Jacob Wilson Wilkin was born in Newark, Ohio, on June 7, 1837, to Virginia natives Isaac Wilkin and Sarah (Burner) Wilkin. At the age of eight, Jacob Wilkin moved to Crawford County, Illinois, with his parents. Although Isaac Wilkin had originally been a contractor builder in Ohio, he became a farmer on arrival to Illinois and purchased a farm in Marshall, Illinois.
Jacob had eight brothers and sisters, and he and his siblings spent most of their youth working the family land. After receiving a preliminary education in Crawford County, Jacob attended McKendree College in St. Clair County. Although Wilkin intended to immediately pursue a career in law, the outbreak of the Civil War caused him to enlist as a private among a group of Clark County volunteers. When the 130th Illinois infantry formed on October 25, 1862, Wilkin was elected captain, an honor he considered his greatest accomplishment.
As captain of the Illinois 130th, Wilkin received several special assignments. After first serving under General Grant in the campaign against Vicksburg, Capt. Wilkin and his company were assigned to the special duty of guarding the headquarters of General Grant. He was then transferred to the staff of General Ransom, and finished his military service with the captures of the Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely. Wilkin remained in command of his company until the fall of 1865 although the Confederate army had already been defeated. He was promoted to the rank of major at the end of the war for “gallant services in the field.” Despite the promotion Wilkin resigned from the military to pursue a career in law.
Wilkin chose to return to Marshall, Illinois, and studied law under John Scholfield. Once Wilkin was admitted to the bar in 1866, he and Scholfield went into private practice together until Scholfield became an Illinois Supreme Court judge in 1873. Wilkin continued the private practice until 1879.
In 1880 Wilkin was elected to the fourth judicial circuit of Illinois. He was re-elected to the circuit in 1885, and after moving to Dansville in Vermilion county was appointed to the Appellate Court of the 4th District where he served until 1888.
In 1889 Wilkin was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court representing the 3rd Supreme District following the vacancy on the Supreme Court Bench left by Judge John. M Scott. He was re-elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in 1897, and 1906. Serving close to 19 years on the bench, twice Wilkin acted as Chief Justice to the Illinois Supreme Court.
He was married twice in his lifetime and had five children, three of which survived. His first marriage to Alice E. Constable immediately followed his return from the Civil War. Ms. Constable was the daughter of the prominent Illinois Judge, Charles H. Constable. Wilkin had all of his children by Ms. Constable, of which two sons and a daughter lived to see adulthood. Following the death of his first wife, he married Sarah E. Archer in the fall of 1885. Ms. Archer was the daughter of another Illinois Judge, Judge Whitlock from Marshall, Illinois.
In his life time, Wilkin was a member of the societies of the Masons, Scottish Rite, and Knights of Pythias. He was also an active Republican, and was selected by the Republicans in his district in 1872 to serve as a presidential elector. Wilkin was an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was said to be a deeply religious man. He was considered to be a man of great simplicity resembling the conduct of “old Southern Gentlemen” accredited to his father’s Virginia routes.
He was a widely respected member of the Illinois Supreme court known for his skill of oration and courtesy. Although Wilkin showed particular favor to young lawyers, he was considered an open-minded and impartial judge. John Wilson Wilkin died in office on April 3, 1907, from an unknown illness. At this time he was reportedly preparing his dismissal papers.
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- “Judge Jacob W. Wilkin- An Appreciation.” Illinois Law Review. June, 1907. Volume II, Number 2. pgs 67-77. Nineteenth- Century Masterfile. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Honorable Jacob W. Wilkin.” The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago IL) Saturday, February 04, 1888: pg 5; Issue 314; col C. Nineteenth-Century Newspapers. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
- “Jacob Wilkin: Previous Supreme Court Justice,” http://www.state.il.us/court/supremecourt/justicearchive/Bio_Wilkin.asp.