WILLIAM R. WILKINSON, judge of the county court for the Eastern District of Perry County, was born in the county September 7, 1854. He was the son of John and Elizabeth (Lawson), natives of Yorkshire, England. John Wilkinson, at the age of four years, came to America with his parents, who located at Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he grew to manhood.

When sixteen years old he began working at the ship carpenters trade and continued about seven years. He and his father then built the steamboat “Laurel”, and launched it for trade between Louisville, Kentucky, and Alton, Illinois. On its second trip it sunk at what has since been known as Wilkinson’s Landing, on the Mississippi River, in Perry County, Missouri.

By this misfortune John Wilkinson was left penniless but not discouraged. He began chopping cordwood for the steamboats, hauling it to the bank of the river in winter on a hand sled and in the summer on a wheelbarrow. He worked in this way until he was able to buy a yoke of oxen, and from this time forth prosperity smiled upon him. As soon as he obtained a little surplus of money he invested it in land, and in this way he added acre after acre and tract after tract until he became the owner of 12,000 acres, valued at fully $100,000.

He died in 1876 esteemed and honored by all who knew him. He was the father of three children, who survived him: Amelia (wife of Isaac Meridith, of Chester, Illinois), William R., and Martha Jane “Jennie” (wife of George S. Hatch, of Perry County). William R. received his early education in the public schools and in 1871 entered the University of Missouri, from which, in 1874, he graduated in the horticultural course. He then returned to his native county, and has since been engaged in farming, milling and the improvement of his lands.

He is proprietor of Wilkinson Anchor Mills, Altenburg, Missouri, and saw mills in Jackson County, Illinois, giving employment to thirty or forty men, cutting more timber than any mills in this section of the country. In politics he is a Democrat, and cast his first vote for Tilden. In 1884 he was elected a judge of the county court, over two Democratic opponents, by a large majority, and in 1886 was re-elected without opposition. He was the youngest man ever elected to the county bench. He is a member of the Triple Tie Lodge, A.,F. and A.M., of Brazeau; of Wilson R.A.C., of Cape Girardeau, and of the St. Louis Commandery, K.T.

In 1877 Judge Wilkinson was united in marriage with Miss Jennie McPike, a daughter of Hon. H.G. McPike of Alton, Illinois, and to them have been born three children, only one living. It has been well said of him that he is a man of intelligence, coupled with good, practical, business sense, acquired in the successful personal management of extensive legitimate business interests. As a public servant, in the responsible capacity of county judge, he has invariably exhibited equally as good, sound judgment, as much executive ability, and as much fidelity to the interests of the public, as he has shown in his private affairs - as much in fact as though he were to be affected by his official acts. And the impress of his sound, practical, business sense is seen in the present gratifying financial condition of the county, and which is largely due to his efficient service in the county court. He has always stood up for economy in the management of county affairs and in that useful capacity has justly earned the title of “watchdog of the county treasury”. By his prompt and efficient work in capturing St. John, the burglar, Judge Wilkinson again demonstrated the high sense of responsibility with which he regards a public office, and to him is due much of the credit for the capture and conviction of the other burglars and especially for the recovery of the money found on St. John’s person.


HISTORY OF SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (copied by Patrice Klobe March, 2001)