Tuesday, August 17, 2004

UGRR Network to Freedom
The National Park Service is now taking comments on the Old Slave House application to join the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. To make a comment click on the link and scroll down the page to the Illinois sites being nominated. There you will find the abstract of the application and a link to a comment page.

Like I've said before, it's a bit counterintuitive to be nominating a kidnapping station to a freedom-loving Underground Railroad network, but when Congress passed the law creating the program, they told the Park Service to use the broadest definition possible. That definition includes opposition sites like the Old Slave House as the last standing Reverse Underground Railroad station still standing.

If by now you are reading about the Old Slave House for the first time, the original owner of the house kidnapped free residents of color and sold them into slavery, participated directly in slave trading and according to various accounts used the third floor attic of the his plantation manor - Hickory Hill - as a slave jail for his kidnapped and captured victims.

The Sisk family operated the site for 70 years as a private residence and a public museum. The last owner retired and closed the site in 1996 and the state of Illinois purchased it in 2000 for a state historic site. So far though no one has given the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency enough money to operate it.

Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House organized last summer and offered a plan that could reopen the site very quickly using admission fees for operating revenue. Click on the link for the updated plan.

If you would like to read more about the research and the full text from the application it's online here on IllinoisHistory.com.

A much more interesting account and goes even further in depth about the house will come out later this fall in a new book called Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw.

One thing to remember about the application is that it only deals with the Old Slave House/John Crenshaw events/stories that relate directly to the Underground Railroad program. It doesn't deal with all the other history, including the role of slavery at the saltworks, Robert "Uncle Bob" Wilson and slave breeding, and Crenshaw's other, more legitimate, business ventures.

IHPA agreed to allow the house to be nominated. The NPS encouraged me to nominate it as a first step. If included in the network it doesn't mean that we will get to reopen the Old Slave House the next day, but it will help our future efforts to save the site.

Please take the time to give your opinion on the site. Click here to go the page with the information on all the sites being nominated this round.

I want to thank everyone in advance for their support. We'll get this site reopen yet.
Slavery-Era Insurance Policies
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's Division of Insurance unveiled today its Slavery Era Policies Register, an online database of slave insurance policies once issued by companies that still do business in Illinois.

As expected, most companies reported back to the state they had no such policies simply because they weren't around during that period, but some of the companies are that old. A law signed earlier this year required insurance companies doing business in the state to report any slavery-era policies to the insurance regulators by June 15.

I didn't see any for Illinois and particularly for Crenshaw, but there were at least a half dozen for slaves from Union Co., Kentucky, which is just across the river. However, I didn't recognize any of the names. Most of the Union County slaves were listed as workers on either the Bunker Hill or Ambassador steamboats. The latter burned and sank on April 25, 1847, according to information I found on the Twain Times site.

That's actually one of the interesting finds in these policies. They were generally written for slaves who were working off of the plantation, on steamboats, in coal mines, or other industrial activities.

I saw at least one policy taken out by Lewis C. Robards, one of the most notorious slave traders and kidnappers in antebellum Kentucky. Robards ran a famous slave jail in a converted theater in Lexington that was known for its high-class, light-skinned female slaves. Physical descriptions of that slave jail by the way do show some similarities with the third floor of the Old Slave House. For additional trivia, Robard's uncle Lewis Robards was the first husband of President Andrew Jackson's wife Rachel, the one that Jackson thought had already divorced Rachel when he married her.

I also saw a few policies for John H. Morgan of Fayette Co., Kentucky. He's better recognized as Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan, and his troops as Morgan's Raiders. It was men ultimately under his command that raided into Gallatin Co., Illinois, during the Civil War.

You can search by name for either the slave or the slave holder at the Slavery Era Insurance Policies Registry on the state's website.