The Joseph Duncan House, also known as the Governor Duncan Mansion, is a historic house located at 4 Duncan Place in Jacksonville, Illinois.

The Georgian style house was built in 1833 for Illinois politician Joseph Duncan. Duncan served as Illinois’ representative in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1827 to 1834; he was the state’s sole representative for all but his last year.

After leaving the House, Duncan served as Governor of Illinois from 1834 to 1838. As Illinois had no Governor’s Mansion at the time of his election, Duncan’s home served as the unofficial governor’s mansion during his time in office. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 5, 1971.

Duncan oversaw the beginning of the Illinois and Michigan Canal‘s construction in 1836, which he had promoted both in Congress and as governor.

The Governor Duncan Mansion is owned and operated by the Rev. James Caldwell Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), and is open for tours.

Joseph Duncan is noted for his heroic service in the War of 1812, his service in the Illinois legislature, his service as the only U.S. Senator from Illinois from 1827 until 1832 when two more senators were added. He served as senator until he served as the fifth elected governor of Illinois from 1834-1838. During his political career he was a strong advocate for free public education As a senator and as governor, he was mostly influential in getting federal and state legislation passed to build the Illinois-Michigan Canal connecting Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River.

Joseph Duncan was born in Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky, February 22, 1794. He was the son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Major Joseph Duncan, from Virginia. At the age of 16, Joseph enlisted in the American Army to fight against the British in the War of 1812. He was commissioned an ensign in the 17th Infantry and later promoted to lieutenant in 1814. Serving under Major George Croghan, he distinguished himself in the defense of Fort Stephenson, Ohio. By a resolution of Congress, President Andrew Jackson on February 22, 1835, presented to Joseph Duncan and other officers in the battle of Fort Stephenson a gold testimonial sword for distinguished service to the nation.

Mr. Duncan moved to Illinois in 1818 and settled in Jackson County and became a justice of the peace in 1821. In 1822 he was appointed major general of the state militia. He served as a member of the Illinois State Senate from 1824-1826.

While he served as a member of the Illinois Senate, he authored a law providing the first establishment of a common school. This became a law which was appealed later. This law for the public school was adopted by other states and is basically the public school system which our nation now uses.

Duncan was elected as a “Jacksonian” to the Twentieth Congress in 1827. He served three succeeding terms in Congress until elected governor in 1834. While a congressman he was an advocate for the sale of public lands with the proceeds to be used for internal improvements and education. In his diary on March 10, 1829, he states, “Went to see the President and Secretary of War about getting the Illinois and Lake Michigan canal located and route from the Illinois River to Lake Erie examined. He learned that the president had appointed Maj. Campbell from Tennessee to oversee the project. “I went immediately to the president and told him that the appointment of a man from Tennessee to hold an office in
Illinois would be treating his friends in that state very badly, and that it could not help exciting much displeasure.” Duncan was up to this time a supporter of Andrew Jackson’s politics but this step by the president started a rift between the two men. There were also differences over the National Bank, internal improvements and other appointments to office.

In 1832, he was appointed brigadier-general of the Illinois volunteers in the Black Hawk War by Governor John Reynolds and led his brigade in Rock Island, IL.

He was in Washington DC during the gubernatorial campaign and did not personally participate but addressed circulars that were sent to his constituents. During his term as governor, the state capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield. The cornerstone for the capitol was laid in 1837 and the new building was occupied in 1839, a year after his term ended. Gov. Duncan received a salary of $1,000/year as governor–$500 of which he gave the Temperance Society. It should also be noted that a little known person by the name of Abraham Lincoln began his public service as a representative in the state government in 1834, the year Joseph Duncan became Governor. He did not run for re-election in 1838 and Thomas Carlin, of Carrollton, was elected governor. Gov. Duncan did run again in 1842 and was defeated by Thomas Ford due to the growth of the Jacksonian Democracy.

Education always appealed strongly to Gov. Duncan both in its large aspects and in reference to his own family. For 14 years he was a trustee of Illinois College and gave $10,000 in land to the institution.

Gov. Duncan was the first President of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Institution for the Education of Deaf Mutes (Illinois School for the Deaf) and held the position until his death. When this institution was chartered, one of the conditions of its location in Jacksonville was that the citizens should donate the necessary ground. Gov. Duncan prepared a paper and headed it with a subscription of $50, and secured from others enough to make the sum of $1,000. With $686 of the fund so subscribed, about 6 acres, the present site of the institution, was purchased from Judge S. D. Lockwood and David A. Smith, and the remainder of the funds was expended in making improvements.

In the 1820s and 1830s there was a great deal of discussion on the idea of connecting the Illinois River with Lake Michigan by canal or railroad. In 1833, Congressman Duncan proposed a bill in the House to inquire into the expedience of affording some efficient aid to the State of Illinois arguing that the proposed canal was a “national utility.” As governor, he was chiefly responsible for the movement to build the canal rather than the railroad and traveled to New York, at his own expense, to sell $500,000 in canal bonds and saved the state $50,000.

Duncan and John Calhoun adopted the position in favor of the canal and together accomplished their goal for the construction of the canal. The Illinois-Michigan Canal (a National Historic Landmark) was started in 1835, under Governor Duncan, and was opened in 1848, four years after his death.