John Hart Crenshaw and his wife, the former
Francine "Sina" Taylor.|
Are you related to Crenshaw?
Check out the
site for more on other Crenshaw family links.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Books on the Outlaws
of Southern Illinois
Old Slave House
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 IllinoisHistory.com. 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
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
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
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
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
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.