Owen Lovejoy papers  1828-1943 (bulk 1830-1930)
full text File Size: 31 K bytes | Add this to my bookbag

Biographical/Historical Note

Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864), brother of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, was a prominent abolitionist and congressman who staunchly supported President Lincoln during the Civil War. Born in Albion, Maine, to Daniel and Elizabeth Pattee Lovejoy in 1811, he was one of eight children. He grew up on the family farm in Maine and enrolled in Bowdoin College in 1830, but left in 1833 when his father died.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, Owen's eldest brother, was a Presbyterian minister, editor of a newspaper, and an antislavery leader in Illinois. Three of his printing presses were destroyed by proslavery mobs, and Elijah was killed defending the fourth press from an attack in 1837. Owen and his brother Joseph wrote a memorial volume for Elijah, commemorating his courage in defending abolitionism and freedom of the press. This book, Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; who was murdered in defence of the liberty of the press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837, became important propaganda for the antislavery movement, and made Elijah Lovejoy's name famous as a martyr for the cause.

Owen Lovejoy's commitment to abolition was influenced by his mother's strong religious convictions and solidified after his brother's death. He famously vowed that he would "never forsake the cause that has been sprinkled with my brother's blood." In 1838, advised by the Rev. Edward Beecher, he moved to Princeton, Illinois, the county seat for Bureau County, where he was appointed supply minister to Hampshire Colony Congregational Church. He remained with the church for 17 years and frequently spoke against slavery from the pulpit, honing his oratory skills.

In Princeton, Owen Lovejoy boarded with the widow Eunice Storrs Denham, whom he married in 1843, and with whom he had seven children. Eunice's first husband was Butler Denham, with whom she had three daughters. The Denhams lived on a 1300-acre farm, which was one of the principle depots on the Underground Railroad. When Eunice married Owen Lovejoy, they continued to offer the farm as a refuge for runaway slaves. In 1843, Owen was tried for harboring fugitive slaves, but was acquitted. His mother, who lived with them, was an active leader in the local women's antislavery organization.

An early organizer of the Republican Party, Owen Lovejoy was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1854, and won a seat in Congress in 1856 as a Republican, where he served four terms. Involved with antislavery legislation, he also became an ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln, whom he befriended in 1858. He actively campaigned for Lincoln during the presidential campaign of 1860, giving over one hundred speeches for him.

Determined to end slavery and achieve more rights for African Americans, Lovejoy vigorously supported the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, although he did not live to see the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. After his death in March 1864, Lincoln called him "the best friend I had in Congress."