Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902

Ross and Lincoln

Page 68

Harvey L. Ross, of Oakland, Calif., gives a very interesting account of his first acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln. It was in 1832, just after Lincoln had moved to Salem and Harvey was carrying mail from Lewistown to Havana. It had to be carried twice a week on horseback. Harvey was a young stripling and chose to carry the mail rather than work on the farm or clerk in the store. At this time Mr. Lincoln was postmaster and also clerked at Hill's store. The postoffices between Lewistown and Springfield were Havana, Salem, Athens and Sangamon. Lincoln was postmaster at Salem, and Ross was there four times a week. He was only a few years younger than Lincoln and they were very intimate. Ross put up at the hotel where Lincoln boarded and often assisted him in the store and helped him sort the mail and would often carry packages for him to customers along the road. He afterwards met him often while attending court in Mason county. In the beginning court was held in Havana. It was held in the bar room of the hotel and some of the bedrooms were used for jury rooms. Ross recollects one time when Abraham Lincoln was attorney for Frank Low in a suit against Reuben Coon for slander in which Low got judgment against Coon for $500. The first time Ross and Lincoln met was at Jack Armstrong's, five miles north of Salem. Lincoln often stayed at Armstrong's. Sometimes he would stay a month at a time. They thought a great deal of Abe as Hannah Armstrong called him. When Jack Armstrong had any work to do he would get Lincoln to help him as his boys were small. Hannah would do Abe's sewing, patching, mending, knit his socks and darn them. In fact she treated him as a son. Abe never forgot her kindness and was enabled in after years to fully repay her. When Ross first met Lincoln at Armstrong's he asked him who he was. He said he was Abe Lincoln and that he was working for a few days for Jack Armstrong. He was tall and slender and dressed in home-made jeans, about the same kind that the majority of the young men wore at that time. The next time he met him was at the Rutledge tavern in Salem. He was at that time working for Samuel Hill, the Salem merchant. Hill kept the only permanent store in Salem. He had all the kinds of goods that the people called for. He kept blue calico, muslin and cham. Every person did their own weaving or had it done. Jean was a staple article. It was mostly colored blue, but occasionally butternut, which was a brown. The stores kept a lot of home-made jeans in stock. I think the prices ran from 30 to 40 cents a yard.

The boys who went to college in those days spent their vacations on the farms. Among these were Richard Yates, the great war governor, and William Green, better known as Slicky Bill Green. Lincoln had been helping his father in the hay harvest. Green said that Lincoln could pitch more hay than any other hand his father had. When Lincoln found that Green had been to college he asked him if he had brought any books home with him. Green replied that he had, and Lincoln told him that he never had the advantage of an education and said he would like to study grammar and arithmetic. He asked Green if he would assist him and Green said that he would. Lincoln said that the country surveyor, Mr. Calhoun, at Springfield, had been talking about appointing him deputy surveyor if he would qualify himself for the place. He was anxious to get the position as there was a good deal of surveying to be done around Salem. So Lincoln would get up early in the morning and feed the horses and then, with the help of Green, go at the grammar and arithmetic until breakfast. At night they would resume their studies. After Mr. Lincoln returned to the store at Salem, Green would take his books when he went to town and they would study under the shade trees. Green said he never saw anyone who could learn as fast as Lincoln. In fact Lincoln did qualify himself and made one of the best surveyors they ever had in that part of the country. A friendship sprung up between Green and Lincoln that only ended in death. In time of the rebellion Green was one of Lincoln's most trusted friends and was often sent on errands connected with the war. It was related that Green and a few of his Menard friends went, in one of the dark periods of the war, to see the president. The White House was guarded by a cordon of soldiers. Green and his friends were unable to gain entrance, but Green's wit never failed him. Going to another entrance Green and his friends locked arms and marched up. Green waved his hand said, "Make way, gentlemen, for Gov. Yates and his staff." The crowd parted and Green and his friends marched in.

I recollect in 1868 I was a delegate to the republican convention that nominated Palmer for governor. Green was a delegate from Menard County. The thugs of Chicago had come down in force to ply their game. Green has always boasted that his pockets had never been picked. One day has the convention had adjourned for noon and the crowd was coming down the stairs of Rouse's Hall, the jam was fearful. Green was caught in it and relieved of all his money. "John they have got my pocketbook" was all that he said to his friend, John H. Spears. Green died five years ago in Tallula, in Menard County, Ill. I make this passing mention of William G. Green as he was one of the men who heard Abraham Lincoln recite his grammar and arithmetic.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson



1902 Index

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Illinois Ancestors