myra (Mira, Maritta) is in both the Westminster and Craftsbury birth records and whether the children were actually born in Craftsbury since there was no record of the Peirce family in the 1800 census. In the 1860, 1870, and 1880 U.S. censuses, Jarvis' birthplace is always given as Massachusetts.

    Craftsbury, Vermont, Vital Records, 1797-1868. Craftsbury, Orleans County, Vermont, Town, Clerk, 1903. Family History Center Microfilm 0028021.

  2. Pierce, Frederick Clifton. Peirce Genealogy, Being the Record of the Posterity of John Pers, an Early Inhabitant of Watertown, in New England; with notes on the history of other families of Peirce, Pierce, Pearce, etc. Worcester, Massachusetts: Press of Chas. Hamilton, 1880. Family History Center 929.273 P353p   Microfilm 0982128 #3.

  3. Jefferson County, Illinois, Marriage Records, Vol. 2, p.209. Family History Center Microfilm 1004738. Jarvis is listed as Jarvis Pearce, Jr. Another source gives Vol. 1, p.4.

  4. Wall, John A. Wall's History of Jefferson County, Illinois. Indianapolis, Indiana: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1909, p.233.

  5. Jefferson County, Illinois, Marriage Records, Vol. 1. Family History Center Microfilm 1004738. Two references to the marriage were found, both with the same date, July 12, 1838. One listed vol. 1, p.31 and the other listed vol. 2, p.1.

  6. Probate Docket of Jarvis Pierce, Letters of Administration. Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Courthouse, Probate Box 19, #1. Seven children of Eliza Pierce Allen were listed in the probate documents for her father, Jarvis Pierce.

  7. Moore, Bernard W. Saline County, Illinois, Marriages, 1847-1880. Thomson, Illinois: Heritage House, 1976. Marriage listing for Permelia C. Pierce and Amos Shain, April 6, 1854. Her name has a middle initial of C.

  8. Jackson, Ronald Vern. Illinois 1860 Mortality Census Index. North Salt Lake, Utah: AISI, n.d., p.273.

  9. Probate Docket of Jarvis Pierce, Letters of Administration. Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Courthouse, Probate Box 19, #1. Grandchildren of James Pierce, son of Jarvis Pierce, were mentioned in the probate records of Jarvis Pierce.

  10. Head, Betty. Gallatin County, Illinois, Marriages, 1830-1858, Carrier Mills, Illinois : J.V. Murphy, c1985, p.22.

  11. Gallatin County, Illinois. County Court, Will and Bond Records, 1849-1901, p.59-61. Jarvis Pierce appointed guardian of the minor children of William J. Gatewood---Williamson, Ephraim H., Nancy, and Isaac I.---Sept. 21, 1850.

  12. 1850 U.S. Census, Gallatin County, Illinois. Equality Precinct, p.412, #135. Three Gatewood children are listed in the household: Ephraim H., Nancy, and Isaac I. Williamson Jefferson Gatewood, the oldest son, was no longer living with Elewisa and Jarvis. He is listed in the 1850 Sacramento, California, Census.

  13. Saline County, Illinois, Marriage Records, Vol. A, p.37.

  14. Bender. Genealogy and History of Peirce and Darby Families.

  15. Early Saline County Court Orders, 1847-1855. Saline County Genealogical Society, 1989, p.197-198.

  16. 1860 U.S. Census, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, p.112, #796.

  17. Circuit Court, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, File #89, vol. 1.

  18. Saline County, Illinois, Marriage Records, Marriage Book A, p. 222, September 30, 1866.

  19. 1870 U.S. Census, Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, p.14.

  20. Saline County, Illinois, Marriage Records, Book D, p.348.

  21. Bender. Genealogy and History of Peirce and Darby Families. Lucy Rearden Bender was descended from a daughter of Jarvis Pierce Sr., Elmira, one of the first teachers in southern Illinois, who married William Rearden.

  22. 1880 U.S. Census. Harrisburg, Saline County, Illinois, p.76.

  23. Lucy Bender's sources are somewhat sketchy and some of her facts conflict with other sources. Most facts are not directly sourced.

  24. Probate Docket of Jarvis Pierce, Letters of Administration. Harrisburg, Illinois, Saline County Courthouse, Probate Box 19, #1.

  25. Saline County, Illinois, Probate Records, Vol. 6, Box 65-8.

  26. Gallatin County, Illinois, Newspaper Abstracts, Vol. II, compiled by Shirley Cummins Shewmake. Harrisburg, Illinois, c.1995. The obituary says that he died "last Sunday" which would make his death date July 11, not 4, but the probate records indicate that the date of death was July 4.

The drawing above is of the old courthouse in Raleigh, Saline County. This was the second courthouse and was a two-story brick building. It cost $5,500.00. It was completed by May 30, 1854, and the old log courthouse was put up for sale. Within a few years, the county seat was moved to Harrisburg and the new courthouse became the old courthouse.

The drawing appeared in a 1989 publication of the Saline County Genealogical Society: Early Saline County Court Orders, 1847-1855.




Anne Healy's Genealogy, Created October 2002
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11 May 2005
updated 30 Oct 2016
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