Stephen A. Douglas Marries in Rockingham County

On April 7, 1847, U.S. senator, congressman and Illinois state Supreme Court judge Stephen A. Douglas married Martha Denny Martin in Rockingham County. Martin was the daughter of Robert Martin, a planter who owned a large amount of property and slaves in North Carolina and Mississippi.

Educated at a Philadelphia finishing school, Martin met Douglas on a family visit to Washington, D.C., when North Carolina congressman and future governor David Reid introduced her to Douglas, his close friend. The two married shortly thereafter.

When her father died, Martha inherited a 2,500 acre-plantation in Mississippi and slaves. Douglas was designated as the property manager and received income for his services. When Martha died shortly after childbirth in 1853, her inheritance passed to Douglas.

As a senator from the free state of Illinois, Douglas tried to distance himself from the plantation and its slaves, which were causing him political problems, by hiring a manager. His political fortunes didn’t improve, and thanks in large measure to a Republican wave that year, he lost the presidency to Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Douglas is still widely remembered for engaging Lincoln in highly publicized political debates during the 1858 race for an Illinois U.S. Senate seat.

After the elections, Douglas traveled the South to try to encourage unity behind Lincoln and avert the coming Civil War. He died in June 1861, shortly after the outbreak of the conflict.