William Donnegan was a prominent member of Springfield, Illinois. He is believed to have been a conductor on the Underground Railroad and was lynched during the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield.
Donnegan was born in Kentucky around 1829. He had made a pre-Civil War trade of importing slaves from the South and hiring them out as laborers in free-state Illinois. It was no secret that the whites resented his wealth and the fact that his third wife, Sarah Rudolph Donnegan, was white, the Register suggested. His property at the time of his death was estimated at 15,000 dollars, which was substantial for any black person at that time.
Donnegan also wrote a memoir of his role in helping an enslaved woman travel through Springfield to Canada in 1858. The memoir, first published in 1898, was reprinted in the summer 2006 edition of “For the People,” the newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association.
A mob attempted to enter the State Arsenal where displaced blacks were being housed. After being stopped by a militia guard, they changed direction and proceeded to march across the capitol grounds and headed for the home of William Donnegan who was elderly at the time. Donnegan was beaten almost to insensibility; his throat slashed with a razor and a clothes line roped around his neck. He was then hanged from the limb of a small tree across from his home in the school yard. He was still alive when the national guard cut him down. Donnegan died the next day at the St. John’s Hospital.