Jesse W. Fell played a significant role in the development of Illinois in the early 1800s. He was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on November 10, 1808, and moved to Illinois in 1831. He initially settled in Bloomington, where he opened the first law office in the city.
In the early 1830s, Fell was appointed Commissioner of Schools in McLean County. This position introduced him to buying and selling land, which he enjoyed much more than being a teacher or a lawyer. He also developed a love of plants and trees, and he became known as "The Tree Planter" for his efforts to beautify the area.
Jesse Fell and Abraham Lincoln first met in 1834 while attending a session of the Illinois state legislature at Vandalia. Fell was a lobbyist for his newly adopted McLean County, while Lincoln was a legislature member. The two men quickly became friends, and their paths would cross frequently over the years, as they were both involved in politics and the law.
John T. Stuart was a prominent lawyer and politician in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1830s. He was also active in politics. In 1837, Stuart formed a law partnership with Abraham Lincoln. The two men became close friends and worked together for several years. Stuart was a mentor to Lincoln and helped him to develop his legal skills. Stuart and Lincoln were both at that time members of the legislature from Sangamon County. The two men roomed together in the winter of 1834-35, and Jesse Fell lived in the same house. Lincoln and Stuart fascinated Fell, who noted the sharp contrast between Stuart's attractive person and polished manners and Lincoln's big-boned, angular, wrinkled face and direct ways. Stuart introduced Fell to Lincoln, and the two became almost at once great friends. Their friendship transcended all differences of creed, education or destiny.
In the late 1830s, Fell was especially active during the Illinois land boom. He co-founded the town of Clinton, Illinois, with James Allin and worked to create DeWitt County. He also established Livingston County.
Fell and Lincoln worked together on several projects. Fell was involved in the founding of several towns in Central Illinois, including Clinton, Pontiac, and Normal.
He was active in the Whig Party in the 1840s. Fell became very involved in politics during the mid to late 1850s and helped to organize the Illinois Republican Party in 1856.
Fell played an essential role in Lincoln's political career, and he urged Lincoln to challenge Stephen A. Douglas to the famous series of debates in 1858. He also played a crucial role in managing Lincoln's presidential campaign.
In addition to his business interests, Fell was a strong advocate for education. He was instrumental in the founding of Illinois State Normal University, which opened in 1857. Its name was changed to Illinois State University in 1967. He donated land for the campus and served on the board of trustees for many years.
After the Civil War, Fell continued to be involved in business and civic affairs. He died on February 25, 1887, at the age of 78. He is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, located at 302 East Miller Street, Bloomington, Illinois, 61701.
Copyright © 2023 Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. All rights reserved.