James T. B. Stapp was born in Fayette County, Ky., (now Woodford County), on April 13, 1804, the youngest child of James and Sarah ‘Sally’ Burbridge Stapp. His father, from Virginia, was a soldier of the Revolution, and at its end, moved the family to Kentucky.
When James was 12 years old, his parents moved again, this time to Kaskaskia, Ill., and this is where we pick up their story.
The move of the Stapp family to Kaskaskia probably coincided with that of the eldest daughter, Mildred, who married Elijah Conway Berry. Elijah and Mildred left Kentucky for Kaskaskia in 1816.
According to Mildred Stapp Berrys family Bible, her father, James Stapp, died Sept. 18, 1818. His place of death, whether Kentucky or Illinois, was not noted.
Not long after moving to Kaskaskia, Elijah became involved in publishing The Illinois Intelligencer, a pro-slavery newspaper. His partner, Robert Blackwell, would also become his brother-in-law upon his marriage to Malinda Stapp, Mildreds younger sister.
Elijah also held the post as territorial auditor in Kaskaskia, and when Illinois attained statehood, became State Auditor of Public Accounts, a position he held until 1831.
Since members of the family held government positions, the move of the capital to Vandalia also meant a move for the Stapp, Berry and Blackwell families.
While in his teens, the subject of our story, James T. B. Stapp, was engaged as a clerk in the auditor’s office, under his brother-in-laws watchful eye. This position proved to be good training for him, because on Aug. 29, 1831, Gov. John Reynolds appointed James to succeed Elijah Berry as Illinois State Auditor of Public Accounts. It was a job he held for five years, resigning to take the job of cashier of the State Bank of Illinois.
During the Black Hawk War of 1832, James served as aide-de-camp to Gov. Reynolds, and also served during the Mexican War as Adjutant of the Third Illinois Infantry.
In 1836, the second capitol building in Vandalia, rebuilt from the ashes of the State Bank Building, was in terrible shape. The floors sagged and a large crack ran up the side of the building; even the local church people refused to hold services there, because they were afraid it would fall in on them. Private citizens got together, and with $6,000 pledged by the governor from a contingency fund, made plans to build a new capitol building on the public square.
A brief biography of James T. B. Stapp from the Historical Souvenir of Vandalia, Illinois, published in 1904, tells us that Stapp, along with Levi Davis and Alexander Pope Field, erected the third capitol building, without any authority, on their own responsibility and out of their own private funds.
They tore down the brick building, which had been built 12 years before, and used the material so far as it was available in the construction of the capitol. This building cost $16,000 of that amount $6,000 was paid by Gov. Duncan out of a contingency fund.
This was done to counteract the movement then on hand to remove the capital from Vandalia. They were afterwards reimbursed by the state. It is said that all the material that entered into the construction of the building, except the brick and shingles, was obtained without leave from the U. S. government, which was at that time engaged in construction of the National Road, and building bridges over the openings in the grade across the bottom, east of town and across the Kaskaskia River at Vandalia.
James was an attorney, and his law office stood on Gallatin Street, across from the capitol building. His marriage to Mary Conner on May 12, 1841, was short and sweet, with Mary dying within the year. James never remarried.
According to memoirs of Ewing Doyle, James T .B. Stapp took in lodgers at his home, which may have been the building on Gallatin Street. Doyle wrote that he worked for Stapp, and many evenings a young lanky legislator by the name of Lincoln would stop by after the legislative session had ended and split wood with him.
Beginning with his teenage years in the state auditors office at Vandalia, James T. B. Stapp served the good people of Illinois for most of his life.
James made his home in Decatur in his later years, and died there. The ‘Historical Souvenir of Vandalia’ describes him as a giving person, saying that he gave one-half of his earnings to benevolence and charity.