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"Is it possible that men, women, and children are to be doomed to life-long Slavery for the simple act of coming into the State of Illinois? Are we to be forever proscribed, harassed, annoyed, and persecuted this way?" Frederick Douglass, 1853

As time went on, the use of indentured servants proved to be a useful alternative for those who wished to keep servants. Slave owners appeared in court with their slaves, who had no choice but to "voluntarily" agree to serve their former owners for set periods of time. Some indentures ran for as many as 99 years, and indentures involving young children and even infants were common. Indentured servitude in Illinois became the equivalent of slavery. Cahokia Courthouse records are full of these indentures.

Indentures were not limited to French descendants or to southern Illinois. In 1835, Abraham Lincoln's brother-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards (son of Illinois' third governor), entered into an indenture agreement with an 11-year-old girl named Hepsey:

Witnesseth that Hepsey a mulatto girl aged eleven years on the 28th day of October 1835 having no parent or guardian of her own free will bound herself to Ninian W. Edwards — to learn the art and mystery of domestic housewifery — and with him to dwell and continue to serve until the said Hepsey shall attain the full age of eighteen years.

In 1845, the Illinois Supreme Court case of Jarrot v. Jarrot abolished slavery and its various forms of indentured servitude in Illinois. The 1848 Illinois Constitution then formally declared "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state."

The 1845 case involved Joseph Peter Jarrot. He had belonged to Nicholas Jarrot, a French-born businessman who owned 10 to 12 slaves when he died in 1820. In 1843, Joseph Jarrot sued his owner's widow for back wages, arguing that he was not a slave. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled that anyone born after the 1787 passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which prohibited slavery, had been born free.

"It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance. This is the sentiment embodied in that Declaration of Independence." Abraham Lincoln, 1861

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