Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Slavery in Illinois?
Friday is Abraham Lincoln's two hundred and first birthday. That probably signals the end of an entire year of celebrating our sixteenth President. Museums, libraries, schools, books, television shows -- all have been showcasing him more than usual even here in the Land of Lincoln.
The state of Illinois is a few years younger than Mr. Lincoln. We won't be celebrating its 200th birthday until 2018, which is not that far off. Most folks know that Illinois was admitted to the union as a free state. But did you know that slavery was in fact practiced here?
Slavery was permitted for owners of salt mines so that they could continue to operate with this cheap labor source. How many times have you heard someone complain that they had to "go back to the salt mine?" Grueling toil under horrendous working conditions only begins to express how awful existence was for a salt mine slave.
Those who owned slaves before Illinois joined the Union were also allowed to keep their slaves, even though the state was technically "free." Indentured servitude was allowed as well, which basically enslaved all kinds of people for a large portion of their lives. When we bemoan today's injustices, it's interesting to remember how far we've come in a just a couple of centuries.
For more details on slavery in Illinois, a "free" state, see the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency web site.