ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
PETITION TO THE COUNTY COURT COMMISSIONERS FOR CONSTABLE OF COLES COUNTY, PLEASANT GROVE PRECINCT
This petition sought the appointment of John D. Johnston as a constable, a legal officer who reported to the justice of the peace. The petitioners are asking the three members of the Coles County Commissioners Court to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Constable Daniel P. Needham. Although this petition is undated, we know from other records that Needham was elected a justice of the peace in Coles County on August 21, 1839. When Cumberland County was formed from the southern portion of Coles in 1843, Needham immediately ran for election for both justice of the peace and county commissioner in the new county.
The signature of Thomas Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's father, appears on this petition. Tradition states that Thomas Lincoln was a somewhat illiterate carpenter and farmer, although he could sign his name. John D. Johnston was Thomas Lincoln's stepson and Abraham Lincoln's stepbrother. Squire Hall, who also signed the petition, was married to John D. Johnston's sister and had been a neighbor of the Lincolns in Indiana.
Thomas Lincoln was born in Virginia in 1778 and moved with his family to the Kentucky wilderness as a child. At the age of eight, he witnessed his father killed by Indians. The death of his father resulted in a hard life for Thomas. In 1806, Thomas Lincoln married Nancy Hanks and together they had three children: Sarah, Abraham and Thomas. In 1816 the family moved to Indiana, where on October 5, 1818, Nancy Hanks died. On December 2, 1819, Thomas Lincoln married Sarah Bush Johnston, a widow with three children. In March 1830, Thomas Lincoln and twelve members of his extended family moved to Macon County, Illinois. The next year, Abraham Lincoln left his extended family to begin life on his own while Thomas and others moved to a farm south of Charleston in Coles County. Thomas died there in 1851. Sarah Bush Johnston died there in 1869.
Petitioning government officials for jobs and favors was a common practice in the 1800s and still is today. However, Johnston did not receive the appointment as constable.
Points to Consider
Why might Thomas Lincoln, John D. Johnston and Squire Hall all move to the same area of Illinois?
What is a constable and what kind of duties would a constable perform?
Why didn't any women sign this document?