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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Teaching Coles County with Primary Sources

coles county header

Introduction | Primary Sources and Analysis Tools |
Library of Congress Resources | Primary Source Set

Choose a link below to access printable PDF versions of these materials including additional information, color images and citations.
Teaching Coles County with Primary Sources Resource Booklet 
Primary Source Set


Throughout time, Coles County has played an important part in Illinois history. President Abraham Lincoln was associated both professionally and personally with Coles County throughout his life. Coles County was the location of a presidential debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, as well as the site at which the infamous Copperhead riot took place. It was also here that Eastern Illinois University was founded. Today, it is home to many historical sites that provide a window into Coles County’s intriguing past.

Coles County Architecture

Many historical sites can be found throughout Coles County. Many of these historical structures have withstood the test of time and inspired future architectural designs.

Post from the Past 

The Illinois Globe and The Republican were both newspapers of Charleston, Illinois. The news of the past did not look very different from the news of today…talk of the weather, politics, war, taxes and the economy. Of course these subjects were addressed on a rather different scale, but the concerns of yesterday still seem to be the concerns of today.

Over time, efforts have been made to preserve the cherished and valued history of Coles County. Here is a Senate Bill for an act for the purchase of a tract of land in Coles County, Illinois. This included the Lincoln Homestead (“Lincoln cabin”), to be used as a State Park.

Lincoln and Coles County

Abraham Lincoln was well known to Coles County even before he became President of the United States. In his early years, he frequently practiced law in Coles County. He also had family, some of which included his father and step-mother, who lived in the county. Thus, Lincoln was a regular visitor of the county. Correspondence between Lincoln and his family can be found through the Library of Congress. Many of these letters help to convey the atmosphere in which the residents of Coles County were surrounded by at that time. There are also several letters that discuss the poor health of his father and his step-mother. Coles County, specifically Charleston, was also the location of the fourth presidential debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Letters between Lincoln and Douglas show that they had agreed up an arrangement to equally divide the speaking time as well as alternating the opening and closing speaker for their debates. On September 18, 1858, Douglas was the opening speaker for the debate held in Charleston, Illinois.

On September 28, 1859, Abraham Lincoln was invited by the Charleston, Illinois Literary Association to deliver a lecture in Coles County. The letter read as follows:

Dr. Sir
The undersigned were appointed a committee by the ";Young Men's Literary Association of Charleston" to select persons to deliver Lectures the coming Winter in our Town

Your reputation as a thinker and speaker has pointed you out as a very proper person to invite, and in our capacity we very earnestly solicit you to accept this our invitation to deliver a lecture upon some subject (of your own selection) in our town sometime during the coming Winter.

You are aware we have not a city to boast of, but we have a town made up of an intelligent and appreciative people, and a large Hall to speak in, and will promise you a hearty welcome

If it is possible, please accept and fix sometime for the purpose, and also the amt you will charge, and let us know as soon as it is in your power to do so ... Very Respectfully
W. M. Chambers
H. P. H. Bromwell
L. B. Moon

Trouble in Coles County

Coles County was also the location of the copperhead riot of 1864. On March 28, 1864, a riot involving Copperheads and Federal soldiers broke out in Charleston. The riot resulted in numerous casualties, including nine dead. After the riot, President Lincoln and his long-time friend Orlando Ficklin, who was an Illinois lawyer the same time Lincoln was, exchanged letters in regards to the unfortunate event. In July of 1864, Ficklin met Lincoln in Washington to discuss the prisoners who had been arrested for participating in the riot at Charleston. Lincoln directed the military authorities to release the Coles County prisoners to the custody of the civil authorities in Illinois. There is a mural on one of the Charleston Square buildings that portrays the Copperhead riot. More information regarding teh Copperhead riot and other Coles County-
Lincoln encourters can be viewed at  Library of
Congress, American Memory Accessed 03.04.09

Want to Learn More about Coles County

Further resources outside of the Library of Congress are available at the Charleston Carnegie Public Library. There is an entire section devoted to genealogy and local history. This collection concentrates on local history materials of Coles County and surrounding counties: Edgar, Clark, Cumberland, Shelby, Moultrie and Douglas. Some of the areas that this collection is comprised of are as follows:  cemetery records, Coles County history books, federal census (1840-1920), marriage indexes (1830-1929),  birth and death records (1878-1915), city directories, family files and books, and newspapers.




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