James R. Wolfe was born on April 19, 1863, in LaSalle County, Illinois, the youngest child of Richard Wolfe, a distiller, and Mary Carney Wolfe. He had seven siblings: Margaret (b. 1841), John (b. 1845), Michael (b. ca. 1848), Richard (b. 1847), Sarah Elizabeth (b. 1854), Ellen V. “Nellie” (b. ca. 1856), and James (b. ca. 1858). The other James Wolfe died sometime before 1862.
Wolfe’s parents were Irish Catholic immigrants, having arrived on a wave of Wolfe relatives in LaSalle County, Illinois, in 1849.
On October 27, 1890, Wolfe married Johanna Josephine Wolfe, of Grand Rapids Township, LaSalle County. Wolfe’s parents, Patrick and Catherine, were, like James Wolfe’s parents, natives of County Kerry, Ireland. The nature of the two Wolfe families’ relationship is unknown. James and Johanna Wolfe had five children: Mary Josephine (b. 1891), Catherine (b. 1893), Edna (b. 1895), Richard (b. 1897), and Arthur (b. ca. 1900). Arthur died in 1903 and Mary Josephine in 1906.
Johanna Wolfe died on June 24, 1903, in Ottawa, Illinois, and is buried with her husband at Saint Columba Cemetery in Ottawa.
James Wolfe married his second wife, Mary Cull, in 1904. The couple had one child: Margaret Cull (b. ca. 1905). Mary Cull died of pneumonia on NOvember 18, 1905. She is buried at Saint Columba Cemetery.
The federal census of 1900 describes James Wolfe as a “grocery man.” He owned Wolfe’s Groceries, a business that advertised in the Republican Times of Ottawa on January 26, 1906:
Wolfe’s Groceries Taste Good
Because they are always fresh, first quality and all around dependable goods. Careful selections in buying, taking advantage of all discounts and low expenses make trading here economical and satisfactory. We know you can’t all come in person, so we make a specialty of filling telephone orders with the same care and promptness that we do orders that come over the counter. J.R. Wolfe, 921 LaSalle St. Phones: CU190 or Home 2338
The business appears not to have succeeded. The 1910 census describes Wolfe as doing odd jobs, and by 1920 he was working in a factory. At some point he and his family moved to Chicago, and in 1930 he worked as a package man in a dry goods store.
Wolfe died of bronchial pneumonia and a fractured femur on October 25, 1941, at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. He is buried at Saint Columba Cemetery in Ottawa.
image: Gravestone of James R. Wolfe at Saint Columba Cemetery, Ottawa, Illinois (The VanFleets / Find a Grave)