Elijah Lovejoy

Slavery must cease to exist. There can be no doubt on this subject

Elijah Lovejoy

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, born the son of Reverend Daniel and Elizabeth (Pattee) Lovejoy, first came to St. Louis in 1827. He had graduated from what was then Waterville College and began publishing the newspaper the St. Louis Times in 1830. In 1832, he would return east and attend Princeton Theological Seminary, after hearing the Presbyterian minister Rev. David Nelson. He sold his earlier newspaper, and became publisher of the St. Louis Observer, a religious paper published weekly, where he often wrote about his views on slavery and the abolition of the practice. When he was asked to stop publishing on the subject of slavery, he refused citing his “freedom of the press”. In hopes of more personal safety, his friends convinced him to move his press to Alton, Illinois, where he began the Alton Observer. On August 21, 1837, a mob broke into the printing plant and destroyed his third press. A new press was ordered.

On October 3, 1837, Elijah Lovejoy was visiting his mother-in-law, the widow Sally Millington French, at her home after he’d given a talk at the First Presbyterian Church in St. Charles Missouri about two blocks away. Lovejoy was the first pastor at the College Avenue Presbyterian Church. When Lovejoy had left the church in St. Charles a few minutes before, he had been passed a cryptic note by his friend, a fellow Presbyterian named William Campbell, warning Lovejoy that his life was in danger and that he should leave St. Charles immediately. Campbell, an attorney and also a newspaper editor, was also the owner of the slave Archer Alexander. Campbell’s note was absolutely correct and the note came none too soon.

301 South Main Street

Lovejoy, with his wife Celia and their baby had just arrived at her mother’s upstairs apartment when a large group of angry men arrived at the door demanding that Lovejoy come with them. The widow, Sally Millington French, was the sister of Dr. Seth Millington who had been born in 1780 and had come west from New York to St. Louis by 1810.  When Millington died in 1834, his estate would include nine slaves and this building at 301 South Main Street. The men who had forced their way into the upstairs apartment demanded that Lovejoy leave St. Charles.

Lovejoy’s wife began screaming for help. Suddenly, Celia fainted and the men decided to make a brief retreat. Knowing the men would return soon, Lovejoy made his escape to his nearby friend George Sibley’s home to borrow a horse. Sibley, and his wife Mary Easton Sibley had founded a private girls academy in St. Charles named Linden Wood.  Later that night, after dark, Lovejoy and his family would swiftly slip away to their home in Alton. It would be only a few weeks later that an angry mob would revisit Lovejoy at Gilman’s Warehouse in Alton. 

On November 7, 1837, Elijah Lovejoy’s newest press was delivered to the warehouse. Elijah had gone home to check on his family. By early evening, rioters had gathered at the riverfront warehouse demanding the new press, threatening to blow it up. The mob scaled the building and was about to set fire to the warehouse when Lovejoy was shot five times and killed while defending his press and his right to publish his thoughts on the abolition of slavery. The mob overran the warehouse and threw his press into the Mississippi River.

William Wells Brown

A slave named William Wells Brown who had been leased to Lovejoy later wrote “Mr. Lovejoy was a very good man…decidedly the best master that I had ever had.” He recalled that his duties included “waiting on the hands and working the press.” Being leased to a newspaper publisher and editor carried a hidden benefit for a slave such as Brown. Another, the formerly enslaved John Richard Anderson would witness the entire event, as he was working as a typesetter for Lovejoy. Anderson was a former slave of the Bates family, who after being emancipated would learn how to read and write and become a Baptist minister, like his close friend John Berry Meachum. Both Anderson and Meachum are buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery and Arboretum.

Published by Dorris Keeven-Franke

Public Historian aka Storyteller, I like to share the stories of people and places and help others reconnect to their own past.

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