Dr. Richard Eells was an
abolitionist in the years leading up to the Civil War and his home has
come to symbolize the slavery issue that was addressed by Lincoln and
Douglas during their Quincy Debate in 1858.
Eels was born in Connecticut in 1800 and graduated with a medical degree
from Yale. In 1826 married Jane Bestor, the daughter one of his
instructors and the couple had two daughters, both of which died while
they were young. In 1833 Richard and Jane moved to Quincy and Richard
established a medical practice. In 1835 Eells built a four-room, two
story Greek Revival brick house on Jersey Street. In 1840 Eells adopted
two children and they added two rooms above the back rooms of the house,
modifying the structure to an Italianate style.
Dr. Eells was a trustee of the congregational Church
and soon became active in the Quincy and central Illinois abolitionist
movement. He is credited with helping several hundred slaves flee from
Missouri on their journey to Canada. In 1842 Eells was caught helping
slave named Charley in his attempt to escape from his owner in
Monticello, Missouri. Eells was tried and found guilty by Judge Stephen
A. Douglas, who later gained fame for his political interactions with
Abraham Lincoln, and was fined $400. In that same year the Illinois
Supreme Court turned down Eells’ appeal.
Because of the notoriety of the case
Eells became president of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Party in 1843. He
was a candidate for the Liberty Party for the presidential election of
1844 and for the gubernatorial election in 1846 . The appeals process drained Eells financially and emotionally and
he died on
the Ohio River
traveling east to rest
in 1846. In 1852, his executor, Thomas
Moore, and prominent lawyers Salmon P. Chase and William Seward appealed
his case on behalf of his estate to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chase and Seward were both U.S.
Senators at the time and prominent abolitionists who had been trying to
combat slavery in the courts for many years. In its 1853 opinion the court
upheld the State of Illinois’ position. Chase later became Secretary of
the Treasury in Lincoln’s administration and became Chief Justice of the
U.S. Supreme Court in 1864. Seward became Secretary of State in
Lincoln’s administration and is best known for his role in the purchase
of Alaska. Because of these court cases and Dr. Eells’ prominence in the
abolitionist movement, the Dr. Eells House is recognized by the U.S.
Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, as one of the
forty-two most important Underground Railroad sites deserving national
recognition and support.
Today the house is operated by the Friends of Dr. Richard Eells House and
is a museum that is used for educational tours to explain both the
Underground Railroad and the architectural techniques of the period.
There are articles for various Quincy Whig newspaper editions of the
1840s era relating to the pursuit and arrest of Dr. Eells. There is also
a copy of the U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the lower courts'
verdicts of Dr. Eells' guilt. Various styles of early 19th century
furniture are also on display in the house. Rooms have been papered and
carpeting installed, reproduced from authentic historic patterns
(including some wallpaper reproduced from samples found in the House
from the Eells period.) Architecturally there has been work to restore
the home to its Greek Revival state but examples of the work that was
done to modify the home in 1840 remain.
Visiting the Dr. Richard Eells
Saturday: 1 pm - 4 pm
There are also
several open houses during the year and group tours are available year
round if arranged by appointment.
The Dr. Richard Eells House is located at 415
about 1 block east of the Gardner Expressway and 1 block south of Maine
Street near the Quincy riverfront
Learn more about the