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Byers Family

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Alternate Spellings - Beyers, Byers, Bryers (only one or two records are misspelled as Bryers)

Links - There is a photo of the Byers Cemetery plot, which includes the above tombstone in Aledo Cemetery, on the Cemeteries page along with a photo of the entrance to the Aledo Cemetery

Contacts and Sources - We are indebted to David Carroll for the photos of the Aledo Cemetery, the Byers plot, and the photo of Abraham's tombstone. He is working on a book about various people who photographed Abraham Lincoln, and Abraham Byers is one who will be covered in the book. Abraham Byers' photo of Abraham Lincoln is published in "Lincoln's Photographs, A Complete Album" by Lloyd Ostendorf, Rockywood Press, 1998. Page 15 contains a copy of the ambrotype by Abraham Byers, Beardstown, Illinois, May 7, 1858. It states that Byers took two photographs that were very similar. Byers kept one. The other was published in 1895 by Ida Tarbell in McClure's magazine. In 1947, Byers' widow willed her original to the University of Nebraska.

John Evangelist Walsh recently published a book about Abraham Lincoln and the Almanac Trial. A scan of the cover and ordering information at is linked at the bottom of the page. The photo on the cover is from the one taken by Abraham Byers in 1858 in Beardstown, Illinois.

The History of Mercer County, 1882, pages 548-552, furnished much information about the family. We have been able to verify this information from census records as quoted in the text below.

An article published in the Lincoln Evening Journal, Lincoln Nebraska, page 5, Thursday, February 12, 1948 furnished additional information about the family.

We also wish to thank Alicia Ives of the Mercer County Historical Society for assistance in researching this family. She provided death certificates and obituaries for members of the family.

We were also able to obtain a 256 page will and probate for Abraham Beyers from a kind volunteer from Random Acts of Kindness.

Abraham Byers worked his way onto our New Boston and Eliza Township pages because of an error in the transcription of the 1880 census produced on CD-ROM by the LDS Library. Abraham Byers is listed in that census as living in Eliza Township. He was actually a banker and a grocer who had his businesses in Aledo and lived in the south half of Mercer Township. We became suspicious when we found a number of people whom we knew were Aledo merchants listed in Eliza Township in 1880. Enumeration District #178 in the 1880 census transcription labeled as "Eliza, " should be labeled "South Half of Mercer Township" as it is in the actual census.

Abraham Byers is of interest to us for other reasons, so we have continued with installing a page for him. The Lincoln connection mentioned above is an interesting bit of history for Mercer County. Also, as pointed out in our Mercer History, Part 3, there was a notable absence of bankers in New Boston and Eliza Townships in 1850 and 1860. Abraham Byers played a large part in the history of banking in Mercer County. The History of Mercer County 1882 contains a good bit of information on Abraham's banking activities in the town of Aledo.

The History of Mercer County, 1882, tells us that A. M. Byers was born and brought up on a farm near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This is born out by the 1850 census where his family is found in York County, Pennsylvania, Warrington Township, Household #1209: Jacob Byers, 36, farmer, farm value $3000, born Pa; Sarah [Myers]Byers, 35, born Pa; Abraham, 14, born Pa, attending school; Mary, 10, Pa, attending school; John W., 5, born Pa; Jacob, 4, born Pa; Wm Rinhart, 18, laborer, born West Virginia.

Abraham's brother Jacob also came to Mercer County and he is found living with Abraham in the 1870 census, age 24, druggist.

While Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is in Dauphin County, it is directly across the Susquehanna River from Cumberland and York County conjunction and the Byers farm is found about 20 miles directly south of Harrisburg. (for a township map of York County Click)

The History continues that Abraham commenced his business career as clerk in a general store. In 1855, when about twenty years of age, he decided to attend a commercial college, but finally changed his mind, and after visiting Chicago and the west, he engaged in traveling for a wholesale grocery house in Goshen, Indiana. The next year (1856?) he clerked for Col. John Williams, the pioneer merchant of Springfield, Illinois, and the next in a store in Rushville, Illinois. For the next few years he made his home at Beardstown, Illinois.

Abraham Byers is found at Beardstown, Cass County, Illinois in the 1860 census, living in what is apparently a boarding house. The patriarch of the household is a Joseph D. McClean, listed as a farmer, but a former County sherrif. With the McClean family are found several unrelated individuals, including: a dentist from Vermont; a printer from Illinois; a tailor from Illinois, and three students, as well as Abraham. He is listed as Abraham Byers, 26, artist, born Pennsylvania. Among the students is Mary Tull, 17, born Ill, who would become Abraham's wife on March 13, 1861, at Beardstown.

It was while living at Beardstown that he had occasion to ask Abraham Lincoln to sit for an ambrotype in 1858 at the conclusion of a trial there where Lincoln was acting as counsel for the defendant (see book about the trial at the bottom of the page). It is possible Byers had a nodding acquaintance with Lincoln before the sitting request. The Lincoln Journal article refers to him as a "friend of Lincoln." Byers was clerking in the store in Springfield at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln's political campaigning in that City. Lincoln was also a frequent visitor (as a lawyer) to Beardstown, staying at the National Hotel which seemed not far from Byers boarding house. The "friendship" is a good possibility as Lincoln much admired people who had the advantages of a good education and who had raised themselves from humble beginnings. We have an undated article from Beardstown that describes the photo (Click)

The History does not mention the above phase as “artist and photographer” for Abraham Byers. It states that, while living in Beardstown, he spent much time in Richardson County, Nebraska, where he engaged largely in land speculation. In 1882 he still held some 2,000 acres of land on the Kansas and Nebraska line, some of it purchased in 1858. During those years he also made an extended trip south, visiting all the southern states except Florida. Abraham's visits to the southern states prior to the Civil War may have influenced his political views, resulting in his not enlisting during the Civil War although he was of an age where many of his contemporaries rushed to enlist.

A. M. Byers is listed in the Nebraska State Gazetteer Business Directory and Farmers List for 1890-1891 (Omaha: J. M. Wolfe & Co, 1890) in Verdon, Richardson County, Nebraska, indicating that he did indeed still own land at a late date in Richardson County. A history of Richardson County, Nebraska, verifies that land speculators were operating there as early as 1858. Another Nebraska connection is that the original of the photograph of Lincoln taken by Byers was donated to the University of Nebraska "by Byers widow." This refers to his second wife, Zora Byers Johnson, who entrusted the photo plate to a friend of Byers [William Barkley, banker in Lincoln, Nebraska] who then did donate it to the University of Nebraska.

We were curious as to the source of Abraham's funds, which must have been considerable. An examination of wills in York County, Pennsylvania, gave no clue as to an inheritance and his father and uncles appeared to be plain farmers (although well-to-do) in York County. Evidently Abraham was a self-made man.

The History continues that when Abraham Byers and Mary Frances Tull married, they spent a season in travel and sight-seeing and then settled in Adams County, Illinois, where Abraham engaged in farming and dealing in live stock until about the close of the Civil War. Then, in connection with Thomas Bailey, of Camp Point, Illinois, he engaged in banking in that town, situated on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. This they conducted profitably until 1869, when they opened the first bank in Aledo, Mercer County, Illinois. They soon dissolved partnership, with Bailey taking the Camp Point Bank and Abraham forming a partnership in Aledo with Judge E. Gilmore who purchased Bailey's interest (we will be putting up a Gilmore page). In 1870 they erected a large brick building on the southeast corner of College Avenue and Seventh Street in Aledo, the corner room being fitted for the bank, and the remainder as business rooms.

We have no way to verify the period of residence in Adams County, although an obituary of Mary Tull Byers [Aledo Weekly Record, April 17, 1902] tells us that they lived in Beardstown for a year after their marriage and then moved to La Prairie, in Adams County, which was their home until they moved to Aledo in 1869. Evidently Abraham and Mary Tull Byers returned to Beardstown, Illinois, after their "season of travel." The death certificate of their daughter, Olive Byers Hays, lists her birth as December 31, 1861 in Beardstown, Illinois.

Abraham and Mary are found in the 1870 Aledo census: Abraham M. Byers, 34, banker, born Pa; Mary F. Byers, 27, born Il; Olive Byers, age 8, born Il; Jacob E. Byers, 24, druggist, born Pa. Jacob was Abraham's younger brother as documented in the 1850 York County, Pennsylvania census above. Another daughter Anna, died at the age of 3, according to Mary's obituary.

On June 3, 1873, a son, Edward Byers, was added to the family. His death certificate indicates only "Illinois" as birthplace, but it had to be Aledo. His mother was the informant on the death certificate, so we are inclined to accept the birth date as accurate, although his tombstone in Aledo Cemetery carries 1870 as the birth date and census records indicate 1871. (Death certificates are often inaccurate as people were upset at the time the information was provided and mistakes were made.)

In April 1874 Abraham sold his interest in the Aledo bank to John McKinney, Sr. After a year he organized a joint stock company and started a bank known as A. M. Byers & Co's Farmers Bank, opening in the brick building on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and College Avenue in Aledo, which was purchased and fitted up for the purpose. The stockholders were business men of Aledo and wealthy farmers scattered throughout the county.

The History of Mercer County states he thoroughly understood his business and had the entire confidence of the business community and the stockholders in the bank. The bank was considered to contribute largely to the growth and prosperity of Aledo. Abraham owned a commodious and handsome residence, the interior of which was a model of neatness and comfort.

An article in the Aledo Weekly Record, April 29, 1920, verifies his banking career as given in the history "Funeral for Late A. M. Byers Sunday - The remains of the late A. M. Byers, former Aledo banker, who died at San Diego, California, January 15 [actually January 14] will arrive in Aledo tomorrow and funeral services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock p.m. from the Masonic Temple in this city. Mr. Byers founded both the Aledo Bank and the Farmers National Bank in Aledo and was Mercer County's pioneer banker. In 1907 he sold his interests in the Farmers National which he had founded upon his withdrawal from the Aledo Bank, and removed to Omaha [Nebraska]. Here he had since resided, spending much of his time on a plantation in Virginia and at water resorts in Florida and California."

In the 1880 census the family is found in Enumeration District 178 which constituted the southern part of Mercer Township, including the southerly portion of Aledo: A. M. Byers, 44, born Pa, banker, parents born Pa; Mary F. Byers, 36, born Il, parents born Kentucky; Olive E. Byers, 18, born Il; Edward Byers, 9, born Il; house servant May Wikoff, 19, born In, parents born Oh.

Because of the lack of an 1890 census we are not sure about the movements of A. M. Byers. The farmer's directory in Richardson County, Nebraska, lists him in 1890-1 but the listing may only have been due to his property ownership there and not his physical presence.

In 1900 the Byers family is found in Aledo: A. M. Byers, born February, date and age unknown, born Pa, parents born Pa; L. P. Byers, wife, born Dec 1843, age 56, married 40 years, 3 children born, 2 living, born Il, parents born Ky; Edward P., son born June 1871, age 28, Illinois. Some of the odd information indicates the informant may have been Dora S. O'Haran, listed as their servant, age 24, born Il. The statistics fit Mary Tull Byers as the wife and we know she did not die until 1902. The third child listed as deceased was Anna, who died at the age of three.

Daughter Olive Byers married James M. Hays on 14 December 1887 in Mercer County and we have yet to obtain their 1900 census record. They had a daughter, Francis Hays, born 14 March 1898, birthplace unknown, but probably Mercer County. They had a son, Alden Ferrelly Hays, born July 23, 1900 in Aledo, Illinois [place is suspect as the family was not in Illinois in the 1900 census}. We know from Byers' estate papers that the family lived in Missouri in later years.

We do not find any of the Byers family in Mercer County in 1910. George Carpenter was kind enough to check the 1920 census for us and tells us there was no sign of the Byers family in Mercer County in 1920.

There is a small amount of information about Abraham and Mary Tull Byers in the LDS Ancestral File. While we do not usually use that information because it is not documented, we are including it here as it contains some hints pertinent to documented information that we have found. It tells us that Mary Tull Byers' father, Edward Tull, died in Cass County in the 1840's and that her mother Mary Morrow Byers remarried. This gives us some explanation as to why young Mary Tull, age 17, was living in a boarding house in 1850 and attending school. It also explains the naming of her son Edward. It tells us that Mary Tull Byers died in 1902 in St. Louis, Missouri, and that Abraham Byers died in January 1920.

Alicia Ives found two obituaries for Mary which shed more light on her. She is buried in the Byers plot in Aledo (1843-1902). An obituary in the Aledo Times Record, April 17, 1902, tells us "Mrs. A. M. Byers of this city died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. M. Hays, in St. Louis on Wednesday, April 16, 1902....The deceased's maiden name was Mary F. Full [Tull] and she was born in Beardstown, Illinois, December 23, 1843. Her girlhood and young womanhood was spent in the town of her birth with the exception of some years spent in a ladies' seminary at Owensburg, Kentucky." Another part of the obituary tells us, "Mrs. Byers had been an invalid to a greater or less degree all her life and had suffered much at various times. Her final decline, however, began about five years ago. Since then she had spent winters in California, Eureka Springs, Battle Creek, and Louisville, Kentucky,, and had been traveling since December until a short time before her death in company with her daughter in Florida... .Mrs. Byers was well and most favorably known in this city for her active interest in various charitable organizations and the large part she took in all charitable movements."

Abraham Byers married Zora Cunningham on 6/18/1909 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Zora was born 13 August 1867, in Indiana, daughter of Francis and Mary Jones Cunningham. The Cunninghams came to Mercer County shortly after Zora's birth and lived in Aledo. Zora Cunningham Byers was instrumental in seeing that the Lincoln photograph was preserved for posterity at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. In addition to the Lincoln Journal article, we believe she was interviewed by Lincoln historian, Stephen Lorant, who wrote an article for Life Magazine, published 2/9/1948. Lorant includes some paragraphs about the taking of the photograph by Byers and mentions that his widow Zora "is still alive." She appears to be the source of Lorant's information. The information differs only in minor details from that given in the Lincoln Journal article.

The Lincoln Journal article gave some additional clues that we were able to follow up on. Abraham's daughter, Olive Byers Hayes, was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1948 and was probably the source of the family information given in the article. It tells us that Abraham Byers died in California in 1920 and that his widow Zora Byers Johnson was living in San Diego, California in 1948.

According to his death certificate, issued in San Diego, California, Abraham Myers Byers died on January 14, 1920, at home in his residence at 208 West Laurel Street [your Web Master lived very near there some years ago and the area is known as "Banker's Hill"]. His occupation was given as banker so he had not retired, though he was nearly 84 years old. He was born February 18, 1836, in Pennsylvania, and his mother's maiden name was Myers. Information was furnished by a colleague so Zora evidently was not with him in San Diego where he had resided for just three months. His usual residence was given as Omaha, Nebraska.

A researcher located no will or probate in San Diego, not surprising as he had been there only a short time. A wonderful researcher from "Random Acts of Kindness" located his will and probate in Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska. The document ran to some 256 pages and included many wonderful details of the life of Abraham Byers including the interesting fact that he bought a new Buick in El Centro, California, on his way to San Diego in 1920. We also learned that his estate was valued at about a quarter of a million dollars - an enormous sum for that day and age - he had indeed done well! It was interesting that he left the bulk of his estate to his family by his first wife with the remark that she was directly responsible for his success in life. He had Zora Cunningham sign a prenuptual agreement the day before their wedding in Lincoln, Nebraska confirming how the estate would be distributed.

We have found information on William E. Barkley, who donated the Lincoln photo to the University of Nebraska, at the request of Zora Cunningham Byers Johnson. It verifies that he probably was a friend of Abraham Byers. He was born in Indiana in 1863 and went to Nebraska about 1881. He was a banker in Lincoln, Nebraska, and thus probably met Abraham Byers in some of Abraham's Nebraska land dealings. He also played a large part in the administration of Abraham Byer's estate. Unfortunately the will or probate of William Barkley is not found in the Lancaster County, Nebraska, records, which are extremely sparse.

We are not currently sure whether there are living descendants of Abraham Byers. His son Edward never married. Edward was working for Armour Company in Omaha, Nebraska, as a freight handler when he died of diptheria, January 2, 1921. His death certificate verifies his burial in Aledo, Illinois. Daughter Olive Byers Hays died in Lincoln, Nebraska, of pneumonia in July 1954. She was cremated in Omaha, Nebraska. Her son Alden Ferrely Hays preceded her in death at Lincoln, Nebraska, on 3/12/1949, and he too was cremated. He had a daughter Patricia and a son, Alden, Jr., according to a short obituary. Alden Hays had served in both World Wars. Olive's daughter, Frances, died 17 August 1988 in St. Louis, Missouri. She was married to L. P. Gay and we do not know if she had any children. We would be very interested in hearing from any descendants to find out if they are aware of the Lincoln photograph story. A letter we sent to an Alden Ferrelly Hays in Georgia was returned with no forwarding address.

Zora Cunningham Byers died 18 December 1963 in Los Angeles, California. The only additional information from her death record is that her mother's maiden name was Jones. She is buried in Aledo Cemetery. According to Abraham's estate papers, they evidently had no children.
"Moonlight" by John Evangelist Walsh about a famous trial in Beardstown, Ill in 1858 where Lincoln was counsel for the defendant. The cover photo is taken from an ambrotype made by Abraham Byers on the day of the trial.

Order "Moonlight" at