ILLINOIS TRAILS HISTORY AND GENEALOGY
NEGRO SLAVERY IN ILLINOIS
By Hon. John P. Hand
Typed and Donated by ©Susan Cook
©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
The European settlements on the Mississippi in the year 1765 comprehended Louisiana, part of West Florida and the country of the Illinois. Captain Philip Pitman of the British Army in his book entitled, "The Present State of the European Settlements on the Mississippi,"describes the Illinois country as being bounded by the Mississippi on the west, the Illinois on the north, the Wabash on the east, and the Ohio on the south, and it's towns as consisting of Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, Fort Chartres, St. Philip and Cahokia, and states that the number of white inhabitants therein, exclusive of the troops, at the time was 2,000. The country of the Illinois was ceded by France to England in 1763 at the treaty of Paris. The English, however, did not assume possession thereof until the year 1765. Prior to 1720 there were found in the Mississippi valley, north of the Ohio, a few Indian slaves who were held as prisoners of war. Their number, however, was so inconsiderable as to be of no political consequence. In the year 1720, one hundred years after the first ship load of slaves was unloaded at Jamestown, there was landed at St. Philip by Philip Francis Renault a cargo of 500 negro slaves from San Domingo, which he afterward sold to the inhabitants of the Illinois country. Thus was slavery planted in the territory lying east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio rivers, and it was not eradicated therefrom until after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.
At the time of the session of the Illinois country to England, it is estimated there were in that country 900 negro slaves. Many of the French, with their slaves, shortly thereafter moved west of the Mississippi River, and in 1770 there remained in the Illinois country not to exceed 600 negro slaves. During the Revolutionary War the territory now situated within the limits of the State of Illinois was wrested by Virginia from the English, and after peace with Great Britain was restored, Virginia transferred its title to that territory to the United States. There were no restrictions imposed upon the holding of slaves in the territory north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi rivers during its occupation by France, England or Virginia, and prior to the passage of the Ordinance of 1787 negro slavery appeared to be as firmly established north of the Ohio as it was south of that river. By article VI of the Ordinance of 1787 it was provided: "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have benn duly convicted." The insertion of this article in the Ordinance of 1787 caused great uneasiness among the slaveholders residing east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio, which territory were subsequently carved out the free states of Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Governor St. Clair, and subsequently Governor Harrison, took the position, however, that the Ordinance of 1787 should be given a prospective effect, and that it did not affect the status of slaves held in the Northwest territory prior to 1787, and that view was apparently acquiesced in by the people and courts in that territory for many years. That construction of the ordinance did not permit the bringing of slaves into the Northwest territory from the slave states, and to encourage the emigration of slaveholders, with their slaves, from the states situated south and east of the Ohio river, a system of "voluntary servitude" was created in that part of the Northwest territory out of which the territories of Indiana and Illinois were subsequently formed. Under the voluntary system slaves were indentured to their masters, males until they were 35 years, and females until they were 32 years of age, and the children born to persons of color during their period of service might be indentured to serve, the boys until they were 30 years, and the girls until they were 28 years of age, and unless slaves were indentured within thirty days after they were brought into the territory, they could be removed by their masters from the territory. The legality of the system of voluntary servitude was recognized by a statute of the Indiana territory passed in 1807, which was subsequently re-enacted in the territory of Illinois.
At the time the territory of Illinois was organized there were found therein French negro slaves, indentured negro slaves, and free negroes. In the convention which framed the Constitution of 1818 in Illinois, there were three classes of delegates, those opposed to negro slavery in any form, those in favor of negro slavery in its absolute form, and those who favored a middle course - that is, the voluntary system. The conservatives incorporated into that Constitution their view, and while it was provided therein that slavery or involuntary servitude should not thereafter be introduced into this State otherwise than for the punishment of crimes, the voluntary system was fully recognized. Although the Constitution of 1818 barred slavery from the State in the future, it was contended it did not confer freedom upon the French negro slaves who were in the territory prior to the admission of the State into the Union, and although the term of service for which a black man was permitted to indenture himself was shortened to one year, and the children of indentured slaves could not be indentured for a longer period than the boys, until they arrived at 21 years, and the girls at the age of 18 years, it was held not to affect the terms of service of slaves then under contract of service. The State Legislature, at its first session after the admission of the State, re-enacted, with all their severity, the "Black Laws" which had been in force in the territory. Those laws were originally largely copied from the slave codes of the states of Kentucky and Virginia, and under these a negro, free or slave, was practically without protection. If free, unless he could present a certificate of freedom from a court of record, he was liable to arrest and imprisonment and to be sold to service by the sheriff of the county for a period of one year, and if he sought employment he was in constant danger of being kidnapped by the desperadoes who infested the country, and sold "down the river." A slave indentured or otherwise, could not bring a suit or testify in court. If found from home, he was publicly whipped. He might be sold upon execution or mortgaged to pay or secure his master's debt, and upon his master's death, he passed to the administrator or executor of the master, along with the master's horses and mules. The Black Laws were passed by the Legislature and administered with a view to force all the negroes in Illinois, other than the French negro slaves, into the voluntary system. The free negro's condition thereby was rendered more deplorable than that of the French negro slave or the indentured slave. The negro who had a master, had a home, while the free negro, by the administration of the Black Laws, was made an outcast who might be hunted down like a beast and by force or fraud deprived of his freedom.
The settled portion of Illinois in 1820, bordered upon the states of Kentucky and Missouri, and the slaveholder from Kentucky, passing through Illinois to Missouri with his horses, mules, cattle and drove of slaves, often remarked that he regretted Illinois was not a slave State, as he would, if it were a slave State, settle upon its fertile prairies with his slaves. Money was scarce and the times were hard, and the cry went up from the pro-slavery men all over the southern Illinois that a great mistake had been made in bringing Illinois into the Union as a free State, and they urged that a convention should be called to change the Constitution of the State upon the subject of slavery. There was great excitement on the slavery question in the election in the fall of 1822. Hon. Edward Coles, a strong anti-slavery man who had migrated from Virginia to Illinois three years before and who had freed his slaves, was elected Governor, over Judge Joseph P. Philips, the pro-slavery candidate, by a plurality of forty-six votes. A majority of the members of the Legislature were, however, pro-slavery, and at the session of 1823 it was determined by the pro-slavery members to call a convention to amend the Constitution. They could, however, not command the necessary two-thirds vote to submit the question of calling a convention to the people. When Legislature met there was a contest from Pike County between Nicholas Hanson and John Shaw. Hanson was seated and voted for United States Senator, and on his refusing to vote to call a convention, the pro-slavery men unseated him and Shaw was seated in his place, and with Shaw's vote in the House and the vote of John Grammer, of Union County, in the Senate, who arrived after the Senate had been organized and after a vote had been carried laying a resolution providing for the calling of a convention upon the table, the pro-slavery men mustered the necessary two-thirds vote and a convention was called. The election was held on the 2d of August, 1824, and the proposition for the convention was defeated by a majority of 1,668 votes out of a total vote of 11,612, and Illinois remained, in theory at least, a free State.
The contest of 1824 over the calling of a convention to revise the Constitution, was one of the most bitter political contests ever waged in the history of the State. It was but a forerunner of the resort to arms which drenched the county in blood thirty-seven years later. The men who opposed the proposition to make Illinois a slave State at the time the constitution of 1818 was framed and those who voted against the calling of a convention to amend the Constitution of 1824, were not generally in favor of emancipation. The agitation in favor of emancipation came a few years later. In 1837, Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered at Alton (Madison County) by a pro-slavery mob, and the printing press upon which he had printed "The Observer", a strong anti-slavery newspaper, was destroyed, and in 1854 the Missouri Compromise measure was repealed. Following these events the struggle between the men in the northern Mississippi valley who favored and those who opposed negro slavery and its extension into the free territories of the Northwest continued until the bitterness engendered, growing out of the agitation upon the slavery question throughout the Union, resulted in the firing upon the United States flag by the southern slave-holders at Fort Sumpter, which was followed immediately by the War of the Rebellion.
The soundness of the doctrine that the provisions of the Ordinance of 1787 did not apply to negro slaves held in the Northwest territory at the time of its passage, and that negro slaves subsequently brought into Illinois by their masters might be deprived of their freedom by contract by virtue of the Territorial Act of 1807, or the State Constitution of 1818, was challenged by many of the best lawyers residing in Illinois. Especially was this true from 1835-1860, during which latter period such lawyers as Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, Gustav Koerner, James H. Collins, W. T. M. Davis, Nathaniel Niles, John M. Palmer and others advised the negroes held in bondage in Illinois that they were not legally held as slaves and that they were entitled to their freedom, and in many instances these men fearlessly stood by their opinions and defended successfully in the courts, without money and without price, negroes who were sought to be deprived of their freedom. Cases, however, involving the legal rights of negroes held as slaves found their way into the courts, especially the courts of last resort in Illinois, slowly. The first case to reach the Supreme Court was that of Cornelius v. Cohen (Breese, 131), which was decided in 1825. It involved the right to freedom of a negro girl named Betsey, whose mother, Rachel, had indentured herself to one Joseph Cornelius on Oct. 6, 1804, for a term of fifteen years. The indenture, which had been signed only by Rachel, had expired, and she was conceded to be entitled to her freedom. Cornelius claimed, however, the right to the service of her child Betsey under the Territorial Act of 1807. The court, speaking through Mr. Justice Lockwood, held, however, that the indenture, not having been signed by Cornelius, was not within the provisions of section 13 of the Act of 1807, and that the girl was entitled to her freedom. In 1839 a suit was brought by the administrators of Nathan Cromwell against David Bailey, in the circuit court of Tazewell County, upon a promissory note made to Cromwell, in his lifetime, by Bailey, for the purchase of a negro girl named Nance. The plaintiff was represented by Judge Stephen T. Logan, and the defendant by Abraham Lincoln. Judgment was rendered upon the note by Judge William Thomas, who presided at the trial, in favor of the plaintiff for $431.97. The defendant appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where it was contended the note was without consideration and void, as it was given as the purchase price of a human being who the evidence showed was free and therefore not the subject of sale. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court, the opinion being written by Judge Breese (3 Scam., 71) who held, contrary to the established rule in many of the southern states, that the presumption in Illinois was that a negro was free and not eh subject of sale. This case established a broad principle in the jurisprudence of our State. Under the old rule the burden was upon the negro to establish that he was free, as the presumption obtained that a black man was a slave. Under the rule established in this case the presumption obtained that a black man was free, and the person who asserted he was a slave was required to bring forward his proof, which he often could not do. Many other cases involving the rights of a negro slave, under the Act of 1807, the Constitution of 1818, and the Act of 1819, in the course of time reached the Supreme Court.
In 1845 the case of Jarrot v. Jarrot (2 Gilm., 1) was decided. That was an action of assumpsit by the descendant of a French negro slave against his master for wages. The negro was defeated in the lower court, but the case was reversed by the Supreme Court. Separate opinions were filed by Justices Scates and young. The opinion by Justice Young contains an exhaustive review of the former decisions of that court and the legal history of negro slavery in all its forms in the State of Illinois, and the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court in that case sounded the death knell of the institution of human slavery in Illinois. The court held article VI of the Ordinance of 1787, contrary to the views expressed by Governors St. Clair and Harrison and acted upon by the people and the lower courts for many years, to be retroactive in its operation, that is, it applied to all negro slaves in the Northwest territory at the time of its passage. The effect of this decision was to liberate all the French negro slaves and their children in Illinois from the bondage which for thirty-eight years had illegally deprived them and their ancestors of their freedom.
The Cromwell and Jarrot cases afford excellent examples of the effect of legitimate judicial construction. In the first case the court held that all legitimate presumptions were to be indulged in favor of human liberty casting the burden of proof upon him to establish his contention who asserts that a human being is not entitled to his freedom, which presumption, for the want of proof, had the effect to establish that all persons found in the situation of the girl Nance were entitled to their freedom, and by the holding in the Jarrot case that a statute, when the words thereof, when taken in connection with its context, show such to have been the clear intention of the law-making power should be retroactively construed, the effect of which was to restore to their natural state, which is freedom, a large number of persons in Illinois who had been the victims of the misconstruction of the Ordinance of 1787. In both cases human liberty seems to have rested upon a technicality. Nevertheless, in time, the rights of the persons involved were established and vindicated by a wholesome interpretation of the law by a wise and fearless judiciary.
The cases hereinbefore referred to were civil cases. During the same period numerous prosecutions for harboring negro slaves were carried on in the courts of this State under the provisions of the following section of the criminal code of Illinois, which declared that "if any person shall harbor or secrete any negro, mulatto, or person of color, the same being a slave or servant, owing service or labor to any other persons, whether they reside in this State or any other state or territory or district within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States, or shall in any wise hinder or prevent the lawful owner or owners of such slaves or servants from retaking them in a lawful manner, every such person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined not exceeding $500.00, or imprisoned not exceeding six months." The leading case was that of Eells v. People (4 Scam., 498), which went to the Supreme Court of the United States. (Moore, Executor, etc., v. People, 14 Howard, 13.) Richard Eells was indicted and convicted for harboring a slave and fined $400.00. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed by both the Supreme Court of Illinois and the Supreme Court of the United States, the constitutionality of the statute being established by the decisions rendered in each of those courts.
The statute referred to is the one under which Owen Lovejoy was indicted at the May term, 1843, of the circuit court of Bureau county and tried before a jury and acquitted on the seventh day of October of the same year. Owen Lovejoy was a brother of Elijah P. Lovejoy, was a Congregational minister and resided in Princeton. The indictment contained two counts. The first count charged him with harboring a negro slave named Nancy. He was held to bail in the sum of $500.00. The prosecution was represented by Judge Norman H. Purple and by Hon. B. F. Fridley, and the defendant was represented by Hon. James H. Collins and Caleb Cook, and Judge John Dean Caton, who occupied a position on the Supreme bench of this State for many years and who was a jurist of great renown, presided at the trial. Owing to the prominence of the defendant, the trial excited the greatest interest throughout the State and the nation, and, as both Mr. Lovejoy and Mr. Collins were pronounced abolitionists, the acquittal of Mr. Lovejoy was considered by the anti-slavery men of that day a great triumph for the principles which they advocated. It is said prior to the trial a pro-slavery man approached Mr. Fridley and offered him a handsome fee if he would "send that abolition preacher to the penitentiary." Mr. Fridley declined the fee, as it was his official duty to prosecute the case, and remarked to the zealous pro-slavery men that "the prosecution of Lovejoy was a good deal more likely to result in sending him to Congress than to the penitentiary," which remark was prophetic of the result of the trial. mr. Lovejoy, upon his acquittal, was sent to Congress, where he served his district with great credit for many years, and where he attained great renown by reason of his bold defiance of the slave power of the South, whose member in Congress were in the habit of brow-beating and of often assaulting the members from the North who were opposed to slavery.
State of Illinois}
Bureau County} ss.
The Grand Jurors chosen selected and sworn in and for the County o f bureau in the name and by the authority of the People of the State of Illinois upon their oaths present that Owen Lovejoy late of the said County of Bureau on the first day of march in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and forty-two at and within the County of Bureau--a certain Negro woman and person of color called "Agnes," she the said "Agnes" then and there being a slave and owing service and labour to some person to the Jurors aforesaid unknown residing within some State Territory or District to the Jurors aforesaid unknown within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States then and there by keeping the said "Agnes" in his dwelling house -- feeding, clothing and comforting her the said "Agnes" -- he the said Owen Lovejoy then and there the said "Agnes" so being a slave and owing service as aforesaid unlawfully and willfully did harbour and secrete contrary to the form of the Statute in such cases made and provided and against the Peace and dignity of the same People of the State of Illinois.
And the Jurors aforesaid upon their oaths aforesaid in the name and by the authority of the People aforesaid do further present that Owen Lovejoy late of the said County on the first day of February in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and Forty-three at and within the County of Bureau aforesaid a certain Negro woman and person of color called "Nancy" she the said "Nancy" then and there being a Slave and owing service and labour to some person to the Jurors aforesaid unknown residing within some State Territory or District to the Jurors aforesaid unknown within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States then and there by keeping the said "Nancy" in his dwelling house --conveying her from place to place and by feeding, clothing and comforting her the said "nancy" he the said Owen Lovejoy then and there the said "Nancy" so being a slave and owing service as aforesaid unlawfully and willfully did harbour and secrete contrary to the form of the Statute in such cases made and provided and against the Peace and dignity of the same People of the State of Illinois.
N. H. Purple
State Atty pr tem.
Indictment for harbouring slaves. A true Bill Enoch Lumry Foreman, Bail $500.00.
Elisha W. Fasset
Jonathan T. Holbrook
The People of the State of Illinois
Date Oct. 7, 1843
This day came B. F. Fridley States Attorney and N. H. Purple on behalf of the People and the defendant came by Mr. Collins his Attorney and in proper person. Also Mr. Caleb Cook as Assistant and the said defendant being arraigned thereupon pleaded not guilty and for his trial puts himself upon his country and the prosecuting Attorney aforesaid in behalf of the People doth the like. Whereupon there came a Jury of twelve good and lawful me to-wit: Cyrus Langworthy, Leonard Roth, Isaac Heaton, James Myers, Alfred T. Thompson, Thomas H. Finley, Thomas Stevens, Caleb Moore, Samuel Mohler, Robert Lewis, Tracy Reeve, Josiah B. Miller, who being duly elected tried and sworn upon their oaths do say --"We the Jury do find the defendant not guilty in manner and form as charged in the indictment."
It is therefore considered by the Court that the said defendant be discharged from his recognizance herein and that he go hence without delay.
From the earliest settlement of the State, and especially subsequent to the admission of Missouri as a slave state, many runaway negroes from Kentucky and Missouri found their way into Illinois, and as they fled in the darkness over the prairies of Illinois, guided only by the North star, towards Canada and freedom, they were often pursued by the slave catcher with the instinct and tenacity of the blood-hound, and while pro-slavery men assisted the slave hunter to run down and recapture runaway slaves, the anti-slavery men of the State often clothed, fed and housed them and assisted those panting fugitives as they fled from their masters in their attempt to escape from bondage to the land of freedom. In some way, which is not now easily understood, three great "Underground Railway" lines, with their termini upon the Mississippi river and Lake Michigan, were established across the State of Illinois. One started at Chester, another at Alton, and the other at Quincy. The Quincy line passed over substantially the same route from Quincy to Chicago now daily traversed by the trains of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company. There were stations at Galesburg, in Knox County, at Wethersfield, in Henry County, and at Princeton, the home of Owen Lovejoy, in Bureau County, and over these underground railways hundreds of black men, black women and black children were transferred from bondage to freedom. The engineers, conductors, brakemen and station agents upon these lines of railway were God-fearing men, and had the courage of their convictions, and if occasion required, they did not hesitate, when upon duty, to use force to protect their passengers from the interference of slave owners and slave catchers, whom they loathed and despised. The men who were thus engaged in assisting negro slaves to escape from bondage, violated the statute law of both the State and the nation. This they knew, but they justified their action by an appeal to the "higher law."
Almost two centuries have passed since Philip Francis Renault landed with his cargo of slaves at St. Philip. The negro has been emancipated from slavery, and Illinois has become the Empire State of the Mississippi valley, and in closing I desire to express the wish that Illinois may occupy as advanced a position in educating the black man to prepare him to intelligently and patriotically perform the duties of citizenship and in securing to him his constitutional rights, as it occupied in the struggle for his release from bondage.
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