From birth Joseph was a bright child. It was said that by four he was reading very well and by the time he was ten he was studying Latin and Greek. When his father left for Illinois in 1834 he left Joseph behind in the care of an uncle. That fall of 1834 he entered William’s College at the age of twelve graduating in 1838.
Following graduation he came west taking up residence with his father. He once gained the position of deputy postmaster under his father who was the postmaster. At that time the post office was in a small building on what was called Shadel corner across from the jail. Later it was moved to the west end of the Bush Block (south side of the courthouse square).
Business was very slow at the post office so in 1840 Joseph at the age of 18 became a deputy sheriff under Alfred Grubb who was known as the “little bay horse”. In 1843 he was admitted to the Illinois State Bar. His license to practice was signed by Stephen A. Douglas of the Illinois Supreme Court. At the encouragement of his father Joseph went west seeking his fortune. He stopped his journey west in St Joseph, Missouri for a short time but eventually returned to Pittsfield.
He married Mary Alicia Grimshaw, daughter of John U. Grimshaw. Four children were born to the marriage. William Carroll Bush (1851-1931), Joseph Merrick Bush Jr. (1853-1914), Henry Bush (1857-1936) and Daniel B. Bush (1864-1936).
After his marriage Joseph purchased 240 acres northwest of Pittsfield. He moved his house from south of Pittsfield to his farm. There he focused his attention to farming until the summer of 1865 when he was approached by leading democrats wishing him to purchase the Pike County Democrat newspaper. The paper had fallen onto hard times after the Civil War in a time of strong republican sentiment and was near being discontinued.
On August 10, 1865 Joseph M. Bush took control of the newspaper becoming its owner and editor until 1900 when his health began to fail him. He found that he could no longer attend to his duties at the paper. Management was turned over to his two sons W. C and J. M. Bush Jr who had been actively involved in the daily operation for the last several years.
By 1902 he began to travel to Citronelle, Alabama to enjoy the milder climate. His trips were accompanied by his son Dan and his housekeeper Mrs. Minnie Guss. In the last two years of his life his health failed at a rapid pace even though he was still able to walk to town. In the last month of his life a nurse was called in to assist him. Unable to raise from the bed the last days of his life he peacefully passed away on June 12, 1906 at the age of 84 years, 4 months and 27 days.
Besides his successful career as a lawyer and leadership of the Pike Democrat newspaper, Joseph Merrick Bush also served as a state Senator, United States Commissioner for the Southern District of Illinois. He served for many years as Master of Chancery as well as President of the Board of Education in Pittsfield and President of the Pike County Agricultural Society.