What Lincoln wrote
Each spring and fall between 1847 and 1853, Lincoln again passed through Moultrie County accompanying the circuit judge through the counties of the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
The lawyers would take cases to be tried before Judge David Davis, circuit judge, who later became Abraham Lincolns campaign manager.
The exact route to and from the county seat is not well known, although it is known that they came from Shelbyville to Sullivan and went from Sullivan to Decatur.
Although nothing was written by Lincoln about his trips to Sullivan, it has been assumed that his attitude toward Sullivan was a little kinder than that of Judge Davis.
In reference to Sullivan in letters written to his wife, Judge Davis wrote that it was a little town not any better than Clinton. The people are the regular hunting shirt Tennesseans. These excerpts from Davis letters appear in a biography of Davis written by Willard L. King.
According to the book, Davis described an all-day trip to Sullivan in the rain. With a buffalo robe, umbrella and overcoat, he claimed that he kept from getting wet. In time they learned to stop at farms along the way.
Again, quoting from a letter to his wife, Davis wrote, Lincoln, Anthony Thornton, Campbell & Moulton and myself went to John Wards about five miles from Shelbyville. Whiled away several hours, got a fine dinner, & about 3 oclock started for Sullivan where we got about 6 oclock.
As usual the tavern at Sullivan looked bad, and they tried to stay somewhere else: We found Mrs. James Elder with a very sick headache and abed. We went to a tavern, but I only got supper. Really got vexed on account of (bad) stable for horses. Went to Mrs. Elders & slept & next morning got breakfast at tavern & afterwards took all our meals & slept at Mrs. Elders. The tavern was so tough, that I should have been in a bad humor to have staid there.
With joy, Davis drove from Sullivan to Decatur. Leaving Sullivan one morning they reached Decatur about 3 p.m.
The circuit riders used to stay in each county seat about one week or as long as was necessary to try the cases that had come up in the past six months.
In 1853 several counties were removed from the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Among these was Moultrie.
Only one court record bearing A. Lincolns signature, promissory note, was found by researchers when they searched old records in the courthouse several years ago. Any others were believed lost when the countys first permanent courthouse burned down in 1864.
There is evidence that Lincoln also went through Moultrie County on his way from Springfield to visit his father and stepmother when they lived near Charleston. During these journeys he passed by the Shuman farm to cross at the Old Nelson Ford.
The Rev. Donald Brown, while a minister at the First Baptist Church here, did some research with the Shumans about the trail past the home of Charles B. Shumans grandmother, the daughter of Major Addison McPheeters who owned the land at that time.
Although Mrs. Shuman did not remember seeing the tall lawyer, she was told by friends and family that she had seen him when she was quite young. It was a custom for the travelers on horseback, as well as the stage coaches, to evade the mud holes at the corner of the farm by crossing the pasture. This hospitality was likely granted to Lincoln.
Grandmother Shuman told of the popularity of Lincoln in her time. When he forded the river on his return toward Springfield, he is supposed to have stopped near the Shuman farm to care for his tired horse. Each time, the neighbors would gather to listen to the future president talk. He made friends quickly with his humor and storytelling.
In other stories about Lincoln in the county, old settlers in Allenville tell of his pleading cases in the settlement of Old Nelson south of Nelson Ford. He is supposed to have pleaded cases in a log building west of the late Walter Welshs barn.
All that remain of this settlement today are a cemetery on the south bank of the river, evidence of a mill in the field between the road and the river and old maps of the county showing the settlement.
It is also believed that on some of his trips through the county he stopped at the Black Horse Tavern in Lovington, which was on the stagecoach route. The site of the tavern is now the location of the Lovington Post Office.
Lincoln was definitely not a stranger to Moultrie County before he spoke in Sullivan during the Senatorial campaign in 1858.
*Correction : Abe Lincoln's full sister, Sarah, did not accompany the Thomas Lincoln family to their homestead in Illinois. Two years older than Abe, she died in childbirth when the family still lived in Indiana.
When Lincoln left
Lincolns final visit to Moultrie County precipitated a memorable riot on the Sullivan square during his unsuccessful Senatorial campaign against Stephen Douglas.
On Monday morning Sept. 20, 1858, Ben D. Hamlin got on his horse and started to school near what is now Coles Station. He was soon overtaken by a crowd of people.
Some of the people knew him and called Ben, go to Sullivan and hear Douglas and Lincoln. He had seen Douglas and Lincoln at Charleston when they debated, but not knowing when he would see such great men again, he joined the procession.
Farther down the road Abraham Lincoln was riding in Cunninghams carriage with John Will True driving the fine, cream-colored, matched team with white manes and tails. Cunninghams son, John, was riding in the carriage with Lincoln.
The mile-long procession which Ben had joined, consisted of wagons, the Bowling Green, Ind. brass band, and horsemen with banners and flags waving. They crossed the river at Nelson Ford, passed the Charles Shuman farm and came into town on the same road that the Lincoln family had taken when they came to Illinois in 1830. Lincoln was taken directly to the home of Judge James A. Elder, 1/2 mile east of town, where the Tim Singiser residence is now. (None of the Elders residing in the county now are direct descendants of this family, but the News-Progress has learned that the late Art Palmers mother was an Elder.)
Judge Douglas came to Sullivan that day along the Charleston road which passed Old Julian and near what is now the Illinois Masonic Home. His procession was headed by a band, followed by a delegation of ladies on horseback with their colored scarves and bright hued flags waving. Next came Douglas, the charming Mrs. Douglas, Mr. Merrick and Bob and Lizzie Ginn riding in a fine carriage which Bob Ginn had purchased in Chicago for the occasion.
According to an account in the Charleston News, Sept. 18, 1907, Ben Hamlin, when asked about the debates at Charleston, said, I dont remember much about it, but he did remember Abraham Lincoln standing on Judge Elders porch and waving to Senator Douglas who was going to Joseph Thomasons Eagle House. And he remembered more of this entire eventful day in Sullivan.
Douglas had announced that his speech would start at 10 a.m., but he delayed most of the morning at Ginns place and seemed to be in no hurry to get started.
In the Wilder Publishing Co. 1900 Biographical Album it states that in June 1856, at Shelbyville, Anthony Thornton and Mr. Lincoln were to have a joint discussion on slavery and the Nebraska Bill. Mr. Thornton said, As it was my meeting, and as a matter of courtesy, I consented that Mr. Lincoln should open the discussion. He commenced at 2 oclock and spoke until nearly 5. Since it was a farm community, this left very little time for Mr. Thorntons reply. Apparently this incident was the reason for Douglas delay. Mr. Thornton and John R. Eden, another wise politician were with Douglas.
As time dragged on, and thousands of people milled about the unpaved streets of Sullivan, the dust got thicker and tempers got shorter. The Sullivan Express of Sept. 17, 1858 had printed the following story: Speaking! Senator Douglas and A. Lincoln will appear before our citizens on next Monday to address them on political matters. Let everybody be in town at an early hour for we expect to have a glorious time. The ladies are especially invited two brass bands expected.
The north side of the square at this time was lined with bacchanalian halls and the walk was a sod corn row, but the south side was respectable enough to advertise an oyster saloon and eating house. It was between these two streets that the Douglas speaking stand was set up.
Finally, a little before 1 p.m. George Lynn Jr. delivered a note to Douglas in his hotel room. The note read, Understanding that Judge Douglas would speak before dinner, I announced that I would address our friends at Freelands Grove (currently on the site of the parking lot between the Sullivan Civic Center and the American Legion building) at 2 p.m. As he does not begin till 1 oclock, if he will announce the fact, so that I can understand it, I will postpone to three oclock. A. Lincoln.
Shortly after this incident Douglas went to the speakers stand where John R. Eden gave a welcome speech. When Douglas rose to speak, he said, Just as I was approaching the stand, I received a message from Mr. Lincoln, who, as you know, is a candidate for the United States Senate, stating that he had made an appointment to speak in this town, this date, at Freelands Grove, in the vicinity of this place, but would postpone his speech there until three oclock, he requesting that I should make this announcement. He then proceeded with his speech.
Sometime between 2:30 and 3 p.m. the Lincoln group decided that they had waited long enough so they fell in line behind a wagon carrying their band and marched from the north down the west side of the square and turned east at the south side of the square. The band was playing loudly, and when they attempted to pass through the crowd pandemonium broke loose. Apparently no one was very badly hurt, though there were blows struck by both sides.
Although Lincoln was in Sullivan many times while riding the circuit, Sept. 20, 1858, according to what researchers have been able to find, was the last time he was here, and a memorable day it was.