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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and two chimneys; it is partly overgrown with roses or ivy. The front door is arched with a fanlight. It is the Owen Lovejoy House in Princeton, Illinois.]

Owen Lovejoy House, Princeton, Built 1830's.

 p150  Underground Station

Just before entering the leafy streets of Princeton, ancient seat of early Illinois abolitionism, motorists on U. S. Highway 6 (old Peru road) notice, on the right, a trim old-fashioned white farmhouse with a sign on its comfortable veranda reading: "Owen Lovejoy Homestead — Underground Station." That house is one of the oldest in Bureau County and ranks among the most important of the historic sights in that section of the Illinois River country.

Here lived, during most of his career, Owen Lovejoy, preacher-statesman of Illinois, leader of the antislavery movement in the state before the Civil War, and younger brother of the Alton editor, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, whose writings against slavery brought about his assassination by a proslavery mob. The Lovejoy brothers occupy a secure place in American history as fearless champions of human freedom, of racial equality, and of the rights of free speech and free press.

Somewhat obscured by the fame of his slain brother, Owen Lovejoy was just as fiery and influential an abolitionist as was Elijah. Throughout the fifty-three years of his life he devoted himself unflinchingly to the antislavery cause. He lived long enough to see his friend, President Abraham Lincoln, free the slaves, and, a year before his death in 1864, he heard, as a congressman from Illinois, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The story of the house in which he lived goes back to the year 1843 when he married the woman who occupied it. She was Mrs. Eunice S. Denham, whose late husband, Butler Denham, had been an early settler of Bureau County. He is recorded as one of the group of twenty residents of Princeton Township who, in 1838, voted for incorporation of the village of Princeton. Another in the group was John H. Bryant, brother of the poet, William Cullen Bryant.

A native of Albion, Maine, where he was born January 6, 1811, and where his father was a clergyman, Owen Lovejoy, after attending Bowdoin College, came west to Alton in 1836 and entered the ministry. He soon joined his brother in the fight against slavery. Alton was then a hotbed of pro- and antislavery factions. In time, several of Elijah Lovejoy's printing presses were destroyed or thrown into the river by proslavery elements.

On November 7, 1837, a new press arrived at Alton, consigned to Elijah Lovejoy. It was placed in a warehouse for safekeeping. The warehouse was owned by Captain Benjamin Godfrey, whose home at p151 Godfrey, Illinois, is now a residential landmark of the state. Hearing of the new press, a down-river mob descended on the Godfrey warehouse, set it on fire, and shot and killed Elijah Lovejoy when he attempted to protect the press. Kneeling beside the body of his slain brother, Owen Lovejoy vowed "never to forsake the cause that had been sprinkled with his brother's blood."

During the seventeen years that Owen Lovejoy served as minister in Princeton, he never forgot that vow. Always he preached against slavery, even though Princeton contained some proslavery elements. His home on the edge of town became a station of the Underground Railway — a system by which abolitionists passed escaped slaves secretly from house to house until they reached Canada and freedom. In the official guidebook to Princeton, written by George V. Martin, author of a recent novel, For Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, an incident is given of Owen Lovejoy's abolitionist activities.

"One day an escaped Negro," says the guidebook, "was captured and chained to a tree just outside of the county courthouse. Lovejoy awaited his chance, and when no one was in the immediate vicinity, he told the Negro how he might escape, and the hour when it would be most nearly possible. In some manner unexplained in the history of the case, the Negro slipped out of his bonds and made a mad dash for the Lovejoy home at the appointed hour.

 p152  "A mob immediately followed, demanded the return of the former slave, and threatened violence. Lovejoy held them at bay with a rifle, promising death to the first to enter the yard. No man entered. That night the Negro was dressed in women's clothes, given a horse, and directed to the next station of the Underground Railway. Scores of others were assisted to escape by Lovejoy, but in less spectacular manner."

When he was elected to the state legislature in 1854 on the ticket of the newly-founded Republican Party, Owen Lovejoy continued his fight against slavery. Then, upon being elected to Congress in 1856, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement. "To him," says an authoritative work, "fell the honor of proposing the bill by which slavery in all the territories of the United States was abolished forever."

Following Owen Lovejoy's death while on a visit to Brooklyn in 1864, President Lincoln wrote of him: "My personal acquaintance with him . . . has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending, with his life, in no less than affection on my part. . . . To the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say he was my most generous friend."

Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Lovejoy and her children continued to live in the old Princeton farmhouse. She died at an advanced age. Six Lovejoy children were born and reared here — Sarah, who became the wife of William R. French, Chicago; Owen G., who was an attorney in Princeton; Ida, who was at one time Princeton's postmistress; Sophia, who married Charles Dickinson, Chicago; Elijah Parish, who became a Bureau County farmer; and Charles P., who was a leading veterinary surgeon of Princeton.

Standing in a grove of maples beside the highway, the ancient home is remarkably well preserved. It is a low, two‑story, frame dwelling with a wide porch along its front. Having recognized the historical value of the house, its onetime owner, the late J. L. Spaulding, who was then the oldest practicing attorney of Bureau County, converted it into a period museum. He was assisted in this work by his daughter, Mrs. Sue Gross, an antique collector.

In each room of the house may be seen, simply and comfortably arranged, articles of furniture dating from re-Civil War days. Here are walnut tables, chairs, and chests, trundle beds, spinning wheels, pewter ware, and four-poster beds. On the walls hang old-fashioned family portraits as well as original paintings by an Illinois artist, Mary Skinner. And over the fireplace is a bronze tablet containing an eloquent tribute to Owen Lovejoy as an outstanding American.

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Page updated: 11 Dec 07