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July 1-2, 2005; East St. Louis and St. Louis communities come together to lay to rest the ancestors that suffered the 1917 East St. Louis Race Riots.
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Slavery In Illinois
In 1720, Pierre Duque, commandant at Kaskaskia, wrote from the 17-year – old town,” a hundred Negroes would be marvelous for this settlement.” This is the first mention of using African slaves in the Illinois country (Eckberg, 145) and so that begins the history of African American slavery in Illinois. It would last for years under French, British and American rule.

Slavery In Illinois: How and Why the Underground Railroad Existed
By: Darrel Dexter

In 1720, Pierre Duque, commandant at Kaskaskia, wrote from the 17-year – old town,” a hundred Negroes would be marvelous for this settlement.” This is the first mention of using African slaves in the Illinois country (Eckberg, 145) and so that begins the history of African American slavery in Illinois. It would last for years under French, British and American rule. Slaves in Illinois were freed by a Process called “gradual emancipation”. It did not end until Illinois Finally ratified a free Constitution in 1848.

Slavery Under the French (1720-1763)
1720- The First record of slaves in Illinois is a June 1720 Document which claims the Jesuits owned 16-18 slaves, African and Indian Eckberg, 146). The Jesuits were the largest owner of slaves in Illinois since the Society of Jesus was quiet wealthy and owned many acres in Illinois. Slaves were used to clear the land to help furnish agriculture for Lower Louisiana (Eckberg, 143) and as miners.

There is a prevalent myth that Phillip Francis Renault brought 500 slaves from Haiti to Illinois Country in 1719 to work in the mines. The new Company of the Indies promised Renault 500 African slaves, but they were to be delivered in installments of 25 Negro slaves annually. That many were never sent (Belting, 59) probably because the mining operations were not successful. It is uncertain how many slaves Renault brought with him in 1720, but early census figures indicate it was not 500. The 1732 census shows he was one of the two largest slave holders in Illinois. He owned 22 slaves, the same number as the Jesuits.

1721- In April, three slave ships with 925 slaves from Angola arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi (Eckberg, 147). It was recorded, “The distribution (of the Africans) has been made with great fairness. The colonist from Illinois who were in the lower colony have participated… Forty of these Negroes are reserved to row in the boats that will ascend to the Illinois Country”(Eckberg, 147).

1724- In the summer of 1724, the Superior Council of Louisiana sent 50 Negro slaves to Illinois (Belting, 147).

The rights of the African slave and those of the French masters were specifically spelled out. In 1724, the French Black code for Louisiana Territory became law (Eckberg, 147).

  1. Slaves were to be properly housed, clothed and fed
  2. Slave children could not be sold away from parents until they reached puberty
  3. Slaves could not be imprisoned, mutilated or put to death without due process
  4. Slaves could not be worked after sunset or before sunrise
  5. Old and infirm slaves had to be cared for
  6. Female slaves could not be sexually exploited
  7. Slaves could not manumit slaves with government permission
  8. Slaves could take masters to court at no cost if they felt violated
  9. Masters could whip and bind their slaves
  10. Slaves could not carry firearms or large sticks
  11. Interracial marriages and cohabitation forbidden
  12. If a slave struck a white in the face hard enough to cause a bruise or bring blood, the penalty was death

Most historians claim that the code was strictly enforced in Lower Louisiana, but not in Illinois where “relations between slave and master were friendly” (Harris, 3). John Mason Peck found a copy of the Code in the Kaskaskia Archives in 1845, when he was writing a history of slavery in Illinois.

In 1730 in Fort de Charters, a slave named Jean was accused of assaulting a white man named Bastien, who called for his hanging. Jean’s defense was that Bastien started the quarrel and that his injuries resulted when he fell against a door. Jean was sentenced to publicly apologize on his knees and whipped on three consecutive days (Belting, 60)

There was never a hint of slave rebellion in Illinois and slaves often carried firearms (Eckberg, 150).

Census figures available
1747- Gov. Gen. Vaudreuil shipment of blacks or mulattos from New Orleans to Illinois because he thought slaves would be more productive in lower Louisiana (Eckberg, 150).

1751- Gov. Gen. Vaudeuil issued slave regulation, which stated slave owners were to discipline their slaves “as a good Father of the family.” Fifty lashes and branding on the buttocks was allowed, “for a Negro who is insolent, forgets he is a slave and does not show appropriate submissiveness” (Eckberg, 149).

Slavery Under the British (1763-1778)
1763 - Illinois was ceded to Great Britain, following the French and Indian War. The British government made no restrictions on slavery in Illinois and the system continued here among the French. By this time black slaves comprised 1/3 of the population of colonial Illinois (Eckberg, 3)

Slavery Under the Americans (1778-1848)
- Illinois was claimed for the State of Virginia and the United States by Gen. George Rogers Clark.* Illinois County was formed by Virginia the same year. Virginians were accustomed to slavery, as the first African slaves had been brought to Jamestown in 1619. Virginia made no restrictions, except in restricting the rights of slaves (Davis, 79). In other words, the Americans saw the French slaves as enjoying too much freedom!

1784- Virginia ceded its claim to Illinois to the U. S. government with the stipulation that ownership by the French of slaves present in 1778 when George Rogers Clark arrived in Illinois be protected (Davis, 83, 165).

1787- The newly acquired land north of Ohio River, now the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, was the Northwest Territory. Northwest Ordinance, Article 6 says, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in said territory otherwise than in the punishment of crimes….”

After the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, more French migrated across the Mississippi River into Spanish territory (Missouri), because they feared the loss of their slaves. The migration had actually begun by 1750s, not because of slavery but because fields on Illinois side were “worn out” (Eckberg, 201). There were also threats from hostile Indians (Boggess, 66-67) and American government was unfamiliar to the French (Boggess, 70) and the Spanish, also Catholic, enticed the French to cross to Missouri (Boggess, 71). Many French remained in Illinois with their slaves, however, and Arthur St. Clair, territory governor, interpreted the Ordinance to mean only that new slaves brought into the territory after 1787 were to be freed.

1796- The first of many petitions was sent to Congress requesting repeal of Article 6 signed by four men (Metzger, 66; Boggess, 176). Some slave owners are discouraged from settling in Illinois because of the laws restricting slavery. A petition signed by 268 French in Illinois asked Congress in 1800 to repeal Article 6 (Davis, 116). In 1805 a majority of the territorial legislature asked for repeal.

1800- Illinois becomes part of the newly created Indiana Territory.

1803- The petitions to repeal Article 6 being rejected and to speed settlement and to help relieve the labor shortage, Indiana Territory Legislature (consisted of Gov. Harris, three judges and a secretary—all appointed) passed the “ Law concerning servants” which was adopted from the Virginia Black Code. The law established a system by which slavery existed under the guise of voluntary servitude.”

The law stated:
That during their servitude, the servants were to receive “wholesome and sufficient food, clothing and lodging”.

At the end of one’s service, the servant was to receive from his master “ a coat, waistcoat, pair of beeches and shoes, two pairs of stockings, two shirts, a hat and blanket.”

Provide for protection of the servant in the event of illness. If the servant became “ useless or chargeable” during the time of service, the master had to support the servant until the term of his servitude had expired. The law also forbad the master from feeding such a servant.

Whipping of indentured servants as punishment for laziness, disorderly conduct, and refusal to work, or other misbehavior was allowed under the black code, provide an order was first obtained from a justice of the peace.

If a servant was found guilty of a crime for which a free person would be punished by a fine, the servant was to be whipped at the rate of 20 lashes for every $8, unless he could find someone to pay the fine. The guilty servant could only be given 40 lashes at any one time.

The contracts of indentured servants could be transferred to any resident of Illinois by the master. According to the law, the servant was to be interviewed by a justice of peace and acknowledge that he consented to the transfer.

At the death of the masters, the reminder of his servant’s service was to be transferred to his executors, administrators or legatees.

Servants were set free at the end of their contracted period and a certificate of freedom was issued by the county court in the county where they last served. Without the certificate of freedom, the former servant could not legally work in Illinois. Without the certificate they were also in danger of kidnapping as a suspected runaway slave.

1805- Indiana Territory passed Black Code, an addition to the 1803 law, which placed some restrictions on the length of the term of servitude:

Allowed masters to bring their Negro or mulatto slaves into the territory. If the slaves were over age 15, they and their master were required to appear together before the clerk of the common pleas within 30 days and make a contract, which stated the number of years the slaves agreed to serve their master.

Slaves who were under age 15 at the time of their arrival in the territory to be indentured as servants, males until they reached the age of 35 years and females until they became 32. Within 30 days they must be registered with the clerk of the court of common pleas in respective county.

All children born to an indentured woman during the time of her service were also made servants, thereby making the servitude hereditary. The children born into indentured servitude could be indentured for 30 years for males and 28 years for females. They were called “ registered” servants.

All slaves who refused to make the contract were to be removed by their master from the territory within 60 days.

A bond of $500 was to be placed with the clerk of the court of common pleas in the county of residence for servants who would be over age of 40 years when their time of service expired. Bonds were not required for those freed before age 40, “if such Negro or mulatto, be at that time capable, him or herself, by his or her own labor” not to become a county charge.

1806- Indiana Territory passed additional laws regarding indentured servants:

Bondservants or slaves could not be more than 10 miles from their master’s plantation or their usual place of residence without a written pass or letter of permission. Anyone had the authority to capture such a servant and bring him or her before the justice of the peace for punishment not exceeding 25 lashes.

If anyone found another’s slave or servant near their dwelling without the permission of the slave’s master, they could punish the servant themselves by administering 10 lashes on his or her bare back.

Unlawful assembles and seditious speeches by slaves or indentured servants were punishable by up to 39 lashes.

Unlawful assemble was defined in 1808 as three or more slaves, servants or servants of color for the purpose of dancing or reveling during the day or night. Those who were caught so assembled were to be brought before a justice of peace of the jailed. The next day, unless that day was Sunday, the convicted parties were to be whipped on their bare back up to 39 lashes by the constable of the township where the offense occurred.

Provisions were made in the law to allow servants or slaves to assemble for amusement if prior written permission was given by the master and provide there was no disorderly conduct.

1809- Illinois Territory was created and the legislature adopted the Black Code from Indiana law.

1818- Illinois Territory petitioned Congress for statehood, but knew they needed a free constitution to be admitted as a state. The Illinois Constitution:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall hereafter be introduced into this state.

“Nor shall any male person arrived at the age of 21 years, nor female person, arrived at the age of 18 years, be held to serve any person as servant under any indenture hereafter made unless

such person shall enter into such indenture while in a state of perfect freedom and on condition of a bona fide consideration received or to be received for their service.’’

From 1818 to 1825 the Illinois Constitution allowed slaves from other states, mainly Kentucky, to labor in the salt works near Shawnee town in Gallatin County for one year at a time. The claim was made that free white laborers could not be hired,

The 1818 convention had taken a small step towards the gradual elimination of contractual slavery in Illinois.

1819- 1st General Assembly passed a stringent set of Black laws. It became illegal to bring slaves to Illinois for the purpose of emancipation. $200 fine for slave freed.

1822- In February, at a meeting in Jonesboro, Alexander Pope Field of Jonesboro, proposed an effort be made in the upcoming election to elect member to the Illinois General Assembly who would support calling a constitutional convention to alter the Illinois constitution to allow slavery. The Illinois Gazette warned its readers on April 6, 1822, that “exertions are making in the lower section of this state for the purpose of introducing slavery in Illinois.”

1823- The movement had gained enough support that several members proposed a constitutional convention. The legislature voted for proposal and a vote was called for on Aug 2,1824, by the people of Illinois.”

1824- The people of Illinois voted against calling a convention, 57% against and 43% for. With the exception of Union County all counties in Southern Illinois voted for the convention. This defeat greatly injured the slavery movement in Illinois and slave holders practically ceased to immigrate to Illinois (Boggess, 187).

1824- Gov. Coles sent a message to Illinois legislature asked that “ provision should be made for the abolition of the African slavery which still exists in this state… as may be deemed consistent with the rights and claims of parties concerned.” (Boggess, 185)

Following the failure in 1824 to make Illinois a slave state, a serious of Illinois Supreme Court decisions helped to gradually emancipate the slaves in Illinois. Six of the most important were:

Cornelius V. Cohen, 1825, the Illinois Supreme Court said that for indentured to be legal and enforceable, both parties must be in agreement to the terms and sign the indenture.

Phoebe V. Jay, 1828—bequeathing indentured servants by will was ruled illegal (Metzger, 76). Indentured servants were not chattel property to be bequeathed, but at the death of the master, servants passed to the master’s administrators or executors who could not compel the servants, by force, to work. The remaining terms of service could be auctioned off at the estate sale.

Choisser V. Hargrave, 1836—indentures were illegal unless made in strict compliance with the law (Metzger, 76). For instance, if servants were not registered or indentured within 30 days after coming to Illinois, they were declare.

Boon V. Juliet, 1836—ruled children of servants registered under the 1807 law could not be contractually indentured, and that children of indentured servants could only be indentured for 21 years or 18 years as per the 1818 constitution. The ruling should have freed hundreds of servants.

Sarah V. Borders, 1843—ruled that if there was any coercion or fraud in getting a slave to agree to an indenture, then the agreement was void.

Jarrot V. Jarrot, Dec 1845—the first ruling concerning French slaves—said all slaves born after1787 (the year of Northwest Ordinance) or brought to Illinois by the French after 1787 or born after1787 were free. This left the French only with slaves who were 60 years old or older.

Economic factors also influenced the end of formal slavery in Illinois. As land became settled, prices for land increased, making it more difficult for poor to become landowners. This helped to greatly alleviate the labor shortage, which had been one reason many in Illinois had slavery and the indentured servitude in the beginning.

Illinois Constitution of 1848--- “ there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This officially ended the last vestiges of slavery in Illinois.

Links to other site pertaining to slavery: (bibliography)

*There is a relationship between George Rodgers Clark & Jean Baptiste Dusable
See Blacks in the Revolutionary war and Blacks
The Illinois Lincoln Era Resources



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