Monday, March 31, 2014

Beeks, Harshbarger, Allen, Holbrook lines: Another field trip

This post won't include specific information on any family members, so if that's what you are looking for, you don't need to read any further.  This is more about the times, and not the specific life, of our ancestors.

This weekend I was privileged to visit Charleston, Illinois.  What, you say you've never heard of it?  Well, if you lived in the United States in 1864 and were literate, you probably would have heard of it.  It was the site of a "Copperhead" riot on March 28, 1864 that left 9 people dead, both Union and Copperhead, in a state that was generally on the Union side of the conflict.  The town also has associations with Abraham Lincoln, as his father and step-mother, Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, lived in a log cabin not far from there.  Abe Lincoln's circuit, during his lawyering days, included this area, and one of the seven 1858 debates between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln is commemorated by a small museum in Charleston.  There's a lot of history there, and Charleston decided to celebrate with a whole weekend built around the re-enactment of the riot. 

I am fortunate to have a sister who lives very near Charleston, who has a modest interest in history but was gracious enough to be my hostess and chauffeur for the weekend.  Friday night we attended a presentation to "Meet the Lincolns" at a local church.  I wasn't expecting much since it was a free will offering fundraiser for the church's school, but two minutes into the program I knew my expectations were going to be greatly exceeded.  B.J. and Dorothy McClerren presented extensive monologues in the characters of President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, and they were just plain remarkable.  They were dressed in period costume, and except for the short stature of Mr. Lincoln/McClerren, it was easy to believe we were hearing and seeing the actual persons.  Their website is, and they are available for scheduling.  Check them out!

Saturday we saw the small museum about the Lincoln-Douglas debate (including a video), and visited a Civil War encampment at the fairgrounds.  There were not a lot of soldiers there on Saturday (it was quite cold, and after all, they had not been drafted!) but we got to visit with them and see their equipment and a suttlery shop that was set up to supply them and to encourage buying from camp visitors. 

We also went to two sit down, inside presentations in the historic Charleston courthouse.  One was by R. Eden Martin, who is a descendent of John R Eden (congressman who was expected to speak in Charleston the day of the riot) and the past Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Historical Society. He is a very learned man but also talked about some of the family stories that can and cannot be documented regarding his ancestor's participation (or rather, lack there of) in the riot.  He had a different description of "Copperheads" than history books typically present.

The final presentation was called "Trial and Tribulations; The Matson Slave Trial."  We were treated to four actors who presented part of a play that is put on as a dinner theater in Oakland, Il. on three occasions each year.  The trial is the only time that Abraham Lincoln ever defended for the cause of slavery, and it was really interesting to hear about how that came to be.  If you want to laugh, and be moved nearly to tears, plan to go to the play this year.  You can find information about this on several websites, youtube, google+, and a blog, so I won't attempt to point you to any one site. 

I would have enjoyed very much being there for the actual re-enactment of the riot, but that would not fit into my schedule. 

I encourage you to look around to see what is happening of a historical nature where you live.  Whether it's a museum, or a one time re-enactment, plan to spend some time in a historical setting. I find that it helps me understand some of what our ancestors felt and learned, and that in turn affects what is happening around us even today.  In addition, it's fun!