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Illinois Afrigeneas

African Ancestry in Illinois
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This site is hosted by: Deb Davis

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History & Background

A HISTORY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS  

IN ILLINOIS

Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory until 1800, Indian Territory from 1800 – 1809, Illinois Territory from 1809 – 1818 and Statehood in 1818.

African Americans or Negroes as we were called then can be accounted for living in Illinois sometime after 1736. James Rumsey sold a cargo of Negro slaves to the French in the early Illinois settlement. A number of the Negroes were documented as slaves of these French inhabitants by 1765.

The Ordinance of 1787 (Northwest Ordinance) was drafted by Thomas Jefferson prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory of which Illinois was included. Upon receiving this news, the French slaveholders began moving away. They returned only after receiving assurance the law did not apply to slaves held prior to the ordinance. In 1803, Illinois adopted an indenture law to bind Negroes to perform hard and tedious work for long periods of time. This served as a workaround to the Northwest Ordinance, in effect making the lives of Illinois Negroes not much better than slaves.

Slavery was an issue throughout the history of Illinois. Both pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates fought politically for and against legalizing slavery for many years. In 1818, pro-slavery advocates debated the Ordinance on the grounds that legalized slavery in Missouri would lure away the wealthier Southern settlers in Illinois. Although the indenture law was passed, Illinois politicians such as William Henry Harrison continued to push to have slavery permitted in Illinois. In 1805 and 1897 even stiffer indenture laws were passed to indenture whole families of Negroes.

Repeatedly petitions were filed during these years to permit slavery. But according to rumor Thomas Jefferson with the assistance of James Lemen blocked these petitions. In 1822 – 1823, a resolution was passed to amend the constitution to allow slavery. An anti-slavery group lead by Governor Edward Coles and comprised of Morris Birbeck an English settler and Hooper Warren of the Edwardsville Spectator to name a few, fought the issue. In the 1824 elections their arguments won over the pro-slavery proposal and Illinois was declared free.

This did not however, stop kidnappings of Negroes. In the 1820’s these kidnappings went literally unnoticed. Sentiment was generally against the Negro anyway. Abolitionist however fought the issue. One such person was Elijah P. Lovejoy. Lovejoy published a newspaper, the Alton Observer in which he spoke out against slavery. Mobs destroyed his presses attempting to discourage him. It was defending one of the presses that brought about his demise on November 7, 1837. Other abolitionist began to publish literature against slavery. Some of them were:  

Genius of Universal Emancipation by Benjamin Lundy Lowell

 Genius of Liberty  

Western Citizen

There were still many citizens of the State who were pro-slavery. As more states were added to the Union, slavery continued to be a political issue. "Northern men were insisting that there be no further compromises with slavery’ that the peculiar institution might be tolerated where it already existed but not elsewhere."[1]

This continued debate brought about the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise dealt with the admission of California, Utah and New Mexico as states but omitted any mention of slavery. A work around law was created called the Black Laws in 1853. The Black Laws permitted the sell of any free Black entering Illinois into servitude. 

Prior to the civil war, Illinois Democratic sentiment professed loyalty to the Union but willingness to compromise with the South. Southern Illinois residents leaned toward the Confederacy and unsuccessful talks of splitting to form a separate state allied with the Confederacy was held in Williamson County.

When the General Assembly session ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, the Black Laws were also eliminated. Thus, making Blacks free.

Links to Illinois history

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State Resources

African Americans In Illinois by Illinois State 

Illinois State Archives

Illinois State Genealogical Society

Illinois State Historical Library

Illinois State Historical Society

 


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Queries, Surnames & Lookups

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[1] The Story of Illinois, Theodore Calvin Pease

COUNTIES:
Adams 
Alexander  
Bond 
Boone
Cass  
Champaign
Brown 
Bureau
Calhoun 
Carroll
Christian 
Clark
Clay 
Clinton 
Coles 
Cook
 Crawford 
Cumberland
DeKalb 
DeWitt
 Douglas 
DuPage
Edgar 
Edwards
Effingham 
Fayette 
Ford 
Franklin
Fulton 
Gallatin
Greene 
Grundy
Hamilton  
Hancock
Hardin 
Henderson
Henry 
Iroquois 
Jackson 
Jasper
 Jefferson 
Jersey
JoDaviess 
Johnson
Kane 
Kankakee
Kendall 
Knox
Lake 
LaSalle 
Lawrence 
Lee
Livingston 
Logan
Macon 
Macoupin
Madison 
Marion 
Marshall 
Mason
Massac 
McDonough 
McHenry 
McLean
 Menard 
Mercer
Monroe 
Montgomery
Morgan  
Moultrie
Ogle 
Peoria
Perry 
Piatt 
Pike 
Pope
Pulaski 
Putnam
Randolph 
Richland
Rock Island 
Saline 
Sangamon 
Schuyler
Scott 
Shelby 
Stark 
St. Clair
Stephenson 
Tazewell
Union 
Vermilion
 Wabash 
Warren 
Washington 
Wayne
White 
Whiteside 
Will 
Williamson

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Placed online: 13 September 1999 | Updated: 7 May 2001
32 searchers have visited since 13 September 1999

Questions or comments: 
Deb Davis

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