Born: 1786-12-15 Albemarle County, Virginia
Died: 1868-07-07 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Flourished: 1821-1832 Illinois
Coles was born into an aristocratic slaveholding Virginia family. As a young man, he served three years as private secretary to President James Madison, during which he traveled to Russia on a diplomatic mission. An outspoken antislavery advocate, Coles sold the plantation and freed the slaves he inherited from his father. By 1821, he had moved to a farm near Edwardsville, Illinois, where he also worked as receiver of the federal land office. In 1822, he was elected the second Governor of Illinois (1822-26). Coles was a candidate for U.S. Congress in 1831, but was not elected. In 1832, Coles left Illinois and settled in Philadelphia. While there, he served as President of the Board of Canal Commissioners and negotiated loans with eastern financiers for the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818 to 1988 (Springfield, IL: Illinois Issues, 1988), 21-30; Gravestone, Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA; John H. Krenkel, Illinois Internal Improvements, 1818-1848 (Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press, 1958), 38-39.