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Governor Edward Coles Stops Call to Bring Slavery to Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


"He Saved Illinois From the Curse of Slavery."

Edward Coles, the second Governor of Illinois, was one of the most remarkable men of his time, and one whose memory should be gratefully perpetuated by this commonwealth. He was the Chief Executive of this State at the most critical period in its history, and to him is due the honor of saving Illinois from the withering curse of slavery. We have read with great pleasure a sketch of his life by 1Hon. Elihu B. Washburne, a book of 250 pages, and propose to give a brief resume of a career which crowned this State with the material growth and prosperity which make it today the Empire State of the West. Elected when only thirty-five years old, after a three years’ residence in the State of Illinois, removing to Philadelphia six years after his term expired, and being before the public but a brief time, his great services have never been fully appreciated.
Illinois Governor Edward Coles
Edward Coles was born in 1786 in Albemarle County, Virginia. His father was a Colonel in the army of the Revolution, and belonged to one of the most distinguished families of the old Dominion. His father was a friend and associate of Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Monroe, and other leading Virginia statesmen, and it was in this atmosphere of greatness that young Coles was brought up. Fitted for college by private tutors, he completed his education at the college of William and Mary. After leaving the institution, he spent two years in the study of history and politics, and from his own reading and observation, became imbued with views and principles antagonistic to the prevailing opinions in his native State. He came to regard human slavery as antagonistic to humanity and to material prosperity, and as a foul blot on the national fame. Possessed of a polished education, fascinating manners, and fine personal appearance, his prospects for preferment were brilliant. His father, dying in 1808, left him a plantation and many slaves, but the result of the young heir’s study and reflection was the profound conviction that he could not reconcile it with his conscience to hold slaves or live in a State which upheld slavery. While debating in his own mind what course to pursue, President Madison offered him the position of his private Secretary, and thinking that contact with public men in Washington might help him out of his dilemma, he accepted the office, filling this responsible position in the courtly administration of President Madison, with the highest acceptability. His personal acquaintance with ex-President Thomas Jefferson was intimate, and his correspondence with that eminent statesman on the subject of human slavery form the most interesting chapter in early anti-slavery annals. He entreated Mr. Jefferson to crown his fame as the author of the Declaration of Independence, by devising some plan “to eradicate this most degrading feature of British colonial policy,” some plan “to liberate one-half of our fellow beings from an ignominious bondage.” Mr. Jefferson’s reply, expressing the most ardent sympathy with Mr. Coles’ views, contained this remarkable prophecy:

“The hour of emancipation is advancing with the march of time. It will come, and whether brought about by the generous energy of our own minds, or by the bloody process of San Domingo, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over. As to the method by which this difficult work is to be accomplished, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole as that of the emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation at a proper age.”

Hon. Elihu B. WashburneMr. Jefferson claimed that he was too old to undertake the arduous work of leading an emancipation party, that the enterprise was for the young, “for those who can follow it up and bear it through to its consummation.” But he entreated Mr. Coles not to abandon his State, but “to become the missionary of this doctrine truly Christian.” (How it will shock our moss-back Democracy to learn that Jefferson was an abolitionist!) Mr. Coles’ reply was equally able and remarkable, combating Mr. Jefferson’s objections to entering on the undertaking by claiming that to effect so difficult an object “great and extensive powers, both of mind and influence are required, which can never be possessed in so great a degree by the young, as by the old.” It was, Mr. Coles claimed, only such a man as Jefferson, who had the power and ability “to awaken our fellow citizens from their infatuation to a proper sense of justice, and to the true interest of their country.” Mr. Coles spoke of the pain it gave him to contemplate leaving his native State, but feeling powerless to combat public sentiment, he was unalterably determined to remove with his slaves to the “country northwest of the Ohio River.”

In 1815, Mr. Coles resigned his position as Secretary to the President, and started on an exploring tour through the northwest, in search of suitable lands on which to settle his slaves. He traveled through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois in a buggy, and finally, on reaching St. Louis, sent his horses back home by his servant, and descended the Mississippi to New Orleans, and thence returned by sea to Virginia. About the time of his arrival, a serious misunderstanding arose between the United States and Russia, and it became necessary to send a special ambassador to St. Petersburg to smooth over the difficulties, if possible. President Madison selected Mr. Coles for this important and delicate duty. Although the latter was engaged in making arrangements to remove to Illinois, he consented at the President’s earnest request, to accept the mission. The man-of-war “Prometheus” was detailed to take Mr. Coles to Russia, and was the first American naval vessel that ever sailed up the Baltic. Mr. Coles’ mission was completely successful, and after its conclusion, he visited the various countries of Europe, all American Ministers and Consuls being directed by government to show him special attentions. At Paris, he was the guest a great part of the time of 2General LaFayette.

After his return to America, he continued his preparations for removal to Illinois, and in 1818 spent the summer at Kaskaskia, in attendanceHooper Warren on the convention engaged in forming a constitution for the new State, using his influence to prevent any recognition of slavery in that instrument. Returning home, he started for Illinois with all his slaves in the Spring of 1819, intending to free them before reaching his destination. The moral heroism displayed in this step has few parallels. Here was a young man, rich, honored, accomplished, deliberately sundering all social, domestic, and political ties for the sake of principle; abandoning home, fortune, luxury, refinement, and a brilliant career for the benefit of his slaves. In New England, there were, doubtless, at that time some abolitionists, but they had become such through education in a different school, and sacrificed nothing in holding anti-slavery sentiments. But here was a man, born in the atmosphere of slavery, inheriting a well-stocked plantation, who had become a practical, not a theoretical, abolitionist, through the force of his own convictions, and in opposition to his surroundings and to the social and political ideas of his kindred and friends. But over that home of ease and luxury was the “trail of the serpent,” and he shrank from the pollution. He bore with him to Illinois a flattering letter of introduction from President Monroe to Illinois Governor Ninian Edwards.

Mr. Coles’ negroes knew nothing of their master’s intentions. Journeying through Pennsylvania in wagons, they finally embarked in flatboats on the Ohio River, and one lovely April day, while floating down the broad river, he called all the negroes together, made them an address, told them his intentions, and then announced that they were free, “free as himself,” and at liberty to go ashore or proceed with him as they pleased. The slaves were transfixed with astonishment, unable to realize the import of his words, but at length they burst into tears and hysterical laughter, and in tremulous voices gave vent to their gratitude, and implored the blessing of heaven on their benefactor. It was a strange scene, worthy the brush of a painter. All refused to leave him, expressing the desire to remain as his servants until he was comfortably fixed in his new home. He then announced his intention of giving to each head of a family 160 acres of land, and starting them comfortably in the world. This they refused, but he kept his word, and on arriving at Edwardsville, gave each one a deed to 160 acres of land in the vicinity of his own farm. He also executed to each an instrument of emancipation, which was duly recorded. He prefaced each instrument by setting forth that his father had bequeathed to him certain negro slaves, and added: “Not believing that man can have of right a property in his fellow man, but on the contrary, that all mankind were endowed by nature with equal rights, I do therefore by these presents restore to (naming the party) that inalienable liberty of which he has been deprived.” It may not be out of place to add here, that all the slaves thus freed proved themselves industrious and useful members of the community, led creditable lives, and showed themselves worthy of the generosity of their noble benefactor.

Soon after his settlement in this county, President Monroe appointed Mr. Coles Register of the Land Office at Edwardsville, in which position he soon formed an extended acquaintance, charming all by his genial manners and winning address, aided likewise by the prestige of his previous career at Washington, and reputation as a successful diplomatist.

Rev. John Mason PeckIn 1822 occurred the election for a successor to Governor Bond. The most prominent candidate was Chief Justice Phillips. Mr. Coles was brought out in opposition, and developed such strength in the southeastern part of the State, that Judge Browne was put in the field to aid Phillips by taking votes from Coles. Subsequently, General Moore was also brought out. Phillips and Browne were intensely pro-slavery. After an exciting contest, the election resulted in 2,810 votes for Coles; 2,760 for Phillips; 2,543 for Browne, and 522 for Moore; Coles receiving a plurality of 50 votes over Phillips. The result showed that the candidacy of Browne defeated Phillips. The aggregate vote was largely in favor of slavery, Mr. Coles being elected by the division among the pro-slavery men. The pro-slavery men elected their candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Hubbard, by a large majority, and had nearly a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

Governor Coles’ inaugural message was an admirable and far-seeing document, filled with wise and statesmanlike recommendations. He advocated the adoption of a sound financial policy; the development of the agricultural resources of the State; the construction of a canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi; the advancement of education; and implored the Legislature to abrogate the remnant of slavery that existed in the State, and also pass just and humane laws in regard to the negroes. The anti-slavery recommendations had the effect of the explosion of a bombshell on the pro-slaveryites. A large majority of the inhabitants of the State were from the south, and warm friends of slavery. They were thoroughly alarmed by the message, and resolved to strike for a new constitution that should permit slavery in the State. In explanation of the situation, Mr. Washburne says:

“The first constitution prohibited slavery, and it may be asked how it was possible that it could exist in Illinois at that time. Illinois was a slave territory before it was ceded to the United States by Virginia. The deed of cession provided that ‘the inhabitants of the territory should have their possessions and titles confirmed to them, and be protected in their rights and liberties.’ This deed of cession was executed March 1, 1784. On July 13, 1787, Congress passed the ordinance providing that there should be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the northwestern territory. But the pro-slaveryites contended that this ordinance of 1787 was in conflict with the deed of cession, and therefore of no binding effect.”

The early French inhabitants had held slaves, and still claimed that right as did certain other settlers from the southern States, and the census of 1820 showed that there were then 917 negroes held as slaves in the State.

The Legislature at once appointed a committee on that portion of the Governor’s message relating to slavery, which committee reported that “the people of Illinois have now the same right to alter their constitution as the people of Virginia, or any of the original States, and may make any disposition of negro slaves they choose without breach of faith or violation of ordinances, or act of Congress,” and recommended the calling of a convention to alter the constitution of the State.

The history of the struggle which then followed to fasten slavery on the State is of intense interest, and we regret having to condense it intoRev. Thomas Lippincott a brief statement, leaving out details, and presenting only the salient points. Under the existing constitution, no chance could be made in that instrument, unless submitted to the people by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. The pro-slavery men had two-thirds majority in the Senate, but lacked one vote of having two-thirds in the House. And then commenced a campaign of unparalleled rancor and bitterness. The anti-slavery minority, animated by a love of freedom and supported vigorously by the Governor, fought against the convention resolution with heroic boldness and resolution. They stood a Spartan phalanx, unmoved by threats and intimidation, resisting bribes and persuasion; rising superior to public clamor, defying a multitudinous lobby influence gathered at Vandalia from all parts of the State, and smiling contemptuously at the curses and denunciations showered upon them. The pro-slaveryites were at their wits’ ends. Failing to accomplish their object by fair means, they resorted to foul ones. At the opening of the session, before the convention resolution came up, there had been a contested election case from Pike, John Shaw and Nicholas Hansen both claiming the seat from that county. The contest was decided in favor of Hansen. The pro-slavery men, after weeks of wrangling, thought they had obtained the requisite number of votes, but when the matter came to a vote, Hansen, whom they had counted on their side, voted against calling a convention. The pro-slavery men were wild with chagrin and mortification. In their desperation, they resorted to an outrageous act of injustice and stultification. They, without any grounds whatever, reconsidered their vote on the contested election case, unseated Hansen after he had been nine weeks a member of that body, and seated Shaw. To accomplish their ends, they violated every law of justice and rode rough shod over all the rules of parliamentary procedure. Shaw was their pliant tool. He voted for a convention, and by his aid, the requisite two-thirds vote was obtained. But this act of Legislative injustice returned to plague the inventors, and doubtless, in the subsequent election, cost them the votes of hundreds of fair minded, although pro-slavery men, who believed that the call for the convention was illegally issued.

The convention men from all parts of the State were delirious with joy over their triumph. They assembled in a grand procession, paraded the streets of Vandalia, insulting the Governor and all their principal opponents, and held a mad carnival of riot and uproar. The object was to crush out at once all opposition. The outlook was gloomy enough. There seemed no doubt but what the resolution would be carried by the people, but the heroic Governor Coles and the gallant anti-convention members resolved to fight the issue out to the bitter end. As soon as the Legislature adjourned, the Governor invited the anti-convention men to a consultation. They determined upon immediate organization to fight against the conspiracy to make Illinois a slave State. An address to the people was prepared by Governor Coles, and signed by those members of the Legislature who voted against the convention. This address, Mr. Washburne says, “unmasked the purposes of the conspirators to make a slave constitution, and exposed the disgraceful means used to accomplish their purposes. It was an impassioned appeal to the people to arise in their might and save the State from the impending shame and disaster.” Speaking of slavery, the address said:

“What a strange spectacle would be presented to the civilized world to see the people of Illinois, yet innocent of this great national sin, and in the full enjoyment of all the blessings of free government, sitting down in solemn convention to determine whether they should introduce among them a portion of their fellow beings to be cut off from these blessings, to be loaded with the chains of bondage, and rendered unable to leave any other legacy to their posterity than the inheritance of their own servitude. The wise and the good of all nations would blush at our political depravity. Our professions of Republicanism and equal freedom would incur the derision of despots and the scorn and reproach of tyrants. We should write the epitaph of free government upon its tombstone.”

“After dwelling,” Mr. Washburne says, “upon the moral aspects of slavery, and arguing against its introduction as inexpedient for material and economic reasons, the appeal closes with the following stirring words by Governor Coles:”

“In the name of unborn millions who will rise up after us and call us blessed or accursed according to our deeds, in the name of the injured sons of Africa, whose claims to equal rights with their fellow men will plead their own cause against their oppressors at the tribunal of eternal justice, we conjure you, fellow citizens, to ponder upon these things!”

This eloquent and thrilling appeal was signed by fifteen members of the Legislature, dauntless, defiant, true-hearted men. They were: 3Risdon Moore, William Kinkade, George Cadwell, Andrew Bankson, Jacob Ogle, Curtiss Blakeman (Madison County), Abraham Cairnes, William Lowery, James Sims, Daniel Parker, 4George Churchill (Madison County), Gilbert T. Pell, David McGahey, Stephen Stillman, Thomas Mather. Four other members of the Legislature voted against the convention resolution, viz: Robert Frazier, Raphael Widen, J. H. Pugh, and Nicholas Hansen (expelled to make place for Shaw). Their names were not affixed to the appeal, probably because they had left Vandalia before it was prepared. To sign this appeal required an amount of moral courage and stamina, hard to appreciate at this day. Issuing it in the face of a large pro-slavery majority in the State, the signers not only risked their own political future, but exposed themselves to social and business ostracism. As a sample of the rampant pro-slavery spirit of the time, two of these signers, Risdon Moore and 4George Churchill, were burned in effigy at Troy, Madison County, for their anti-slavery sentiments. The signers to this appeal, who fought the anti-slavery battle in this State, and did more for Illinois and humanity than even themselves realized, are worthy of the eternal gratitude of lovers of liberty everywhere.

The pro-slavery convention men also issued an address to the people, prepared by a committee appointed at a public meeting of which Colonel Thomas Cox of Sangamon was chairman. The signers were John McLean, afterwards U. S. Senator; Judge T. W. Smith and Emanuel J. West, both of Madison County; Thomas Reynolds, William Kinney, Colonel A. P. Field, and Joseph A. Baird. The address endorsed the action of the Legislature, and advocated the amendment of the constitution. This document was a weak and tame manifesto compared with the bold and eloquent appeal of the anti-slavery men. The issue was now joined, February 1823, and both parties prepared for a conflict which for the next 18 months, shook the State from center to circumference, divided families, made enemies of friends, filled the air with recrimination, and nearly resulted in civil war. Under the constitution, the vote could not be taken on the convention resolution until August 1824, when the next General Assembly was elected, so that there was ample time for preparation. Both sides were bitter, determined, and defiant. No quarter was given or asked. Governor Ford in his history says:

“Newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets were thrown broad cast. These missive weapons of a fiery contest were scattered everywhere, and everywhere they scorched and scathed as they flew. The whole people, for the space of months, did scarcely anything but read newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets, quarrel, wrangle and argue with each other whenever they met to hear the violent harangues of their orators.”

Wilbur T. NortonGovernor Coles threw himself into the conflict with all the ardor and impetuosity of his nature, but also with the cool calculation and ability of the natural leader, drawing upon himself the utmost hatred of the pro-slaveryites. His residence at Vandalia was mobbed, civil and criminal prosecutions were brought against him under an infamous statute, passed before he entered the State, but not promulgated, which required persons freeing slaves to give bond that they should not become a charge on the State. He was sued for libel, was harassed, traduced, denounced, threatened with personal violence, even death, but he defied all his enemies and unflinchingly prosecuted the campaign. He not only devoted the whole salary of his office to the cause, but drew largely upon his private means. He perfected a thorough organization of the anti-convention men throughout the State; he enlisted the services of the ablest anti-slavery men in the east, notably Robert Vaux of Philadelphia, to prepare papers and pamphlets, setting forth the evils of slavery from moral, political, and material standpoints, and with these documents he flooded the State. He enlisted the ministry and churches in the crusade; he kept his own facile and fiery pen busily employed in the newspapers and in addresses, and in brief, let no means untried that would arouse the people and convince them of the enormity of the evil which the pro-slaveryites proposed to inflict upon the State. There were then but five newspapers in the State – only one of which was opposed to the convention [the Alton Telegraph was not established until 1836]. This was the Edwardsville Spectator, edited by 5Hooper Warren. Governor Coles and the anti-slavery leaders, early in the contest, purchased, in addition, the Illinois Intelligencer, published at Vandalia, and turned its batteries against the convention. Next to Governor Coles, the man who probably did the most effective work against the convention was the 6Rev. John M. Peck, the great Baptist preacher [who founded the Shurtleff College in Upper Alton], who labored assiduously in the cause throughout the campaign. He organized the religious element on the anti-slavery side, and under his inspiration, the pulpit thundered anathemas against the convention. He organized societies in fourteen counties under the control of a parent society at his home in St. Clair. He traveled constantly, preaching a crusade against slavery. Next to Mr. Peck, in good work accomplished, was Morris Birbeck of Edwards County, a talented, highly educated Englishman, a man of note and standing in his own country. He had become acquainted with Governor Coles in England, and immigrating to Illinois, he enlisted heart and soul with the Governor in the great work. Upon the solicitation of Governor Coles, he employed his ready pen continuously in the preparation of anti-slavery documents, and in contributions to the newspapers. Of many others who took an active part against the convention, especial mention should be made of Judge Samuel D. Lockwood, David Blackwell, J. H. Pugh, George Forquer, Daniel P. Cook, Thomas Mather, Henry Eddy, George Churchill, 7Thomas Lippincott, Hooper Warren, and 8Curtiss Blakeman, the last four of Madison County.

We will not dwell longer on the contest. The day of election came, and the vote resulted:

Against the convention – 6,822
For the convention – 4, 950
Majority against – 1,872

Madison County voted:
Against the convention – 563
For the convention – 351
Majority against – 212

The attempt to amend the constitution was thus defeated, and Illinois was saved from the leprosy of slavery. To Governor Coles and his noble co-adjutors be all honor and praise. They “builded better than they knew,” and to them is due the fact that Illinois is now the Empire State of the West, the peer of any State in the Union in wealth, in prosperity and material development, and the home of an educated, liberty-loving, happy people. And in the great national struggle for liberty [Civil War], which opened 36 years later, under another son of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, there were no braver soldiers than the sons of the anti-convention leaders, who rallied under Governor Coles.

To give a commensurate idea of the important bearing this campaign had on the future prosperity of the State, it may not be inappropriate to contrast briefly the comparative progress of Illinois and Missouri during the period from 1820 to 1860. In 1820, Illinois had a population of 55,162; and Missouri 66,557. In 1860, Illinois had a population of 1,711,951; and Missouri 1,182,612, or 529,339 less than Illinois; and of Missouri’s population, 114,931 were slaves. Had Missouri, a slave State, increased at the same percent, from 1820 to 1860, as Illinois, she would have had a population in 1860 of 2,450,000, more than double her actual population at that time. Taking the converse of the proposition – had Illinois increased from 1820 to 1860 at the percent of Missouri, her population would have been only 1,098,090 in 1860, or 613,861 less than she increased under a free constitution. In othe4r words, slavery cost Missouri in 40 years over a million inhabitants, while freedom gained for Illinois, 613,861 inhabitants. The contrast is startling, but it is only by such figures that we can appreciate the great work accomplished by Governor Coles and his associates.

Throughout the remainder of his term, Governor Coles labored zealously for the development and prosperity of the State, the advancement of the cause of education, and the general welfare of the people. In 1825, General LaFayette visited the United States, and was received at Kaskaskia by Governor Coles, whose acquaintance he had formed seven years before in Paris, and welcomed to Illinois. The personal correspondence of these two great men, between whom there existed a warm, personal friendship, is of great interest.

Governor Coles delivered his valedictory message to the Legislature in December 1826. It was mainly devoted to State affairs, and contained an earnest appeal for the abolition of the infamous black code, which still disgraced the State, but under the leadership of Jackson, the pro-slavery party gained strength throughout the nation, and in Illinois as well. No purer, better, abler, or more successful administration ever blessed the State than that of Governor Coles. He gave himself fully and freely to the service of the people. Retiring from office, he devoted himself to agriculture on his farm near Edwardsville. Suffering from ill health, he spent much time at his old home in Virginia, and in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. In 1831, he was nominated for Congress, but the Jackson party [Democrat] was then largely in the ascendant, and he was defeated by Joseph Duncan.

In 1832, Governor Coles removed permanently to Philadelphia, where he was married in 1833 to Miss Sallie Logan Roberts. He never again entered political life, but always took much interest in public affairs. Mr. Washburne says: “Possessed of an ample fortune, his private life seems to have brought him every charm and surrounded him with every happiness. In person, he was about six feet in height, and possessed a countenance of rare beauty. He lived honored, respected, and beloved, to the good old age of 82, dying in 1868 after many years of feebleness. He was buried at Woodland near Philadelphia.”

Governor Coles lived to see the nation redeemed from the curse from which he saved the Prairie State. His widow, his oldest son, Edward Coles, and a daughter survive him and reside in Philadelphia. It is an aphorism that “the world knows little of its greatest men.” Mr. Washburne’s book, in enlightening the people of Illinois in regard to the life and character of the man to whom they owe so much of their present prosperity and happiness, will add new laurels to the fame of its distinguished author.

Signed 9Wilbur T. Norton

1Hon. Elihu B. Washburne (1816-1887) became a leader of the Radical Republicans – those most ardently opposed to slavery, and was among the original proponents of racial equality. After the Civil War, Washburne advocated that large plantations be divided up to provide compensatory property for freed slaves. He served as a member of the House of Representatives from Illinois, was the 25th U. S. Secretary of State, and was the U. S. Minister to France. In 1882, after he retired, he published a biography [much of which the above information was taken from] of former Illinois governor Edwards Coles and the anti-slavery movement. Washburne moved to Chicago, and served as president of the Chicago Historical Society from 1884 to 1887. In 1887, he published his memoir of his time as a diplomat. His son, Hempstead, was elected Mayor of Chicago in 1891. Elihu Washburne died at his son home in Chicago on October 22, 1887. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Galena.

2General LaFayette (1757-1834) was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War, commanding American troops in several battles, including the Siege of Yorktown. After returning to France, he was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789, and the July Revolution of 1830. LaFayette was commissioned an office at the age of 13. He became convinced that the American revolutionary cause was noble, and traveled to the New World seeking glory in it. He was made a Major General at age 19. He was wounded during the Battle of Brandywine, but still managed to organize an orderly retreat, and served with distinction in the Battle of Rhode Island. In the middle of the war, he sailed home to lobby for an increase in French support. He returned to America in 1780, and was given senior positions in the Continental Army. In 1781, troops under his command in Virginia blocked forces led by Cornwallis, until other American and French forces could position themselves for the decisive Siege of Yorktown. He returned to France, and was elected a member of the Estates General of 1789.

3Risdon Moore (1760-1828) served in the Revolutionary War, as did his brothers, Thomas and William. Risdon was the only one of three brothers to survive the war. He served in Georgia Legislature in 1010, when he made a remark to an African-American during a class meeting, “When dead, he would be free!” Because of this comment, Risdon was indicted in Hancock County. Risdon sent his eldest son, William, to Illinois to find “A more free and purer atmosphere.” He and his family moved to Belleville, Illinois in 1812. He brought with him sixteen slaves, in hopes of setting them free. As soon as the slaves become of age, they were “allowed to look out for themselves and use their own earnings.” Risdon served in the Illinois government as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1814, and was a member of the first, third, and fourth legislatures. He was strongly opposed to making Illinois a slave State.

4George Churchill (1789-1872) moved from St. Louis to Troy, Illinois, in about 1817. He was a writer of great ability, and amassed a large library concerning the early history of Madison County. He became part owner, with Hooper Warren, of the Edwardsville Spectator. In 1822, he was elected to represent Madison County in the Illinois General Assembly. When the call came to hold a convention for a new Illinois constitution, he put pen to paper and wrote articles that “burned through the cuticle of ignorance and sophistry.” He also served in the Illinois Senate.

5Hooper Warren (1790-1864) learned the printer’s trade with Horace Greeley. He entered the field of journalism in Frankfort, Kentucky, and then in St. Louis, where he worked at the Missouri Gazette. Under the tutelage of Governor Edwards, he established the Edwardsville Spectator in 1819. This was the third Illinois newspaper. George Churchill later joined Warren as co-owner. Warren was the most unrelenting foe to slavery that ever lived in Illinois. A distinction was drawn between Lovejoy’s observers by stating Warren was anti-slavery, while Lovejoy was an abolitionist. In 1825, Warren severed his connection with the Spectator, and moved to Springfield. He founded the Sangamon Spectator in 1827. He was a quiet man, and never gave public speeches. He was a good listener with sound judgment, kind a tender-hearted. In 1812 he married Mary Damson. He took ill in 1864 in Chicago, and died a few days later.

6Rev. John M. Peck (1789-1858) was an American Baptist missionary to the western frontier of America. He, along with Rev. James Ely Welch, established the First Baptist Church of St. Louis. In 1818, he traveled to Kaskaskia, then the seat of government in Illinois. In 1819, Peck set out to establish a seminary. At the end of April 1822, he and his family moved to St. Clair County, Illinois, and founded Rock Spring Seminary, named after his farm. In 1832 he moved the seminary to Upper Alton, and renamed it Shurtleff College after a benefactor, Benjamin Shurtleff. Rev. Peck was considered an innovator, with great zeal, power, and success. He was firmly against slavery, and preached against it in his papers and sermons.

7Rev. Thomas Lippincott (1791-1869) moved to New York to St. Louis, Missouri in 1819. He first worked as a clerk, and Colonel Rufus Easton, founder of Alton, asked him to take goods and establish a store in his newly founded town. Thomas loaded the goods onto a boat, where he disembarked at Alton. He chose, however, to set up the store in Milton, near the Wood River, which was more populated at the time. After loosing two wives at Milton, from the malarial fever, he moved to Edwardsville to get away from the unhealthy climate. In 1822, he was elected as secretary of the Illinois State Senate, and also became editor of the Edwardsville Spectator. Through the newspaper and his public life, he took every opportunity to aid in the struggle over slavery. Lippincott opposed calling for a convention for a new Illinois constitution, and wrote some of the most influential articles on the subject, which contributed to the victory won by his party.

8Curtiss Blakeman (1777-1833) was a former sea captain from Stratford, Connecticut, who settled in Marine, Madison County in 1819. He was elected to the third General Assembly of Illinois, which convened at Vandalia on December 2, 1822. In 1824, he was re-elected to the General Assembly. He was considered full of practical wisdom, gained by life-long voyaging from land to land. He was firm as a rock in the maintenance of right, and was firmly against slavery.

9Wilbur T. Norton (1844-1925) was born in Alton and served in the Civil War. He became editor and proprietor of the Alton Telegraph, and later postmaster in Alton. As a newspaper man, he was devoted to chronicling facts of historic nature, including writing the Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois, and Its People.” He died in 1925 in Alton, and was buried there.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 8, 1881


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