Facing Injustice

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"She says that some 15 years ago she lived in and around Shawneetown, and was stolen ... and sold into slavery. Her name is Lucinda and at the time she was taken she had two children. She says she worked at the saltworks." J.H.C. Ellis, Barren County, Ky., 1843

Among those who profited from slave labor was John Hart Crenshaw, who leased the state-owned salt works along the Saline River near Equality, in southeastern Illinois. The salt works was one of the prime employers of slave labor in early Illinois.

Crenshaw is believed to also have been active in a "reverse underground railroad" in which he kidnapped free African Americans and sold them into slavery. Crenshaw was accused in 1842 of kidnapping Maria Adams and her children and having them taken across the Ohio River into slavery. However, he was acquitted because those said to have been kidnapped could not be found; as a result, there was no proof that anyone had been taken.

A local man, Nelson Adams (who may have been a son of Maria Adams), and others later attacked Crenshaw out of frustration that he had not been convicted. Crenshaw survived and his assailants were convicted of assault and jailed, but Gov. Thomas Ford, acting on a clemency petition, pardoned Crenshaw's attackers. Among advocates for Nelson Adams and the others were two sons of former Gov. Ninian Edwards, who argued that the attackers did not have proper legal representation. Another petitioner commented that "public sentiment in Hardin County was against the conviction."

Crenshaw was indicted multiple times in the 1820s and 1840s for his role in the disappearances of free blacks. Period documents confirm his involvement, although he was never convicted. In time, Crenshaw became a very wealthy man.

In some cases, members of the larger community came to the aid of their African American neighbors. Galena resident, husband and father Jeremiah Boyd was an unemployed laborer who, in 1860, was enticed to leave by the offer of work in Iowa. Boyd and his family soon realized they were in the hands of kidnappers bound for the slave state of Missouri. Boyd was killed when he confronted his captors, and his family was taken into Missouri. Boyd's wife, Mary, was able to alert authorities to the kidnapping, and her abductors were arrested. Residents of the Galena area traveled to Missouri and brought Mary and her children back with them. Mary Boyd lived out her days in Galena, dying there on Jan. 15, 1870.

"You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me." Abraham Lincoln, 1855

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