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Monday, April 02, 2012

From the Field:
“I Consecrate My Life…"

by H. Scott Wolfe  
“This monument commemorates the valor, devotion and sacrifice of the noble Defenders of the Press, who, in this city, on Nov. 7, 1837, made the first armed resistance to the aggressions of the slave power in America.”  Inscription, Lovejoy Monument, Alton, Illinois  
“Lovejoy’s tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world.” Abraham Lincoln, 1857

Elijah Lovejoy Monument, Alton, Ill. Cemetery
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe
            During my ascent of the Mississippi River last November, I paused in Alton, Illinois to once again view the Elijah Lovejoy Monument. Perched upon a blufftop at the margin of the Alton Cemetery, this imposing memorial to the antislavery struggle never fails to spur me toward the contemplation of the sacrifices made by those engaged in that noble cause.
            In its center is a towering 93-foot granite shaft, topped by a 17-foot bronze statue of “Winged Victory.” The square pedestal at its base displays tablets bearing apt quotations of the martyred Lovejoy. This central shaft is flanked by a pair of “sentinel columns,” crowned by bronze eagles representing “the idea of a triumphant goal or consummation,” along with a pair of “chalices,” in the form of sculpted lions.
            The grave of Lovejoy is to be found about 100 yards within the cemetery proper. Surrounded by an iron fence, its marker consists of a substantial block of New England granite beneath a marble scroll…whose Latin inscription translates to: “Here lies Lovejoy—Spare him now the grave.”
            On the plaza of the Lovejoy Monument is a simple granite stone, inscribed with the names of the men who defended his printing press on that momentous November night in 1837. Among those names can be found that of Enoch Long.


            Thirty miles south of where I now tap the keys, reposes the tiny community of Sabula, Iowa. The promotional signboards call it Iowa’s only “Island City,” for the creation of the lock and dam system has surrounded the town with Mississippi River backwaters…thereby allowing vehicle access only by bridge and causeway.
Gravestone of Enoch Long
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe
            Meandering north of Sabula along the incongruously named 607th Avenue, one reaches a remote cemetery named “Evergreen”…tightly squeezed between the murky waters of Joe Day Lake and the tracks of the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern Railroad. Within its coniferous bounds is a plain grave marker…a flat slab of marble blackened by the elements and beset with a coating of bright orange lichens. This stone marks the final resting place of Deacon Enoch Long, who died in Sabula on July 19, 1881 at the ripe old age of 91 years.
            Few people have heard of Enoch Long. The fame of his family is commonly reserved for his older brother, Major Stephen Harriman Long…the U.S. Army officer and explorer…whose expeditions through the Great Plains and upper Mississippi valley were crucial to American expansionism. Longs Peak, the 14,000 foot Colorado landmark, is named for him. But no lofty mountain bears the name of Enoch Long…just a simple stone set amidst the Iowa marshes.

            My first encounter with Enoch Long came while researching the pioneers of my own community: Galena, Illinois. Though a native New Hampshireman, Long had come early to frontier Illinois. During the late 1820s, he had spent several summers in this vicinity…mining lead. (“Galena” is the Latin word for lead sulfide, the principal ore of that heavy metal.) Miners of those bygone times would ascend the Mississippi in the spring and depart in the fall…this annual migration corresponding to that of the spawning sucker fish. (Thus the origin of the once prevalent nickname for Illinois: “The Sucker State.”) So many Missourians made this yearly trip that it was said that that State had taken an emetic…and these miners became known as “Pukes.” They were later to carry that appellation to the plains of “Bleeding” Kansas.
            Enoch Long became a permanent resident of Galena in the 1840s. City directories show him engaged in the lumber trade, both as a hired clerk and the owner of his own firm. Local sources also list him as a pillar of the Presbyterian Church, an Elder described as an honest and upright citizen who “never wronged any man out of a cent.”
            During the Civil War, Long moved his business across the big river to Sabula. And there, in my own mind anyway, the story ended. But then I encountered a local obituary for this esteemed citizen…and found the following, previously unsuspected, aspect of his colorful biography:
“Deacon Long was a very ardent antislavery man, and when Illinois was admitted into the Union as a State, he exerted all the influence he could command to make it a Free State. At the time of the great riot in Alton, in 1837, when Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered on account of his antislavery proclivities, Deacon Long was one of the parties who defended Lovejoy’s printing office… .
            My immediate reaction to this bit of intelligence can be summed up, simply, as: “shock and awe.”  It was time to hit the old historical trail for the full story of this “ardent antislavery man.”

            Upon his arrival in the infant State of Illinois, Enoch Long had settled in the community of Upper Alton, where he soon established himself in the grocery and coopering trades. Considered by his neighbors as “a man of considerable culture, a member of the Presbyterian church, (and) a Christian gentleman,” he quickly began to labor “on the side of morality and religion.” In May of 1820 he organized the second Sunday School ever to be established in Illinois, conducting it “almost alone” as both its superintendent and principal teacher. He also established Alton’s first temperance society, his support of such institutions always “constant and zealous.”
            But the“magnum opus” was his role in the construction of Upper Alton’s Presbyterian church. As a generous subscriber, trustee and member of the building committee, Deacon Long accomplished much “by direct labors and godly influence.” When the substantial stone edifice was completed, he donated “one of the finest bells ever made,” much remembered for its “remarkably pure tone and sweetness.” And, though deeply affected himself by the financial panic of 1837, Long assumed the payments for those church subscribers who could not meet their obligations. The grateful parishioners considered him “the one Christian who gave all that his Master called for.”
            Long also became a close friend of a young preacher who often led services in this Upper Alton church…and was a frequent guest in the Deacon’s home. His name was the Reverend Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

Elijah P. Lovejoy in
Appleton's Cyclopaedia of
American Biography
            A native of Maine, Elijah P. Lovejoy had graduated from Waterville (now Colby) College and removed to St. Louis, where he taught school and edited an anti-Jacksonian newspaper. Following a religious conversion, he returned to the East and enrolled in the Princeton Theological Seminary. Once licensed to preach, he returned to Missouri and was placed in charge of the St. Louis Observer, a reform organ of the Presbyterian church. He began to produce antislavery articles which elicited “great excitement and bitter feelings,” despite the fact that they were moderate in tone…calling for gradual emancipation and the colonization of the freed blacks.
            Reverend Lovejoy also antagonized Catholic St. Louis with angry tirades against “papists,” whose church he called the “Mother of Abominations.” He wrote that the Catholic church “was approaching the Fountain of Protestant Liberty” with “stealthy cat-like step” and “hyena grin,” seeking to “cast into it the poison of her incantations.”
            Under great public pressure to cease the publication of his antislavery beliefs (particularly after he protested the public immolation of a mulatto resident of St. Louis), Lovejoy prophetically declared: “I am ready, not to fight, but to suffer, and, if need be, to die for them.”  He chose to stand upon the platform of freedom of speech and the press, writing:
“I deem it, therefore, my duty to take my stand upon the Constitution…We have slaves it is true, but I am not one…I do, therefore, as an American citizen and Christian patriot, and in the name of Liberty and law and religion, solemnly protest against all of these attempts to frown down the liberty of the press and forbid the free expression of public opinions. Under a deep sense of my obligations to my country, the church, and my God, I declare it to be my fixed purpose to submit to no such dictation. And I am prepared to abide the consequences.”
The “consequences” were the destruction of his Observer office and its printing press. Soon thereafter, the Reverend Lovejoy removed across the river to “free state” Illinois and, in September of 1836, the first issue of the Alton Observer was printed. But his experiences in St. Louis had altered his philosophy to a more “ultra” position. Lovejoy now advocated the Garrisonian view of immediate, unconditional emancipation of the slaves.
            In July of 1837 he issued a public call for the creation of an Illinois Antislavery Society. His old adversaries in St. Louis declared: “Something must be done, and speedily.” In August, a mob attempted to assault Lovejoy…and again destroyed his press. In September, a replacement press was also cast into the Mississippi River.  “Frown down the liberty of the press,” indeed.

            In response to Lovejoy’s call for a State Antislavery Society, delegates met in Enoch Long’s Upper Alton Presbyterian Church in late October. To prevent the intrusion of proslavery men, forty constables, “good men and true,” were deputized…and among them was Deacon Long. Besides the creation of the Society, the delegates debated the future of Lovejoy’s Observer. They decided to order a new press, to be safely stored in the riverside warehouse of Godfrey, Gilman & Co. They also discussed, with the Mayor of Alton, the organization of a company “to resist by force, if necessary, any further efforts of mobs to destroy property or molest peaceful citizens.” About sixty men were enrolled, including once more, Enoch Long.
On November 6, 1837, the new printing press arrived and was placed on the third floor of the stone warehouse. The following day, twenty men gathered to protect the building. A vote was taken, and Enoch Long was chosen “Captain,” an honor due mainly to his prior military experience. (He had served briefly on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812.)  The Captain immediately “assumed charge,” the doors of the warehouse were barricaded and defensive measures initiated. (Note: Can we not consider this fortress a harbinger of the armory engine house at Harper’s Ferry?)
Attack upon the Godfrey, Gilman & Co. Warehouse
in which Lovejoy was killed defending his printing press
            At 10 P.M. the mob, “with arms and hootings, with tin horns blowing, and plenty of liquor flowing among them,” had gathered to demand the surrender of the press. When denied, a shower of stones and bullets struck the warehouse…shattering its windows. A request to return fire was denied by Captain Long, who thought the sacrifice of life “unjustifiable and useless.” One of the mob was, indeed, later killed…and this infuriated the attackers all the more.
            They returned with a ladder, which was carried to the river side of the building, and flaming tar balls were prepared to set the roof on fire. Several of the guards, including the Reverend Lovejoy, were compelled to leave the warehouse to prevent men from ascending the ladder. A volley exploded from behind stacks of lumber on the levee, and Lovejoy was mortally wounded (“five balls entered his body”). He managed to make his way back to the warehouse “counting room,” where he soon died…his friend Enoch Long at his side.
            The roof flaming, and the mob threatening to blow up the building with a keg of powder, the defenders were offered safe passage if the press was relinquished. All resistance being useless, the offer was accepted…and another printing press (the fourth) was consigned to the Mississippi River. (Note: Enoch Long and his compatriots were later INDICTED for “unlawfully, riotously, and in a violent and tumultuous manner”…acting “against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Illinois.” Mercifully, they were found not guilty.)
            Two days later, on what would have been his 35th birthday, the Reverend Elijah Lovejoy was buried in an unmarked grave…after a “sad, almost silent funeral.” It was a simple service, where “no flowers were strewn upon his coffin” and “no remarks were made lest the mob should disturb the last rites.”  It was said “that the silence of death, under such circumstances, well became the burial of liberty.”
Yes, liberty hung in the balance…but there was not to be silence. The events in Alton were to reverberate far and wide…and, across the North, Elijah Lovejoy was mourned as a martyr of the antislavery cause….
Grave of Elijah P. Lovejoy (Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)

            In Boston, citizens gathered at Faneuil Hall to discuss the momentous events at Alton. One of the speakers, Massachusetts attorney general James T. Austin, defended the proslavery mob…comparing their actions to those of the patriots of 1776. A rebuttal was promptly given by Wendell Phillips, a son of privilege, who praised the actions of Lovejoy as a warranted defense of the principles of liberty. His eloquent response shocked his conservative peers…and horrified his relatives, who contemplated sending him to a sanitarium.

            In Springfield, Illinois, a young member of the State Assembly, Abraham Lincoln, spoke before the Young Men’s Lyceum upon the topic of “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” He decried “the ravages of mob law,” as demonstrated by “the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country.” Despite standing before an audience by no means sympathetic to Elijah Lovejoy, Lincoln warned that “whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure and with impunity, depend upon it, THIS GOVERNMENT CANNOT LAST!”
Photo by H. Scott Wolfe

            And in Hudson, Ohio, Laurens P. Hickok, professor of theology at Western Reserve College, excitedly called for a meeting in the “old chapel-room,” where he related an account of the Lovejoy incident to the assembled faculty and students.
            The following day, the professor “rode all over the township,” inviting citizens to another meeting…to be held at Hudson’s Congregational church. There, in an eloquent speech, Hickok declared: “The crisis has come. The question now before the American citizens is no longer alone, ‘Can the slaves be made free?’ but, ‘Are we free or are we slaves under Southern mob law?’”
            Prior to the close of this meeting, a man “who had sat silent in the back part of the room, rose, lifting up his right hand, saying, ‘Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!’”
            The name of this man was John Brown. And this prophecy was every bit as prescient as that which was handed to the jailer of Charles Town.

H. Scott Wolfe is the Historical Librarian of the Galena, Illinois, Public Library District and now a regular correspondent and contributor to this blog. He has devoted many years of grassroots research on John Brown, the Harper's Ferry raiders, and related themes.

1 comment:

Doc Pock said...

I am a proud descendant of Enoch Long. My grandmother, though she was born after the Civil War, told of former slaves who came to honor the Longs of Alton. They stayed in the family home and viewed a hidden chamber where Enoch and his children had hidden runaways.
Robert Frank Pocklington