Located a couple of miles southeast of the hamlet of Fountain Green in Hancock County, St. Simon Cemetery holds the remains some of President Abraham Lincoln’s closest relatives, who came up to this part of the state from Grayson County, Kentucky, in 1828, a few years after the future president’s family moved from Indiana to Macon County, Illinois.
The patriarch of the Fountain Green Lincolns was Mordecai, eldest brother of President Lincoln’s father, Thomas. Mordecai and his wife, Mary, had three sons who along with their mother lie buried in St. Simon Cemetery — James, Mordecai Jr. and Abraham — all first cousins of the future president. The cousins Abraham were both named after their grandfather, who was killed by a Native American in 1786 while farming in Kentucky. While another brother ran for help, Mordecai grabbed a rifle, and when the Native American tried to abduct the father of the future president, Mordecai shot the Native American dead.Although he didn’t live near Mordecai while growing up, President Lincoln reportedly saw him often and respected him, writing once in a letter, “Uncle Mord had run off with all the talents of the family.” Contemporary accounts suggest that Lincolns from Fountain Green shared some of Abraham Lincoln’s physical characteristics, as well as his sense of humor and his tendency toward melancholy.
On the morning of Oct. 23, 1858, two weeks after he had spoken in Monmouth during his senate campaign against Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln took the Macomb mail stage east from Carthage — where he had spoken the day before — and got off at the village of Fountain Green, in order to visit his Aunt Mary and cousin Mord, who was Mary’s last surviving son. Cousins Abraham and James were dead and buried in St. Simon Cemetery, so it’s plausible that their visiting relative might have stopped at the cemetery to pay his respects.
In the 1850s, Major Robert W. McClaughry, an early Monmouth College graduate who was a native of Fountain Green, and Charles C. Tyler, a Fountain Green storekeeper, enjoyed duck hunting at two ponds near the cemetery. Around 1911, they initiated a movement for its preservation. “Unless protected by incorporation or a sum of money set aside for their maintenance,” Tyler wrote, “these last resting places of the dead are in the course of time neglected and in some cases disappear.”
Tyler and McClaughry died in 1917 and 1920, respectively, and it would be 50 years before a retired state trooper from Roseville would continue their mission. Howard Manuel was a dedicated history buff who, despite having had only an 8th-grade education, was a voracious reader. His son Vic, who today lives in Davenport, Iowa, recalls, “He studied history like a fiend. When we’d go on a trip we’d have to stop at every cemetery so he could walk through it. It drove us crazy.”
Manuel had read about the so-called “Lincoln Cemetery,” but at the time no one seemed to recall exactly where it was located. In the fall of 1968, he finally managed to stumble upon it. He then began spearheading a drive to interest the State Historical Society in declaring it a historic site.
“I think it is almost a crime for people to have allowed this cemetery to be so neglected,” he told a reporter in 1969. “Many of these people were relatives of a great American and something should be done to restore the cemetery for that reason if no other.”
Fortunately, there have been positive developments in recent years. A year before the 2009 Lincoln bicentennial, the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition declared the cemetery a wayside attraction, and a colorful interpretive sign was placed on the road running in front of the access pasture.Today, one of the most historic rural graveyards in western Illinois remains largely at the mercy of the elements, despite numerous efforts over the past 100 years to preserve it.