Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
Of The Rise And Fall Of Salem, Early Home Of Abraham Lincoln
Although long since extinct, Salem, the patriarchal town of Menard County, is remembered and referred to by the people of this section with a degree of interest rarely equaled; and not withstanding its site, on the heights of a rugged bluff overlooking the Sangamon River, is now bleak and desolate, it will, through the ages, hold an important place in the history of the County, in consequence of having been the residence in early life of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, whose fame has since extended through all the kingdoms of the civilized world, and whose horrid martyrdom was deplored co-extensive with his fame.
Salem was laid off by Rutledge and Cameron, on the 13th of October, 1829, the surveyor being Reuben Harrison. The proprietors of the town had previously started a mill on the river under the bluff upon which the town site was located. The mill, at the early period of which we write, did a remarkably large business people patronizing it for fifty miles around. It is referred to as a very rude affair, consisting of two or three log pens anchored with rocks, upon which was erected a platform, where a pair of rough stones were placed, and driven by a water-wheel attached to an upright shaft. The mill, however, became considerably improved before the final fall of Salem. The first two buildings in Salem were log cabins, erected for John Cameron and James Rutledge. The cabin of Mr. Cameron, though much dilapidated with the lapse of time, is still standing alone amid the eternal solitude that broods over the deserted hamlet. The third building erected was a store-room occupied by Messrs. Samuel Hill and John McNamar, who were the pioneers of the merchandising business in the County, with the exception, perhaps of Messrs. Harry Riggin and A. A. Rankin, at Athens. The first post-office of the County was established at Salem, with Colonel Rodgers as postmaster, Abraham Lincoln subsequently succeeding the latter. There were a number of young men besides Lincoln who commenced their business or professional careers in Salem. Immediately following Hill and McNamar came George Warburton, who put up a cabin and commenced merchandising. Unfortunately, he soon fell a victim to the rum-fiend, and ended his career by drowning himself in the Sangamon River. He is represented to have been a bright scholar, an accomplished business man, and without an enemy save the one that destroyed him. Warburton was succeeded in his business at Salem by a couple of brothers by the name of Chrissman, who came from Virginia. They finally went north. Next came W. G. Greene, the banker, agriculturist, stock-dealer in both animate and inanimate stocks. There were also Dr. John Allen and his brother, from Vermont. The Doctor became eminent in his profession, and was, moreover, not only a good Samaritan, but a Christian gentleman Through his influence the first Sabbath-school and temperance society were organized. The house where the meetings of the latter were first held was built of logs, and stood on the bluff south and across the ravine from Salem. The Allen brothers are now in the pineries of Minnesota, running mills, stores, factories, and banks, and employing from three hundred to five hundred men. Another M.D., Dr. Duncan, was also a resident physician, and afterwards moved to Warsaw and became eminent in his profession. Mr. McNamar afterwards settled in northwestern Menard, where he is still living, a highly intelligent, courteous, and honorable gentleman, and a thrifty, prosperous agriculturist. Samuel Hill, the partner of the latter, was the last to leave Salem, and afterwards became a successful merchant and manufacturer. And then there were Jonathan Dunn, the millwright; Joshua Miller, the blacksmith; Henry Onstott, the cooper; Edmund Grier, the Justice of the Peace and school-teacher; John Herndon, for a short period a merchant, and who accidentally inflicted a mortal wound upon the body of his wife, while he was engaged in taking his gun down from the loft of his dwelling; John A. Kelso, the hotel-keeper; Martin Waddel, the hatter; Dr. Regnier, Denton Offutt, William Berry, Reuben Radford, Allen Richardson, and some few others whose names have passed from memory. Such, in brief, was Old Salem, the rise and fall of which was embraced within a period of ten years. The decay of the town was rapid after the founding of Petersburg, in 1836, and a few years later but a single house was left to mark its now historic ruins.
The old-time and intimate personal and political friend of Abraham Lincoln, W. G. Greene, Esq., now a gentleman of large reputation, informed the writer that, in the spring of 1831 the spring immediately succeeding the famous deep snow Lincoln (who was enthusiastic in his belief that the Sangamon could be successfully navigated, and who ever seemed, like old Tom in Jacob Faithful to have been bound apprentice to a waterman he learned a bit to row, and bless your heart, he was always so gay ) was employed by Denton Offutt to pilot a flat-boat from a point on the Sangamon River, in Sangamon County, to the mouth of the river at Beardstown, and thence to accompany him to New Orleans, if he was so disposed. The leading object of Offutt, however, in securing the services of Lincoln, was to avail himself of the latter s knowledge of the Sangamon River. Loaded with barreled pork, hogs, and corn, the boat, with Lincoln at the stern as pilot, set out upon its long journey, reaching Salem on the 19th of April, 1831. Here the rapidly-receding water had rendered the mill-dam of Rutledge and Cameron a serious obstruction to the passage of the boat. By great effort, the craft was finally, after some ten hours work, forced half way over the dam, and for several hours remained with one end hanging over the dam, and the other sunk deep in the water behind. Lincoln s ingenuity, however, was equal to the emergency. Having secured the boat in proper position, a borrowed boat was placed alongside of his craft, and the cargo from the latter removed to the former. This done, he bored a hole in the bottom of his boat that extended high and dry over the dam, and then, by a curious and almost unexplainable original device, he tilted the boat, until the bulk of the water inside had been forced through the hole alluded to. All Salem, it is asserted, were on the bank of the river watching the progress of this singular experiment, - and with one voice affirm that Lincoln saved the boat; although nobody is able to tell precisely how. Once over the dam, and in the deep pool beyond, the cargo was again placed on board, and the ill-fated boat floated down to Blue Bank, a mile above the mouth of Salt Creek, where Offutt purchased more hogs. The latter were wild and refused to be driven on board, and again Lincoln s ingenuity was brought to bear. The eyes of the hogs were sewed up with a needle and in this manner were carried on board, - for the most part in the strong arms of Lincoln. Nothing more of interest transpired during the passage of the boat down the Sangamon. Lincoln continued in charge of the boat to New Orleans.
In July or August, 1831, Mr. Lincoln reappeared at Salem, and was again in company with Denton Offutt, - the latter having purchased a stock of goods, and was then awaiting their transportation from Beardstown to Salem, where he intended opening a store, with young Lincoln as clerk. Mr. Lincoln is represented as having loafed about Salem for several days, awaiting the arrival of the goods. While thus loitering about, he was offered and accepted the position of clerk of an election then in progress. This was the first public official act of his life. The goods arrived in due time and were placed in position, and Mr. Lincoln installed as chief clerk of the principal mercantile house of Salem. Offutt s business rapidly grew extensive, and a second clerk, in the person of the now widely-known W. G. Greene, was employed, and who afterwards became the intimate and trusted friend and tutor of Lincoln. Referring to Salem, in one of his lectures, Mr. Herndon says: I first knew this hill, or bluff, as early as 1829. I have seen it in spring-time and winter, in summer-time and fall. I have seen it in day light and night-time, have seen it when the sward was green, living, and vital; and I have seen it wrapped in snow, frost, and sleet, I have closely studied it for five long years& .. As I sat on the verge of the town, in the presence of its ruins, I called to mind the street running east and west through the village; the river eastward; Green s Rocky Branch, with its hills, southward; Clary s Grove, westerly about three miles; Petersburg northward, and Springfield southeast; and now I cannot exclude from my memory or imagination the forms, faces, voices, and features of those I once knew so well. In my imagination the village perched on the hill is astir with the hum of busy men, and the sharp, quick buzz of women; and from the country come men and women on foot or on horseback, to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to barter and exchange what they have with the merchant and laborer. There are Jacob Armstrong and Wm. G. Green, Kason and Jason Duncan, Alley and Carman, Hill and McNamar, Herndon and Rutledge, Warburton and Sincho, Bale and Ellis, Abraham and Anna. Oh, what a history! The reference here made to Abraham and Anna will be understood with the explanation that Mr. Lincoln was deeply and earnestly engaged to Miss Ann Rutledge, the amiable daughter of James Rutledge of Salem. The premature death of this estimable young lady, on the 25th of August, 1835, alone prevented the consummation of the plighted vows of the young couple. And it is related by those who knew Mr. Lincoln intimately, that he never quite recovered from the shock experienced when he gave his heart s first love to the cold embrace of death.
Mr. Lincoln continued in his capacity of clerk for Denton Offutt several months, employing his leisure in close application to study, with the view of entering the profession of the law. While thus engaged, the Black Hawk war broke out, and Governor Reynolds issued his call for troops. A company, one hundred strong, was raised in the vicinity of Salem, and at the organization of the company Mr. Lincoln was elected Captain, - his competitor for the honor being Wm. Kirkpatrick. W. G. Greene, Royal Clary, David Pantier, Samuel Tibbs, and Travis Elmore, Sr., were among the privates of the company now residing in Menard who are remembered by our informant. The company did efficient service, and at the close of the campaign was mustered out and returned home. On his return to Salem, Mr. Lincoln subsequently, in connection with Wm. Berry, purchased of W. G. Greene (the immediate successor of Reuben Radford) a small store. In the rear and forming a part of the store-room was a bar, which had been fitted up (an addition to country stores, by the way, that was not uncommon in early times), at which the settler could get something to drink stronger than water. We make this statement solely for the truth of history, and regarding it as a duty we owe to this people to submit facts to a candid world. Many of the over-sensitive, who know nothing of the pioneer era of the West, will look upon this statement with holy horror, and we can but urge, in palliation of this offense, that it was a matter generally sanctioned, and, in fact, formed a part of the early habits and customs of the pioneers. Mr. Berry, the partner of Mr. Lincoln, died within a few months after the formation of the partnership, and the business of the house was thenceforth conducted by Mr. Lincoln for several years. In the meantime the latter allowed none of his leisure time to pass unimproved, and in addition to his duties in his immediate business at Salem, he found time to acquire a knowledge of surveying, and, as the deputy of Mr. T. M. Heale, located a large portion of the lands of Menard County. We now approach the period of Mr. Lincoln s transition to the more natural position in which, as a professional man and statesman, he was to attain that success and eminence for which his rare endowments fitted him. He had learned much of the world and of men, and had gained some true knowledge of himself. The discipline of those hard years of toil and penury, so cheerfully and so manfully gone through with, was of more value to him, as time was to prove, than any heritage of wealth or ancestral eminence could have been. Nor was Mr. Lincoln indifferent to the good opinion of his fellow-man. The confessed satisfaction which the captaincy of a company of volunteers had given him, as the expressed preference of a hundred or two of associates for him above all others, as a leader, showed that, however distrustful as yet of his own powers, he was not without ambition, or unable to appreciate popular honors. At the Presidential election of 1832, when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay were the opposing candidates, Mr. Lincoln espoused the cause of Mr. Clay, and was brought forward by his Whig friends as a candidate for the Legislature. He shared in the general defeat of his party in that campaign, although he received two hundred and seventy-seven votes out of the two hundred and eighty-four cast in his precinct, - a precinct that gave Jackson a majority of one hundred and fifty-five for the Presidency. In 1834 Mr. Lincoln was elected to the Legislature from this section of what was then Sangamon County, running upwards of two hundred votes ahead of his ticket. About the year 1837 or 1838 he moved to Springfield, and entered upon the practice of the law, and, as the world has since learned, rose rapidly to eminence. It is not our province to continue his history in connection with this sketch, as the subject is one which every school-boy in the land knows by heart. Suffice to say, that his memory is embalmed in the hearts of his old neighbors here in Menard, the scene of his early struggles and triumphs. And in no section of the great Republic, whose honored chief he was, did the tidings of his horrible death by the hand of the assassin, on the 15th of April, 1865, cause a sorrow so genuine and profound as that which was manifest among all our people, regardless of party, when the electric wires carried the sad tidings to the world.