Although the northern Illinois chapters of the story of Susan “Sukey” Richardson’s escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad are documented, the part played by southern Illinois in that historic episode has remained obscure. Carol Pirtle changes that with her investigation into the 1843 suit Andrew Borders lodged against William Hayes, charging his neighbor with helping slaves from the Borders estate escape to Galesburg. In conjunction with her probe into the past, Pirtle also discovered the Hayes correspondence.
Pirtle documents Hayes’s involvement in the Illinois Underground Railroad through approximately two hundred letters received by Hayes from the early 1820s until his death in 1849. Many of these letters specifically corroborate his participation in the escape of slaves from the Borders estate. One such letter came from T. A. Jones in 1843: “You Dear Sir are to me an unknown friend, yet I believe you are a friend to the poor down trodden Slave. This is as good an introduction as I want from any man. My brother, our cause is a holy one.” Letters written by Galesburg residents show that several prominent citizens of that community also assisted in the affair, proving that Knox College administrators and trustees were active in the Underground Railroad.
Pirtle also includes excerpts from the trial transcript from the 1844 civil case against Hayes, which was tried in Pinckneyville, Illinois. She researched newspaper accounts of the event, most notably those in the Western Citizen and the Sparta Herald. Records of the Covenanter Presbyterian church of which Hayes was a member provide partial explanations of Hayes’s motives.
Telling the story of Hayes and his involvement with Susan Richardson and the Underground Railroad, Pirtle provides insight into the work of abolitionists in Illinois. Escape Betwixt Two Suns, in fact, is one of the few books to substantiate the legends of the Underground Railroad. She tells the story of a quiet man who made a difference, of a man deserving the accolades of a hero.
Complex and paradoxical, Nehemiah Matson (1816–1873) celebrated the occupation of the Middle West by European pioneers even as he labored to preserve the memory of the natives these pioneers replaced. He perpetuated the memory of the Indians who were driven out of the territory, but he nevertheless accumulated wealth selling their land to the pioneers. Rodney O. Davis notes in his new foreword to this book that Matson combined the attributes of a scholar with those of a salesman and promoter.
Matson settled in Princeton, Illinois, in 1836. He left behind a library partially endowed by him, named for him, and finally completed in 1913. According to Davis, however, Matson’s other legacy, “of equal significance in his own eyes, consisted of the five books he authored on northern Illinois and Illinois River history and cartography, volumes based not only on conscientious scholarship but also on both Indian and white reminiscence and on local folklore.”
Matson’s historical writings are valuable even when he deals with well-known events because his personal perspective makes his observations unique. Without the stories and reminiscences he collected, much valuable information would have been lost, especially since many of his informants, both Indian and European, were illiterate. Because his informants often told conflicting stories, Matson admitted that “harmonizing all conflicting accounts . . . has not been a success.”
Although Matson’s sources may not always have agreed, and sometimes his heart may have overruled his head and colored his accounts, he was a conscientious and committed author. “Obviously,” Davis explains, “this book must be evaluated as what it is, a piece of colorful local history, romantically anchored in legend yet rooted also in invaluable research and produced by a dedicated amateur whose standards were high. . . . French and Indians of Illinois River is a model of its type, indeed a minor classic.”
Herndon on Lincoln: Letters
William H. Herndon, edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis and University of Illinois Press, 2015 Library of Congress E457.H579 2016 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
After Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865, William H. Herndon began work on a brief, "subjective" biography of his former law partner, but his research turned up such unexpected and often startling information that it became a lifelong obsession. The biography finally published in 1889, Herndon's Lincoln, was a collaboration with Jesse W. Weik in which Herndon provided the materials and Weik did almost all the writing. For this reason, and because so much of what Herndon had to say about Lincoln was not included in the biography, David Donald has observed, "To understand Herndon's own rather peculiar approach to Lincoln biography, one must go back to his letters." An exhaustive collection of what Herndon was told by others about Lincoln was published by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis in Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln . In this new volume, Wilson and Davis have produced a comprehensive edition of what Herndon himself wrote about Lincoln in his own letters. Because of Herndon's close association with Lincoln, his intimate acquaintance with his partner's legal and political careers, and because he sought out informants who knew Lincoln and preserved information that might otherwise have been lost, his letters have become an indispensable resource for Lincoln biography. Unfiltered by a collaborator and rendered in Herndon's own distinctive voice, these letters constitute a matchless trove of primary source material. Herndon on Lincoln: Letters is a must for libraries, research institutions, and students of a towering American figure and his times.
While the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas are undoubtedly the most celebrated in American history, they may also be the most consequential as well. For the issues so fiercely debated in 1858 were about various interrelated aspects of one momentous, nation-threatening issue: slavery. The contest between Lincoln and Douglas became a testing ground for the viability of conflicting ideals in a nation deeply divided. One of the most colorful and engaging episodes in American history, this series of debates is of enduring interest as an illuminating instance of the ever-recurring dilemma of self-government: what happens when the guiding principle of democracy, "popular sovereignty," confronts a principled stand against a "moral, social, and political evil"? The tragic answer in this case came three years later: civil war.
Important as they are, the Lincoln-Douglas debates have long since ceased to be self-explanatory. This edition is the first to provide a text founded on all known records, rather than following one or another of the partisan and sometimes widely-varying newspaper accounts. Meticulously edited and annotated, it provides numerous aids to help the modern reader understand the debates, including extensive introductory material, commentary, and a glossary. The fullest and most dependable edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever prepared, this edition brings readers as close as possible to the original words of these two remarkable men.
Acclaimed as one of the great Lincoln scholars, Wayne C. Temple offers the long-awaited first biography of Noah Brooks, the influential Illinois journalist who championed Abraham Lincoln in state politics and became his almost daily companion during the Civil War. Best remembered as one of the president's few true intimates, Brooks was also a nationally recognized man of letters who mingled with the likes of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Temple draws on archives and papers long thought lost to re-create Brooks's colorful life and relationship with Lincoln. Brooks's closeness to the president made him privy to Lincoln's thoughts on everything from literature to spirituality. Their frank conversations contributed to the wealth of journalism and personal observations that still make Brooks a much-quoted source for biographers, historians, and Lincoln aficionados. A grand history and unparalleled scholarly resource, Lincoln's Confidant is the story of an extraordinary friendship by one of the giants of Lincoln scholarship.