- Honorary Degree (1850)
- Master of Arts
- Bloomington, Indiana
- Presenter: Andrew Wylie
Abner T. Ellis was born in 1803. He was a lawyer and judge in Vincennes, Indiana. In 1836, he helped incorporate the Vincennes Academy, including specifically a female department. The academy remained in name only, as the Knox County Seminary took its place. Ellis became one of the trustees of Knox County Seminary (now Vincennes University). From 1839 to 1861, he was on the Board of Directors of the Vincennes Library.
In 1843, the commissioners of Knox County seized the assets of the Knox County Seminary. One of its trustees, Ellis, plus another lawyer (Samuel Judah) prosecuted for the university, going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1844, Abraham Lincoln campaigned for Henry Clay while staying in Ellis’s home in Vincennes.
In addition, Ellis was a probate judge, a borough president, and a state senator. He promoted the charter of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad and until his death, was its first president.
In 1850, IU awarded Ellis with an honorary Master of Arts degree.
In 1852, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Knox County Seminary, based on Ellis’s prosecution, reimbursing them $60,000 worth of bonds for their unlawfully seized assets.
Ellis died in October 1864 in Vincennes, and at that time, was considered one of Vincennes’ most prominent citizens. His house at Busseron and Second Streets was built in 1838 by John Moore and is preserved today as the Ellis Mansion (a Registered Historic Landmark).
Ellis married Cora Greenhow of Richmond, Virginia. In November 1822, his nephew, Royal L. Ellis, was born in Charlton, Massachusetts. In 1841, Ellis and Cora had a son, Royal Turner Ellis, who was named after his favorite nephew. In 1842, his beloved nephew died at age 19 in Vincennes. Ellis and Cora went on to have three more sons: James E. (born 1843 and died 7 months later), James H. (born 1845 and died at just over 1 year old), and Charles J. R. (born 1846 and died at 8 months old). In 1849, their remaining son, Royal, drowned in Grand Rapids, two days before his eighth birthday.
Ellis’s gravestone lists the birth and death dates of himself, his wife, all four of their sons, and his nephew Royal. In 1856, Ellis’s wife Cora died in Vincennes at age 47. In 1871, “his only heir, Lucy G. Franklin” took care of his estate. Lucy, Ellis's only daughter, was born in 1839 and lived long enough to share her reminiscences, at age eighty-four, of having played the piano for Abraham Lincoln as a girl in her father's house, at a 1923 Vincennes municipal homecoming.
Historian George Greene wrote that Ellis’s daughter, “Miss Lucy,” was considered “the acknowledged belle of Vincennes in the early Sixties.”