HON. JAMES BARTON, Probate Judge of Newaygo County, resident on section 8, Big Prairie Township, was born June 4, 1812, in County Tyrone, Ireland. His parents, William and Susannah (Culton) Barton, belonged to the sturdy, upright and uncompromising race in the north of Ireland known as Scotch-Irish, and were members of the Presbyterian element peculiar to the upper counties of the Emerald Isle. William Barton was born in County Tyrone, in 1775, and died in Ionia Co., Mich., in 1848. The mother of Judge Barton was a native of the same county, and was born in 1777, and died in 1824, in Quebec, Can., on the very night of the arrival of the family in that city. Agter a brief tary, the bereaved husband and motherless children proceedd to Lyons, Wayne Co., N.Y., where they remained until October, 1829, when they came to Bloomfield, Oakland Co., Mich., and settled on a farm. Later on, this property was sold, and they came to Otisco, Ionia County.
Judge Barton was a boy of 12 when his parents removed their family to the New World, and he remained a member of the housefold band until he attained to man's estate, and put on the dignity of a benedict in 1832. He was 17 years old when his father came to Michigan, and, two years after coming to Bloomfield, he spent the alternating winters and summers in teaching and farming. He obtained his education in a dusultory manner. He received five years' regular instruction in his native country, and picked up fragmentary learning in the common schools of Lyons. But his good sense and correct judgment stood him in better stead than crude school privileges and instructions. He studied as his underatnding dictated, and he chose judiciously in reading, which he recognized as of more practical benefit than the curriculum of such schools as those to which he had access. In August, 1833, he removed to White Pigeon, where he resided for twoyears. John S. Barry, third Governor of Michigan, was then an obscure provision merchant at White Pigeon, and Judge Barton was one of his constituents in the first public office he ever held - that of Member of the First Constitutional Convention which framed the Constitution upon which Michigan was admitted into the Union in 1837. The ability, wisdom and judgment, and incorruptible integrity displayed by Mr. Barry, whose course in the Convention, and afterwards as Governor, ws studiously watched by Judge Barton, undoubtedly exercised a great influence over his own public career, and, in addtion to the peculiar traits of his own inherited character, undoubtedly colored all his after life.
Judge Barton went, in 1835, to Thornton, Cook Co., Ill., where he spent ten years in agricultiral pursuits and during the time officiated four years as a Justive of the Peace. In the spring of 1845, he returned to Michigan and settled on a farm in Berlin, Ionia County. He was there a resident two years, engaged in farming, and in 1846 was elected Supervisor of Berlin. In January, 1847, he bought a farm in Otisco, in the same county, and continued to manage his agricultural interests there until his removal to Newaygo County, in February, 1850. He prospected through the unsettled, unorganized townships and bought 200 acres of land in township 13, range 11 (now Big Prairie), designated as State or Asylum land. The specific name of this land was Salt Spring land, and referred to the appropriation, by the Government of Michigan, of tracts of land for the purpose of furthering the development of the saline resources of the State. A few years later, a re-appropriation, for the benefit of the Deaf, Dumb and Bling Asylum, was made of the same tracts, and they are still "Asylum" lands.
The Judge's purchase was wholly prairie, and was all put under the plow during the first year of his residence there. He is still a successful farmer in the township with which he identified his interets more than thirty years ago. He has been a factor in every progressive step of Big Prairie, from its days of incipiency to the present period. He aided in the organization of the county in 1851, and his name and position are perpetuated in the name of its northeastern township. At the meeting for arranging the municipal regulations of Newaygo County, Judge Barton and Isac D. Merrill, who died Dec. 14, 1883 (current year), were elected its two Supervisors. The former had held the incumbency, without intermission, ever since, and is one of the oldest continuous officials in the position of Supervisor on record, having acted i that capacity an aggregate of 32 years, and has been Chairman of the Board every year, with one exception. In Oct. 1852 he was elected County Judge to fill a vacancy, and was selected for the same position at the regular election, in the fall of 1853. He was elected the first Probate Judge of the county, and served six years. In 1863 he was elected Prosecuting Attorney, and discharged the duties of that position five years. In 1870, he was appointed by Gov. Henry P. Baldwin to fill the office of Probate Judge, the vacanty having been created by the resignation of the Hon. A. H. Giddings (who had been elected Circuit Judge), and filled three years of the term of his predecessor. He has held the same position, by regular election, ever since. Judge Barton has also been Circuit Court Commissioner six years. When he came to Newaygo County it had no attorney, and he applied himself to the study of law and was admitted to the Bar in 1858. In 1852, Judge Barton was put in nomination to represent his district in the Legislature of Michigan; was, according to the general understanding, elected, and proceeded to Lansing with his credentials. On arrival there he found "King Strang", the Mormon Chief of Beaver Island, ready to occupy the seat to which Judge Barton supposed himself the sole and legitimate claimant. Mutual ignorance of the other as candidate had prevailed, and on investigation it appeared that Strang was within the district; though 14 miles from the main land, Beaver Island belonged to Emmet County, and on comparing numbers Strang exhibited a proportion of 30 votes in his own favor to one for Judge Barton. The length, breadth and thickness of the matter were too stupendous for any adequate arrangement under the circumstances, and Judge Barton quietly beat a retreat. Mrs. Barton received him on his reurn with wide-eyed amazement, and inquired as to the "wherefores." "Mrs. Barton," said the Judge in his phenomenal chest-tones, and with an assumption of all his official dignity, "I have but one wife, and King Strang has four." The response is one of the best reminiscenses of Judge Barton that can be recorded. It shows that he has the keen, satiric wit which characterizes his nation, and his ready aptness on occasion. The spurious character of James Strang's claims to the seat he held in the Legislature of Michigan were afterward proven. When George W. Peck ran for Congress he was assisted materially by 600 votes furnished by James Strang as the result of the election on Beaver Island within his dominion. Strang was shot within the year, and his subjects betook themselves to other fields. The aggregate of men, women and children who emigrated from the island made an exhibit of 150 persons.
Jusge Barton was married March 25, 1832, in Oakland Co., Mich., to Reliance, daughter of Lettes and Fear (Swift) Jenne. Her father was born in 1762, in Rochester, Plymouth Co., Mass. His ancestors were born in Holland, and belonged to the Quakers who were banished from that country for their religious belief, and settled in Massachusetts. Mr. Jenne went to Lyons, Wayne Co., N.Y., in 1814, and finding no Quaker society there he united with the Methodist Church, of which his wife was a member. He died at Sodus, Wayne County, in 1828. Mrs. Jenne was born Aug. 12, 1770, in Massachuestts, and died at Lyons, N.Y., April 10, 1825. Mrs. Barton is a member of the Disciples or Christian Church. She is one of eight children born to her parents - five sons and three daughters. Herself and one sister, now residing in Farmington, Oakland Co., Mich., are the only survivors.
The sons and daughters of Judge Barton and his wife were born as follows: Charles, born March 25, 1833, died at Bald Hills, Humboldt County, California, January 30, 1875; Emily, born May 10, 1835 (died July 27, 1861); Mary, March 7, 1837 (died June 11, 1841); Henry, June 2, 1839 (see sketch); Mary E., June 6, 1842 (see sketch of Robert Fisher); Mark, Aug. 14, 1844 (see sketch); Ellen, Oct. 10, 1846 (died May 28, 1874); George O., April 13, 1849. The latter resides with his parents and manages his father's agricultural affairs. He was married April 13, 1873, to Mary, eldest daughter of Patrick and Catharine Neville (see sketch). She was born Jan. 8, 1854; was reard and educated a Roman Catholic, but in 1877 renounced the dogmas of the Roman Church, and in October of that year connected herself by baptism with the First-Day Adventist Church. Two children have been born of her marriage - Charles, June 11, 1874 (died Nov. 23, 1875); and Jenne C., July 19, 1876.
The alient points in the character of Judge Barton and his noble wife are clearly defined in their portraits, presented on other pages. Their incorporation among the biographical records of Newaygo County, wheee they have wrought their life-work, will afford the most general satisfactin among the patrons of this album.