Andrew J. Lester of Springfield Illinois

Andrew J. Lester is a distant cousin who was born shortly before the Civil War and died at the beginning of World War I. His family moved from Washington County Virginia in the 1840’s to settle in Sangamon County Illinois. I recently ran across numerous newspaper articles about Andrew and wrote a lengthy research paper about him. Here are a few excerpts.

Highlights in Andrew J. Lester’s Life

  • 1859 Born in Williamsville, Sangamon, Illinois
  • 1880/1881 Graduation and Teaching
  • 1885 Admitted to the Sangamon County Bar
  • 1886 Joined first Law Firm
  • 1884-1902 Republican Political Activities
  • 1888 Elected to Illinois House of Representatives, 36th General Assembly for 39th District
  • 1889/1890 U.S. Government Job, Special Immigrant Agent for the Treasury Department
  • 1890 Marriage in September
  • 1892 Birth of Daughter in November
  • 1901 Death of Father in May
  • 1905/1906 Jobs with brother in law in St. Louis 1905, NY in 1906
  • 1910 Back to business on his own, Attorney and Manufacturer of Storage Batteries
  • 1917 Marriage of Daughter
  • 1917 Death in Salt Lake City, Utah

Andrew Jackson Lester, also commonly known as A. J. Lester was the middle child of twelve, six boys and six girls. He was born on September 27, 1859 in Williamsville, Sangamon County, Illinois. Due to his political and society activities in Springfield Illinois there are quite a few mentions of him in newspapers and as a result quite a bit of information. 

In a book published in 1891 containing portraits and biographical information of renowned men in Sangamon County Illinois, there is an entry for Andrew as the Honorable Andrew J. Lester. At that time he was a representative in the state government and held a federal office. The biographical sketch gives us the birth date, September 27, 1860. He was 10 months old on the 1860 census so his birth year was actually 1859. It goes on to tell us that he attended the common schools during his youth and eventually attended Central Normal College in Danville Indiana, studying under Professor Adams and graduating in 1881. I have found the “Fourth Annual Catalogue of the Central Normal College and Commercial Institute, 1880-1881” and his name does not appear in any of the lists of graduates going back to 1878.

His occupation was school teacher on the June 1880 census where he was living with his parents and siblings in Williams Township, Sangamon County, Illinois and I do believe because he was teaching he would have at least gotten his teaching certificate. According to the book he continued teaching in county schools and also became the principle of Williamsville Schools. It appears he had a different calling because while he was doing this he was also studying law and clerking in the offices of Palmer, Robinson and Schutt while on his vacations. He was admitted to the bar in “1885” and by 1886 had become associated with Hon. James C. Conkling. In 1886 he was also nominated to be a Representative in the Illinois State Legislature but lost. He did subsequently win in 1888 and was still a member when the book was published. At around the same time he became a Special Agent in the U.S. Treasury Department while continuing to practice law with John C. Mathis in the firm named Lester & Mathis. The dates in the sketch must be questioned as by September 1884 he was known as Honorable A. J. Lester of Springfield in the first of many newspaper articles I have found about him. In this article he is noted to be an orator at a Republican Rally in Illiopolis Illinois.

He was well known in Springfield politics and state Republican politics. While a Representative he chaired the Committee on Judicial Department and Practice. During a special session of the legislature that was called to discuss matters related to the World’s Fair as he presided over a joint committee tasked with handling bills related to the Great Columbian Exposition. During the first organizing of the Republican League of the United States in New York in 1887 he was one of the three representatives from Illinois. Along with the man who would eventually become his brother in law, W. W. Tracy, they organized the state league in Illinois and were instrumental in organizing four hundred more across the state. His activities within this organization is the subject of the majority of the newspaper articles I found about him.

In addition to his political activities he was also an Elk and a member of the Knights of the Pythias and the Sangamo Club. His church was noted to be the First Congregational Church in Springfield, which is the church his in-laws were charter members of. As this biographical sketch was published in 1891 it ends with the details of his marriage to the society belle Louise “Lucy” Tracy whose father F. W. Tracy was a prominent banker and member of Springfield Society. Andrew’s brother James Newton Lester officiated the marriage rites.

In the next post I will include a sampling of the various news stories I found about him. It appears that Andrew was talented and ambitious and became quite involved with his in-laws and their business ventures. Not long before his death he seems to have retired from politics and gone back to working on his own as a lawyer and businessman. This was also after the legal and financial troubles of his brother in law. I imagine that politics during turn of the century Chicago and New York were quite difficult to navigate for very long.



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