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ped to inquire whether his quarry was legally free or slave. He did not care
a button. His purpose was personal gain.

Connection with the "underground railroad" has come to be looked upon
as a badge of honor. Connection with kidnapping was always disgraceful,
and the fall of slavery disposed all involved in it to deny it or ignore it. Tho
present generation, therefore, has acquired an erroneous theory of the atti-
tude toward slavery of the people of the central west 50 years ago, and has
only a vague notion of what the kidnappers were, or even that they existed at
all, and, it would seem, might find some entertainment in a closser view.

During "the forties" I was a boy here in this then small village, lying
scarcely 50 miles from slave territory in Missouri. Of one family here all the
members were avowed abolitionists. They were regarded with reasonable
respect, but abolitionism was unquestionably a kind of "blot on their es-
cutcheon." To steal a negro with a view to freeing him, was indeed, less
infamous morally than to steal him to sell him into slavery. But either was
stealing by law.

1 well remember how the boys kept a furtive watch on their house, es-
pecially after nightfall, with a vague dread of seeing some kinky-haired
fugitive issue forth, provisioned for flight toward Canada, under convoy of
some member of the family armed to the teeth. We looked upon that home
as concealing as many mysteries as one of Mrs. Radcliffe's castles— all in-
volving African blood.

There was another family in town, the head of which was a grim, silent,
saturnine old man, whose close shut lips we boys fancied must hide a tumul-
tuous swarm of "runaway nigger" secrets, and he feared to open them lest
the secrets escape. These two families were friendly, and if any of their
members were seen talking together it was suspected — among the boys
aforesaid — that the fact pointed to the transit of a fresh batch of runaways,
at the least. These boyish fancies were reflections of "talk" among the
elders, and quaintly illustrate the situation.

The abolitionists — at least those who translated sentiment into action — were
few, and in communities of Central and Southern Illinois, largely recruited
as they were from Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, there were, probably,
more individuals who believed slavery justified by the Bible, necessary to the
south, and Detter for the enslaved than any freedom possible for them. But
is is a mistake to measure the feeling of that day by the standard of the Civil
war period or later. The majority were merely indifferent about slavery, so
far as others were concerned. Accident, sentiment, or a preponderating ad-
verse interest, had led them to reject it for themselves, but there was a feel-
ing that if any community desired it, no other community had any right to
say it nay. In other words they felt that there was a political, as well as a
sentimental side, to slavery. They had no wish to hold slaves and would
have resisted to the point of fighting, any attempt to force slavery on their
communities, but they believed that others had the right to think otherwise
and to resist to the same extremity any attempt to take their slaves from
them. It is grossly unjust to that generation to imply, as many have done,
that except the "abolitionist heroes," everybody was ready, if not to own
slaves, yet to aid others actively in holding them in bondage. Very few
would have lifted a finger to impede the escape of a slave unless in obedience
to officers of the law. They did not actively engage in aiding escapes, but
unless legally coerced they would do nothing to frustrate them. They looked
upon the "underground railroad" as a defiance and violation of law, in which
they themselves would not engage, but regarded those who would so engage
with cool tolerance. If they should hear that their neighbor had a fugitive in
his house and was helping him away, they might wonder at his taste and
theoretically condemn his violation of the laws, but they would shut their
eyes rather than see him and the fugitive flitting through the mirk of mid-
night. The law might force them to interfere, but they would not do so


It was far otherwise when any of the kidnapper class came to their notice
through attempted action. In the considerable cities of the border slave
states — St. Louis, Louisville, Baltimore — the slave markets were practically
always open, and there were always middlemen, ready to buy in them and
look for their profit in making up "gangs" to be sold in the far southern
states, where slaves were in constant demand and "ruled high." In most
cases there was no question of the legal ownership of the persons offered,
and generally there was little disposition to question the title of the man

Investigation was perfunctory, unless there was active dispute by some-
body, and the negro himself could rarely hope to be accounted that some-
body. It was easy for a white man of intelligence and boldness to push a
negro, who had no champion, to sale, and once gone into the rice or cotton
fields such a negro's case was practically hopeless.

Throughout the central states negroes were scattered in most of the larger
towns and villages, and more sparsely in the farming regions. Some of them
were born free, some of them had been manumitted, and some of them were
fugitives stranded on their way to Canada, or cunning and bold enough to
expect safety without going so far north. So long as one of these could call
in the aid of white friends he or she was safe, but if one could be suddenly
snatched away and hurried across the border, the case was desperate indeed.

Along both sides of that border there were men who made a practice —
though it could hardly be called a business, since it was not openly allowed —
of enticing, or entrapping, or abducting negroes judged least capable of suc-
cessful resistance, and "selling them south." Two or three — rarely more than
four — operated together. One would place himself in St. Louis, for example,
and by legitimate business transactions and various acts of good fellowship
"establish a character" as a buyer and seller of slaves. The others would
drift about among the not distant northern towns, and "study the situation,"
learning the antecedents and the circumstances of every negro likely to sell
well, and selecting for prey such as seemed least fitted to defend themselves
— even bribing other negroes to assist — and sometimes being decided to sud-
den action by unforeseen opportunities. There were no telegraphs nor rail-
ways, and the kidnapper could travel more rapidly than "the stage," since
he generally had two or three or more good horses distributed along the line
between the scene of his operations and the market city. Usually, too, he
had many hours "the start" of all possible pursuit, and if he was bold and
prompt he, as a rule, escaped with his victim, though he was sometimes over-
hauled even after reaching the market. For this latter reason some preferred
fewer transactions and larger profits by shunning the border state cities and
themselves taking their quarries to the remoter southern markets.

But when an alarm was given, no legal summons was needed to enlist
nearly the whole community in the effort to defeat and to punish, legally or
extra legally, any attempt to kidnap. Volunteers would spring up in the
most unexpected quarters, and men who, in argument, would excuse and de-
fend slavery with zeal, and even with heat, would join with no less energy in
the pursuit and punishment of kidnappers. And this expresses the attitude
of that generation. They were willing that others should have slavery, but
would have none of it themselves. They would reluctantly obey the law to
restore fugitives, but spontaneously volunteer punishment for every kid-

An incident of "the forties," in and near this village, will further illus"
trate some of the ways of the kidnappers and how they were regarded by the
people. There was living in my home, as a domestic, a young mulatto woman
named Lucinda. She may have had some other name, after a fashion, but if
so, I never knew it. She had been a slave in Kentucky, but had legally se-
cured her freedom.

There was in the same town a barber, a decidedly dandyish fellow, who
maintained — as did many of mixed blood when color and hair permitted — that
he was "part Indian," though everybody else believed him "part negro."
He was a beau of Lucinda's, though the warier brothers of her race had


warned her against him, saying, not unwisely, that if he were really of Indian
extraction, he was treacherous by birthright, and if only a pretended Indian,
he was treacherous by choice.

Early one summer there came a gentleman to town who claimed to be a
southerner of wealth looking for a summer home. He claimed a good old
Maryland name, and to those of us who were boys he "looked exactly like a
southerner." But the real southerners by birth who lived in the" village
smiled, and said he was rather too tropical in style. I didn't know then what
they meant, but I found out between 1861 and 1865,

He soon knew Lucinda, leading her to suppose that he was a friend of her
"old master" in Kentucky, as, indeed, he may have been. She was cautioned
about him too, but it had little or no effect. One warm Sunday afternoon
the barber came to take Lucinda driving, but said his horse and buggy were
being driven around the block by a friend, because "the horse wouldn't
stand." She went with him to the corner, a block away. I saw him help her
into a buggy, only the back of which was presented to my vision, but the
horse attached to which was standing quietly enough. She was to return by
sunset, but little note was taken when she did not, for the barber was be-
lieved to be intending marriage. But after we were all in bed, there was a
thundering summons on the old fashioned brass knocker on tho front door.
On opening it, my father found a gentleman whom we will call Smith, be-
cause that was not his name, accompanied by a young negro, who averred
that he had seen the barber drive out with Lucinda, and that the "rig" be-
longed to C , the Marylander. That he had seen the barber riding into

town alone, after dark, on horseback, and not upon the horse he had driven.

Smith was fiery and quick to suspect. He had gone to C 's hotel and been

informed that he had left town by stage on the preceding evening, without
surrendering his room. Smith at once suspected kidnapping, came to our
house to learn if the girl had returned, and when he learned that she was
still absent, he grew more fiercely excited, and my father was scarcely less
so. One was a hot "Jackson Democrat" and the other a vehement "Henry
Clay Whig," but they were one in heart and soul in this matter. Before
mid;jight the story had been told and discussed, and both men, armed to the
teeth, were gone. This much I saw and heard. The rest I only heard of,
but very directly.

They roused up the barber. He insisted, at first, that he had brought
Lucinda back — that she had left him near the African Baptist church and he
knew nothing more about her, but confronted with the negro who saw his
return, and also with tke lash of a carriage whip, backed by the blue barrel
of a dueling pistol, he "weakened" and changed his type of lie. He denied

knowing the rig to be C 's, saying he had hired it from the hotel stable,

which was true, because the owner had authorized it. He said that six or
seven miles from town he went into the woods for sassafras root, leaving
Lucinda "holding the horse." That when he returned all had disappeared,
and he grew angry because he thought it was a trick of hers to leave him in
the woods and drive home by herself, so, after waiting for some time he hired
a horse of the first farmer he could find, and rode home, saying nothing about
it for fear of being laughed at.

When Lucinda told her story it proved that the fellow told the truth as far
as she knew. She said that within two minutes after he went into the
"brush," Mr. C appeared on the other side of the road, expressed sur-
prise at seeing her, came closer, looked at the horse, proposed to drive to a
tavern down the road and get her a watermelon while her escort was hunting
sassafras, sprang into the buggy, took the lines, and not until they were

several miles nearer St. Louis did she begin to suspect kidnapping. C

said to her that her "beau" knew nothing of his, C 's purpose. The

barber himself stoutly maintained that he was innocent, and Lucinda always
believed him, but the dandy barber's "pull" with the community was gone,
•^nd in a short time he too was gone, and never came back.

— 6H.


Smith and my father did not believe his tale, but to rescue the girl, whom

they now firmly believed to be in C 's hands was the first end to be sought,

and they set out, driving my father's horse, about one o'clock Monday morn-
ing. Two hours, or rather less, later, they roused a landlord in Manchester,
16 miles away, hurriedly told their story, heard of the passage through the
village of such a pair late in the afternoon before, secured a fresh horse, a
lunch to be eaten while they drove, and were away.

They heard of the pursued at various points, secured another fresh horse
in Carrollton. where both were well known, volunteer assistants eagerly
offering but always declined, and on Monday afternoon caught sight of their
object somewhere near Jerseyville. Their too obvious eagerness to overtake

alarmed C , while they were still a quarter of a mile away, and he lashed

his tired horse into a run. They did the same, and for two or three miles
along the lonely prairie roads they drove a headlong chase, terminated by

the bad stumbling of C 's horse and their drawing alongside before he

could recover, with the muzzles of two dueling pistols accentuating their de-
mand for surrender.

Whether any shots were fired by anybody neither of the men would ever
say, though both laughed at the suggestion as nonsense, and the girl always

said she was too badly scared to know. C was never seen again, in

Jacksonville at least, and the little luggage he left at the hotel was found to
be utterly worthless. It seemed from what he said to the girl that he had
expected at least 16 or 18 hours "start," and had neglected the usual precau-
tion of fresh horses enroute, probably preferring the greater secrecy of but
one horse to Alton, and there expecting to take boat for St. Louis.

During Monday the story had gone abroad in many grotesque forms in
Jacksonville, and volunteer aids in the pursuit had set out in buggies and on
horseback who fell in behind Smith and my father when they were met re-
turning, with the girl sitting on an upturned candle-box between their feet,
so that when they arrived at home late on Tuesday afternoon they headed a
little triumphal procession. Neither of them had rested, nor sat down at a
table to eat, from the time they began the pursuit at midnight of Sunday till
their return. Yet both these men, a few years afterward, when the anti-
slavery fever ran high, were counted as partially pro-slavery men, though
both were unflinchingly on the national side when the civil war broke out
nearly 20 years later.

This reminiscence of an almost forgotten time in central Illinois will illus-
trate both the injustice often done to the attitude of that generation toward
slavery, and some of the methods of a nefarious "industry" little treated by
any writer, as well as the hatred with which that industry was regarded by
the people. It is a peculiarly mild illustration of the latter. There was loud
and deep grumbling at the mistaken mildness of letting the miscreant off un-
hurt, on his pledge to keep away from Jacksonville. But the two principals

stuck to their story and kept their own counsel, and C did keep away

from Jacksonville.

Turning back to the main line of my thought, if indeed I may dignify it by
calling it thought, I remark that when, later, the people of Illinois refused to
be crushed by appalling debt, they were still a scattered people, weak in
numbers, and still out of touch with the great currents of the world's business
and of its profits. They still had confidence in their future, and if the worst
should come they felt that it was better to starve in honor than to fatten on
broken faith.

Both these crucial struggles roused the whole people to vigorous thinking
and action. Both penetrated into every home— affected for good or ill the
life of every man, woman and child— were the subjects of conversation and
discussion when neighbors met, or strangers accosted each other along the
lonely roads. Among almost any of the peoples of older countries questions
of no graver import had served over and over again in human history to light
the fires of rioting and civil war. Among these people they flashed now and
then into a rough and tumble fight between individuals, perhaps, but they
never bred any considerable disorders.


Among other peoples they would have been followed by years of smolder-
ingr feuds and ever recurring revolutionary cabals and conspiracies. Among
these people they left no taint of bitterness behind them. They were the
concerns of the people, and the people had decided them peaceably, by the
great democratic principle of the majority, and when the majority spoke, all
men alike, openly, frankly, in manly good faith, acquiesced in the majority's
mandate and with right good will set their shoulders to the wheel to work out
the future, like Dumas' heroes, "each for all and all for each."

They had faith in the democratic principle and they grounded their action
on I heir faith.

Brave, honest, just, patient, resourceful, genuinely demoi-ratic, these are
the characteristics which I hold that these crucial crises in our history prove
to be conspicuous, determining qualities in the race which has comc^ out of
the welding of so many races, and, unhampered by artificial conditions, has
expanded and strengthened its lungs, cleared and vitalized its blood and brain,
infused its elastic spring into all who have mingled with it, and braced up its
unshrinking soul to occupy and possess this heart of North America.

I am aware that this is not the kind of paper to which historical societies
are usually called to listen. I have shed no new light on the life or public
services of any of the State's citizens, great or little; I have made no study
of before-undigested statistics; I have dug up no forgotten passages of his-
tory, nor even made a study of any particular period. I doubt if 1 have ad-
verted to any fact which my hearers or some of them did not already know.
If you ask why. then, have I occupied your time, I can only reply that it was
because I thought that not to all of you has it occurred to think of all the re-
lations of the well known facts I have mentioned to each other, and to our
future, as I have dimly outlined. I am, unluckily for myself, no specialist,
yet if the works of specialists be not generalized by somebody, they lie in
archives comparatively barren, and if into that generalization there be not
breathed something of that wonderful gift of man — imagination, they do not
bear that fruit they should, when the unseen contingencies of the future be-
come the pressing problems of the present. As somebody pertinently said
long ago: "It was imagination that reared the wondrous dreamladder upon
which Le Verrier mounted to a star." He took the isolated work of the
specialists who had gone before him^ generalized them into conclusions called
hypotheses, and on these his imagination scaled the sky and added a new
planet to our system.

I have merely pointed out, with some emphasis possibly, facts you all knew
before. And even if you have thought everything that 1 have said about
them, placing them in the same relations and deducing from them similar
conclusions, it may, at least, serve to encourage you to further thought, to
find that another has been slowly plodding along the same lines.

I ha ^e pointed to the fact that our State lies at the heart of North Ameri-
can empire — using that word in no narrow sense — and that the people who
occupy it, if they are worthy of their heritage, may exert a commanding in-
fluence on the evolution of the future. By way of contribution toward know-
ing whether they are worthy, I have pointed to the fact that they are a
composite race, made up of the aggressive elements of nearly all the pro-
gressive races of modern civilization. I have pointed to the circumstances in
which all those racial elements have been welded into one. And, by way of
further contribution, have pointed to some of the things they have done — not
the things their great men have done but the things done by the plain peo-
ple, with the traits of character those acts imply, as earnest out of the past
of what they may do in the future. I believe that if they all had seen this
racial character — all these facts — as it seems to me — if they had fully re-
flected that, in all circumstances, men do as they do because they are what
they are, they would have met the problems of the past with a more hopeful,
if not with more unflinching courage, and so would have been spared much
painful doubt and misgiving, and been inspired with that buoyant elan which
is in itself an element of victory.


The state, or national, manhood that would not merely struggrle at the tail
of the great march of human events, should have some such knowledge of
itself, of what it has been and is, and so be clairvoyant of what it maybe. I
have further sought, in this general and cursory way, to emphasize the
thought that there is every reason for the people of Illinois to feel in an
especial degree, the spur of that most inspiring of all incentives to "high
emprise" in the evolution of history, that is embodied in the significant old
French Noblesse Oblige.


[By J. O. Cuuningham.]

It will only be claimed for this paper that it is a collation of facts from
histories, reports, statutes, and other authorities already in print. They have
been collected with a view to placing in a compact and concise form many in-
teresting tacts touching one of our most important departments of govern-

In all human governments there must and does exist, in some form or
other, the legislative, the executive, and judicial departments. This division
of the powers of government may have developed from the family or patriar-
chal form, through the several stages of clans or tribes, into that more ex-
tended form, the monarchy, where at first, all power was vested in the king;
yet from necessity, history shows us, that early in the development of gov-
ernments these several forms or departments have made their appearance,
either as independent departments, as in our system of republics, or as grants
of power from the king, the source of all power.

The exception to this exists where the government is that of a religious
heirarchy, where the church through its priests, governs the people; at one
and the same time making the laws or rules of society, enforcing their exe-
cution and sitting judicially for the settlement of controversies.

The several forms of government under which the territory now called the
State of Illinois, has existed since its settlement by civilized man, now 200
years ago, has formed no exception to the general rules here stated.

The first political connection of the "Illinois country" at that time being
quite indefinable, except that it lay on both sides of the Mississippi and north
of the Ohio, was under the jurisdiction of New France or Canada; but later
under French authority, it was annexed to Louisiana, an equally indefinable

Early in 1718 Boisbrant, after the five years of failure of Crozat, as the
king's lieutenant, with a detachment of troops came up the river from New
Orleans to Kaskaskia and assumed control of the country, which was the
first military occupation of the village. He selected the site for and erected
Fort Chartres in 1720, at the expense of the company of the west. *

As a part of the Province of Louisiana, the Illinois and Wabash country
were, in 1723, established for civil and military purposes into a district called
"Illinois and Wabash," by Bienville, the French governor of the western
company, at New Orleans, t

Later, under English authority, it was annexed to Canada by an act of the
English parliament, under whose jurisdiction it was when George Rogers

Online LibraryIllinois State Historical Society. 1nPapers in Illinois history and transactions (Volume yr. 1902) → online text (page 13 of 40)