The Life of Elijah Parish Lovejoy
Elijah Parish Lovejoy, eldest son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Albion, Maine, on November 8, 1802. He had six brothers and two sisters. His father was Reverend Daniel Lovejoy, a Presbyterian minister. His mother was Elizabeth Patee Lovejoy. Lovejoy was named for Reverend Elijah Parish, a well-known England cleric. He was a good friend of Lovejoy's father. Lovejoy was educated extensively in the Christian faith and the Bible since childhood. Lovejoy read passages in the Bible from the time he was four years old. He was also educated in Maine's public schools. As a child, Lovejoy was known as an unusually bright student and an unusually good athlete, according to one biographer. He spent much time studying and participating in athletic activities.
Lovejoy began attending Waterville College in September 1823, a short time before his twenty-first birthday. He was an excellent student and completed his college education there. Lovejoy decided to become a schoolteacher in China, Maine. He enjoyed the job, but believed that it was not challenging enough for him. Lovejoy had decided to make a new start on life and travel to Illinois, a new state with many opportunities. He also wanted to experience the American frontier firsthand.
In 1827 Lovejoy reached Hillsboro, Illinois, where he lived with a Presbyterian who had the largest house in Montgomery County. Lovejoy wanted to pursue a more challenging teaching career but Hillsboro offered no opportunity in this field. Lovejoy traveled south and across the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. He began teaching at a St. Louis high school. A few years later, he "experienced a religious conversion, and entered Princeton Theological Seminary, and obtained a license to preach." He returned to St. Louis in 1833 and became editor of the St. Louis Observer, a Presbyterian newsletter. He wrote against slavery in editorials in the newsletter. However, the people of St. Louis did not appreciate his stand on the slavery issue because Missouri was a slave state. Threats were made against himself and against his family. The owners of the Observer, "suggested that it [the newspaper] might be moved to the free state of Illinois."
Before moving to Illinois, Elijah Lovejoy took a firm stand against the murder of Francis McIntosh, a free African-American man who was burned to death after killing two prison guards in order to flee from jail. A mob killed him without a trial. Lovejoy was outraged. He attacked the unjust and barbaric execution of the man in the Observer. From then on Lovejoy became an outspoken leader in the fight to end slavery. Unfortunately, "the public greeted the strong Lovejoy stand in the Observer with extreme disfavor."
After the murder of Francis McIntosh, those who led the mob were put on trial for their actions. The judge assigned to the case made a most stunning ruling. The judge blamed Elijah Lovejoy for stirring up the mob by printing anti-slavery views in the Observer. No charges were pressed against Lovejoy, but the leaders of the mob were cleared of all blame for the incident. Lovejoy was absolutely infuriated. He wrote strongly about the unfairness of the judge and his dishonesty. As a result, a mob broke into Lovejoy's office and ruined his printing press. Lovejoy then decided that a move to Illinois would be in his best interests.
In 1835 Elijah Lovejoy moved to Alton, Illinois, with his family. St. Louis city leaders asked him to leave. Lovejoy thought that because Illinois was formally anti-slavery it might be possible to oppose slavery from an Illinois base. However, he was badly mistaken. The first printing presses that he purchased were destroyed. A third press was destroyed upon its delivery despite efforts to receive it in the middle of the night and hide it in a warehouse. Lovejoy still printed the Observer, complete with
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abolitionist editorials, while the printing presses stayed intact. His editorials stirred bad feelings in Alton. Finally, town leaders had enough of the problems resulting from Lovejoy's editorials. They called a meeting protesting the writings of abolitionist views in the Observer. Lovejoy vigorously defended his previous actions and the right of the freedom of the press before a group of the leaders.
Elijah Lovejoy and his supporters had to guard the new printing press. On the night of November 7, 1837, a mob formed outside of the warehouse and tried to burn it down. That was only the first attempt to destroy the printing press. The mob grew in number and started a fire. Lovejoy and some of his supporters rushed to put the fire out, but ended up being shot by men hiding behind a stack of lumber in the warehouse. Sadly, Lovejoy was killed. Two defenders of the warehouse were seriously injured and the others asked the mob to be allowed to leave the warehouse without attack. Two men stood guard over Lovejoy's body until it was prepared to be buried the next day, his thirty-fifth birthday. No one was found guilty of the murder of Elijah Lovejoy and the ambush of his supporters in the warehouse. However, abolitionists everywhere used Lovejoy's death as a greater reason to end slavery. He became a symbol for reformers.
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a brave man. He fought against slavery and defended his views until his untimely death. Lovejoy was an honorable man who was not afraid to publicly share his ideas on issues as serious as slavery.—[From John W. Allen, Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois; James Gray, Rivers of Illinois: The Illinois; Robert P. Howard, Illinois; Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists; Paul Simon, Freedom's Champion; Robert M. Sutton, The Heartland.]
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