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Report of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library to the forty-ninth General Assembly of the state of Illinois on the investigation of the Lincoln way (Volume 1) online

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Published by the Trustees of the

Illinois State Historical Library

19 15



EvARTS BouTELL Greene, President
Charles Henry Rammelkamp, Vice President
Otto Leopold Schmidt, Secretary

Jessie Palmer Weber, Librarian


Evarts Boutell Greene

James Alton James

Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin

William Augustus Meese

Edward Carleton Page

Charles Henry Rammelkamp

Clarence Walworth Alvord, ex officio






Published by the Trustees of the

Illinois State Historical Library

19 15



0. OF Q,

JUL 26 1915

Urbana, Illinois, February 20, 1915

To the Speaker and Members of the House of Represent-
atives of the Forty-Ninth Ge^ieral Assembly.

Gentlemen :

The Forty-Seventh General Assembly adopted the
following as House Joint Resolution no. 25 :

''Whereas, The People of the State of Illinois, ever
mindful of their deep and lasting obligation to Abraham
Lincoln, and with abiding love and reverence do strive
continually to honor his name and memory; and

"Whereas, It is the sense of the People of Illinois
that a fitting and permanent memorial to the memory
of the great emancipator would be the consecration
and dedication of the route that he traveled from the
place of his birth in Kentucky, through Indiana, and
thence to his tomb at Springfield, to be known forever
as the 'Lincoln Way'; and,

"Whereas, At its last session the legislature of Ken-
tucky enacted a law naming the route over which
Abraham Lincoln traveled from his home at Hodgeville
[Hodgensville] to Indiana, 'The Lincoln Way,' and, in
the hope that the state of Indiana will join the states
of Kentucky and Illinois in establishing and completing
this fitting memorial; therefore, be it

'^Resolved, by the House of Representatives, the Senate
concurring therein, That the Board of Trustees of the
Illinois State Historical Library be and they are
hereby requested to make the necessary investigations
to determine the exact route traveled by Abraham

Lincoln in his removal from Kentucky to Illinois, and
to report to the General Assembly at as early a date
as possible, and make such recommendations as they
deem advisable to carry out the purposes of this reso-

"Adopted by the House May 2, 1911.

"Concurred in by the Senate May 9, 1911."

The Forty-Eighth General Assembly, in section 1,
paragraph 52 of "An Act to provide for the ordinary
and contingent expenses of the State Government
until the expiration of the fiscal quarter after the
adjournment of the next regular session of the General
Assembly," appropriated the sum of $1,000 for the
expenses of this work. In accordance with these pro-
visions the board of trustees of the Illinois State His-
torical Library appointed Dr. Charles M. Thompson to
conduct an investigation to determine, so far as prac-
ticable, the route traversed by Abraham Lincoln in his
journey from Indiana to his new home in Illinois in
1830. Dr. Thompson has completed his investigations
and embodied his conclusions in the report which is
transmitted herewith.

It will be seen that the long period of time which has
elapsed, and the almost entire absence of first-hand
documentary evidence make it impossible to indicate
with certainty the details of the route actually followed.
The principal stages in the journey may, however, be
.considered as established beyond a reasonable doubt.

RespectftiUy submitted,

EvARTs B. Greene
President of the Board of Trustees of the
Illinois State Historical Library

To the Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library.

Gentlemen: I herewith submit a report on the
" Lincoln Way" investigation which was undertaken at
your request three years ago. The evidence gathered
in making this investigation has been subjected to as
thorough a criticism as has been possible. Informa-
tion about definitely located points on the "Way"
has necessarily come directly or indirectly from mem-
bers of the Lincoln party. The greater part of the
labor connected with the investigation, however, has
had to do with the testing of the accuracy of this

Without a single notable exception the people when-
ever called on for assistance have co-operated to make
the investigation a success. To all those who have
assisted in this work, I desire here to express my grati-
tude; a few because of their untiring efforts in this
connection deserve individual mention. James Wade
Emison of Vincennes, Indiana; Abraham Harrison of
West Union; William T. HoUenbeck and Harry W.
Drake of Marshall; John F. Lafferty and James Nichols
of Martinsville; W. O. Bennett and George S. Boul-
ware (deceased) of Charleston ; Joseph Warren Thomp-
son of Chicago; James A. Steele of Sullivan; Jacob T.
Zimmer of Shelbyville, and Robert W. Ross of Van-
dalia, have assisted in locating early roads, land en-
tries, settlements, fords, and ferries. Mrs. Harriet
Chapman of Charleston, Joseph A. Hall, Abraham
Lincoln Hall, and Mrs. J. D. Martin of Janesville, and

D, H. Dowling of Springfield, all of whom belong to
what may be termed the Lincoln family, have trans-
mitted to this investigation the information about the
"Way" which they had received from their elders.
Jesse W. Weik of Greencastle, Indiana, who colabored
with Mr. Herndon in one of the best known biographies
of Mr. Lincoln, has kindly furnished from his manu-
script collection an account of an interview with the late
Colonel Augustus H. Chapman of Charleston. E. S.
Clayton of Martinsville, and Byron R. Lewis of Bridge-
port, have rendered valuable service in carrying on a
campaign of publicity and in gathering data. The
librarians and attendants of the University of Illinois
library. Harvard University library, Boston public
library, Indiana state library, Illinois state library,
Illinois State Historical Library, Chicago public library,
Chicago Historical Society library, and the Mercantile
Library (St. Louis) have facilitated the examination of
printed material on early Illinois. I am under special
obligations to Professor Clarence W. Alvord, editor of
the Illinois Historical Collections, for his helpful criti-
cism while preparing the report.

Respectfully submitted,

Charles M. Thompson






The "Lincoln Way" is the route traveled by the
Lincolns in moving from Indiana to Illinois in 1830;
and to determine the location of the Illinois section of
this route has been the purpose of the "Lincoln Way"
investigation. Recently the expressions ' ' Lincoln High-
way" and "Lincoln Trail" have been applied to the
several ocean to ocean automobile highways, with
the result that the similarity in names and expressions
has caused confusion and misunderstanding. The
method pursued has been twofold: (1) to determine
as many points as possible through which the Lin-
colns passed in moving to Illinois; (2) to gather data on
the roads, trails, ferries, fords, rivers, and settlements
in the neighborhood of these points.

This journey into Illinois, not unlike thousands of
others in the early thirties, was necessarily made along
poorly constructed roads and Indian trails. Although
the mania for a network of wagon roads across the
state was already being felt, it was not until three or
four years later that the actual construction of the roads
was undertaken. The stages of water in the rivers and
the condition of the adjacent lowlands must have in-
fluenced the selection of the route taken in going from
the Wabash country to Decatur. On the one hand
there would have been the desire to keep away from the



lowlands; on the other the possibility of being able to
cross the rivers at natural fords situated on or near the
established roads or trails. It has been assumed, in
the absence of proof to the contrary, that the Lincolns
kept as far as possible to used trails and roads, and that
they went from point to point by the most direct
route. Some investigation has been made of present-
day roads, the routes of which approximate that trav-
eled by the Lincolns, but such investigations have been
incidental and they are not included in this report.

Close relatives of Mr. Lincoln differ as to the exact
number composing the party, which left Gentryville,
Spencer county, Indiana, about March 1, 1830. It is
certain, however, that there were at least thirteen:
Thomas Lincoln, his wife Sarah, his son Abraham and
stepson John D. Johnston; Squire Hall, his wife Ma-
tilda, and their son John; Dennis Hanks, his wife
Elizabeth, and their four children — Harriet (Mrs. Chap-
man), John, Sarah Jane (Mrs. Dowling), and Nancy.
There are also differences of opinion as to the methods
of travel and means of transportation. Some have
claimed that the party had but one wagon, others two,
and still others three; all agree, however, that heavy
wagons were used and that they were drawn by oxen,
or oxen and horses.

The route taken by the Lincolns in making that part
of the journey in which this investigation has been
concerned, lay in eastern Illinois, in what were then the
counties of Lawrence, Crawford, Clark, Shelby, and
Macon. These five counties comprised an area of more
than five thousand square miles and contained in 1830
less than fifteen thousand inhabitants. Between the


Wabash country on the east and Decatur and Shelby-
ville on the west there was not one important town or
settlement. Here and there along the trails leading to
the settlements on the Wabash river were small groups
of partly improved farms, but town life in that section
had not begun. Marshall, Martinsville, Casey, Green-
up, Charleston, Mattoon, Sullivan, and Lovington were
yet to be built. Viewed from any angle, that part of
Illinois through which the Lincolns traveled in 1830
was a typical unsettled frontier. After having traveled
two wrecks and traversed something like two hundred
and twenty miles, the party reached their destination
in the vicinity of Decatur, Illinois, about March 15,

Needless to say, in the determination of this "Lin-
coln Way," the first problem confronting the investi-
gation has been to ascertain at what point the Lincolns
crossed from Indiana and entered Illinois. An exami-
nation of printed material early in the investigation led
to the belief that they passed through Vincennes,
Indiana, and crossed the Wabash river into Illinois at
or near that city ; and subsequent investigation has con-
firmed that belief. Evidence to the contrary is scant
and self-contradictory.

As to the place and manner of crossing the Wabash
river, there is a sharp difference of opinion. Mr. James
Wade Emison and others believe that the Lincolns
traveled northward from Vincennes on the Indiana
side of the river, crossing into Illinois at the Russell-
ville ford. This belief is founded on a conversation
between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Emison's grandfather,
the late William W. C. Emison. (See appendix A.)
In the conversation, which occurred near Mr. Emison's


home north of Vincennes, Mr. Lincoln is reported to
have said that the party was then on its way to the ford
where Russell ville was later built. Mrs. Harriet Chap-
man of Charleston, Illinois, who was a member of the
Lincoln party, has also said that the crossing of the
Wabash was not made at Vincennes. (See appendix
B.) No documentary evidence has been submitted to
prove that the ford mentioned by Mr. Emison was used
at the time. There is, however, ample evidence in the
archives of Knox county, Indiana, to prove the exist-
ence of a well-kept wagon road on the Indiana side of
the river leading from Vincennes to John McCart^^'s
ferry on the Wabash, west of Shakertown, Indiana.
The exact location of this ferry has not been determined,
but from the general description of its location, one is
led to believe that it could not have been far from the
site of Russell ville. Because of the character of the
evidence and the integrity of the men presenting it,
the conclusion has been reached that the Lincolns went
northward from Vincennes on the Indiana side of the
river intending to cross into Illinois farther up the

Mr. Lincoln once told his kinsman, the late Colonel
Augustus H. Chapman of Charleston, Illinois, that the
party crossed the Wabash river into Illinois at Vin-
cennes and went westward to Lawrence ville, Illinois.
(See appendix C.) The road between Lawrence ville
and Vincennes, the great western mail route, was an
old and w^ell-established one. Several ferries were in
operation on the Wabash at Vincennes throughout the
year 1830, and the crossing of the river at that point
would have been comparatively easy.


These two versions of the same event, conflicting as
they appear to be, are not irreconcilable. The elder
Mr. Emison knew only the intentions of the travelers.
He has left no record of having definite information
about the crossing of the river, and there is no evidence to
show that the party did not return to Vincennes and
cross the river there. Mrs. Chapman has doubts about
the matter. Three years ago, she expressed the
opinion that the party crossed the river at Vincennes.
Later, on learning of Mr. Emison's statement, she was
inclined to agree with him, and so expressed herself.
(See appendix B.) She has stoutly contended, however,
that the crossing of the Wabash was made by ferrying
and not, as Mr. James Wade Emison believes, by ford-
ing. There is no reason, therefore, why both versions
of the crossing may not be correct. It is conceivable
that the Lincolns first went northward from Vincennes,
intending to cross the river above, but that for some
reason they turned back and crossed at Vincennes.
Mrs. Chapman's uncertainty about the crossing would
indicate that there was some derangement of plans.
In the light of Mr. Lincoln's statement to Colonel
Chapman, it must be concluded that the Lincolns
crossed the Wabash river into Illinois at Vincennes.

After crossing the Wabash at Vincennes, the Lincolns
went westward along the great western mail route
to Lawrenceville. (See appendix C, D.) At that
point they turned northward, going to Palestine in
Crawford county. (See appendix B, C, D.) In the
Preliminary report on the "Lincoln Way," the opinion
was expressed that traveling in the spring of the year
through the low lands northeast of Lawrenceville
would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible.


That opinion has since been proved to be incorrect;
but, because it may be held by others, it has seemed
advisable to say something about the routes from the
Wabash river opposite Vincennes to Palestine.

Between these points any one of three routes might
have been traveled. (See appendix Q.) One route
was along the river road, which paralleled the Wabash
to the vicinity of the site of Russell ville. Another led
for several miles along the great western mail route
toward Lawrence ville, and thence northward through
or near the Christian settlement in Allison prairie.
From that point it led in a northeasterly direction,
converging with the river road at or near the site of
Russell ville. These two routes were approximately
equal in length. The third route was along the great
western mail route to Lawrenceville and thence in a
northeasterly direction to where it converged with the
second road already noticed. In going to Palestine by
the way of Lawrenceville the Lincolns were compelled
to cross the Embarras river twice and to travel some
ten miles farther than they would have traveled on
either of the other roads. The crossing of the Embarras
river, however, would have been comparatively easy.
At the time there were two ferries in operation on that
river at Lawrenceville: one between Vincennes and
Lawrenceville on the great western mail route; the
other on the road leading northeastward from Lawrence-
ville toward the Christian settlement. The presence
of ferries at these points indicates not only the exist-
ence of roads, but also their use for travel. The
greatest obstacle to the use of the road from Lawrence-
ville to the Christian settlement in the spring of the
year would have been the water in what was called


the Purgatories, a stretch of low land lying on the
opposite side of the river from Lawrenceville. In this
connection a study of the conditions of travel has been
made. An examination of the issues of the Western
Sun (published at Vincennes) from 1815 to 1845, leads
to the conclusion that the stage of water in the Wabash
at Vincennes was lower during the first two weeks of
March, 1830, than at the corresponding time in any of
the other years examined. It was too low in fact for
steamboat navigation — an unusual condition for that
season of the year. The low stage of the river does
not prove that the road across the Purgatories was
dry or even above water ; it merely indicates that there
is a strong probability that such was the case.

Two of the Lincoln party have left accounts of their
movements in this vicinity. Mr. Lincoln and Mrs.
Dowling state positively that the party passed through
Lawrenceville (see appendix C, D), and their state-
ments are supported by a tradition held by the people
of that city and vicinity. (See appendix E.) Assum-
ing that the route by the way of Lawrenceville was
longer and more liable to inundation than either of the
others, it is not improbable that considerations weight-
ier than the loss of the better part of a day's journey
caused the travelers to take the longer route. If the
story that Mr. Lincoln carried a stipply of merchandise
to sell to the settlers along the way be accepted as
true, it might well be concluded that the detour was
made in order to pass through the Lawrenceville
settlement. It is also probable that they were forced
out of a more direct route by demands for supplies
procurable only at Lawrenceville. The conclusion has
been reached that the Lincolns went westward from a


point on the Illinois shore of the Wabash opposite
Vincennes to Lawrenceville, that they recrossed the
Embarras river at Lawrenceville and went in a north-
easterly direction through or near the Christian set-
tlement; that they came into the river road at or
near the site of Russell ville, and that they followed the
river road to Palestine.

From Palestine the Lincolns continued northward
through Hutson ville and York to Darwin. In the
Preliminary report the opinion was held that the
travelers went in a northwesterly direction from York
along an old Indian trail known to have been in use at
that time. (See Preliminary report on the ''Lincoln
Way,'' 7, 8, and appendix F.) Mr. Lincoln's own
statement about the route proves that opinion to have
been incorrect. (See appendix C.)

Another point believed to be on the ''Lincoln Way"
was the Paradise settlement near the headwaters of the
Little Wabash river in what is now the western part
of Coles county. (See appendix D, G, K.) The post-
ofhce that served the settlement was called Paradise.
(See appendix H.) It was located on the intersection
of the Paris-Shelbyville road and the Little Wabash
river, not far from the present city of Mattoon. In
locating the general route from the Wabash country
to Paradise two distinct problems have arisen. The
first has to do with the general direction taken, the
second with the crossing of the Embarras river in what
was then Clark county.

Mrs. Chapman has expressed the opinion that the
Lincolns traveled northwesterly from the Wabash
country until the national road was reached ; that they
followed this road to the site of the village of Greenup,


in what is now Cumberland county, where they crossed
the river, and that they went from that point to Para-
dise. (See appendix B.) Mr. Lincoln told a kinsman,
Colonel Chapman, that the party passed through Rich-
woods, which was in the northern part of Clark county,
and about three miles east of the site of Westfield, Illi-
nois. (See appendix C.) The descendants of Squire
Hall, and an old neighbor of Thomas Lincoln, believe
that the Embarras was crossed at McCann's ford,
called Logan's ford in 1830. This ford is situated
about a mile north of the southern boundary of Coles
county and about the same distance from the Lincoln
farm in the same county. (See appendix G, I.)

Mrs. Chapman has stated that she heard her father,
Dennis Hanks, "speak of crossing the Embarras river
at Greenup, and that the cause of said Hanks speaking
of this event repeatedly was, that he afterwards worked
on a bridge built at that point." The Halls, who have
lived practically all their lives in the immediate vicinity
of McCann's ford, state emphatically that they have
heard their father, the late John J. Hall, speak of cross-
ing the river at that point. A search has failed to
prove or disprove the assertion that Mr. Hanks
assisted in building the bridge at Greenup. It is
known, however, that a river bridge was built at Mc-
Cann's ford in the forties ; and it is the opinion of the
Halls that Mr. Hanks worked on that bridge and not
on the one at Greenup. (See appendix G, M.) Mr.
Hanks lived in Charleston at the time he is supposed
to have done the work mentioned above, and it is not
improbable that he spoke of working on a bridge
''down toward Greenup," which has been interpreted


by Mrs. Chapman to mean ''at Greenup." Evidence
presented by the Halls ought to be given great weight
in this matter. They grew up near McCann's ford,
and crossed it often with their father, who was inti-
mately associated with Thomas Lincoln and other
members of the party. It was but natural for the
father to have remarked about the crossing on such
occasions. If the party was at Richwoods, which is
assumed to be a fact in this investigation, McCann's
ford would have been a more-likely crossing place than
any ford at the site of Greenup.

An examination of facts about these routes may
assist in reaching a determination. So far as is known
there was no national road in Illinois in March, 1830.
It was not until September and October of that year
that contracts for building the Illinois part of the
national road were let. Furthermore, but one family
lived at the time the contracts were let on the entire
ninety miles of the road's route from Vandalia, Illinois,
to the Indiana state line west of Terre Haute, Indiana.
(See appendix L.) Even though the route of the road
had been marked — and there is no evidence at hand
to prove that such was the case — it seems improbable
that the Lincolns should have traveled several days
through an uninhabited country when by making a
short detour northward they could have avoided the
bottoms of the North Fork river and at the same
time could have passed through several small settle-
ments in the northwestern part of what is now Clark
county. Moreover, if they had traveled along the
route of the national road, their experiences in cross-
ing Hurricane creek as related by one of the Halls could


not have occurred, for this creek flows southward and
empties into the Embarras river north of the national
road. (See appendix G, O.)

That a road led from McCann's ford westward to the
Paradise settlement and eastward toward Darwin,
there can be no doubt. (See appendix M.) Soon
after the organization of Coles county in 1831, a peti-

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Online LibraryIllinois State Historical LibraryReport of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library to the forty-ninth General Assembly of the state of Illinois on the investigation of the Lincoln way (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 6)