More Lincoln Connections: Farnsworth Was at President's Bedside When He Died

More Lincoln Connections: Farnsworth Was at President’s Bedside When He Died

John Farnsworth residence

The Farnsworth House CREDIT: St. Charles History Museum

  • Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to an earlier Kane County Connects article about Abraham Lincoln’s Kane County ties. The information is provided courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum and is part of an ongoing series of articles on Kane County history.

One of Kane County’s closest connections to Abraham Lincoln was John Farnsworth, the attorney, politician and Civil War general who was a friend of the 16th president of the United States and was at Lincoln’s bedside when he died.

Farnsworth was born on March 27, 1820, in Quebec, Canada. In the spring of 1834, his family moved to Michigan, where his father was a farmer. As a child, John helped his father on the farm, but like Lincoln, he knew at an early age that he wanted to be a lawyer. He earned his law degree at the University of Michigan, and in 1845, he came to St. Charles, where he was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1846.

That same year, Farnsworth would begin his political career as a Democrat but left the party very quickly and became an ardent support of the Republican Party and anti-slavery movement.

Always passionate about serving his country, Farnsworth ran for and won office in 1856 as the congressional representative from the Illinois 2nd District and was elected again in 1858. During the summer and fall of 1858, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, referred to Farnsworth specifically by name, in his famous debates with Lincoln, accusing Farnsworth of believing in the equality of the races and opposing new slave states entering the Union.

Farnsworth STC history 1994.004.003

John Farnsworth CREDIT: St. Charles History Museum

In response to Douglas, Farnsworth wrote a letter to Lincoln in September of 1858 to clarify his own position and that of the Republican Party. The letter, along with other documents in relation to Farnsworth, are preserve in the Lincoln President Papers Collection at the Library of Congress.

In 1860, Farnsworth heard the call to action and left his position as the congressional representative from the Illinois 2nd District to lead Civil War efforts in Illinois. Friends with Lincoln, Farnsworth secured a presidential directive establishing Camp Kane in 1861 and assigning him to colonel of the 8th Illinois Cavalry.

Camp Kane functioned as a training camp for the men from St. Charles and the surrounding communities enlisted in the 8th and 17th Illinois Cavalry units. Farnsworth’s outstanding service did not go unnoticed, and on Dec. 5, 1862, he received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general. Farnsworth resigned from the military in March of 1863 to resume his duties as a congressman.

On April 14, 1864, Farnsworth returned to Washington, and was at Lincoln’s bedside when he died on April 15, 1865. It is perhaps because of this fact, Mary Lincoln continued to maintain contact with Farnsworth.

In 1871, a guest registered by the name of “Mrs. May” quickly became the talk of the town. According to local legend, “Mrs. May” was actually the grieving Mary Todd Lincoln, and her purpose in St. Charles was to Consult Most Noted Medium.” An article states that:

… Mrs. Lincoln had come west to Chicago, in 1871 with her son Robert. The tragic death of her husband, and later, her son …”Tad” who died in 1871, had so broken her heart that she was ready to accept any circumstance which would put her into contact, as she believed, with her loved and lost. What contacts she made with the spirit world, or what comfort she received was never divulged.

Shortly after her visit to St. Charles, Mrs. Lincoln was declared insane and committed to Bellevue Palace in Batavia.

You can learn more about Farnsworth and many other fascinating facts about local history at the St. Charles History Museum. See below for more about the museum and its upcoming events.

SOURCE: St. Charles History Museum

Read More

About the St. Charles History Museum

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.30.56 AM

The St. Charles History Museum features permanent and rotating temporary exhibits, the Colonial Anderson Research Room, photo and research archives, administrative offices and repository for the museum’s collection. The museum is located in the 1928 McCornack Oil Company building at 215 East Main St. The building served St. Charles as a gas station from 1928 until 1990. After renovations, the museum opened to the public in May 2001. Originally, the museum was located in the St. Charles Municipal Building. For the latest news and museum happenings, visit the St. Charles History Museum website and Facebook page.

Upcoming St. Charles History Museum Programs, Events


Friday, Feb. 26, 2016

News Flash: Winter is cold. We are sure that the people who wore the clothing featured in our winter temporary exhibition can commiserate. See how women weathered the cold and stayed fabulous with a selection of fur coats, hats, muffs, and gowns dating to the 1860s-1930s all from the St. Charles History Museum textile collection.


11 a.m. Feb. 27, 2016



About the Program:

Illinois and Illinoisans played prominent roles in the anti-slavery movement preceding the Civil War, but were all opponents of slavery necessarily involved in the Underground Railroad?  Understanding the wide variety of motivations that might lie behind any given individual’s opposition to slavery – commitment to human rights, belief in racial equality, economic considerations, and religious convictions, among others – is important to understanding the escalation to war.

Angel explores the role that the Underground Railroad played in the lives of Freedom Seekers and explains how one particular story illustrates connections within the network across the state.  She examines the criteria that historians use to separate fact from fiction and determine which purported Underground Railroad sites are verifiable.  She demonstrates that the range of responses to slavery on the part of Illinoisans was more complex than the state’s designation as the “Land of Lincoln” might suggest and that some of the underlying issues still manifest themselves in one form or another today. Seating is limited and registration is required by Feb. 22, 2016. Registration will close once seating is filled. To register please visit www.stcmuseum/events or call 630.584.6967. There is a fee for this program $5 for members, $10 for non-members cash or check only and can be paid the day of the program.


7 p.m. to 10 p.m. March 31, 2016

  • Location: Arcada Theatre, 105 East Main St. St. Charles, IL, 60174
  • Presenting Sponsor: Arcada Theatre
  • Costume Contest Sponsor: Ed Klosowski
  • Decorating Sponsor: Paragon Flowers
  • Radio Advertisement Sponsor: Buyers Realty

Grab your dancing shoes and swing into spring with 40s Night at the Arcada Theatre. The St. Charles History Museum invites you to don your best 40s inspired attire and enjoy a performance by The Flat Cats, heavy appetizers, and dance lessons provided by Vargo’s Dance Studio. Tickets are $40 for Members of the museum and $50 for non-members and are available for purchase at St. Charles History Museum or on our website As an added benefit, members of the museum will receive an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Arcada.