— Looking for Lincoln —
The Law and LodgingTop Section
During his years traveling
the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Abraham Lincoln was the overnight guest of many DeWitt County residents.
As a frontier lawyer, he spent several months per year away from home while making his legal rounds. For travelers spending the night in various DeWitt County private homes, taverns, and hotels, the accommodations varied considerably. The structures ranged from the palatial Argo House to the rustic log cabin owned by George Hill and the often over-crowded Barnett Tavern. According to legend, one of Lincoln's favorite places to stay was the Richter house in Marion (now DeWitt). The home was owned by easterners John and Ann Richter. It offered clean feather beds, fine china, and delicious meals, making it a favorite stop for the men of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. According to Mrs. Richter's obituary, "She was never happier than when dispensing her hospitalities at home . . . . In that day, court at Clinton would only last one or two days (the time was limited by law to three days) and as soon as court adjourned, Judge Treat always and Mr. Lincoln usually, started for Marion."
Lincoln had both good and bad experiences during his overnight stays in DeWitt County. On at least one occasion, Lincoln woke up with bedbugs after staying overnight at one DeWitt County residence. Lincoln's companion, Judge David Davis, once expressed amazement that while other circuit men complained of the unsanitary conditions including greasy tables, dirty linens, bug-infested beds, and poorly roomed waitresses often endured along the way, Lincoln never did so.
Bottom SectionJohn and Ann Richter, united in marriage in 1820,
were natives of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1830, the Richters took up residence in Springfield, Illinois. They moved to Marion in 1840, just one year following the organization of DeWitt County. During his early years in Marion, Mr. Richter was engaged in the mercantile business and held the offices of postmaster and coroner.Of Mrs. Richter it was written, "In early life [she] contributed more than any other woman of that day to make it pleasant to remain in DeWitt County . . . we question whether a better dinner can now be gotten up in this county than she gave the judges and lawyers."
She was hostess to many men who became local and national historical figures, including David Davis, Leonard Swett, Ashael Gridley, Samuel H. Treat, Clifton H. Moore, and Abraham Lincoln.
Whiskey MayhemTop SectionNine women from the village of Marion (now DeWitt), joined by women from Springfield, plotted against the village saloon
frequented by their menfolk. The ladies banned together and crusaded against the "Demon Whiskey."
They stormed George Tanner's saloon, rolled the whiskey barrels into the street, destroyed the kegs, and poured the vile liquid onto the ground. In May 1854, the ladies found themselves in the DeWitt County Courthouse for "riotously, unlawfully and with force turning out, wasting and destroying ten gallons of whiskey, of the value of five dollars."
They had not hired a defense attorney, but it just so happened Abraham Lincoln and John T. Stewart were present in the courtroom and offered their services. Lincoln argued the ladies were not criminals but righteous and moral women, attempting to save the men from the evils of alcohol. He declared they had been prompted by the same spirit and conviction as those who cast tea into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. Lincoln and Stewart lost. A fine of two dollars each was imposed on the accused. The money, however, according to local lore, was never collected.
Sentiments against licensing for the sale of liquor ran strongly in DeWitt County as early as 1839, when the county was first being organized. The sale of alcohol, however, was permitted. Drinking establishments sprang up, and the customers were plentiful. On occasion, the ladies were vocal about the evils of alcohol, but that was as far as their protests went until one day in 1854.
Bottom SectionLincoln grew to manhood on a
frontier where whiskey was a staple and a liquid form of currency. During his brief time operating a tavern in New Salem, Lincoln sold whiskey, among other things. In later years, the temperance movement became a volatile political issue. While he did not condemn those who drank in moderation, Lincoln himself was a teetotaler. During his early political career, Lincoln delivered speeches to temperance societies, although he never joined one. Lincoln the politician felt it was not in his best political interest to do so. At least one active temperance society formed in DeWitt County. The earliest known issue of the DeWitt Courier
, dated October 1854, printed advertisements for the Sons of Temperance who held weekly meetings in the same courthouse in which the nine ladies from Marion were tried.