Wednesday, June 23, 2010

John M. Palmer's Christian County Connection

A governor of Illinois who grew up in Christian County

Christian County historian William Turner claims that important events and people usually have a "Christian County connection". This theory holds true with John McAuley Palmer (1817-1900), a Civil War general, the 15th governor of Illinois, and an 1896 candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Palmer arrived in Christian County when he was two years old and lived here until he was fourteen.

John M. Palmer's father and mother

Like many Kentuckians of that time, John McAuley Palmer's father and mother had ties to Virginia.  Louis D. Palmer, John's father, was born in Virginia. Apparently Louis's parents (John's grandparents) brought the family west; Louis was apprenticed as a boy of 14 to a cabinetmaker in Lexington, Kentucky. After completing the 7-year apprenticeship in 1802, he continued living in the area.

Louis D. Palmer was a volunteer in the War of 1812 and survived the Battle of River Raisin (Battle of Frenchtown), in which hundreds of Kentuckians lost their lives. After he completed his enlistment and returned to Kentucky, he married Ann Hansford Tutt. Ann had also been born in Virginia. (The Tutt family was deeply devoted to the Church of England and probably sympathized with the British during the Revolutionary War.)

The move to Christian County, Kentucky

John McAuley Palmer, the future governor, was born in 1817, the second child of Louis D. Palmer and Ann Hansford Tutt Palmer. In the following paragraphs, he writes of his move to Christian County as a young child.

My father served for a short time after the affair at Raisin river, but as the time of his enlistment (six months) had nearly expired, he was not present at any other affairs of importance. After his return, he visited the then territory, now state, of Indiana, and bought land on the Ohio river, near Madison, but after his marriage he abandoned the idea of removing to that state. He followed his trade, living in Woodford and Scott counties (I was born in Scott county on September 13, 1817), and until the fall of the year 1819, then, attracted by the glowing descriptions of the beauty and fertility of what was then known as the "Green River Country," he, with my mother, my eldest brother Elihu and myself, removed to Christian county.

Our removal was after the manner of the times; we traveled the distance on horseback, my brother, then four years old, rode on the horse behind my father, and my mother, on another horse, carried me in her lap; their worldly goods consisted of two hundred silver dollars and two horses, as I have often heard—"the silver was carried in saddle-bags." I have listened to many talks about their removal, but only recollect that my father often said that during the journey, if I had a full allowance of food and sleep, I gave no trouble. I think I have maintained the character then earned ever since.

Soon after his arrival in Christian county, my father bought a tract of land containing about three hundred acres in the "Barrens," as they were called; the land was nearly in the condition of some of the prairies in Southern Illinois; it had upon it scrubby black-jack and hickory growth which showed marks of the fires which had swept over it for many successive years; it was easily cleared and when once put into cultivation, produced excellent crops of corn and tobacco, which afterwards became the chief commercial crops of that part of the state.

Source: Personal Recollections of John M. Palmer: The Story of an Earnest Life,(pp. 3-4) by John McAuley Palmer. Published in 1901 by the Robert Clarke Company of Cincinnati.

During the years that Louis D. and Ann Palmer lived in Christian County, five more sons and a daughter were born to the family, making a total of eight children. Louis.'s aged parents and Ann's sister and brother-in-law came to Christian County as well.

From Kentucky to Illinois

By 1831, Louis D. Palmer's relations with his Christian County neighbors had become strained. He was considered opposed to slavery (though he did own at least one woman slave), and he was considered stingy and rude because he refused to serve or to drink alcohol. These were not popular positions to hold.

Then a hostile incident occurred.  A "patrol" of local young men attempted to enter the Palmer home to search for a slave from another farm, who was thought to be visiting his wife (the Palmers' woman slave) without written permission from his owner. Palmer refused them entry, and an angry scene followed. The next morning, Louis D. Palmer told his family that they were leaving Kentucky and moving to the Illinois prairies. (Read more about all this on pp. 8-11 of John M. Palmer's autobiography.)

The Palmer grandparents were too elderly to make the move. John M. Palmer and an uncle remained in Christian County to care for them. Apparently, the grandparents passed away soon after the rest of the family left for Illinois. John M. Palmer writes in the first paragraph of his autobiography that his grandparents "died in Christian county, Kentucky, within a few months of each other, the oldest persons in that part of the state."

In the fall of 1831, John M. Palmer left Christian County. He rode north from Hopkinsville to Princeton, and thence to Ford's Ferry on the Ohio River, where he crossed into Illinois and joined his family who had settled near Alton.

John McCauley Palmer
John's father, always an avid reader himself, permitted John to seek an education rather than working on the farm. John worked hard to feed and clothe himself as he studied to become a lawyer. As a man, he became a friend of Abraham Lincoln, a general in the Union Army, the 15th governor of Illinois, a U.S. Senator, and finally a Presidential candidate.

John M. Palmer subtitled his autobiography, "The Story of an Earnest Life." While I've been writing about him tonight, I've been thinking about the word "earnest" as a one-word description of a life. It's a good word. It has overtones of hard work, perseverance, honesty, and sincerity. I should live in such a way that I could describe my own life with that word.

More about John M. Palmer on the web:
John McAuley Palmer

An Old-Time Wedding


John Ruberry said...

Quite a contrast to the rascals we've had governing this state lately.

The original settlers in the southern half of Illinois mostly came from the Kentucky and Tennessee, in the northern half from Ohio, New York, and New England.

Which is partly why downtate and the Chicago area don't get along.

Genevieve said...

I know that some of the folks in southern Illinois consider themselves Southerners, to this day. I really hadn't considered why that was so, but your explanation sounds right. Much of southern Missouri was also settled by people who came from Kentucky and Tennessee.

Collagemama said...

The current Illinois governor was the commencement speaker at my son's graduation. He was not an orator of the old school.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.