Biography of Jonathan Wilkins
Jonathan Wilkins, one of the earliest inhabitants of Athens, was a man of very considerable learning, and for some time taught a pioneer school. Of his son, Timothy Wilkins, the following reminiscence is furnished by Dr. C. F. Perkins; it is hardly less strange than the history immortalized by Tennyson in 11 Enoch Arden.”
Mr. Wilkins was skillful and enterprising in business, but, through no fault of his own, became embarrassed, was hard pressed by creditors, and pursued by writs. In those days, when a man could be imprisoned for a debt of ten dollars, to fail in business was an awful thing. Wilkins was not dishonest, but had a heart to pay if he could. He battled bravely with his misfortunes for a considerable period, but with poor success. One day in the year 1829, full of despair, he came from his home west of town, across the Hockhocking, and having transacted some business with the county clerk, went out, and was supposed to have returned home. The next morning it became known that he was not at his house. Inquiry and search being made, the boat in which he usually crossed the river was seen floating bottom upward, and his hat was also found swimming down the stream. Mr. Wilkins was a popular man in the community; news of his loss soon spread, the people gathered from every quarter and measures were taken to recover the body. The river was dragged, a cannon was fired over the water, and other means resorted to, but to no purpose; the body was not found. The excellent Mrs. Wilkins put on mourning, and friends remembered the departed for a time with affectionate regret. As time sped, the sad incident was forgotten, and Timothy Wilkins passed out of mind. His wife, faithful for a time to his memory, had for years been the wedded partner of another, and a little family was growing up around the remarried woman and her second husband, Mr. Goodrich, himself a well known and worthy citizen.
In 1834, a vague rumor-an undefined whisper from the distant southwest-circulated through the settlement that Mr. Wilkins yet survived. Soon more positive assertions were made, and finally it was said that the missing man was alive and on his way home. At last a neighbor received a letter from Wilkins, announcing his approach; fearing to shock his wife by a sudden appearance, he had himself originated the rumors of safety, and now announced that he would soon be in Athens. He knew of his wife’s second marriage, and in friendly spirit proposed to meet her and Mr. Goodrich. Much excitement and distress ensued. Mr. Wilkins arrived; there was a cordial meeting and strange interview among the parties most concerned. The conference was friendly and satisfactory. Messrs. Wilkins and Goodrich honestly left to the wife of their rivalship the final choice of her companion, and she selected her first love, to the great grief, but with the full acquiescence of her second. The reunited pair bade adieu t0 their friends, and together set out for the distant south.
Mr. Wilkins’ disappearance was a ruse to escape his creditors. He went to New Orleans, engaged successfully in boating, accumulated money enough to pay off all his debts, which he honorably did, and returned to claim his beloved.