History - Colored People

There must have been negroes here very early in the settlement of this county, since there are records of their sale and lawsuits concerning them found in the very first of our history. There were colored people brought by Renault to work mines in this section 1719. Some historians say there were remains of these mines found in Johnson county but if in the present territory no one living now has any knowledge or tradition concerning them. The following is an extract from the court record of 1813. "On motion of Thomas Green one of the executors of the estate of Nathanial Green, it is ordered that the said Thomas and Parrish Green executors as aforesaid do hire out to the highest bidder a certain negro girl named Hannah left as a special legacy to Nancy Green, the daughter of Nathanial Green for the term of one year from the time of hiring and no longer and to take security for the return of said girl at the expiration of the term and payment of hire." Some of the families owning slaves were Greens, Wilcox, Eubanks, Copeland, Borin, Whiteside and Cox. There were no doubt others but no record is found of them. Several colored slaves were taken up by the authorities, served out their terms by the law were advertised and freed. This being so near the South there may have been an under ground station in this county. If there was there were so many sympathisers with slavery in this section that it was never known who kept them. The following shows the course pursued to recapture a runaway slave, "$150 REWARD! RAN AWAY from the subscriber a negro man named Patrick. He left on the 21 of July last, a dark copper color and will weight a hundred eighty or one hundred ninety pounds, about thirty-four or thirty-five years old, five feet and seven inches tall, round shoulders and heavy made. He has a few marks on his right side near the shoulder, caused by a whip from patroles. He has a down look when spoken to, a high forehead and a small bald place on his head, very polite, he is extremely fond of liquor and can read print a little, make coarse shoes and can cooper very well, a good basket maker and can bottom chairs very well. Also a handy fellow with tools about a farm. He was raised in Bedford County, Tennessee by Robert Elison and was sold to me by Little and Thompson in February last. He and his wife. He has very short hair and close to his head and had on heavy whiskers when he left home. Since he left home I learned that he has been an old runaway and no doubt but what he will be hard to get hold of. When last heard from he was in the state of Illinois, Saline County inquiring for a free negro by the name of Jackson. He was in four miles of Jackson's. The settlement is called South America in consequence of the free negroes in it. If taken and well ironed in jail so that I can get hold of him I will pay the above reward and all necessary expenses by addressing me at Bahalie office, Marshall County, Mississippi, November 23, 1850, D. B. Linsey." The above notice which was printed in poster form on November 23, 1850, and sent to sheriffs over the country, has been kept in the Gray family for seventy-four years. It was received by B. S. Gray who was sheriff of Johnson County at that time and the father of our fellow townsman, A. J. Gray. James Gray, a grandson loaned the above article.
An old lady long since passed on told this story of one of the early slaves of this county named Nathe. His master regularly gave him to each of his children, when married as a wedding present, but he was so incorrigible except by his old master that they were glad to return him to the father in a short while, so that he was always ready to be the present for the next wedding in the family.
The negroes took their masters name. There are descendants of these early slaves named Copeland, living near Belleville and in Mound City. There are also some of the colored Whiteside family who live in Pope County. There are several colored families living in the county at the present time, some of them very good farmers.
We have only a few colored people who were born in slavery, none natives of this county, and while they are all getting on in years, they are independent and self-supporting. These few are Lee, and Aunt Dolly Smith, Jennie Hessee, Tobe, Richard and Julia Thomas, Aunt Huldy Cole, and Aunt Ann Worrells. As a whole the colored population of this county is above the average. The Aliens who live on the west side of the county, S. T. Oliver, William Lathem, R. Thomas and a number of others have proved themselves substantial citizens.
The Wheeler family, colored, came here from the south soon after the Civil War. The father was born in slavery, and was said to have sold at one time for $1,000, owing to his strength and reliability as a man. He raised a family that any father could be proud of. One son, Green Wheeler is a minister living in Vienna, a reliable and well respected citizen. Another son, John, graduated from a medical college at Nashville, Tennessee and is now a successful physician in Chester, Tennessee. Another son, Henry, is principal of the colored school of Fredertown, Missouri and Winnie, the only daughter is married and living in Mayfield, Kentucky.
The Murrell family, colored, came here from the south several years after the war. The mother and father were born in slavery, and possibly two of the older children. Aunt Ann Murrell, as every one knew her was kind hearted as any woman that ever lived in this neighborhood. There was no case of poverty or sickness where Aunt Ann would not assist to the very best of her ability, and in many cases she would go to their relief when others hesitated on account of conditions. Aunt Ann and Uncle Pen raised a respectable family all of whom are doing well. One son deserves special mention as he has educated himself, completing the High School in Vienna, taking a course at the University of Illinois, and finishing at a Theological School. He is now a prominent minister of the colored Baptist Church and located at Quincy. He served several months in France as a Y. M. C. A. worker during the World War.
The Summer family coming here from Pope County were another very reliable colored family, but they have left the county.
There were twenty-four slaves and free born colored people in this county when the state was admitted to the Union. Bogg's says, "slavery was not entirely eradicated from Illinois till 1848." When the vote was taken in 1824 as to whether Illinois should be free or slave Johnson County was a tie vote, 74 for and 74 against. Buck, a historian of Illinois, speaking of the first constitutional convention, 1818, says, "In Johnson County the only known candidate who was not elected was a slave holder and an active advocate of slavery in Illinois. He was said to have been beaten by only a few votes. His name was John Copeland."
We have had very few colored people in the county for a number of years until 1923, when many have come from the south to assist in the new industry of cotton raising.

Extracted 01 May 2016 by Norma Hass from 1925 History of Johnson County written by Mrs. P. T. Chapman, pages 155-158.

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