Birth and Youth of Robert Green Ingersoll

Robert Green Ingersoll was born on August 11, 1833 in the room directly overhead. He was the youngest of John and Mary Ingersoll's five children.

John Ingersoll was a stern minister. His sermons often demanded the abolition of slavery, a contentious position in the 1830s. Congregations frequently found his preaching excessive. Dresden's Presbyterians handed John Ingersoll his walking papers when Robert was four months old.

Mary Ingersoll died in Cazenovia, New York, at age thirty-one, when Robert was one and one-half years of age.

Rev. Ingersoll and the five children continued to wander. During Robert’s childhood, the family lived in various communities in New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Robert received little formal schooling. He last saw the inside of a conventional schoolroom as a youth of fifteen while his family was residing in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Later, he would say that his real education began while he was waiting at a cobbler's shop, when he chanced to pick up a book of the poetry of Robert Burns. Burns and Shakespeare would be the principal influences on his often-florid style.

[NEARBY PULL QUOTE] "I was familiar with the writings of the devout and insincere, the pious and petrified, the pure and heartless. Here was a natural honest man [Burns] ... who plucked joy from the mire, made goddesses of peasant girls, and enthroned the honest man" Ingersoll, "Why I Am an Agnostic"

At last the family came to settle in Illinois. In this state Robert Green Ingersoll, now a young man, determined to seek his fortune. He had his father’s gift for oratory, but had seen enough of the frontier preacher's life. In any case, he had already renounced much of Christianity. Apprenticing himself to two lawyers, one after another, he qualified himself for the practice of law.