Abraham Lincoln’s Recollection of a Visit to Metamora

Submitted by: Julie Engel Schertz

        The following is a story about Abraham Lincoln, describing one of his visits to Metamora. I am a descendant of Peter Engel (1794-1874), who was born in France. He is my great great grandfather. He is buried in the cemetery on the Engel farm, where I grew up. He immigrated to America, settling in this area with his half brother John Engel in 1831.

     According to a book published in 1878 (The Past and Present of Woodford County, Illinois), the first road through Metamora Township was the state road from Chicago to Bloomington and Springfield. It further states the road ran through the farm of Peter Engel, who kept a tavern and the stage stand. The book claims this was the first tavern in the township, and is mentioned in the general history as the first in Woodford County. The stage changed horses at Engel’s tavern, and also carried the mail.

     In the Daily Olympian, Olympia, Washington, in its February 12, 1940 issue, my Great Uncle Samuel Engel, tells the following story. He was born in 1859 and lived in Metamora, but later moved to the state of Washington. Samuel Engel, nearing his 81st year, is quoted as saying, "My grandfather, Peter Engel, kept a tavern just outside Metamora. Mr. Lincoln occasionally put up there for the night. Mr. Lincoln once told a mutual friend, a man by the name of Acey Andrews, about the first time he stayed at the tavern"

     "I had supper", said Mr. Lincoln, "and was sitting by the fireplace. Pretty soon a man came in and sat down. Then another, and another, until there were seven or eight bearded, silent huskies sitting around me. I began to be disturbed. It flashed through my mind that possibly they were some sort of night riders, as obviously they had come for some pre-arranged purpose. Then Peter Engel glanced over the group and said, ‘well gentlemen, I guess its time to begin’ and he walked over to the fireplace , took his Bible off the mantle, and proceeded to lead the group through an extended prayer meeting."

     My great uncle Samuel Engel had not yet been born at the time this occurred, but his father, Peter R. Engel, Jr. (1822-1888), who was my great grandfather, was a young man, and many years later told the preceding story to his son Samuel, who was a brother to my grandfather Joseph Engel (1854-1935). This story was re-printed by editor William Ryan in the Metamora Herald on February 23, 1940.

     Lincoln practiced law in the Metamora Court House from 1847 to 1859. He came twice a year, traveling the 8th judicial circuit. Metamora was the county seat at that time. Lincoln’s contacts in Metamora were not only as a lawyer, but earlier in his life as a Captain in the Blackhawk War. In Steven Estes book Living Stones, published in 1984, it is noted that Peter Engel and his family brought food and drink to Captain Abraham Lincoln and his men as they passed the Engel home on their way to the war.

     We have bits and pieces of information like this because someone took the time to tell their story. Someone once explained that is what history is. It is made up of two words ‘ "His" and "Story". If our forebears had done more of this – told their story, and more importantly, recorded it in some way, it would have great meaning for us today. We have, no doubt, lost forever large amounts of information about our past.

     We are grateful for writers and scholars who have explored the past, and given back to us some of our history. If we know something about our history, it should help us understand where we are, and where we are going.

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