Monday, February 12, 2018

America’s First Black Town, Brooklyn, Illinois the 1820s "Freedom Village" (AKA as Lovejoy, Illinois).

In the early 1820s, "Mother" Priscilla Baltimore and husband John led a group of eleven families, composed of both fugitive and free blacks, to flee slavery in St. Louis, Missouri. They crossed the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois, where they established a freedom village in the American Bottom, named Brooklyn. "Mother" Baltimore was said to have purchased her freedom as an adult from her master, a Methodist minister, and saw to it that religious faith would be one of the guiding pillars of her new community. She also hoped the community would be a refuge for others fleeing slavery. She also bought the freedom of members of her family. Born in Kentucky, she tracked her white father to Missouri and bought her mother's freedom from him.
1940 Aerial Photo of Brooklyn, Illinois.
Shortly after forming their new settlement, the townspeople were visited by Bishop William Paul Quinn, a missionary minister for the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. Bishop Quinn, after meeting with the families in the Baltimore’s home, helped found the Brooklyn A.M.E. Church in 1825. In addition to its public role as the community's church, Brooklyn A.M.E, later renamed in 1839 to Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, became part of a network of A.M.E. Churches that formed the Underground Railroad in Illinois. Tunnels still exist under the building that at one point secreted fugitive slaves.
Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, Brooklyn, Illinois.
The location of Brooklyn on the Mississippi River across from St. Louis, Missouri, helped its residents to become financially independent, providing opportunities for brick masons, carpenters, coopers, and boatmen.  Nonetheless the economic activities of blacks in Illinois were restricted by the Illinois Black Codes, enacted when the state joined the Union in 1818.  These laws restricted the occupations blacks could pursue, virtually eliminated their civil rights, and controlled the entry of new blacks into the state. Aiding runaway slaves was a felony under the law, and authorities could expel any black who could not maintain an income.  

In 1837, five white abolitionists platted the land and created an unincorporated nearly all-black town. Thomas Osburn was one of them, and he is documented as having lived in the area for decades. Priscilla Baltimore built a house on his former land, which she occupied from 1851-1872. In the 1840s and 1850s, the black population of the village was about 200. The white settlers dominated the town politically since blacks in Illinois were not allowed to vote, but it wasn’t until 1886 that black voters, as the majority of the local electorate, regained political control of the town. 

Regional capital investment largely bypassed Brooklyn, taking place in the competing East St. Louis, Illinois, which gained the all-important railroad connection. Other white-majority towns also benefited by being part of the network of investment. "Almost none of the all-Black towns obtained a railroad." The small village soon became all black.

In 1891, then-Mayor Evans dedicated the town's new post office with the name Lovejoy (after the abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy, who had been assassinated in Alton, Illinois in 1837). The later high school was also named after him. Black autonomy did not automatically yield unity in the village. Tensions ran high with class and color conflicts by the early decades of the twentieth century, and evidence of political corruption. In addition, with the growth in number of young, single male workers, attracted to industrial jobs, the demographics changed and family life in the village declined.

Archeological and Historic Research
A state archeological survey was required before construction of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge between St. Louis and Illinois, which would require realignment of part of Rte. 3 near the village. In 2002, work revealed extensive prehistoric artifacts, so many that the researchers named the site "Janey B. Goode" after the popular Chuck Berry song, "Johnny B. Goode". This site lies within Brooklyn's incorporated limits but just east of the historical residential part of town. It lies along the southern margin of the Horseshoe Lake meander just north of the East St. Louis Mound Group of earthworks. By the end of the 2007 field season, the team had excavated 7,000 prehistoric features, making this one of the largest sites ever excavated in the USA. Most of these features are associated with the Late Woodland Patrick phase and early Terminal Late Woodland Lloyd phase, approximately from 600 AD to 1200 AD. They suggest a more complex and dense indigenous community than researchers had known lived in the area.

In association with its work, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) (formerly ITARP), a joint project of the state and the University of Illinois, conducted outreach with the village of Brooklyn, volunteering to survey some of the areas associated with its early 19th-century history. A team of archaeologists led by Dr. Joseph Galloy found evidence of early Afro-American occupation from 1830 to 1850, as well as material in other areas from 1850 to 1870. This discovery suggests that the remains of Mother Baltimore's Freedom Village survive beneath the surface in Upper Brooklyn. It also means that artifacts and other evidence of the town's founding may be revealed if additional excavations are conducted there in the future. This would enhance the town's historical significance and research potential.

Since the turn of the 21st century, residents have rallied around new work related to documentation of the village's rich historical past. They have worked to collect oral histories and personal accounts of the village. In 2007, residents founded the Historical Society Of Brooklyn, Illinois. The historical society, together with the ISAS' Drs. Joseph Galloy, Thomas Emerson and Miranda Yancey; Dr. Chris Fennell of the University of Illinois, and the Illinois State Museum, is working to preserve the history of Brooklyn.

ISAS also helped the historical society to review documents to locate "Mother" Priscilla Baltimore's unmarked grave at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. In September 2010, the Brooklyn Historical Society installed a gravestone in her honor at the cemetery. In addition, ISAS will assist the village in surveying the Brooklyn cemetery to detect gravesites and try to document the history.

Surveys in 2008 revealed that "the archaeological record of Brooklyn lies intact beneath the extensive open spaces of current-day residential parcels." In the summer of 2009, an archaeological field study began to excavate Mother Priscilla Baltimore's freedom village. The results of this collaborative project are expected to yield material that will aid the town in gaining designation for an historic district to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historical Society of Brooklyn and its collaborators are seeking national designation for three particularly significant sites: the late prehistoric Janey B. Goode archaeological site, identified as 11S1232; Brooklyn's historic cemetery, identified as 11S1233; and Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church. Built in 1836, Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was the first of that newly formed, independent black denomination to be built west of the Appalachian Mountains, as well as the first in Illinois. The AME Church was founded as a denomination by free blacks in Philadelphia and its region in 1816. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Illinois Black Codes

"Your petitioner, though humble in position, and having no political status in your State, notwithstanding I have resided in it for twenty-five years, and today am paying taxes on thirty thousand dollars, most humbly beseech you to recommend in your Message to the Legislature... the repeal of the Black Laws of this your State." Thus began John Jones's letter to Illinois Governor Richard Yates, November 4,1864. By the time Jones wrote this letter he was the best-known and wealthiest African-American in the state. Though wealthier by far than most Illinoisans, still Jones could not vote.

Born in North Carolina in 1816 or 1817, Jones had arrived about 1841 in Madison County, Illinois, where he took up residence illegally. It was not until three years later, as he prepared to move to Chicago with his wife and infant daughter, that he filed the necessary bond and received his certificate of freedom, a document required by every black person in the state. Because he had been born out of state, under the law of 1829 he was required to file a bond of $1,000 to insure that he would not become "a charge to the county," or violate any laws. Although Illinois entered the Union nominally as a free state in 1818, slavery had existed there for nearly one hundred years. It would continue to exist, albeit under increasing restrictions, until 1845.

But the elimination of legal slavery did not mean the removal of the Black Codes. Indeed, it was not until the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the adoption of the Illinois Constitution of 1870 that the last legal barriers (but not the societal) ended. Like their midwestern neighbors, most early Illinois settlers believed in white supremacy and African-American inferiority. Consequently, Illinois' constitutions and laws reflected those views.

According to John Mason Peck, an early Illinois Baptist missionary and historian, the French introduced slavery into the French-controlled Illinois country, perhaps as early as 1717 or as late as 1721. The British, who took control of the Illinois Country in 1765, permitted slavery to continue, and so did the Americans after George Rogers Clark's conquest in 1778. Although the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery or involuntary servitude, territorial and later state laws and interpretations permitted the retention of French slaves. When Congress admitted Illinois as a state in 1818, the state's constitution permitted limited slavery at the salt mines in Massac County, and it legalized the continued bondage of slaves introduced by the French. At the same time, the new constitution included a provision that would eventually free even those slaves by declaring that the children of slaves were to be freed when they reached adulthood: for women that age was eighteen, for men it was twenty-one. Thus, it appeared that the last slave would not be freed until 1839, or twenty-one years after the adoption of the state constitution and Illinois' admission into the union.

Legislators in the first General Assembly passed measures designed to discourage African-Americans from coming to Illinois. Blacks were denied suffrage, and other laws deprived them of most rights accorded free white men. African-Americans were prohibited from immigrating without a certificate of freedom. Moreover, they had to register that certificate, along with the certificates of any children, immediately upon entering the state. Among other things, the state legislature intended to discourage Illinois from becoming a haven for runaway slaves. Any runaway found in the state could be sentenced by a justice of the peace to thirty-five lashes. African-Americans assembling in groups of three or more could be jailed and flogged. Additionally, they could not testify in court nor serve in the militia. Finally, state law forbade slaveholders, under penalty of a severe fine, from bringing slaves into Illinois in order to free them.
An Illinois Certificate of Freedom.
To counteract those repressive measures, just before the General Assembly convened following the election of 1822, "Free Persons of Color" submitted a petition requesting the right of suffrage. In the memorial they noted, "We pay taxes, work on public high-ways, like others..." The petition was denied, and some legislators increased their efforts to bring additional slaves into the state. When the General Assembly convened in 1822, pro-slavery advocates succeeded in passing a resolution requiring the state's citizens to vote on whether to call a constitutional convention. That decision provoked a long and bitter struggle.

The state's leading political, religious, and social leaders engaged in a strenuous war of words in newspapers and pamphlets, in the pulpit, and on the stump. Many of the state's leading founding politicians, including its first governor, Shadrach Bond, and first lieutenant governor, Pierre Menard, held slaves and supported the introduction of a pro-slave constitution. Newly elected Governor Edwards Coles, secretary of state (British-born) Morris Birkbeck, and pioneer Baptist missionary and historian John Mason Peck led the anti-slavery forces.

Illinois voters rejected (6,822 against, 4,950 for) the call for a constitutional convention. But further repressive measures were taken against the state's African-American residents. The state's newspapers were filled with advertisements from neighboring states offering rewards for the capture and return of runaway slaves. John Crain, sheriff of Washington County, advertised that he had taken two runaway slaves into custody. Unless their owners called for them, paid the charges and removed them from the state, they "will be hired out as the law directs." Slave hunters such as William Rose of Nashville, Tennessee, advertised their services as agents to find runaways in Illinois.

Not only did Illinois newspapers carry advertisements for runaways, the state attempted to further discourage black immigration by raising new barriers. The 1829 law required any free black to register in the county seat and post a $1,000 bond to cover costs should they become indigent or violate state or local laws. Since few black men or women had such sums available, they usually had to find a friendly white man to act as surety for them. At the same time, blacks also had to register their certificates of freedom from the state from which they immigrated.
Broadside about a Fugitive Slave.
Despite the restrictions and repression, the Illinois black population continued to grow slowly. While the number of slaves continued to decline, the indenture system remained harsh and restrictive. As late as 1843, United States Senator-elect Sidney Breese, needing money to set up housekeeping in Washington, D.C., wrote to former Lieutenant-Governor Pierre Menard, offering to "place in your hands some valuable negroes with power to sell them..." By 1845, however, the last legal remnants of slavery ended when the state supreme court in Jarrot v. Jarrot, declared that even the slaves introduced by the French were entitled to freedom under the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Illinois Constitution.

The court's decision, however, did little to change the attitudes of white Illinoisans. B.T. Burke, sheriff of Macoupin County, advertised that he had incarcerated a slave recently runaway from John Henderson in Missouri. In December 1845, an Illinois resident declared in a sarcastic letter to the New York Tribune:
In Illinois, in addition to considering slavery as an evil, its concentrated wisdom, in the shape of the Legislature, considers it criminal to be a slave. If a man happens to have a dark complexion, it is prima facie evidence that he is guilty of the crime. If, through ignorance, want of friends, or other causes, he fails of producing such proof [of his freedom], he of course, is thrown into jail as a slave, to await the coming of his master, in the mean time, minutely described in a public advertisement.
Still, pressure continued to mount to do more to maintain Illinois as a "white man's state." One way to do that, believed some, was to promote the colonization of blacks in the Caribbean or in Liberia. The state had an active colonization society that included such luminaries as Stephen A. Douglas, John Mason Peck, and others. The reasoning of many is illustrated in a communication by a Belleville colonizationist who wrote:
By referring to the census of this State, from 1845, it will be seen that there has been a large increase of the free black population of St. Clair county, in the past few years... One cause, and one that is likely to increase the evil to a much greater extent still, is found in the fact, that the slave states are adopting measures to expel from their midst, their entire free colored population. Some of the largest of the free states have passed laws, prohibiting the settlement of these expelled blacks upon their territory. So they become a vagrant, floating population, to which St. Louis is a common rendezvous. But, they cannot stay there, so they are thrown into Illinois; and especially into St. Clair county. So much for the causes of the increase of our colored population.
Many Illinoisans, both for and against slavery, supported colonization. Most black and white abolitionists, however, rejected the repatriation of the nation's African descendants. They also denounced gradual emancipation and second-class status for these residents. Abolitionists generally supported both immediate emancipation and granting full citizenship with equal rights for all the nation's black residents. Although William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown were the nation's best-known abolitionists, Illinoisans John Jones, Joseph H. Barquet, and Elijah Lovejoy shared those views.
The Burning of Elijah Lovejoy's Newspaper in Alton, Illinois on November 7, 1837.
Illinois' proposed new constitution in 1847 included a requirement that the General Assembly pass laws to prohibit the emigration of free blacks into the state and to bar slaveholders from bringing slaves into the state for the purpose of freeing them. As the constitution was being debated by the state's citizens, John Jones of Chicago took the lead on behalf of Illinois' blacks to defeat the offending section. His attack on slavery called forth the image of the nation's founders by appealing to the same natural rights claimed by Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and others in 1776. He urged the state's enlightened inhabitants to reject the barbaric slave relics from the eighteenth century:
Now, sirs, we maintain that our claims to the rights of citizenship are founded on an original agreement of the contracting parties, and there is nothing to show that color is a bar in the agreement. It is well known, that when this country belonged to Great Britain, the colored people were slaves, according to the interpretation of the then existing laws. But the darkness of the 18th century has gone by, and we live in the 19th, and in a Republic, too, wherin [sic] men understand the principles of government, and a man is regarded as a man whether his face be black or white.
There were others who shared Jones's views among both races. The Pike County Free Press and the Watchman of the Prairies both carried strong articles against the adoption of the offending article in the constitution.

The exclusion provision, which was submitted separately to the voters of Illinois, won overwhelming support. Following the adoption of the constitution, including the exclusion section, Jones again took up his pen and highlighted the constitution's inconsistencies. He noted that while the constitution declared "That All Men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and Liberty, and of acquiring, possession and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness," its framers had gone on to restrict suffrage to white males. He noted that among those "called white, and whose legitimate ancestors, as far back as we can trace them, have never been held in slavery, there are many shades of difference in their complexions. Then how will you discriminate (be nice about it): And at what point will you limit the distinction?"

Later that year, the "Colored People of Chicago" met to draft resolutions opposing the new constitution and the "unjust and partial laws existing in the State of Illinois, which excludes the Free Man of Color from all access to Law by Oath, and thereby renders him dumb, so that he cannot be a party in law against a white man...." The meeting then adopted a series of resolutions expressing those views and agreed to petition the "Legislature to repeal the aforesaid unjust and partial laws."

Despite the injunction to do so, the Illinois General Assembly failed to adopt the new measures in 1849 and 1851. But in 1853, under the leadership of southern Illinois Democrat John A. Logan, the General Assembly adopted the draconian "Black Law" of 1853. For the most part, the law simply brought together in one place several existing laws. Under this law, no black from another state could remain within the Illinois borders for more than ten days. Beyond ten days and he or she was subject to arrest, confinement in jail, and a $50 fine and removal from the state. If unable to pay the fine, the law directed the sheriff to auction the offending African-American to the bidder willing to pay the costs and the tine and to work the "guilty" party the fewest number of days. If the convicted man or woman did not leave within ten days after completing the required service, the process resumed, but the fine was increased $50 for each additional infraction. Although most newspapers opposed the measure, there is but little doubt that it reflected the views of much of the state's population.

For the next twelve years, Illinois blacks labored under one of the harshest laws in the nation. But, it did not go uncontested. One of the most interesting challenges came from the pen of Joseph H. Barquet, a young black Chicagoan born in North Carolina and recently arrived from Tennessee. He began his objection to the harsh law by illustrating its absurdity when carried to its logical conclusion. Essentially, he asserted, black men will be forced to marry white women, an abhorent thought to whites. Barquet reasoned:
The recent law of inhibition against the negro, passed by our legislature, (if we can say ours, for we did not help to elect them,) bears hard, very hard against Sambo, and to lay the case before the public is my desire. Well, sir, I wish to annex myself to a wife, but the commodity in colors is scarce in our market! What shall we do? If we go from home to import one, the dear creature will be sold to some heartless Logan. What then shall we do? The laws of Illinois do not recognize the marriage tie between a white and negro, and if Mr. Logan shuts out the black girls, why we must take the white ones, that's all.
He then chided the state's leaders for their injustice to its black citizens. He warned that this act of despotism would lead to further restrictions. He concluded that "Europe smiles and taunts American liberty. Her despots smile when Illinois plucks from the eagle, emblem of our country, her lost plumage quill dipped in blood to sign slavery for freemen."

Throughout the period, Illinois blacks resisted, as best they could, the ubiquitous effects of the Black Laws. In addition to meetings and petitions objecting to the laws over the years, they formed several self-help organizations. Perhaps most important was the creation in 1839 of the Wood River Colored Baptist Association in St. Clair County. It soon developed a number of important early leaders in the state, including John Jones, the son-in-law of H. H. Richardson, one of the association's founders. The association took the lead in opposing Illinois' repressive race legislation and encouraged education, even when it had to be separate. Its leaders took the lead in organizing schools and encouraging the state to force local school districts to allocate tax money for "colored" schools in proportion to taxes paid by its colored residents. Many of the protest meetings over the years were held in church structures.

The Illinois Black Laws continued in force until the end of the Civil War. Indeed, in the midst of the Civil War, Illinois held a constitutional convention and a new constitution was submitted to the people of the state for ratification. One of the most remarkable features of that document were three provisions that wrote the Black Laws into the proposed constitution. Although Illinois voters rejected the constitution, they overwhelmingly approved the anti-black provisions. Eventually, however, with prodding from John Jones and the logic propelled by the results of the Civil War, the Illinois General Assembly repealed the Black Laws in early 1865. The repeal, however, did not confer suffrage or civil rights on the state's blacks; they had to await the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 1885.

By Roger D. Bridges
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

How Blacks in Early Springfield, Illinois Influenced Abraham Lincoln's Views on Race and Society.

Blacks were a significant part of Abraham Lincoln's Springfield community. At the time of his arrival in 1837, Springfield had a black population of twenty-six, about one percent of the total population of 1,500. Six of those twenty-six were slaves. By the time of Lincoln's departure in 1861, the black population had grown to 234 about 5 percent of the total population of approximately 5,000. These few Springfield blacks had an impact on Lincoln that was far greater than their numbers imply.
This daguerreotype photograph is the earliest confirmed picture of Abraham Lincoln, reportedly shot in 1846 by Nicholas H. Shepherd shortly after Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Nevertheless, the presence of blacks in early Springfield and their relationships with and influence on Lincoln have been largely ignored or minimized by historians. Why?

The simple answer is that most blacks as well as whites were illiterate and therefore left little personal written evidence of their existence. As one Springfield black historian put it more than 90 years ago: “The history of the colored people of Sangamon County, like the sources of the common law, is shrouded in some mystery. The writer is confronted with an embarrassing lack of available data and must draw his material from the memories of such of the older settlers as remain, and to a still larger extent, from their descendants.”

Even at this late date, the shroud of mystery surrounding Springfield blacks has not been removed by Lincoln historians. They have either overlooked or failed to examine what meager primary evidence does exist. Instead, most have relied upon secondary sources predecessor historians who often recorded incomplete or incorrect information or were silent about the presence of blacks in Lincoln's Springfield.

Nineteenth-century Springfield historians probably judged blacks as unimportant when recording the people and events of Springfield, an attitude that reflected the time and bore a conscious or unconscious prejudice toward blacks as a class or race. And contemporary historians who have relied upon these earlier chroniclers have unintentionally mythologized and romanticized Lincoln and Springfield, painting a city almost devoid of color. That flawed history is based upon four myths:

THE FIRST MYTH: William Fleurville, who arrived in Springfield in 1831, was Springfield's first black resident and Lincoln's sole black personal acquaintance prior to his becoming President.

THE SECOND MYTH: Neither black slavery nor indentured servitude existed in Lincoln's Springfield.

THE THIRD MYTH: Prior to becoming President, Lincoln knew little of black life.

THE FOURTH MYTH: Springfield blacks were passive servants and menials and either incapable of or not interested in speaking out on issues of colonization or racial justice.

To understand the influence of Springfield blacks on the political and social education of the pre-presidential Lincoln, we must first debunk these myths.

THE MYTH OF THE HAITIAN BARBER

The first myth is the incorrect focus on William Fleurville as Springfield's first black resident and as Lincoln's exclusive Springfield black personal acquaintance. He was neither.

Fleurville arrived in Springfield in the fall of 1831, thirteen years after the arrival of at least thirty-two black predecessors. He was not Springfield's first black resident.

Mark Neely's Lincoln Encyclopedia compared Lincoln's black "personal acquaintances" in Springfield vs. Washington, D.C., and concluded that Lincoln's personal acquaintance" with blacks increased when he moved from Springfield to Washington. To support his conclusion, Neely named one Springfield black, William Fleurville, and three Washington blacks who were servants at the White House as examples of Lincoln's "personal acquaintances." True, Fleurville was a personal acquaintance of Lincoln, but Lincoln's Springfield black acquaintances during his twenty-four-year residency included others, who were at least as well known to the future president as were those black White House servants cited by Neely.

These may seem to be trivial points of contention, and they would be if the sole point were competition over the claim to "first-ness" or "personal acquaintanceship." But they have greater significance. Historical acceptance of Fleurville as the city's first black and Lincoln's only black friend in Springfield has made it unnecessary for historians to look for evidence of the presence of other blacks in Springfield either prior to 1831 the date of Fleurville's arrival or after Lincoln's arrival in 1837. Fleurville has become the historian's token ante-bellum[1], Springfield black, whereas other blacks have remained largely faceless and nameless. As a result, an important component of Lincoln's Springfield environment has been ignored.

THE MYTH OF A “FREE” SPRINGFIELD

The second myth is that black slavery and indentured servitude didn't exist in Lincoln's Springfield. W. T. Casey, a Springfield black, made this erroneous assertion in his 1926 History of the Colored People. But slavery and indentured servitude existed in Springfield, both before and during Lincoln's residency.

Henry Kelly the patriarch of the first family to settle at what became Springfield brought at least one slave with him: "Negro Jack." On March 18, 1822, Henry and his wife, Mary, sold eight-year-old Negro Jack for $300. Jack was probably Springfield's first black resident and slave.

Two of the four original proprietors of the town of Springfield, John Taylor and Thomas Cox, owned black slaves while living in Springfield. Cox, who moved to Springfield in 1823 to become the first Registrar of the Land Office, owned at least two female slaves, Nance and Dice, and most probably a young male slave, Reuben. Nance and Dice were sold by the Sheriff of Sangamon County at public auction in 1827 in order to satisfy Cox's debts. Later, Nance would be the subject of two Illinois Supreme Court cases involving the issue of slavery and the ownership of slaves by Illinois residents. One of the cases, Bailey vs. Cromwell, was argued by Lincoln.

In 1827 the Sangamon County Commissioners' Court levied a tax "on slaves and indentures or registered Negro or mulatto servants," which offers evidence that Springfield slaves were considered personal property."

The 1830 census the last taken before Lincoln's arrival listed blacks in two categories: "free colored" and "slaves." The Springfield portion of the census lists nineteen blacks, nine of whom were categorized as "slaves" under the names of their masters: John Taylor, is listed as owning three slaves. Dr. John Todd, Mary Lincoln's uncle, is listed as owning five slaves. Temperance Watson, who lived on land where Oak Ridge Cemetery is now situated, is listed as owning one slave.

The evidence is clear that slavery was still a part of Springfield life at the time of Lincoln's arrival in 1837. It continued for some time thereafter. The 1840 census revealed that Springfield's population of 2,579 included 115 blacks about 4.4 percent of the total population. Six were "slaves" and the remaining 109 were "free colored." Lincoln knew and had significant personal contacts with at least three of the slave owners, James Bell, Ninian Edwards, and William May. James Bell, listed as owning one young female slave, was a member of the trading firm of James Bell and Joshua Speed. Lincoln represented Bell in at least three legal cases, one each in 1838, 1839, and 1842.

Ninian Edwards, Mary Lincoln’s brother-in-law, was listed as owning one young male slave.

William May was listed as owning one young female slave. May had emigrated from Kentucky to Springfield around 1829 when he was appointed the third Registrar of the Springfield Land Office. He was a lawyer and a partner of Stephen T. Logan. He was also a surveyor and a minister. He was the first County Clerk/Recorder of Sangamon County. From 1834 to 1839, May was a Congressman for whom Lincoln voted on October 27, 1834. In 1842, May was elected mayor of Springfield.

Slavery did exist in Lincoln’s Springfield and Lincoln was aware of its existence.

As an adjunct to slavery, a system of voluntary or indentured servitude flourished in Springfield both prior to and after Lincoln's arrival. The system was legally permitted by the "black Laws" adopted by Illinois' first legislature in 1819, and existed until February 7, 1865. Legally, an indenture is a contract. Indentured servitude was evidenced by a written contract between two persons providing that one person was to perform services for the other person for a given period of time. "Voluntary or indentured servitude" became a euphemism for Illinois slavery and it is often difficult to distinguish between the status of a black characterized as a slave and one characterized as an indentured servant.

Many of Lincoln's Springfield friends and acquaintances, including his in-laws, the Edwards and Todds, participated in the indenture system. This author has found seven Springfield written contracts of service indentures dated during the period from 1835-1845. The earliest, twenty-six-year-old Ninian Edwards, then a new resident of Springfield, and Hepsey, an eleven-year-old mulatto orphan girl. The terms of Hepsey's indenture were typical, providing that she was "...to learn the art and mystery of domestic housewifery and serve Edwards until the age of eighteen." In turn, Edwards was to provide Hepsey with sufficient meat, drink, washing, lodging, and apparel suitable and proper for such an apprentice, and needful medical attention. He was to "cause her to read" and, at the end of her term, he was to give her a new Bible and two new suits of clothes suitable and proper for summer and winter wear.

Hepsey’s indenture was in force on the evening of November 4, 1842, when Reverend Charles Dresser performed the marriage of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln in the Edwards' home at the southwest corner of Charles and Second streets. Hepsey was probably present in the household at the time of their marriage.

Dr. John Todd, Mary Lincoln's uncle, had both a slave and an indentured servant. On April 18, 1836, he entered into an indenture with Elizabeth, an eight-year-old black girl, with the consent of her mother, Phoebe, one of Todd’s slaves.

In April of 1838, Reverend Charles Dresser moved to Springfield to become Rector of the Episcopal Church. Dresser was a New Englander born in Pomfret, Connecticut, in 1800. He graduated from Brown University in 1823.

A month after Dresser's arrival in Springfield, he entered into an indenture for the domestic labor of Rhoda Jane, a fifteen-year-old black girl. In the spring of 1839, he purchased a lot at Eighth and Jackson streets and constructed a house for his family. Rhoda probably lived in this house. Six years later, Lincoln purchased the house and moved his family there.

There are four other indentures in the period 1841 to 1843: Nine-year-old Sidney Mclntry, a mulatto girl, to Nathanial A. Rankin; eight-year-old Josephine to James F. Owings, Clerk of the United States District Court at Springfield; sixteen-year-old James to William Hickman, a justice of the peace who in 1860 lived at the northwest corner of Eighth and Cook streets, two blocks south of Lincoln's residence; and seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Jones to Robert Irwin, Lincoln's banker.

Although these indentures are interesting, they provide no insight on how indentured servants were treated by their masters. One can glimpse Springfield's mid-Nineteenth-Century community standard for acceptable discipline of black servants, however, from an entry in the May 1843 Session minutes of the First Presbyterian Church, Mary Lincoln's church.

The Session considered the case of church member Dorothea Grant, a young, single mother or widow with two young children. Dorothea was cited for "Unchristian conduct in the treatment of a colored girl bound to her." She had whipped the girl with a cowhide.

Dorothea defended her conduct by explaining that:
"...She had been in the habit of correcting the girl when she thought her conduct required it, and did not think that she was correcting her any more severely than she had done at other times; she was not aware at the time that any marks were caused on her body by this whipping & can account for it only from its being done with a different instrument from what she had formerly used." (The instrument formerly used is not revealed.)
The Session committee reported that Dorothea "acknowledged that the whipping was too severe and not accompanied with that mercy which the Christian should exercise, and she was sincerely sorry for the reproach she had brought in the church." The Session meeting concluded with prayer.

A second example of ecclesiastical discipline is that imposed by the Second Presbyterian Church, sometimes called the abolitionist church. That church dealt severely with its members who purchased or dealt in "human beings," as evidenced by the 1843 excommunication of member George Day for such activity.

In addition to slaves and indentured servants, there were a number of free blacks living in the homes of Springfield white families where they acted as servants. Edward D. Baker, Richard F. Barrett, Jacob Bunn, William Butler, John Calhoun, Levi Davis, Benjamin Edwards, William Grimsley, Virgil Hickox, Lawrason Levering, John A. McClernand, Edmund Roberts, David Spear, and Samuel H. Treat all had black servants living in their homes.

The evidence is clear. The 1830 and 1840 census slave entries, the indentures, and the ecclesiastical discipline of church members substantiate that slavery and indentured servitude existed in Lincoln's Springfield.

THE THIRD MYTH; YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANTS

The third myth is that the Lincoln of 1860 knew little of black life. This assertion was made by Benjamin Quarles in his 1962 book, Lincoln and the Negro. Quarles was the first historian to attempt to assess Lincoln's personal relationship with blacks, but his conclusions about Lincoln's relationship to Springfield's blacks were flawed. After making a cursory review of Lincoln's twenty-four Sprin; field years and briefly noting his relationships with blacks, Quarles concluded that:

"The Lincoln of 1860 knew the Negro of dialect story, minstrel stage, and sea chantey' and did not have a "rounded knowledge of the colored people." Lincoln "knew little of Negro life" or "John Doe, colored."

Quarles' observations could lead one to incorrectly conclude that either Springfield's blacks had little to do with Lincoln or that they were not representative of blacks elsewhere in America the amorphous John Doe, colored. There is little, if any, evidence to support either conclusion.

As pointed out earlier, some of Lincoln's closest associates possessed black slaves and indentured servants. It is reasonable to conclude that Lincoln observed, talked to, and knew the slaves and indentured servants of Ninian Edwards, the black slaves of Dr. John Todd, the indentured servants of Reverend Dresser and Robert lrwin, and the servants in the homes of Edward D. Baker (for whom the Lincoln's named their second son, Edward Wallace), and William Butler. The Lincoln household itself was served by blacks. Two black women "Aunt" Ruth Stanton and Maria Vance worked in the Lincoln home. Maria, or "Aunt Maria" as she was called, served as cook, laundress, and maid for the Lincolns from 1850 to 1860, a longer period than any other servant known to have been employed by the Lincolns either in Springfield or Washington.

By late Twentieth-Century standards, the Lincolns lived in an integrated neighborhood. In 1860, at least twenty-one blacks, about 10 percent of Springfield's black population, lived within a three-block radius of the Lincoln home.

Jameson Jenkins, a fifty-year-old North Carolina native who drove Lincolns carriage from the Chenery House to the Great Western Railroad Station when Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, was a neighbor, along with his family of two, and boarders Aunt Jane Pelham, a seventy-five-year-old I mulatto washer woman, and Quintan Watkins.

John Jackson, a fifty-two-year-old white-washer and Virginia native, his wife Jenny, and their five children, as well as a lady named Diana Tyler, were also Lincoln's neighbors. On February 13, 1854, Jenny was received into membership of the First Presbyterian Church Mary Lincoln's church. David King, a twenty-six-year-old Virginia native, and his family of five were also neighbors of the Lincoln family.

Three black servant women lived in the homes of their employers within three blocks of the Lincoln home. Lucy Butcher, a twenty-six-year-old Virginia native, was a servant in at the residence of Issac A. Hawley. Rebecca Smith, an eighteen-year-old mulatto, was a servant at the Jacob Bunn residence. Charlotte Sims was a servant at the John A. McClernand residence.

Lincoln certainly knew of the day-to-day life of Springfield slaves, indentured servants, and free blacks. His experiences and knowledge of Springfield blacks were much broader than Quarles' conclusions.

A corollary to the third myth is that Lincoln's observations of blacks while visiting friends and relatives in Kentucky and while residing at the White House were more significant than his observations of and relationships with Springfield's blacks during his residency in the capital city.

Quarles found particular importance in Lincoln's two visits to Kentucky, one of twenty-one days in August of 1841 at the Farmington plantation of his most intimate friend, Joshua F. Speed; and a second of about twenty-three days in November of 1847 to Mary's family, the Todds, in Lexington. Quarles speculated that Lincoln viewed the slave pens at Lexington and asserted that Lincoln was served by black servants at the Speed plantation and saw slavery in operation. Quarles further speculated that it is possible the Speeds assigned a slave to Lincoln for his personal needs.

Lincoln spent a total of forty-tour days in making these Kentucky visits. In contrast, there are 8,698 days in Lincoln's Springfield years. Quarles, however, made little mention of them and nothing of the presence of either slaves or indentured servants in Springfield. He speculated not at all about Lincoln's relationship with Springfield blacks, who were certainly more impressionable on Lincoln than the slaves he observed hypothetically in Kentucky.

THE FOURTH MYTH OF BLACK ACQUIESCENCE

The fourth myth is that Springfield blacks were menials and servants incapable of activism on issues of racial justice. David Donald's Lincoln, published in 1995, made this claim:

"Of nearly 5,000 inhabitants of Springfield in 1850, only 171 were blacks, most of whom labored in menial or domestic occupations.... These were not people who could speak out boldly to say that they were as American as any whites, that they had no African roots, and that they did not want to leave the United States."

There are at least three examples of Springfield black activism that contradict Donald's passive characterization of Springfield blacks. The first is that of Springfield blacks annually celebrating the anniversary of the 1834 emancipation of 800,000 slaves in the British West Indies. One such celebration was held August 2, 1858, and the Springfield Journal reported that, "the colored people of our city...celebrated the twenty-fourth anniversary of the British West Indies emancipation. They formed a procession and with music and banners, marched through the principal streets. Then they proceeded to Kelly s Grove, where they had a number of speeches."

Lincoln was present in Springfield on the date of this celebration.

The following year on August 1st, a Monday and presumably a work day, the Journal reported that "They [Springfield blacks] went out to the Fair ground, where speeches were delivered," and P. L. Donnegan spoke on "West India Emancipation," and Reverend Myers spoke on "Sabbath Schools."

"After this audience were dismissed till after refreshment. It was amusing to see every one take their baskets and retire on the blue grass, to partake their picnic dinner. After which the audience was called on to rally around the stand to hear more speeches… A young man from Belleville, John W. Menard, Jr. came to the stand. His voice is very strong and his manner impressive. Subject 'American Slavery," which he painted in its darkest hues, and gave able remarks in defense of Liberty and equality. His speech was truly the best of the day; after which all retired with hearty cheers for Menard, Fred [Erick] Douglass, and others."

Lincoln was present in Springfield on this date.

The second example is that of thirty-five-year-old Springfield barber and Baptist elder Samuel S. Ball, an black who, in 1848, traveled to the African Bepublic of Liberia. Upon his return, Ball made a written report of the country's advantages as a place for blacks to relocate. The plan of relocation, known as colonization, was considered a possible solution to the racism and legal discrimination experienced by Illinois blacks.

Ball's adventure began in August 1847, when he attended the annual meeting of the Colored Baptist Association in Madison County, Illinois. The Association reviewed reports on the "condition of the Republic of Liberia favorable to us in America" and resolved to "...send Elder S.S. Ball to Liberia, as an agent to inquire into the conditions of the aforesaid country, and to report to this Association on his return, provided means can be raised and procured to defray his expenses."

Ball accepted the mission and in preparation for his visit to Liberia obtained a letter of introduction from Illinois Governor August C. French, a supporter of the colonization movement, as was Lincoln at one time. Governor French's letter stated that he had personally known Mr. Ball for some time and regarded him to be a man of strictest integrity and veracity and "worthy of the encouragement and confidence of all friends of colonization."

Ball's April 11, 1848 departure from Baltimore for Liberia was reported by the Springfield Journal: "S. S. Ball, a very respectable colored man, late of this city, left Baltimore in a schooner on the April 11th for Liberia, for the purposes of examining that country as an asylum for free blacks."

Ball arrived in Liberia on May 16, 1848. By August 24, 1848, he had returned to America and his homecoming appearance before the annual meeting of the Colored Baptist Association was reported as follows:

"Friday morning, August 25, intelligence being brought to the Association of the arrival... of Elder Samuel S. Ball, our missionary to Africa, whereupon the Association immediately adjourned to receive him... and conduct him to the preaching stand... Elder Ball responded with much feeling, after which in the shaking of hands, many tears were shed for joy, and praises were offered to God for his kind providence. Saturday at 3 p.m. was appointed for Elder Ball to make his report to the Association... And after hearing it, it was ordered printed, and it came out in pamphlet form and was sold to defray expenses and to remunerate Elder Ball for his services in the trip. Elder Ball exhibited numerous African curiosities."

Ball's report was published in a thirteen-page pamphlet entitled Liberia, The Condition and Prospects of that Republic; Made from Actual Observation. The report is well organized and well-written, describing the climate, geography, government, agriculture, and religion of Liberia. One cannot read Ball's report without concluding that he was a literate and sophisticated observer entitled to more than the patronizing characterization of "servant" or "menial." At the age of thirty-five, this Virginia-born black left his young family and 3,912 fellow Springfield residents and ventured across the Atlantic to an unknown country for the purpose of determining if it would be suitable for settlement by blacks. He was obviously disturbed by the condition of black life and concluded there might be a better life elsewhere. He took affirmative steps to investigate one alternative.

Back in Springfield, Ball went about his daily life, which included earning a living as a barber, cleaner, and bath-room operator a Springfield niche for black males discovered by Ball and his business competitor, William Fleurville. Ball's business was located on the south side of the square and in close proximity to Lincoln's law office at Sixth and Adams streets. During the period 1849 through 1851, the Springfield Illinois State Journal printed a number of advertisements for Ball's barbershop. One such advertisement on March 28, 1849, stated this his shop would be open at all times from Monday morning until Saturday night and would have on hand "Ball's celebrated Restorative, so famous for the restoration of hair, and prcventa-tive of baldness."

Ball continued to advocate colonization. In 1851, he spoke at Springfield and St. Louis, where he declared: "I am the warm friend and enthusiastic admirer of Liberia." He described Liberia as "the brightest spot on this earth to the colored man. Liberia not only protects the colored man in the enjoyment of equal rights, but... its institutions fostered merit, developed the moral and intellectual faculties of its citizens, and produced great men."

That same year. Ball drew up a bill for the Illinois State Legislature proposing that the state provide financial support to free Illinois blacks wishing to migrate to Liberia. The Springfield Journal supported Ball's efforts.

On September 16, 1852, at age forty-two, Ball died of typhoid fever. He left a widow and six children, and real estate valued at $1,018.59.

THE ANTI-COLONIZATION MOVEMENT

Not all Springfield blacks favored Ball's colonization efforts. In fact, Ball's opinion was probably in the minority among his fellow Springfield blacks. On February 12, 1858, Lincoln's forty-ninth birthday, the "colored citizens of Springfield" held a public meeting to protest the Dred Scott Decision and to express opposition to the colonization movement.

The meeting was prompted by the Illinois State Colonization Society's request of the State Legislature for money to assist in the resettlement of blacks to Africa and the representation that "some of the most intelligent and enterprising of the people of color in the State of Illinois desire the assistance of the Colonization Society, to enable them to remove to Liberia or some other part of Africa."

Landen C. Coleman, a twenty-eight-year-old Springfield black shoemaker, acted as chairman of the meeting that, by its existence and adoption of a Forman resolution, contradicts Donald's assertion that Springfield blacks "...were not people who could speak out boldly to say that they were as American as any whites, that they had no African roots, and that they did not want to leave the United States." While the entire resolution deserves study, in the interest of space I will quote only a portion:

“After careful inquiry, we have been unable to ascertain that any intelligent man of color either desires to Africa, or requires aid for such an enterprise.

"We have no desire to exchange the broad prairies, fertile soil, healthful climate, and Christian civilization of Illinois, for the dangerous navigation of the wide ocean, the tangled forests, savage beasts, heathen people, and miasmatic shores of Africa.

"We believe that the operations of the Colonization Society are calculated to excite prejudices against us, and to impel ignorant or ill-disposed persons to take measures for our expulsion from the land of our nativity, from our country and from our homes.

"We do for ourselves, and in behalf of our colored brethren throughout the United States, most earnestly protest against the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Dred Scott, not only because... Scott and his family, were by that decision most unjustly doomed to slavery, but also because the... decision misrepresents the greater charter of American liberty, the Declaration of Independence, and the spirit of the American people, as well as the Constitution of the United States.

"We take the Declaration as the Gospel of freedom; we believe in its great truth, 'that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.' We know ourselves to be men, and we claim our rights as such under this '...Declaration' of the Old Thirteen [colonies]. We also claim the right of citizenship in this, the country of our birth. We were born here, and here we desire to die and to be buried. We are not African. The best blood of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and other State, where our brethren are still held in bondage by their brothers, flows in our veins. We are not, therefore, aliens, either in blood or in race, to the people of the country in which we were born. Why then should we be disenfranchised and denied the rights of citizenship in the north, and those of human nature itself in the south?"

There is no hard evidence to link Lincoln to these three examples of Springfield's black activism. But Lincoln's Springfield was a small town. Did these activities influence Lincoln? If he was influenced by brief glimpses of slavery on visits to Kentucky, as Quarles asserted, then without question the influences of Springfield s black population engaged in the daily routine of life during Lincoln's residency were even more significant.

In reaching conclusions about blacks in Lincoln's Springfield, contemporary Lincoln historians have largely relied upon secondary sources and have thereby unknowingly acquiesced in the omissions and prejudices of the past. Each generation of Lincoln historians has repeated and thereby perpetuated the myth giving us an incomplete picture of Lincoln's Springfield.

It is time to put these myths aside. Historians should take a fresh look at Lincoln, and reconsider some equally entrenched views about the origins, nature, and evolution of his mature views on race, slavery, colonization, abolitionism, emancipation, and black civil rights. Only then will we have a true picture of the significance of blacks as part of Lincoln's Springfield community.

By Richard E. Hart
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


[1] Ante-bellum: occurring or existing before the Civil War.