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Madison County Genealogical Society

Minutes of the Meeting - March 8, 2012

The March 2012 meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society was held at the Edwardsville Public Library on Thursday, March 8, at 7:00 pm.

President, Robert Ridenour, called the meeting to order.

A large audience came to hear our speaker, John Dunphy tell us about Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois.

The following is the Treasurer's report for the month of February:

Financial report for the month of February 2012, as follows:


Do you have a family member that is interested in (or even obsessed with) genealogy? A membership in the Madison County Genealogical Society would be a very thoughtful gift. A gift card will be sent to the recipient of any gift membership.

The following memberships are available:
Individual/Family Annual Membership $20.00
Patron Annual Membership $30.00
Life Membership $250.00

Contact our Secretary, Barbara Hitch, at, about a gift membership.

March Meeting

On March 8, 2012, John Dunphy, owner of the Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, Illinois, and the author of hundreds of articles and several books, presented a program on the Abolitionist Movement in Southwestern Illinois.

Mr. Dunphy talked about the "two most interesting prisoners" at the Alton Civil War Prison - Mary Ann Pitman, (there were women incarcerated in the Alton Prison), a cross-dressing Confederate sympathizer who switched allegiance and became a double-agent for the Union. The other inmate was Griffin Frost, a Confederate POW who kept a painstaking journal of his incarceration in both St. Louis and the Alton Prison.

John claims an abolitionism heritage even though he has no blood relation to any particular abolitionist. His great uncle, Joseph Dromgoole, was the assistant editor of the Alton Telegraph for many years, retiring in 1962. The Alton Telegraph has all but adopted Elijah Lovejoy, well-known abolitionist, as its unofficial "Patron Saint."

Elijah Lovejoy is significant not just because he was an abolitionist newspaper editor who became the first major martyr of the abolitionist movement in the United States. He is interesting to us because he was not born an abolitionist. His was a long, steady, uncertain journey to abolitionism.

Abolitionists believed in the immediate abolition of slavery - its elimination, its eradication. Abolitionists were opposed by a group called the gradual emancipationists, who thought the immediate abolition of slavery would be too disruptive. They supported the elimination of slavery over a period of time through a series of legislative measures. At one time, Lovejoy supported the position of gradual emancipation. Even before he supported that viewpoint, when he was editor of the St. Louis Times, the newspaper actually carried ads for the sale of slaves.

Lovejoy vociferously condemned the extremely heinous lynching of a freed slave in St. Louis and his printing press was destroyed by a mob because of this.

After having his press destroyed in St. Louis, Elijah Lovejoy moved his newspaper, The St. Louis Observer, to Illinois, where it became The Alton Observer. Although Illinois was a free state, it had a proslavery element. The more Lovejoy extolled abolitionism, the more he infuriated the proslavery element.

Elijah Lovejoy and Thaddeus Hurlbut were co-founders of the Illinois Antislavery Society, which was founded in Upper Alton in 1837, just two weeks before Lovejoy's assassination.

Mr. Dunphy's second link to the abolitionist movement comes through Joseph Dromgoole's wife, Dorothy Horton Dromgoole. She grew up in the Hurlbut-Messenger House. It was a station on the underground railway.

John's third link to the abolitionist movement is the building where his bookstore is located, the Dimmock House on East Broadway in Alton. The house was purchased in 1840 by an abolitionist from Massachusetts, Elijah Dimmock, and he converted the house into a station on the underground railway.

A Madison County man, Edward Coles, second governor of the State of Illinois, is responsible for keeping Illinois a free state. In 1824, a referendum was held to try to have a constitutional convention to rewrite the Illinois constitution to allow slavery Governor Coles was largely responsible for the defeat of this referendum. Governor Coles had a son named Robert, who was living in Virginia at the time the Civil War started. He took up arms for the Confederacy and was killed in battle.

There are two "communities" in the area that can be considered abolitionist communities - Rocky Fork and Brooklyn. The Rocky Fork Church was legally established in 1863 but there was a community of fugitive slaves living in that area as far back as the 1820's and the 1830's.

Brooklyn, established in the 1820's, was a community of freed and fugitive slaves. The entire community functioned as a stop on the underground railway.

Mr. Dunphy ended with a very brief description of the rest of his book "Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois." He had copies of his book available to purchase and signed them for the purchasers.

This interesting presentation was well received and generated quite a few questions and comments from the large audience.