Browsed by
Category: Abraham Lincoln

Spencer Turner Revisited

Spencer Turner Revisited

I have recently done more research on the Turners, not enough but more. Spencer Turner was one of the first settlers in DeWitt County, arriving in Wilson Township near Waynesville just east of Logan County in 1835. His parents had moved to Illinois in 1827 living first near Athens in Menard County, then Rocky Ford in Logan County, then to Waynesville in what became to DeWitt and eventually to Wapella.

From transcribed newspaper accounts of social goings on, which I read on the DeWitt County ILGenWeb site,  he apparently was not seriously damaged by being charged with murder and stiffing Abraham Lincoln. If I hadn’t read the court record I would have strongly suspected the story was not factual or heavily embellished but no, it is true.

Spencer’s stone in Sugar Grove Cemetery near Wapella does not look like that of a man who couldn’t pay his legal bill. You can see the stone here. When his widow Nancy Hoblit died in 1900 she had three lots in the town of Wapella and an 80 acre farm.

Abe and Me

Abe and Me

Where I come from is closely associated with Abraham Lincoln. “You can tell you are from Logan County because every school trip for 12 years was to Lincoln something.” [There are several counties which could say the same.] In addition, we had one of the two remaining courthouses where he practiced in town. Unfortunately after they moved the actual court a fire destroyed most of the records from that time.

As a result I confess I am not terribly interested in one A. Lincoln. While others were trying to find a connection I was happy not to have one. My ancestors were farming, not spending time in court…or if they were it will remain secret because the records were destroyed.

2009 is the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Work has been going on for several years. It caused two web sites of interest to be created. One is the Lincoln Papers and the other is the Lincoln Log.

On July 10, 1834, in Sangamon now Logan County the Rev. Michael Mann married Thomas Lucas and Mary Turner. They had 10 or maybe 11 children before she died.

Mary had a brother named Spencer Turner. He lived in neighboring DeWitt County. Spencer Spencer liked his alcoholic beverages. One cold night, ironically April 15, in 1840 Spencer hit a fellow drinking buddy named Matthew K. Martin. Martin died on April 18 and my 3rd great granduncle became the first man charged with first degree murder in DeWitt County.

Spencer hired the legal team of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas defended him. Turner admitted that he hit Martin, saying Martin was drunk and made insulting remarks about Turner’s wife Nancy Hoblit. Lincoln and Douglas argued that Martin did not die from the assault but from alcoholism or exposure to bad weather. The court agreed and issued a not guilty verdict.

The Turner-Lincoln connection did not end there. As the Lincoln Papers and Lincoln Log show, their relationship would drag on for several years.

Spencer did not pay his legal fees. In October 1841 Lincoln sued for $200. He eventually got a judgment but could not collect. Douglas also sued and, for whatever reason, Spencer paid Douglas.

After the matter dragged on for some time Turner and Lincoln reached an agreement. He offered Lincoln a horse in exchange for the fees due and Lincoln accepted. The horse soon went blind.

Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Spencer Turner died, presumably peacefully, on April 26, 1896, at the age of 79.