By Jared Olar
Last week we reviewed the earliest history of Pekin’s library as recorded in 1902 by Miss Mary Elizabeth Gaither. As her written account says, when the leading women of Pekin society gathered on Nov. 24, 1866, to organize a library association, they elected Mrs. Charlotte Donigan as the association’s first president.
She held that post only until the association’s meeting in Jan. 1867, when the association elected and appointed a full slate of officers, and hired a librarian. At that time, Mrs. Sarah Cummings, wife of Columbus R. Cummings, was elected president; Miss Cora Cummings was elected secretary; Mrs. S. E. Barber was elected treasurer; and William S. Prince was hired as Pekin’s first librarian.
Although Gaither recorded the married surname of the library association’s first name as “Donigan,” a closer look at the contemporary records of her life shows that her surname was more properly spelled “Dunnigan.” Her family knew her by the nickname “Lottie.”
Born in 1836 in Whiteside County, Illinois, Charlotte came to Pekin with her parents Jonathan and Sarah (Hinsey) Haines in 1849. As readers of this column will recall, Lottie’s father Jonathan was the inventor of the Illinois Harvester, which he and his brother Ansel manufactured and sold from their factory at the corner of Ninth and Broadway. Lottie’s uncle William had been one of the co-founders of Pekin in 1830, and she lived with her parents at the Haines place between Haines and Sixth streets.
The U.S. Census on Dec. 11, 1850, shows Charlotte, 16, living in Pekin with her parents and siblings. Then, in the U.S. Census returns of June 12, 1860, she again is shown living with her parents and siblings in Pekin. At that time she was 24 and unmarried. However, the 1850 and 1860 censuses also show an Ohio-born man named Alpheus Dunnigan, born circa 1819, living in the Haines household. In 1850, Alpheus is described as a laborer, and in 1860 he is listed as a carpenter. He probably worked for Jonathan and Ansel Haines in their factory.
Notably, in the 1860 census Alpheus is listed with a 7-month-old baby girl named Sallie Dunnigan, born in California. From the fact that no wife is listed with Alpheus and Sallie, we may suppose that he had been married, but Sallie’s mother perhaps died in childbirth. Within a year or two, Charlotte married Alpheus.
Charlotte and Alpheus did not get a chance to enjoy a long marriage together, for Alpheus was mustered into the 108th Illinois Infantry, Company K, in Aug. 1862, to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. During his tour of duty, Alpheus fell sick at Young’s Point, Louisiana, and died Feb. 8, 1863, leaving Charlotte a widow. She never remarried. Charlotte had been a widow for almost four years when she was chosen to serve as the Ladies’ Library Association’s first president.
In the U.S. Census returns of July 7, 1870, Charlotte is shown living in Pekin in the home of her brother Murray and his wife Mary. Sallie is not listed with her, evidently having died between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, perhaps even before her father married Charlotte. Our last record of Charlotte is the U.S. Census of June 19, 1880, when she and her younger sister Annie Hughes were recorded with their widowed mother Sarah Haines, the three living together in a house in San Jose, Illinois. Charlotte died around 1886, according to an Ancestry.com family tree.
In comparison to Mrs. Charlotte Dunnigan, not very much is known about Pekin’s first librarian William S. Prince. He appears in the U.S. Census returns dated Oct. 15, 1850, as “William Prince,” 11, born in Pennsylvania, being enumerated along with “Maria Prince,” 7, born in Pennsylvania (evidently William’s younger sister), both of them living in the household of Catesby and Fanny Gill in Tazewell County. From this, we know William Prince was born circa 1839 in Pennsylvania.
William next appears on record in June 1863 when he registered for Union Army’s Civil War draft. The draft register has two entries, both of which seem to be William: “Prince William S.,” 23, white, Clerk, single, born in Illinois, living in Washington, Ill., and a second time as “Prince William S.,” 23, white, Clerk, single, born in Illinois, living in Atlanta, Ill.
Although these entries say he was born in Illinois rather than Pennsylvania, they certainly are entries of our William S. Prince, who apparently was not sure where he was born. Note that in the 1850 census he was not living with his parents, who presumably had died, leaving him and Maria as orphans who were then raised by the Gills. It is unknown whether the Gills were related to the Princes.
The Gill family had settled in the areas of Dillon and Atlanta, Illinois (Atlanta is also where Prince lived in 1863). Catesby (1787-1853) and his wife Frances “Fanny” (Vaughn) Gill were the parents of Thomas Nelson Gill (1820-1872), whose wife was Theresa. That is the Mrs. Thomas N. Gill who was one of the 22 original members of the Ladies’ Library Association, and who hosted the meeting where the Ladies’ Library Association of Pekin was first organized. Prince’s ties to the Gill family explains how William S. Prince came to be hired as the first librarian in Nov. 1866.
Prince held the post of librarian for the Pekin Library Association until 1868, when he was succeeded by Miss Alice Finley. Two years after that, at the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, we find “Prince Wm,” 30, male, white, County Clerk’s Office, born in Illinois, living in the boarding house of Thomas and Theresa Gill of Pekin. At the same time, the 1870-71 Sellers & Bates Pekin City Directory shows “Prince W. S., recorder’ office, bds ss Washington southern terminus Buena Vista Avenue.” So, after his stint as Pekin’s first librarian, Prince moved on to the staffs of the Tazewell County Clerk and Recorder.
Prince does not appear in the 1876 Bates city directory of Pekin, for he had moved elsewhere by then. It is probably our William S. Prince who was enumerated in the 1900 U.S. Census as a resident of Springfield, Missouri. The record lists him as “William S. Prince,” 60, born Oct. 1839 in Illinois (sic), single, an abstracter residing in a boarding house at 424 South St., Springfield, Mo. This census record says his father had been born in France and his mother in Kentucky.
Prince ended his days in Illinois, residing in the state capitol Springfield, where he died Saturday, Jan. 22, 1916. His obituary, printed in the Jan. 28, 1916 Farmer City Journal, says:
“William S. Prince, who made his home with his nephew, Fred Winsor, in this vicinity for several years, died on Saturday morning in a Springfield hospital, after a year’s illness. He was 77 years old and is survived by two sisters, Mrs. A. B. Winsor and Mrs. Herbert L. Denison of Bloomington. The funeral took place at Atlanta, a former home.”
Next week we will continue with the story of the Pekin Library Association in the latter 19th century.