African Ancestry in Illinois
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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 & LOCAL RESOURCES
  • STATE

 African Americans In Illinois by Illinois State 

 Illinois State Archives

 Illinois State Genealogical Society

 Illinois State Historical Library

 Illinois State Historical Society

  • LOCAL
     
Illinois 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
 Winnebago  Woodford    

 

 



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

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