Biography - Alfred Bliss

REV. ALFRED BLISS, a well-known pioneer Methodist minister of southern Illinois, now superannuated and a resident of Effingham, was born in the town of Fairlee, Orange County, Vt., May 29, 1811, and is a son of Solomon and Jerusha (Strong) Bliss. His parents were natives of Connecticut, and settled in Vermont in their youth. They were Congregationalists, and the father for upwards of forty years was Deacon of his church. Our subject received an academic education and was reared to agricultural pursuits.

On the 4th of March, 1834, Mr. Bliss and Miss Direxia H. Knowles were united in marriage. Mrs. Bliss was born in Northfield, N. H., and is a daughter of Joseph and Hannah (Haynes) Knowles, of that place. Both were descended from old New England families.

In 1838, Mr. Bliss left Vermont with his family, in company with his wife's parents and their family, for Illinois. They traveled all the way by teams, over new and poorly-improved roads, and reached their destination after eight weeks on the way. They purchased land in what is now Fillmore, Montgomery County, Ill., and in that neighborhood Mr. Bliss engaged in farming for fifteen years. They were poor and had much to contend with in the natural disadvantages of living in a new country, but they soon had a comfortable home and became well off on account of their industry and frugality.

About the year 1820, in his early childhood, Mr. Bliss united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which his wife became a member at the age of eighteen. They were both devout Christians from their youth up and were active in church and Sunday-school work prior to leaving the East. Mr. Bliss was Superintendent of the Sunday-school of his church in Bradford, Vt., for several years. On coming to Montgomery County, Ill., they found themselves in a wilderness, without schools or churches and with few Christian neighbors. As the country began to settle they succeeded in organizing a church and Sunday-school. After a residence at Fillmore of fifteen years, Mr. Bliss was licensed by the Methodist Episcopal Conference as an itinerant minister and entered upon his sacred duties about 1853.

Mr. and Mrs. Bliss had six children who lived to maturity and married. Two died in infancy. Eliza Ann, the eldest, is the wife of James S. Moody, of Fillmore, and has eight children. Celesta J., wife of E. C. Devore, died in February, 1890, leaving two children. George married Maggie Russell and resides in Nokomis, Montgomery County, Ill. Alice, wife of Lyman Allen, died in June, 1880, leaving three children. Charles W. married Elizabeth Phillips and is a resident of Hillsboro, Montgomery County. Nellie J., the youngest of the family, is the widow of John C. White, whose sketch appears in another portion of this volume, and makes her home in Effingham. She has three living children. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Austin College, to which institution she has been a liberal contributor.

Mr. Bliss organized the first Sunday-school in Montgomery County and after entering the ministry was engaged in active work in that and adjoining counties, holding meetings wherever he could get a few together, supplying pulpits, marrying, and burying the dead, rejoicing with the happy and comforting those in sorrow and distress. During the late Civil War there was much sympathy among his neighbors for those in rebellion; many were Southern-born and had friends and relatives in the Southern army. The nearness of Fillmore to the Missouri border made it a favorite resort of the guerrilla raiders. Mr. Bliss had always been a strong anti-slavery man, and being a Methodist preacher was suspected of being connected with the so-called "underground railroad," by which fugitive slaves were being conducted Northward to Canada. Consequently he had many enemies in the secession element, who were only too glad to point him out to the guerrillas as one deserving of death. It happened that during the war he owned and operated a grist and saw mill not far from his home and it was while there with his sons attending to the grinding of some grain that the first demonstration was made against him. Three strange men came in, claiming to have grist that had been neglected or not ground in their turn and sought a quarrel with Mr. Bliss. They were armed, while he was not, but he took matters coolly and tried to reason with them. The men went so far as to admit that they came to kill him, when a neighbor, a friend, put in an appearance and the gang concluded to postpone their work. The neighbor informed Mr. Bliss that he had happened to overhear the plot and came down to warn him. At another time a man very much resembling him was riding on a road which Mr. Bliss much frequented, was surrounded by four guerrillas and made to dismount. He was marched into the woods, away from the highway, where they gave him to understand that he was to be killed. They called him Bliss and the man seeing the mistake naturally took advantage of it and succeeded in convincing the would-be murderers that they had the wrong man. No doubt had they really seized the man for whom they were looking they would have ended his days then and there. On another occasion, while driving with a niece in a covered carriage, he met four armed men who seemed disposed to stop him, but as he drew a revolver and acted on the defensive they hesitated and he drove on. These are but a few instances where his life was threatened and his many friends wondered how he managed to escape.

For nearly forty years Mr. Bliss was actively employed in the ministry, and in the cause of education took a prominent part. He was especially interested in providing collegiate advantages for young women. He built a female college at Salem, Ill., which was in successful operation for several years, there being as many as two hundred students in attendance. When the management of McKendree College opened the doors to female students they absorbed the Salem school, which was afterwards abandoned. In 1881, Mr. Bliss, having been placed on the superannuated list, removed to Effingham, which has since been his home. He has continued to work, however, and has been instrumental in building up thriving church societies in many places where there was but little encouragement. He organized a society and built a church at old deserted Ewington, the former county seat of Effingham County, another at Sigel, one at Montrose and another at Union, which are now thriving and prosperous churches.

In starting what is now Austin College, Mr. Bliss was one of the original movers and was a liberal contributor to the fund, giving $2,500 toward building the college. He was chosen the first President of the institution. He has always given liberally to the building of churches, many of which were outside of the Methodist Episcopal denomination, and other worthy charitable objects have met with his sympathy and support.

In early life our subject was politically a Democrat but joined the Republican party at its organization. He was chosen a member of the County Commissioners Court and was re-elected, serving for two terms in that office. He continued to vote for the Republican nominees until 1890, when having been a temperance man all his life, he joined the Prohibition party. He possesses a farm of eleven hundred acres in Montgomery County, which he leases and which he acquired by years of industry and economy. Both he and his good wife have passed their eighty-first year and are in the full possession of their faculties and likely to live for many years in the enjoyment of life. They celebrated the fifty-ninth anniversary of their wedding day on March 4, 1893. Their lives have been useful and contented and in their old age they are esteemed and respected by a wide circle of friends.

Extracted 11 Apr 2020 by Norma Hass from 1893 Portrait and Biographical Record of Effingham, Jasper and Richland Counties, Illinois, pages 210-212.

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