Two Men From Illinois

Men of Illinois portrait
Who is a 19th century frontiersman who rose from obscurity to hold a place in early Illinois politics and whose family home currently stands as a historic landmark? If you were to ask any average Illinois grade school child, you would most certainly receive the answer, Abraham Lincoln. Yet for those who live in and around Edwardsville, Illinois, the answer could equally be our very own Colonel Benjamin Stephenson (whose life and times are recounted in my book series: The Stephenson House Chronicles).

Uncanny you say? Coincidental? Quite possibly they are. Lincoln lore also indicates an uncanny and chilling comparison between the 16th President’s life and John F. Kennedy. But we found some equally uncanny similarities between these two Illinois men that perhaps offers insight into a state that nurtured not only the most famous and highly revered president in American history, but also an obscure statesman and original signer of the Illinois Constitution, whom Lincoln would have known and revered, even before he left his legacy and moniker on our state as “the Land of Lincoln”.

Perhaps it could be said that without Ben Stephenson there may not have been an Abraham Lincoln. It was in 1809 when Ben passed through Kentucky, while Lincoln was still a wee babe, and then crossed the Ohio River into a newly opened territory and laid the foundations for statehood. Years later, Lincoln’s family followed the same path, venturing further north to New Salem settlement, where he would have been very much aware of the “Stephenson” name and the man who laid the foundation for his future legacy.

In honor of Lincoln’s birthday, here are sixteen fun facts linking two famous men from Illinois:

1. Named after an Old Testament Biblical patriarch with three syllables shortened to a one syllable nickname
2. A self-educated, self-made man who ran a short-lived small business that went bankrupt
3. Lived in Kentucky before moving to Illinois
4. Served in an Illinois militia during wartime but probably never saw any action
5. Played a role in early Illinois politics as congressional representative
6. Known for his fine art of diplomacy and easy-going, persuasive manner
7. Married a daughter from a prominent slave holding family and fathered four children
8. Married under suspicious circumstances possibly as a matter of convenience
9. Associated with the Ninian Edwards family (first governor of Illinois)
10. Died in his fifties, suddenly and tragically at the height of his career
11. His death was lamented to the height of martyrdom during a tumultuous time
12. Left a young family behind and a widow who never remarried
13. Controversy and scandal followed his family in the wake of his death
14. Buried in Illinois but grave marker is not in original location
15. Namesake to state counties (Lincoln County, MO; Stephenson County, IL)
16. His stately family home still stands today as a historic landmark in Illinois

(Reprinted from The Volunteer, a newsletter publication of the 1820 Colonel Benjamin Stephenson House)

For further reading on the life and times of Benjamin Stephenson, check out these links below:

The Stephenson House Chronicles by D.L. Andersen

  1. Across Unstill Waters
  2. Ben’s Christmas Treasury
  3. Papa’s Portrait

 

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