Matteson, Joel A.

Born: 1808-08-08 Jefferson County, New York

Died: 1873-01-31 Chicago, Illinois

Joel A. Matteson married Mary Fish on October 7, 1832. In 1834, he moved to Illinois and was a contractor on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. He settled first in Kendall County, and in 1836 relocated to Joliet. While a resident of Joliet, he built and operated a textile factory and held several public offices. In 1842, Matteson was elected to the Illinois Senate, serving until 1852. He was elected governor in 1852 and took office in January 1853. While he was governor, Illinois enacted a common school law, and constructed a prison in Joliet. Matteson also convinced the Illinois General Assembly to fund the construction of the Executive Mansion, which he and his family occupied in late 1855. Just after Matteson’s inauguration, he came across a trunk that contained both redeemed and unissued scrip which had been used to pay contractors when the Illinois and Michigan Canal temporarily ran out of money. In 1856, just before he left office, Matteson began redeeming the canal scrip. This went unnoticed until 1859 when Jacob Fry, a former canal official, heard about the circulation and warned of possible fraud. Matteson was implicated and evidence (some of which was circumstantial) proved that he had received over $220,000 in state bonds. Despite the evidence and what the public regarded as a confession of guilt from the former governor, Matteson never went to jail for the fraud.

Governors of Illinois: 1818-1918 (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1917), 21; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988 (Springfield: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University and Illinois State Historical Society, 1988), 99-107; The History of Will County, Illinois (Chicago: Wm. Le Baron, Jr., 1878), 318-19; John Clayton, comp., The Illinois Fact Book and Historical Almanac, 1673-1968 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1970), 106, 165, 210, 212, 214, 216, 217. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.