Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Black Laws and Kidnapping of Blacks in Lawrence County

In the on- line book-- A Complete History of Illinois from 1673-1873: Embracing the Physical,--  several pages are devoted  to “The Black Laws” that were enacted  after the adoption of the State Constitution of 1818. Among them were:
  • ·         Any person in the State wishing to emancipate his slaves, was required to execute a county bond of $1000.
  • ·         No Negro was permitted to reside in the State until he had first produced a certificate of freedom that included a description of the person.
  • ·         Every Negro  not having a proper certificate was deemed a runaway subject to arrest.
  • ·         To harbor any slave was a felony.
  • ·         Any slave found ten miles from home without a permit was liable to arrest and 35 lashes on the bare back.

But the Constitution did not make adequate provision for the punishment of the crime of kidnapping, or the crime of seizing free blacks, running them south and selling them into slavery.

The story is told in this book of Jackson Butler, a free black man.   He,  his wife and 6 children residing in Illinois a few miles from Vincennes were kidnapped by a band of villains from Lawrence county .”Butler had been purchased by Gov. Harrison in Kentucky brought to Indiana, indentured, and had served out his term faithfully.  His wife was born free, which rendered the children also free. 

 They were taken down the Wabash to the Ohio, thence south.  Harrison learning of the outrage, offered a reward of $200 for the apprehension of the kidnappers.  The name of Harrison gave it wide circulation, and in September following, news came that the Butler family had been rescued at New Orleans, just as they were about to be shipped to Cuba. 

Aug 2, 1823 Shawneetown Illinois Gazette.  The newspaper reprints the letter from Harrison’s son to this father telling of the kidnapping.

On the night of the 23rd ult. a party of kidnappers went to the home of Jack Butler and succeeded in taking off Jack, his wife, and six children, two boys and four girls. I did not hear of the atrocious crime having been committed until late in the afternoon of the following day and it was sometime in the night before the course they had been taken was ascertained…They had been taken down the river by three villains who came to this place from Vandalia some weeks before.  Their names are Dr. Bird, Benjamin Myres, and a man calling himself Welsh. They purchased a skiff on the 22nd ult. and on the afternoon of the 23d, they left here as they started for Shawneetown, went down during the night and seized their unsuspecting prey. 

A soon as I was made acquainted of the facts I immediately started a Mr. Osborn in pursuit by land.  He has just returned without being able to apprehend the scoundrels or reclaim the poor blacks.  When he arrived at Shawneetown he learned that the skiff had passed six hours before his arrival.  He endeavored without success to raise a party to continue the pursuit.  With a few exception the citizens were deaf to the calls of this poor family.. To you poor Jack will look for assistance and if he can be heard of, there can easily be a party raised at this place to go and bring him and his family back.


For further reading see Jon Musgrave’s 2005 book “Slaves, Salt, Sex and Mr. Crenshaw” and the   publication by the Society’s recent speaker, Darrel Dexter, author of “Bondage in Egypt,” published in 2011.

Don't forget the September program Monday night about the notorious gangsters in southern Illinois. See yesterday's post for full account. --- 7 pm at the museum.---