Family Stories

William H. Riker, Biography

from Mercer County, Kentucky – Biographies

William H. Riker was born February 16, 1820.  His ancestors came from Holland and settled in New Jersey, which was the home of the family until about the year 1800.  Charles Riker, father of William H., was born in January, 1774, was a farmer, and in his twenty-sixth year came to the region of Kentucky, in which Mercer County lies, where he began life with no means.  He was married to Miss Mary Bonta, daughter of Samuel Bonta, a farmer of Mercer County.  Shortly after marriage he purchased fifty acres of land in what is now Boyle County; several years later he sold out, and very early in the present century purchased a tract of between 250 and 300 acres, one and a half miles from Harrodsburg, and at his death, in 1857, left an estate of about $30,000.  He was an invalid a great part of his life, suffering from white swelling, which caused him to use crutches.  The names of the children born to Mr. and Mrs. Riker are, Cynthia, who died in her twenty-second year; Samuel, who was a farmer of Mercer County (deceased); Diana, wife of J. H. Sutfield, of Mercer County, who removed to Missouri in 1842; Cornelius, a farmer of Mercer County, who died of cholera in 1850, and whose children live in Indiana; Ida, wife of John VanAnglen of Mercer County, her cousin who immigrated from New Jersey; Sally, wife of William S. Vanarsdall, a farmer of Mercer County; Charles, a saddler who died in Dover, Missouri; Jane, wife of Peter Davis, a hotel keeper of Bardstown, Kentucky, and afterward a farmer of Mercer County; William H. and James Harvey, twin brothers, the latter of whom is a farmer of Mercer County, living on a part of the old homestead.  Of this family Mrs. Vanarsdall, Mrs. Davis, James Harvey and William H. are now living.  The mother of William H. Riker, who during life was a member of the Presbyterian Church, departed this life in 1868, in the eighty-fourth year of her age.  W. H. Riker, a native of Mercer County, received only a business education in youth, and began selling goods early in life.  He formed a partnership, in 1845, with Joel P. Williams, deceased, under the firm name of Williams & Riker, and Mr. Riker began with a very limited capital.  They handled a stock of dry goods, and continued their business until 1847, when Nat Lafon purchased the interest of Mr. Williams, and the business was carried on under the firm name of Riker & Lafon.  In 1859 the firm erected a brick building, the one in which Mr. Riker now does business, and in 1863 Mr. Riker purchased the interest in the stock of dry goods and building, and continued the dry goods business with a capital of $10,000 on his own account.  In 1871 he took into the business with him, his nephew, William B. Davis, and in 1875 his son, W. Letcher Riker, was also admitted into the firm, and they have continued business under the firm name of W. H. Riker & Co.  Mr. Riker, on November 25, 1847, was united in marriage to Miss Martha D. Smedley, a daughter of John L. and Patsy (Letcher) Smedley, the former of Philadelphia, the latter of Mercer County.  John L. Smedley was a man of considerable prominence in the history of Mercer County, whose father was an Englishman who lived to the advanced age of one hundred and five.  Patsy Davis (Letcher) Smedley, his wife, who is still living, is the daughter of Stephen G. Letcher, a brother of ex-Governor Letcher, of Kentucky.  Mr. and Mrs. Riker had seven children, John (died in 1860 in his thirteenth year); Mary, wife of Camillus D. Thompson, of Harrodsburg; W. Letcher, married to Miss Fanny M. Simrall, of Covington; Patti, wife of John Lafon, of Harrodsburg; Sarah, wife of A. R. McKee, of Boyle County; Ida and Lafon.  Mr. and Mrs. Riker and their children are members of the Assembly Presbyterian Church.

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