With particular pleasure we trace the history of this gallant hero of the
great civil war, who gave some of the best years of his early manhood to his
country and to the preservation of that Union which is now indissolubly
united in aims, ambitions and spirit. Success and wealth have come to him in
later years as the just reward of honest toil and duties well performed, but
the crown of his manhood ever has been his loyalty to his country in peace
The Larabees are of French extraction, and our subject's paternal grandfather, Willett Larabee, was a native of Vermont, in which state he lived and was engaged in farming until his death, which event occurred when he was but forty years of age. Of his seven children, all but one of whom were sons, Willett, born two years prior to the close of last century, became the father of James Wool Larabee. He followed agriculture, and at an early day removed to New York state, where he died in 1853. His first wife was a Miss Rachel Winton, by whom he had two children: Willett, now a resident of Nebraska, and Rachel, who married Daniel Vandercarr and is deceased. The second wife bore the maiden name of Mary Wool, she being a daughter of James Wool, a native of New York state and a hero of the war for independence. He was a successful farmer and a man of influence in his community, every one calling him "Uncle Jimmie." He lived to attain the advanced age of ninety-six years, his death taking place in the Empire state. Mrs. Aviary (Wool) Larabee was born in New York, and died in 1864, when in her sixty-sixth year. She was the mother of two children: James W., of this sketch, and Mary, who became the wife of Timothy Carpenter and has passed to the silent land. Willett Larabee, Sr., was a member of the Methodist church, while his wife, who was a Baptist in creed, was identified with the Presbyterian church for some years.
The birth of James W. Larabee occurred in Rensselaer county, New York, December 5, 1838. He learned farming in its varied forms, and in 1855 came to LaSalle county, where he believed that he would find greater opportunities for making his own way in the world. His half-brother, Willett, was living here, and the young man entered his employ, and continued to work by the month for several years for him. Having accumulated a small amount of money by the time that the civil war broke out, he invested a part of it in a team and had negotiated for the renting of a tract of land preparatory to farming. The firing upon Fort Sumter awakened all of his patriotic ardor and indignation, and, abandoning all of his personal plans, he promptly responded to the president's first call for volunteers to check the rebellion. Enlisting in the three-months service, in Company H, Twelfth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, he returned home at the expiration of his term, only to sell his team, adjust a few items in his affairs, and then to re-enlist in the Fifty-fifth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, with which regiment he continued until the spring of 1864. He then veteranized and resumed his place in the ranks of the Fifty-fifth, serving until the close of the war, and being honorably discharged in August, 1865, after four years and five months of actual army life. He participated in many of the memorable and important campaigns of the war, taking part in the following named battles, among others: Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Memphis, Hernando, Grand Gulf, Arkansas Post, Haines' Bluff, Champion Hills, Black River and the famous siege of Vicksburg. He was wounded at Shiloh, in the right arm, and was again wounded at Mcksburg. In the last named engagement he was one of the sixty brave soldiers who volunteered to storm the fort, and thirty-one of whom were killed in making the heroic attempt. For this valorous feat he was presented with a medal by the government, it bearing the simple but impressive sentence, "for conspicuous gallantry in action at Vicksburg, Mississippi, May 22, 1863." During his service he was promoted from the ranks to the posts of corporal and sergeant.
Upon returning from the southern battle-fields, Mr. Larabee resumed his interrupted labors as a farmer, and on the 9th of the following November, 1865, was united in marriage with Miss Mary E. Haight, who has been a faithful helpmate. She is a daughter of S. J. and Lura (Miller) Haight. Seven children were born to our subject and wife, namely: Samuel John Haight, James W. Jr., Willett Ralph, Louis Benjamin, Mary E., Charles D. and one who died in infancy. S. J. H. Larabee married Miss Emma Lawrence, and is engaged in the practice of law in Chicago. J. W., Jr., married Almira Howard and has four children, namely: Goldie, Emma, Jimmie and Samuel. Willett R. married Ethel Barrett and has a son, Willett R. J. W., Jr., and Willett R. are both living in Lee county, and the younger children of our subject are yet at home.
After his marriage, Mr. Larabee rented a farm of ninety acres, and aided by his young wife proceeded to win a competence. At the end of two years he was able to buy two hundred acres of his present farm, on section 4, Meriden township, which he has since increased in extent to three hundred and twenty acres. His wife owns two hundred and eighty acres and thus their united possessions are six hundred acres. He raises good stock, horses, cattle and hogs, and is one of the successful farmers of this region.
Politically Mr. Larabee has never allied himself to any party, as he prefers to be entirely independent. Both he and his wife are devoted members of the Methodist Episcopal church, and of late years he has given his ballot to the Prohibition party candidates in national elections, as he believes that the liquor traffic is the paramount issue of the present day. Fraternally he is a member of the W. H. Thompson Post, G. A. R., of Paw Paw, Illinois.
Extracted 18 Aug 2017 by Norma Hass from Biographical and Genealogical Record of LaSalle County, Illinois, published in 1900, volume 2, pages 513-515.