John Hart Crenshaw and his wife, the former Francine "Sina" Taylor.

Are you related to Crenshaw?
Check out the
Crenshaw Clearinghouse
site for more on other Crenshaw family links.



Virtual Tour
Take a Virtual Tour of the house to see what the public misses as it remains closed.



Slavery in Illinois
You may think the Land of Lincoln never experienced slavery, but it did. Here's Ethan A. Snively's 1901 article on Slavery in Illinois.



Reverse U.G.R.R.
Crenshaw didn't kidnap in a vacuum. His operations represented just part of a larger kidnapping network that operated throughout the state and country. One historian even claimed that the first Underground Railroad operators in the state copied their operations from the successful house-to-house network used by the kidnappers. For more information check out Black Kidnappings in Southeastern Illinois for more on what others were doing in this region.



Underground Railroad
In spite of activities by Crenshaw and others, both blacks and whites managed to help slaves escape into freedom here in Southern Illinois. Check out the Underground Railroad page for more information and links.



Gallatin Salines
Although it misses some key points in the history of the saltworks, Jacob Myers' 1922 account does provide a good overview of the salines, though he is weak on the slavery issue.



Coming Soon!
Books on the Outlaws
of Southern Illinois



Old Slave House
— Status Alert —

AUGUST 17, 2004 — The National Park Service is now taking comments on the application of the Old Slave House to join their Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. Click here to comment. When the page pulls up, scroll down the page to the Illinois nominations. Find the Old Slave House one and click on the link to comment.

AUGUST 1, 2004 — The summer newsletter for Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House is now online.

JULY 14, 2004 — The Old Slave House has been nominated for the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. The text portion of the application is now online here at Despite's the site's status as a station on the Reverse UGRR, the legislation creating the program also authorized the NPS to recognize such kidnapping sites as well.

SUMMER 2003 — Although the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency acquired the house in December 2000, the site remains closed to the public, due to lack of state funding to hire staff. Because of the lack of funding they also have no plans to reopen the site at any specific point in the future. That's something that Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House plans to change. On June 9, 2003, between 40 and 50 residents from more than seven counties met at Southeastern Illinois College and adopted a Plan of Action that could reopen the site.

The site remains protected though. A local auxiliary deputy sheriff occupies the living quarters in the house and strictly enforces the "No Trespassing" signs erected by the state.

JULY 1, 2003 — A rally at the Saline County Courthouse received good media coverage. We still working to get local governments and elected officials to adopt the plan of action as well as pass resolutions in support. Click on resolution for a Microsoft Word document that contains a generic resolution of support.

Check back often for any updates, or contact me to be notified by e-mail when there are any updates.

— Original Findings - 1996 —

Ron Nelson started the research into the Old Slave House in September 1996, just over a month before it closed. His quick findings on the Maria Adams kidnapping case drew the attention of Gary DeNeal, publisher of Springhouse Magazine who joined the research effort. At the time I worked as a reporter for The Daily Register in Harrisburg, covering the site's closing. I joined the research team on November 1, just after the site closed. Below are the initial stories published, first in Springhouse, and then the Daily Register, on our findings from the research.

While the articles are accurate, they only represent the first wave of discoveries about the activities of John Hart Crenshaw. Those discoveries are continuing as the research progresses even to this day. — Jon Musgrave

  • Parts 2-4     New evidence proves key Hickory Hill legends
    JUNCTION, Ill. (Jan. 6-8, 1997) — The key to proving whether blacks were held against their will on the third floor of the Old Slave House lies in discovering the character of the home's original owner, John Hart Crenshaw. That key has been found.
  • Part 5     Abraham Lincoln relaxes at Hickory Hill
    JUNCTION, Ill. (Jan. 9, 1997) — The legends of Abraham Lincoln staying at John Crenshaw's Hickory Hill Plantation have long been easy to debunk by critics of the Old Slave House, but not so more.
— Other Old Slave House Stories —

    Rally for Slave House draws Congressman
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (July 2, 2003) — A small crowd of about 30 people rallied at the Saline County Courthouse Tuesday to inform the public and to gather support for a plan to open the Old Slave House in Equality by Aug. 8.
    Rally set to urge Old Slave House reopening
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (June 26, 2003) — The grassroots group calling itself Open it NOW! is holding a rally 11:30 a.m. July 1 on the north steps of the Saline County Courthouse to draw greater support for a plan to get the Old Slave House in Equality opened before the end of the summer.
    Rally set to urge Old Slave House reopening
    MARION, Ill. (June 23, 2003) — The grassroots effort to reopen the Old Slave House outside Equality, Illinois, will take off with a public rally and news conference at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 1, at the Saline County Courthouse in Harrisburg.
    Old Slave House eyes reopening
    EVANSVILLE, Ind. (June 22, 2003) — A group working to preserve an old slave house is hopeful Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will hear its pleas to open the house and continue to preserve it.
    Old Slave House eyes reopening
    EQUALITY, Ill. (June 15, 2003) — By early August, the Old Slave House should be open to the public again, serving as a reminder that slavery is part of Illinois' history. That is, if Gov. Rod Blagojevich buys into Jon Musgrave's free "four-point plan" to revive the site that once drew crowds upward of 38,000 a year.
    Meeting set to plan ways to reopen Old Slave House
    MARION, Ill. (June 9, 2003) — A public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 12, at Southeastern Illinois College in the private dining room off of the cafeteria. The purpose of the meeting will be to develop and endorse a plan of action in an effort to get the Old Slave House reopened to the public.
  • Students affected by house's history
    HICKORY HILL, Ill. (April 20, 2000) — Steve Foster said he had no idea what to expect, but after spending less than an hour at The Old Slave House Tuesday, Foster said it turned out to be the best school trip he's ever attended.
  • Money in budget, state to buy Old Slave House
    JUNCTION, Ill. (April 19, 2000) — After 56 years of effort by his family, owner George Sisk, with help from researchers and letters to legislators from concerned citizens, has convinced Sen. Donne Trotter to include the acquisition of the Crenshaw House, also known as the Old Slave House, in the budget of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
  • State to purchase Old Slave House
    SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (April 17, 2000) — Preservation of Illinois' "uglier" history and Southern Illinois tourism will get state help under a $500,000 purchase plan included in the new $46.5 billion budget approved Saturday, state Sen. Ned Mitchell, D-Sesser, said.
  • Daily Egyptian endorses state acquisition
    CARBONDALE, Ill. (March 2, 2000) — The Old Slave House near Equality, the only known location in Illinois believed to be involved in slave trading, has been closed to the public since 1996.
  • Owners look to state for acquisition
    CARBONDALE, Ill. (Feb. 29, 2000) — The 162-year-old house sits on top of a hill surrounded by a beautiful landscape of green grass. The three-story mansion's red finish looks as if it were freshly painted. The first floor, with its old-fashion furniture and design, is like something out of a Tennessee Williams novel. The second floor, once a large ballroom, is just the same.
  • New findings about Old Slave House revealed
    MARION, Ill. (Sept. 28, 1999) — Researchers of the Old Slave House announced today in a Marion press conference new findings they say dramatically emphasize a need for state acquisition of the site.
  • 'Slave Jail' break
    CARBONDALE, Ill. (Oct. 28, 1998) — There are places throughout Southern Illinois with dark histories, unspoken pasts and skeletons in the closets. At the top of Hickory Hill near Equality stands an old house that not only has skeletons in its closet, but ghosts as well.
  • Deputies arrest trio for burglary at Old Slave House
    HICKORY HILL, Ill. (Aug. 5, 1998) — Three Indiana residents were each charged Tuesday afternoon with burglary and criminal damage to property after they were discovered drinking beer and watching television inside the Old Slave House in Gallatin County, police said.
  • Burglars shake up owners of historic site
    HICKORY HILL, Ill. (Aug. 5, 1998) — For 70 years tourists flocked to the historic Old Slave House between Equality and Shawneetown. They toured the grounds and climbed the stairs. Few ever realized that the slave house also served as the home for the Sisk family.
  • Hold the salt: Crenshaw's 200th birthday, actions recalled
    EQUALITY, Ill. (Nov. 19, 1997) — If you need another reason to pass on the salt today, think about this: It's the 200th birthday of John Crenshaw, the Southern Illinois Salt King best known for his role as a kidnapper of free blacks and builder of the Old Slave House near here.
  • Landmarks group tour slave house, other sites
    OLD SHAWNEETOWN, Ill. (Oct. 24, 1997) — A mixture of awe, anger and disappointment shown Wednesday as members of the leadership team of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois toured the Shawneetown Bank.
  • Speaker focuses on pirate James Ford's links to Crenshaw
    HARRISBURG Ill. (Aug. 9, 1997) — Someone said to me, "I missed a good meeting the other night, didn't I?" and I answered, "you sure did." We were talking about the Genealogical Society meeting on July 21 when Ron Nelson told his story of the Ohio River pirates, and yes, the fellow who asked, surely missed another fascinating true story of Egypt and the nearby land on the other side of the Ohio River, told as only Ron could tell it.
  • Members of Black Caucus visit Old Slave House
    JUNCTION Ill. (May 31, 1997) — From the statehouse to the slave house and back, five members of the Legislative Black Caucus traveled from Springfield to the Old Slave House near Equality Friday.
  • Country singer shows interest in Old Slave House
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (April 23, 1997) — The owner of the Old Slave House announced Wednesday morning a rising country music star may be interested in purchasing the historic home for removal to Texas.
    Webmaster's Note: This proposal is dead so don't worry about it.
  • 'Crenshaw Rascals' speak at Genealogical Society
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (April 18, 1997) — Last month's meeting was a "sellout" — a full house. We would have been hard pressed to find a place for five more chairs. True to form and promise, Ron Nelson delivered. He and the other "Crenshaw Rascals" kept us listening and asking questions for two hours, enthralled.
  • National Park Service looks at Old Slave House
    JUNCTION, Ill. (Dec. 31, 1996) — A delegation of Underground Railroad historians led by a 30-year veteran of the National Park Service met for five hours Monday afternoon with George Sisk, owner of the now-closed Old Slave House.
  • Old Slave House closes for good
    JUNCTION, Ill. (Nov. 1, 1996) — After 70 years as Southern Illinois' oldest privately-owned tourist attraction, the Crenshaw House closed its doors for good at 5 p.m. Halloween evening.
  • Black leaders support saving Old Slave House
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (Sept. 19, 1996) — When area community leaders and tourism activists have discussed the future of the Old Slave House or Crenshaw House in the past, one question has been tip-toed around by the all-white groups: How do Black Americans feel about the site?
  • Old Slave House to close for good Oct. 31
    JUNCTION, Ill. (Sept. 18, 1996) — The owner of the oldest privately-owned tourist attraction in Southern Illinois says he's closing the doors after Oct. 31, and wants to sell to the state.
  • A piece of history fading out
    McLEANSBORO, Ill. (Sept. 9, 1996) — One of Southern Illinois' unique historical sites is going to close down soon unless the state of Illinois buys it.
  • The Lost Story of the Old Slave House
    HARRISBURG, Ill. (1921) — It's called the "Lost Story" because it's the first time someone put the story of the Old Slave House in print. However, it remained long forgotten. It settles the argument of whether the Sisk family made up the stories about the house since it predates the house as a tourist attraction.
— People's Reactions to the Site —

  • Letter to the Editor of the Daily Egyptian
    CARBONDALE, Ill. (Oct. 16, 1996) — This state is about to lose an important historical landmark. Crenshaw House in Equality, Illinois will be torn down in November. The present owners can no longer afford to maintain it. The state of Illinois is refusing any responsibility for its upkeep.

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