John Hossack: Abolitionist, Underground Railway Railroad Conductor and Station Master, Canal Builder, Merchant, Fugitive Slave Law Violator, Spark for the Civil War.



John Hossack of Ottawa, Illinois.  Abolitionist, Underground Railway Conductor, Canal Builder.  Grain and Lumber Merchant.  Crusader for Human Rights and Liberty.  Man of God.  He feared God and loved his Fellow Man.



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Update 7/26/10 with a translation of German News of Nathan Robinson Preston, John Hossack's great grandson.

bulletElika Preston, husband Matthew Visit Ottawa

May 2007 found two of John Hossack's great great great grandchildren, Matt and Elika Preston Zimmerman, in Ottawa to visit the family stomping grounds.  They visited the Ottawa cemetery and the Hossack House.  She provides a bunch of new photos.  The new owners of the Hossack House have spruced it up with a new picket fence, a patio on the north side and a lot of work on the wood trim.   The new photos are posted on the "The Columns Home" page.  A photo of the interior of the cemetery chapel is on the "Memorial Book" page.  I am told that the Ottawa cemetery now is on line with a website.


April, 2004 found Jay Preston on a whirlwind tour of England and Scotland.  One of his stops was Duffus near the Moray Firth where John Hossack was born and the Hossack family took up farming just before coming to the New World .

bulletFor photographs and more history, click this link!

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  • Ottawa, November 11, 2002.

    John Hossack's grandchildren were represented for events in Ottawa today.  Marj Weir and Jay Preston, great great grandchildren of John Hossack are present.  Joining them are three of John Hossack's great great great granddaughters, Lynn Weir, Elika Preston and Yuli Preston.  The Weirs drove up from their home in St. Louis, and the Prestons flew in from Los Angeles to be present for the celebration.

    November 11, 2002 is the commemoration of Veterans' Day in Ottawa.  So that the Mayor and City Council of Ottawa will be present, the Hossack street sign installation is also November 11, 2002, three days after the 111th anniversary of John Hossack's death.  Veterans' gather for a memorial ceremony in Washington Park at 10:30 AM.  Present are veterans from most of the conflicts of the 20th century, as are a Boy Scout color guard, a ceremonial firing squad of veterans, the choir from Ottawa High School, and a pair of answering bugles for the playing of "Taps."

    Many of the assemblage travel to the Hossack Home site for the street sign unveiling.  The installation takes place at about noon.

    November 11 is the date for the dedication of "John Hossack Drive" as the section of Prospect Avenue that fronts the John Hossack home will be renamed.  The street sign that was unveiled during some of the summer events in Ottawa is unveiled to mark the intersection of Christy and Prospect.

    Mayor Robert Eschback is present along with Councilman Eichelkraut.   Ottawa's Daily Times and WCMY Radio (FM 95.3) were present to cover the event.  Mayor gives a short history of the events that made John Hossack famous.  He introduces Jay Preston, a great great grandson, who gives a six minute speech liberally quoting from the sentencing speech that John Hossack gave in 1860.

    The mayor presents each of the Hossack family members present with a new book on the history of Ottawa, Canal Town, a Historical Society Driving Tour Book, and votive candles with glass candle holders from Ottawa's famed Pelletier glass works.

    Mayor Eschbach says that the dedication concludes Ottawa's "Year of Lincoln."

    Special thanks to Patty and Tom Godfrey who let the party into the Hossack home to bask in the aura where John and Martha Hossack walked, raised their family, and hosted runaway slaves.  And, no.  There is no secret tunnel to the river. 


    The weekend of September 14, 2002 was the highlight of the year with the dedication of a Lincoln-Douglas Debate commemorative statue.  For more information go to

    Check Hossack Genealogy Page for latest contact.

    bulletWhere the quest for the historical John Hossack began:
    bulletThe poem by Frederick Newton Hossack
    bulletTo the Descendants of John Hossack:

    Could you backward look, a hundred years or so,
    And all your ancestors see and personally know,
    Perhaps of some among them, you'd not be very proud,
    Yet I venture they would average up in almost any crowd.

    But in the Hossack family, counting all of the relation,
    Do you know, I say, of any with a bad reputation?
    It's true that Father Hossack was at one time in a jail
    For a principle of right, refusing to take bail.

    The Hossacks stand together, a staunch and trusty band,
    For we know what Father Hossack was: My, but he was grand!
    "The law must take its course," said Judge; "Be punished for your sin:"
    Little Father Hossack cared as he freed old darkey Jim.

    To the life of Father Hossack, we always point with pride;
    Could he do the same to us, did he on earth abide?
    And it's strictly up to us to see that we make good,
    Helping someone on their way and living as we should.

    We come of good old Scotch stock--no better anywhere;
    Ninety-five descendants living is something very rare.
    So hail! all ye of Hossack blood--almost ten times ten--
    Live as Father Hossack lived: "He loved his fellow men."

    In closing, we must mention the true and faithful wife,
    Who looked after Father Hossack to the closing of his life.
    We think she heard the words spoken softly by our Lord:
    "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into thy reward."

    --Frederick Newton Hossack  Syracuse, N. Y., July 15, 1919

    bulletJohn Hossack's Words

    The Speech by John Hossack that he delivered upon conviction of the Fugitive Slave Law was published and widely circulated by the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1860.  You can find the text on the Memorial Book Page.  A PDF file of the actual document is up on the web at:

    bulletThe Hossack Migration from Scotland:

    The migration of John Hossack's family probably resulted from the events known as the "Highland Clearances."  Starting in about the reign of George III and continuing to the Edwardian period, landowners and Clan Chiefs who controlled large tracts of land in northern Scotland (The Highlands), found that they could make better economic returns by evicting or removing subsistence farmer tenants from their lands and replacing them with herds of sheep.  Labor was limited to shepherds and was much less intensive than for the prior agriculture.  Sheep culture fed wool to the burgeoning and profitable woolen textile industry in Britain.

    Some of the former tenants were paid to leave the countryside or to go to the colonies.  Some were sent as indentured servants, some were sold as outright chattel slaves.  Some returned to the sea to participate in the blooming sea borne commerce of the time.  Some emigrated voluntarily, some put up a fight, and some were reduced to begging and starvation that this major economic and cultural upheaval caused.  The ancient feudal system of agriculture heaved its last gasp to be replaced by the 18th century equivalent of "corporate" farms.

    At this point, the record only shows that John Hossack and his family emigrated.   We do not know yet, the precise circumstances.  John, in his sentencing speech, referred to the tyranny of the old world and its crushing aristocracy, and this may be an indication of his family's eviction.

    bulletMissing Link Found!

    I responded to a posting on one of the genealogy message boards by Marj Weir.  She was looking for John and Martha Lens Hossack and The Calkins family.  On June 4, 2001, I received an e-mail from Marjorie Weir, the great granddaughter of James Alexander Hossack.  For more, go to the Hossack Genealogy page or the James page.  Marj and her daughter, Lynn were present for the Nov. 11, 2002 ceremony. 

    bulletAnother Web Visitor (8/16/05)

    Douglas Porter Yentzer wrote in.  He is a great great great grandson of John Hossack of Ottawa through his daughter, Margaret who married Joseph Porter.

    bulletAnother Web Visitor (3/31/03)!

    Kevin Cummings of the Illinois Natural History Survey was researching W.W. Calkins because this son-in-law of John Hossack was influential in conchology.  Check the Louise page for details.

    bulletAnother Visitor (6/13/03)

    Peter, a native of Elgin, Moray, Scotland, sends some historical information about Elgin Castle.  He also provides some links (see the links page).


    The I&M Canal Sesquicentennial Commemorative Wall Hanging:

    The Hossack grain elevator can be seen centered at the top with a canal boat.


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    This website is produced by Jay W. Preston to honor John Hossack, the Abolitionist of Ottawa, Illinois.  The father dedicates this to his son, Yujin Jay Preston (1979-1999), daughter Elika, and daughter Yuli, great great great grandchildren of John Hossack. Permission to reprint this material is granted when this notice is included in full.  © 2000 - 2010 Jay W. Preston.  For information, comments or contributions of time, money, information, materials, or manpower to this site: E-mail Copyrights of works cited, quoted, or excerpted remain with the respective owners, if not in public domain.