Location: Union County, Indiana, United States
Surnames/tags: Witt Irwin Union_County_Indiana
Transcriber’s Note: The obituary was divided into paragraphs by the transcriber for ease of reading. Missing text is noted within square braces.
Michael J. Witt, whose death occurred March 11, 1908, on his farm two miles south of Liberty, Ind., was born on farm four miles north of Liberty, August 25, 1829, and spent his entire life in Union county.
At time of our subjects birth, much of Union County was but a wilderness with a few small fields of cleared land and nothing deserving the name of public roads were to be found in the county. A few rude log houses served for children to collect with such books as parents might have in their homes to be instructed by illiterate teachers for two or three months during winter season. McGuffey's school series were then unknown.
In this state of society the early boyhood days, of Michael Witt were passed. The momentary revulsion of affairs in our government during 1837 paralyzed business to such an extent that bankruptcy became common, as men were not able to meet their obligations. Banks suspended payment and distress prevailed everywhere; labor commanded lowest wages and farm products sold at lowest prices known since existence of the government.
Our subjects active life began about the year 1855. On March 1st of that year he was happily married to Miss Mary E. Irwin by which union seven children were born and whose life was protracted to within six months of the date of her husband’s death. Of the seven children, two daughters died in childhood, and two sons in early manhood, James P., George M., and Franklin I. Witt are the surviving sons.
During the entire forties low prices for labor, and products of every kind prevailed, but as we had no tariff except for revenue, people managed to live in a tolerably comfortable manner. Luxuries were found in the homes of the few, but newspapers and books were more abundant and a better class of school houses were to be found.
The discovery of gold in California aided the industries of the country and internal improvements made vast strides, so that the beginning of 1850 seemed like living in a new era. A demand for labor had been created and product of labor were in demand.
At the national election of 1852, Michael J. Witt cast his first vote for president and vice president of the United States and this vote was cast for Franklin Pierce, a politician of little note or importance, who defeated Winfield Scott, a veteran, who had grown gray in his country's service or more than forty years. After the defeat of Gen. Scott the Whig party became disrupted and succeeded [original text missing]
The subject of slavery [original text missing] “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” had been written and read by thousands of people. Garrison from his lonely garret had sent copies of his “Liberator”; Lovoy had been foully murdered by a pro-slavery mob at Alton, Ill. for his defense of free speech. Times were becoming ripe for a new political party, and this party announced its principles as opposed to the further extension of slavery in the United States or territories.
This new party drew to its ranks many prominent Democrats, among whom was S. P. Chase, the rising O.P. Morton with hosts of Ohio Democrats of anti-slavery proclivities Men in almost every walk of life became politicians and were free to discuss the political issues of the day, a privilege never denied to people of the Northern States.
Against the advice and admonition of relatives and life-long friends, Witt allied himself with the new party that declared for “Freedom, free speech and after having “put his hand to the plow" he never turned back. Of course Fremont was defeated and many zealous but imprudent Republicans had less money but more experience after election Union County had been carried by the Democratic party at nearly all national elections and a majority of the county officials were also members of that party.
At the state and county elections of 1858 M. J. Witt was elected sheriff of Union county and Served two years, but failed to receive nomination of Republican party at primary election in 1860. It is needed to say none of his official acts were called in question.
It occurred to Mr. Witt in his early days that it was best for a majority of persons to never go in debt for anything, and after adopting this he rigidly adhered to its principles through lite, and in this manner never found himself without cash. In this way Mr. Witt became a money lender and many after the war found it quite profitable as money readily commanded 10 per cent per annum.
In early manhood deceased was a believer in orthodox Christianity as were his relatives, neighbors and friends and young Witt had serious thoughts of connecting himself with one of those churches. He read and other literature designed to enlighten persons who deserved to know more about the Christian system of religion He devoted much time to the reading of the Bible and became familiar with many parts of the esteemed book. The poetical parts of the old testament were eagerly read by him especially the book of Job.
About this time a friend placed in Mr. Witt's hand a copy of Thos. Pain's “Age of Reason” a book but little read in part of the country at that time and thought by many to be blasphemous. A careful reading of “The Age of Reason” changed Mr. Witt's views to the contents of the book and the character of the author.
He soon became a doubter and inquirer. He attended meetings at Lyceum hall where lectures were frequently given on “Free Thought” and kindred subjects and was present when the hall was dedicated to freedom, free speech and free thought, in an address delivered by Prof. William Denton eminent geologist and scientist about the year 1868. During the eighties while guest of a friend at Richmond, Ind., Mr. Witt attended and listened with pleasure to a lecture by Robert G. Ingersol.
In later life our friend seldom mentioned metaphysical subjects and never discussed them except in defence of his own peculiar views. That he was peculiar, few persons will deny, but then history teaches, that the world has many peculiar men, some of whom are the most valuable and useful of their day.
Social qualities of our deceased friend were of high order, and all persons enjoyed his happy, jovial greeting.
A learned author has said, that all savage people treat their women as slaves, and that only the enlightened man can treat' his wife as his equal. In his last will our subject manifested no desire to leave property to the mother of his children and the faithful wife and partner in all his joys and sorrows, who had so assiduously worked for more than half a century, to help accumulate their fortune, entailed in a manner as though she were an idiot and incapable of management of property. Not more than fifty years ago wills allowing the widow a small portion of the real estate during life were common. Mr. Witt's will was short and needed no lawyer to explain it. He made provisions in this instrument, that should his death occur before that of his wife, all property, personal and real should go to his wife absolute in fee simple.
The above is a feeble recital of some of the events connected with the quiet and peaceful life Of Michael J. Witt a life-long resident of the county and one of its most valued citizens. His death was sudden, and came without warning, yet it is believed like John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame “he was always ready.”
- Clipping from the collection of Frances Joan Leonard. Newspaper source is unknown but is assumed to be "The Liberty Herald", Liberty, Indiana, United States. Scans of the clipping can be found on the profile for Michael John Witt.