Anyone who researches the history of their family will almost always run into a family legend or folklore, handed down through the generations.Whether it is a virtually unknown family or a very …
Anyone who researches the history of their family will almost always run into a family legend or folklore, handed down through the generations.
Whether it is a virtually unknown family or a very prominent family in the community folklore has its way of being handed down generation-to-generation — and sometimes embellished. One such family here in Paris is no different. In fact, this legend may have made one -little giant- angry at Paris until his last days.
Milton King Alexander was born July 3, 1796, in Elbert County, Ga. He moved several times as a child until he landed in Lincoln, Tenn. When the war of 1812 broke out, Alexander joined the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers. He stayed in the military until after the First Seminole War when illness got the better of Alexander and he was discharged. He returned to Tennessee where he married the love of his life, Mary Shields. In 1823, Alexander packed up his family and moved to a new town — Paris Illinois.
Upon moving to Paris, Alexander quickly took to farming and mercantilism and making his name in the area. He was appointed as the city’s first postmaster. He held that position for the next 25 years. In 1826, he was appointed Clerk of the County Commissioner’s Court. In 1827, he accepted a commission as a colonel in the 19th regiment Illinois Militia. After the Black Hawk War, Alexander returned to Paris and his job as postmaster.
Alexander built a house on the corner of what is now Central and Washington that still stands today, currently occupied by the Bicentennial Art Center. Many years ago while it was still a house, many notable political figures were entertained at the Alexander home. This is where the Alexander family folklore comes into play.
The Alexander family was a prominent family and entertained guests including Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. The two politicians when in town visited Alexander and over time they built great friendships. Milton — with four beautiful daughters — it did not take long for Stephen Douglas to take a liking to one. The story has it that Jane Cynthelia Alexander caught the eye of Stephen Douglas and the prominent Illinois politician was quickly head over heels in love with her. Milton Alexander quickly gave his blessing for the courtship — he could see prospects that could possibly come from this alliance.
Although the Colonel was excited over this possible marriage there was one person who was not. Jane Alexander was not happy and rejected the notion of marrying Douglas. She had her eyes set on someone else. When Douglas left that day, Alexander reiterated to Douglas that his daughter’s decision was not a final one. In fact, Alexander told Douglas he had persuaded Jane to accept the proposal. He invited Douglas to return the next day for a big social event where the proud father would announce the engagement of Jane to Douglas.
Douglas arrived the next day at the appointed time and mingled among the assembled guests. Jane Alexander failed to appear at the gathering as planned. An investigation showed the girl —not wanting to marry Douglas — had slid down an improvised rope of bed linen she had thrown out her bay window and into the arms of her waiting lover — John Tenbrook, M.D.
Tenbrook – a leading physician for years in Paris — and Jane Alexander eloped that same night thus ending any attempt by Douglas to marry her.
Douglas was naturally appalled at what had taken place since when he had left the day before he believed an engagement was to be announced. For years the relationship between Alexander and Douglas were strained.
The runaway bride’s decision to bolt and marry Tenbrook not only put a strain on Douglas and her father’s relationship but also on the relationship between father and daughter.
As time went by, the relationships were eventually mended between Alexander and Douglas as well as Jane Alexander and her father. In the years to come, the Alexander homestead hosted the marriages of five other daughters. If there was a list at the time of Who’s Who in Paris these families would have surely been on that list.
Folklore and family legends can be fun to listen and research. More often then not they stay just stories passed down from generation to generation.
We will never know for sure if Jane Alexander slid down a rope made of linen to run off and marry John Tenbrook.
Lucy Lamon — who was Jane’s sister — did, however, recall this story in her letter to the Edgar County Historical Society. It can be read in the publication “Memoirs of Abraham Lincoln in Edgar County, Illinois.”
As for the truth of the story, Jane and John Tenbrook lived out their lives happily in this peaceful town.