Visitors research links to Statehouse

It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time, we have visitors to the Vandalia Statehouse whose ancestor served in the House or Senate during the years that Vandalia was state capitol.
In many cases, the visitor knows a little about their relative, but as happens in history, the connection to the political history of Illinois is all that is known about their time in the service of the state.
Earlier this year, Dave Odum visited the capitol and asked about his ancestor, Dempsey Odom, who served in the House and Senate from Williamson County.   
It was known that the family came to Southern Illinois from Tennessee before the War of 1812, settling near Jordan’s Fort, near what became Marion.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1836, Dempsey served one term, and opposed the “Long Nine” and their efforts to move the capitol to Springfield.
He was a down-home country boy who had only one white shirt, and had to get on his horse and ride about the county borrowing white shirts from kin when he had to go sit at the capital.
In 1840, he was elected to the Senate, serving one term. He was again elected in 1848 and served until 1852. After his time in the Senate, Dempsey was appointed as sergeant of arms for the House of Representatives, and this is the position he held at the time of his death.
While returning to his home from Springfield, he wasn’t feeling well. This progressed, and it was discovered that he had pneumonia. He died on board the train carrying him home to Marion, but when they reached DeSoto, floodwaters kept them from going any further and that is where he was buried.  
Dempsey Odom was born in 1799 at Horseshoe Bend, Smith County, Tenn., and died on April 16, 1860, of pneumonia, aged 60 years, 6 months and 14 days.
He was survived by his wife, Sarah Jordan, whom he married in Williamson County on June 18, 1817, before statehood. They were the parents of 14 children.
Another visitor, a freelance writer, was sent to Vandalia on a mission from the Chicago Tribune. Jay Jones knew a good deal about his great-great-grandfather, Robert Long Wilson, whose moment in Illinois history took place in Vandalia.
He was a member of the “Long Nine,” the group of nine men – all from Sangamon County and standing over 6 feet tall – who formed a group to use their influence in moving the capital to Springfield.
Robert traveled to Vandalia in 1837 to attend his first session in the House and met Abraham Lincoln, establishing a friendship that continued long after Lincoln became president.
In fact, he was in Washington City when Ft. Sumter was fired on. Robert immediately enlisted as a private in a battalion known as the “Clay Guards,” commanded by Cassius M. Clay.
They bivouacked at the White House. Upon the arrival of the Seventh New York, the “Clay Guards” were disbanded.
Robert immediately returned to Sterling and assisted in raising Company A, 34th Illinois Regiment, of which he was elected captain, but declined.
Returning to Washington, he met with President Lincoln, offering his services. He was told by Lincoln that he had made a list of his old friends whom he desired to appoint to office.
When Robert was asked what job he would like, he replied quartermaster to which the president said, “I will appoint you paymaster.” He served in the position until he mustered out of service on Nov. 5, 1865.
It is interesting that Vandalia is a connection shared by both men. As interesting is the relationship they each had with Abraham Lincoln.
For Dempsey Odom, as with many others, he was against moving the capital and the men who were pushing it through. For Robert Long, he was in favor of the measure and benefited by the friendship with Lincoln that came with it.

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