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Knox County, Illinois
History & Genealogy


By Albert J. Perry
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company

pp. 760 - 766

     A history of the people of Knox county would be far from complete without some account of the negroes.  In fact, when we come to consider the different races that have homes here, the negro race is of scarcely less importance than any other one race.  Not perhaps on account of the work it has done or on account of any place it has filled in this county from an economic viewpoint, but rather because its history here is supplemental to conditions and experiences which were at the bottom of a civilization which had been developing in one-half of the whole United States for two hundred years.  The influence of negro slavery can be seen in old colonial life of Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas and wherever that life existed.  It may be difficult to imagine that the courtly manners, the quiet dignity, the almost limitless hospitality which characterized the southern colonial gentleman had its origin largely in the unrequited toil of an inferior race.  Of course climatic conditions always play a part in moulding the character of a race; but beyond all this, the fact that the institution of slavery gave leisure and therefore refinement to the whole household still remains.  The financially successful owners of slaves had much less to do than their northern brethren who not only contended with a more vigorous climate but looked wholly after their own personal matters upon which their subsistence and that of their families depended.  The leisure that was enjoyed in the southern colonial home was spent largely in the entertainment of friends.  The social side of life was the principal element in which he lived and the largest contribution that came to this state of existence came from the negro slave.  This life had been moulding the southern character for generations.
     But let it be said of the negro slave, that the institution of slavery did not inure to the sole benefit of the white men.  The negro received a certain benefit also.  Some of them lived on, comparatively, quite intimate terms with their masters and derived much intellectual benefit thereby.  And it would seem that in no other way can we account for the phenomenal advancement of the race since the limiting influences of slavery have been removed.  The progress of the black man in the United States has been almost as remarkable in the last half century as the progress of the Japanese in Japan and if we consider the races from the standpoint of general improvement and not the military side, we may reasonably give the negro first place.  The number of homes that the negroes have made for themselves, the farms that they have acquired, the professions they have adopted, the wealth they have gained, not only as a people, but as individuals (some of them are really wealthy), all speak most hopefully of and for the future of our colored citizens.
     Truly, then, a consideration of the negro race in Knox county will be of especial interest.
     This consideration, however, is attended with more or less difficulty.  The first comers left little or no record of their doings.  Most of them have passed away and those who are still living have rather poor or uncertain memories, so
that anything like exact or authentic accounts are hard to get.  Generally speaking, the negroes have been unskilled day laborers in this county.  Some have been masons, some carpenters, and others contractors.  We are pleased to present the following article by Mr. Lewis .C. Carter, one of our most respected citizens of the negro race:

By Mr. Lewis C. Carter

     Among the first of the negro people coming to Knox county before the civil war were Harry Van Allen and Susan Van Allen, his wife.  They came some time about the year 1840.  They were free people and if they were ever slaves,

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the writer never knew it.  Being the only colored people in Galesburg at that time, they were very prominent.  Mrs. Van Allen was a member of the old First church.  Mr. Van Allen died some time in the fifties.
     Two children were born to them, Mary and Owen Van AllenOwen Van Allen became a barber, following the trade of his father.  He is now living in the west.  Mary died some years ago.
     Some years after the death of her husband, Mrs. Van Allen was married to Mr. Thomas Richardson, being his second wife.  Thomas Richardson was also among the early colored people of Galesburg.  He and his first wife, were about the second arrivals in Galesburg of the colored people.  Mr. Richardson became a prominent and useful citizen of Knox county.  His home was on the corner of West and Ferris streets where the Galesburg Electric Light and Power company's plant now stands.  The property passed out of the hands of the Richardsons a few years ago.  Mr. Richardson was well known as a good farmer and a very capable teamster.  He had eight children, four sons and four daughters and all grew to manhood and womanhood.  The boys were Tilford, Samuel, Benjamin and Richard; the daughters, Angeline, Janet, Clarissa, and Prodine.  Farming was the principal occupation of the sons.  They were well known in the city and county for years.  Samuel owned property in the northwest corner of section nine, Galesburg township.  As far as known, all of the first family of children are dead.  Some of the grandchildren are living.  Alfred Richardson still resides in this city.  He has been a trusted night watchman of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad company for many years, and his devotion to duty has given him an enviable reputation.  It is said of him that he is known to the tramps who swarm in this part of the state as a man who permits no lounging about the company's buildings or yard.  He has served several terms on the police force of the city with equal credit.
     The Searles family was one of the largest of the early colored families.  The old gentleman, Mr. Francis Searles, was born in Steward county, Georgia, Mar. 8, 1772.  He was a white man.  His wife, Mrs. Polly Searles. was born in the same county and state and was a colored woman.  They left their native state in the year 1847 and came to Galesburg where they made their home until he died, in 1875.  For a time they lived on South Chambers street.  He bought the old Chappell farm situated one mile northwest of Galesburg, where he was living at the time of his death.  His wife followed him a few years after.  Their family consisted of three sons and six daughters and they all reached mature ages, and they stood well among their people.  James Matteson Searles, the oldest son, was an expert in well-digging and laying sewer.  His son George W. Searles was a graduate of Knox college.  John Adams Searles, the youngest son, moved to Kansas and settled upon a farm belonging to one of his sisters, where he died last year.  The other brother died in 1880.  The daughters were Mary Ann, Jane Gensey, Betsey, Sarah, Charlotte and Martha.  Four of the daughters are still living and are well along in years.  Mary Ann lives on North Henderson street and her name is Richardson.  She is the mother of Albert Richardson above spoken of.  Charlotte lives at 473 South Chambers street where she has resided since the death of her parents.  She was injured in a railroad accident some forty years ago, by which she lost a leg and an arm.  She follows the trade of dressmaker and earns

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her living thereby.  The older sister runs a nine hundred acre farm in Kansas.  She is a widow.  The youngest sister, Martha, lives in Chicago.  The mother was a liberated slave before the war and the children were all free-born.
     Rev. Levi Henderson was the first negro minister of Galesburg.  He came in an early day and his home was about No. 423 West Tompkins street.  Rev. Henderson built the first colored church in Galesburg, known as Allen Chapel on East Tompkins street.  Rev. Henderson was a very devout man.  The writer of this article, at that time a runaway slave boy, had the pleasure of living with him in July, 1863.  He died in the '70s and his wife followed him a few years later.
     Rev. McGill and his wife, Rachel, were a very venerable couple.  Mr. McGill was one of the early pastors of Allen chapel.  He was a retired minister of the denomination.  He was the father of seven children, two sons and five daughters.  One of the daughters is living in Iowa.  His son, Isaiah McGill, was well known
in Galesburg for many years.  He followed the trade of brick mason and plasterer.  His son, Hiram McGill, is now living in this city and follows the trade of his father Isaiah.
     Many families came from the south during and after the war, which increased the colored population of Galesburg and Knox county very materially. Aaron Welcome and his wife, Sarah, came in 1862.  He was a farmer and also followed the carpenter's trade.  In 1863 he, with William Webster, John Davis and several others, enlisted in the Union army of the war of the rebellion.  There also came the following between 1862 and 1875: George Fletcher, Thomas Roads and wife, Paul Fletcher and wife, Abraham Murray and wife.  Perry Cook and wife, Edward Washington and wife, William Stewart, William Laport, Peter Lawsey, William Elsey and brother, George Owens and wife, John Brown and wife, George Solomon, John Hopkins and wife, Elijah Slaughter and wife, John A. Logan, James Lyons and wife, Moses Jenkins and wife, James Johnson and wife, Andrew Anderson and wife, Thomas Stevens and wife, Elias Fletcher and wife, Jefferson Turner and wife, James McGruder and wife and Dennis Fletcher and wife.  Several sons of Andrew Anderson are still living in Galesburg and Charles McGruder, son of James McGruder, is now the janitor of Central Primary school building.
     The Gash family constitutes quite a large circle.  They came soon after the close of the war.  They were Jefferson Gash, Anderson Gash, William Gash, George Gash, Harrison (Tip) Gash, Sarah Gash, Mrs. Craig, Mrs. Waters, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Williams and George, her husband, and Mrs. Hildridge, being the brothers and sisters of the Gash family.
     Among those who came to Galesburg about this time were William Stewart and wife, Levi Johnson and wife (the wife being a sister of the Gashes), Isaac Green and wife, Mrs. Melissa Alexander (later Mrs. Warren, who became a successful nurse), Jesse Hazel and wife, Henry Will and wife and William DavisIsaac Green died Dec. 11, 1911, at the age of 76 years.  He raised a large family.  Jesse Hazel was a soldier in the war of the rebellion, was taken prisoner and confined in Libby prison for nine months.  He is still a conspicuous figure on our streets. William Davis was also a soldier and a capable plasterer and mason.

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Most of the above persons spent their lives in Galesburg and helped to develop the resources of the city and county in their respective vocations and trades.  Though their pursuits were in the common walks of life, yet they were useful and filled a general demand, some as farmers and some as common laborers or mechanics.  Most of these people came from Missouri, but Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana have each furnished quite a number.  Richard Worthington, an old soldier, came from Kentucky.  He was very well to do and was supposed to be worth $30,000 to $40,000.  He died recently, leaving one son, Richard, Jr., and a fourth wife.
     The negroes of the south, as a rule, were better posted on the progress of the war than the poor white people, for the reason that some of their numbers were always with the better educated class of the white people.  They were house servants and therefore heard the newspapers read and heard war matters talked over.  The information thus acquired was communicated to the colored people on the farms at secret meetings held by the colored people.  At these meetings the war situation was pretty carefully considered.  The question of freedom was also much talked of.  The result of every battle fought, as reported in the southern papers, was soon known to the colored people.  They knew the details and whether the victory was favorable to the master or to the slave.  The countenances of the white people were carefully observed and if an anxious expression was seen, the colored people knew the news was good for them and bad for their masters, and the reading aloud of the papers told the story.  Besides this source of information there could always be found in every community some white man or men who sympathized with the slave, and these men helped to keep the slaves informed of the true conditions and really encouraged them in hoping for freedom as the final result of the war.
     All of the above named families became property owners, as well as a number of colored families not mentioned in this article.  Out of a population of about twelve hundred colored people, there are about 165 families who own homes.  Many of these homes are comfortable and compare favorably with the homes owned by the laboring classes of other races.  As it is with the white men, the homes of the colored men improve as their conditions improve and the race generally developes as conditions grow better.
     There are two churches in the city of Galesburg belonging to the colored people, the African Methodist Episcopal church and the Second Baptist church.  The total value of the two church properties is about $20,000.
     I am pleased to insert also the autobiography of Mr. Lewis C. Carter, author of the foregoing account of the negro race in Knox county.
     I was born on the farm of Winder C. Dingle four miles north of Palmyra, county seat of Marion county, Missouri, and about fifteen miles southwest of Quincy, Illinois, on the I5th day of March, 1850.  I was the slave of Mr. Dingle, he having purchased my mother about six months before I was born.  My mother had been the property of his brother-in-law, Wm. Kelly.  Kelly had mortgaged all of his property, including my mother, to a money lender and slave dealer by the name of Bill ThompsonMr. Kelly lost his property as the result of a fast life and high living.  At the request of Mr. Kelly, my mother was purchased by Mr. Dingle.  My life on the farm was passed about like the average slave boy of that day.  As soon as I was large enough to run about I was kept

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busy as errand boy. I was also soon large enough to look after the babies, both white and colored.  Later I waited upon the table and drove the carriage for my mistress on her visits around the neighborhood.  I also looked after the saddle horse.  At eight years of age I was put to plowing corn and other field work in general.  Mr. Dingle had but a few slaves, three men, Edmond, Bill and Jack.  When I was about nine years old Jack was sold south.  Soon after Ned, as he was called, was sold to a Dr. Geater in our neighborhood.  In 1861 Bill died with lung trouble, leaving me the only male slave, except a brother four years old.  I had three sisters on the place. There were two other girl slaves.
     Dr. Dingle had two daughters and four sons.  The sons had to work on the farm the same as boys do in Illinois.  He also hired slaves from other farmers.  It was through the influence and assistance of one of these hired slaves that I ran away from my owner. The name of this slave was Ephraim Easley, the uncle of William Easley, the porter at the Galesburg Business Men's club of this city.  Ephraim owned a horse which he sold to the soldiers for $90.  He had married one of the slave girls.  On Monday night, July 14, 1863, he took his wife, one of my sisters, the other slave girl and myself and our plow horses and left for the land of freedom.  We left our horses in the woods near Quincy all night in the rain.  We had ridden the horses (four of them) thus far and there turned them loose, hoping that they would find their way back to the farm, and we learned that they were recovered about a week later.
     We arrived in Galesburg Thursday night, July 17, 1863.  We did not know where we were going to stop.  The bus driver took us to the home of Mr. Henry Bailey, situated on East Ferris street on the lot now occupied by the Swedish Episcopal church.  Mr. Bailey proved to be an old acquaintance of us all.  He had recently come from Palmyra. I remained there a week.  I worked for a Mr. Stowell on the Knoxville road for twenty-five cents a day hoeing corn.  I spent my first free money for a hickory shirt, as I had but the one I wore on my back.  Shirts were high in those days, the same could be bought now for twenty-five cents.  I lived a week with Rev. Henderson, the colored Methodist minister and then with Dr. Chapman, who found me a home on a farm with Cyrus Metcalf, living north of Mr. Chas. A. Hinckley on Farnham street.  I went there August 7, 1863, and remained until March 1, 1864, when Mr. Metcalf moved to Ontario township onto his brother Michael's farm where I remained for two years.  All this time I worked for my board and clothes as I had been disabled the winter of 1863-4 with rheumatism.  That winter was a very severe one, the roads were blocked and drifted in every direction and my rheumatism proved to be a very stubborn case for I was in bad shape for several years.  Nevertheless, the two years spent in Ontario were exceedingly pleasant and happy ones.  I had been given my first opportunity of attending the public schools.  I was fourteen years old.  Jan. 1, 1865, I started to the Ontario school.  It was a happy day for me.  My mother used to tell me in slavery that in the north black children and white would go to the same school.  I could
not realize it until I had seen it.  I nearly mastered three books the first three months.  Three months of schooling a year were all boys got at that time, yet they seemed to get about as much out of it as they do now in nine months or a year.  Clothes was not the question in our grandfathers' days.  High heeled shoes and peg-leg pants were not known.

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     Mr. Metcalf moved to Oneida in the spring of 1866 and I hired out to Wm. Stephenson for three months.  The remainder of the summer I worked for Henry Leffingwell at Ontario.  He was a brother of Dr. Leffingwell of St. Mary's school, Knoxville.
     About the middle of August, 1866, I met Mr. S. H. Ferris who lived in Galesburg.  He owned a farm at Woodhull.  I finally bound myself to him until 1 would be twenty-one years of age.  I was to have board, clothing, three months' schooling each year, one dollar a month to buy collars, ties, take my girl to shows and buggy riding, and one hundred dollars at the end of my service.  I had to figure some to make ends meet.  When I became twenty-one I had overdrawn $2.35 of my monthly dues, so that was taken off of my hundred dollars.  I took a horse instead of the money.  A year later I sold the horse to a Mr. David Cutter for $75.  I finally had to take two months' board for pay.  That was living high five years' work for two months' board.  All together I obtained twenty-two months' schooling, against nine years' schooling that the average boy gets today.  All of my four boys received that or more.
     I worked nine months for Mr. Ferris after I was twenty-one.  The last of November, 1871, I went to work for Mr. Henry Hitchcock, superintendent of the "Burlington" at Galesburg.  I worked for him five years, then went into the grocery store of Greene & Dore, June 12, 1876.  I remained with that store through five changes of proprietors, covering a period of seventeen and one fourth years.  From that house I took up employment with D. C. Raymond & Son, for whom I have worked over eighteen years, making over thirty-five years in the grocery business.
     In 1878, June 18th, I was married to Miss Emily Louisa Alexander, daughter of Mrs. Melissa Alexander, a widow, who came from Palmyra in the fall of 1864.  They were the slaves of Walker Loutham of Palmyra.  Her brothers, Ralph and John, came with them.  Ralph Alexander was one of the first mail carriers in Galesburg, appointed by Hon. Clark E. Carr while he was postmaster.  To our union six children were born, four sons and two daughters, Eugene, Estelle, Lewis, Jr., Eva, Clarence and Harold.  At this writing all are living and in good health.  The oldest is thirty-two, the youngest eighteen.  We purchased our home at 186 West South street of Hon. T. J. Hale in 1881 and are living in the same house at the present time.  I have always endeavored to lend my influence to every cause that seemed good to me, and to work as far as possible for the improvement of the moral tone of the city, and I am pleased to add that my wife has always been an active associate and worker in all efforts of this kind.
                                                                                            LEWIS C. CARTER

     The fact that Mr. Carter has spent thirty-five years in the grocery business in this city with but one change in location is a strong testimonial to his honesty, ability and courtesy as a salesman and the writer further states that during all those years he has been personally acquainted with Mr. Carter, has found him all that one could expect from a young man who has always displayed the steady perseverance, industry and upright character revealed in the foregoing autobiography.  That it is not birth or education alone that makes a man is conclusively demonstrated by the story of Mr. Carter's life.




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