The Pasfield-Lincoln Connection

George Pasfield became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln soon after Lincoln arrived in New Salem in 1831, the same year George Pasfield arrived in the town that would become Springfield. Both had to have shared their experiences riding on a flatboat to New Orleans. By the time Lincoln was first elected to the State Legislature at the 1834 General Election discussions had begun for selecting a new location for the state legislature to assemble. In both the 1835 and 1837 legislative sessions, deliberations took place concerning the Illinois Capital move from Vandalia. The 1835 General Assembly opted to place a state-wide referendum, Alton Illinois received the highest number of votes but was not selected.

As one of the most prominent businessmen in Springfield, Pasfield was a major booster to get the Illinois Capital brought to Springfield. As is the case today, public interests were often behind legislative proposals put forth in the General Assembly. Pasfield became one of the largest financial backers and one of the fifty original signers of the bond to construct what is now Springfield’s Old State Capitol. It was this proposal that the business community of Springfield could extend to the Illinois legislature. That financial offer gave a significant advantage to Springfield as well as being attractive to an evolving State, one of the most recent to join the Federal Union. It allowed Lincoln and the “long nine” delegation from Sangamon to successful persuade their colleagues to vote for passage of legislation designating Springfield as the new (third) location of the Capital of Illinois.

Lincoln soon moved from New Salem (at that time part of Sangamon County) to Springfield after the General Assembly voted in 1837 to relocate the Illinois Capital. The elder George Pasfield was involved with Abraham Lincoln’s legal practice almost continually between 1837 and 1844. As a self taught lawyer who had a legal practice in Springfield, Lincoln was retained by the influential George Pasfield, an established business owner and respected citizen. Research of the Abraham Lincoln legal papers details the legal work performed by him on behalf of Pasfield, which involved routine matters of real estate and collections. Though the legal work Abraham Lincoln preformed for Pasfield was not that significant, it shows a mutual trust was certainly a great help to the aspiring politician. Throughout these years, George Pasfield was a familiar face in Lincoln’s law office. Besides being a client, Pasfield worked with Lincoln in other court-related matters as an arbitrator, juror, and appointed commissioner.

Pasfield and Lincoln also served as delegates from Sangamon County in support of building a railroad through central Illinois. This experience must have certainly help young Lincoln become a prominent rail road attorney in Illinois. Lincoln also followed Pasfield serving on the town board a short time before Springfield was incorporated. This early period in history was critical to establishing the local community as a stable unit; and contributed to Springfield’s evolution to being the State Capital. The settlement which ultimately would become the City of Springfield grew from the first arrival of squatters to a community of residents, shopkeepers, tradesmen and businessman that began investing in the area.

The senior George Pasfield was recently highlighted in a book published by the Papers of Abraham Lincoln as one of Lincoln contemporaries. The book entitled Now They Belong to the Ages lists fifty Springfield individuals who would have interacted with Lincoln the attorney and aspiring politician. The contemporaries selected for the book are all laid to rest at Oak Ridge Cemetery where Lincoln is also buried. During the period of time both Pasfield and Lincoln lived in Springfield and it seems safe to assume that Lincoln had been a frequent visitor to the Pasfield Family homestead. Though the Pasfield House circa 1896 was built by George Jr.on his grandfather and father’s 40-acre estate, Pasfield hospitality has been a part of this west side area since the 1830’s. It is interesting to note that Lincoln’s home at 8th and Jackson is directly west of where the two Pasfield Homes were built at Pasfield and Jackson. Today, one can imagine the short walk or carriage ride between their homes along Jackson Street which once connected their two homes from the east to the west borders of Springfield before the State Capitol grounds were expanded to include the Centennial Building.

Through his father, Dr. George Pasfield often had contact with Lincoln and in later years the press referred to him as a close friend of Lincoln. Dr. George Pasfield and his father George were first hand witnesses to Lincoln’s rise to prominence. As Dr. George Pasfield aged, a local newspaper, the Illinois State Journal, routinely announced his birthday and proclaimed him as not only the wealthiest man in Springfield, but also a close, personal friend of Lincoln. (Illinois State Journal 12/12/1916 p7 ) The paper named him as one of the few remaining who truly knew Lincoln before he left for the White House. Another local newspaper, the Springfield News Record declared in Pasfield’s obituary that he was one of the few men still living who was “personally acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. ” Dr. Pasfield had a tendency to shy away from the public eye and consequently often downplayed his association with Lincoln. Pasfield once commented, “Being asked about Lincoln, he generally would say: “Yes I knew him, but not intimately. I was a young man when Lincoln became famous. I would meet him and after a salutation pass on, just as most young men of today will do with a busy elder person. He was a great man. ” His portrayal is interesting since Dr. Pasfield’s wife Hathaway was honored as one of the Springfield residents invited to travel to the Washington DC with the Lincoln Presidential Inaugural Party that departed Springfield on February 11, 1861.

One must contemplate, who were the people Lincoln had on his mind as he made his famous impromptu speech to the crowd that had gather at the Great Western train Station. As he left the last time from Springfield to confront what he must have realized would be the most difficult and critical presidencies in the history of the United States, his remarks are touching. Lincoln’s Farwell Addressed printed in a 1861 Springfield Newspaper was brief;

"My friends, no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place and the kindness of this people I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when or whether ever I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington……. .I bid you an affectionate farewell. ”

Though the record is unclear as to who might have the elder George Pasfield and his son Dr. George Pasfield and his wife Hathaway must have been there along with other prominent families that helped Lincoln along the way. Many in the 1000 citizens gathered to see Lincoln depart that day might have been considering a latter visit to Washington, D C. but the rapid outbreak of the War Between the States may have changed any plans for the Pasfields and others considering a visit to United States Capital. Those who may have planned to go perhaps hoping to stay in the White House as familiar hometown guests. As President of the United States, Lincoln never return to Springfield or to his hometown friends to whom he had bid an affectionate farewell at his departure February 11, 1861. After that day Lincoln became a man of the Nation, but his roots remained here in Sangamon County.

No one knows exactly how Lincoln felt about many individuals he met in his hometown of Springfield. Perhaps as a publicly recognized symbol to the long lasting connection between Pasfield Family and Lincoln that existed, Dr. Pasfield’s son, George Jr. , accepted the honor of serving on the executive committee of the 1909 Abraham Lincoln Centennial Association, and served so for many years thereafter. That dinner is continued to be held annually on his birthday by the Abraham Lincoln Association. At that first dinner Dr. Pasfield, sat at the table of honor. Dr. Pasfield often was sought after for his autograph and his signature was among those most frequently appearing in the original souvenir dinner programs which had been collected by patrons at the 1909 dinner and for the first few years after it began.