Brooklyn Illinois It was founded by freed and fugitive slaves from St. Louis, led by “Mother” Priscilla Baltimore in the period of 1829 to 1839. Its motto is “Founded by Chance, Sustained by Courage” missionary AME Church was established in the new settlement in 1836.Now known as Quinn’s Chapel AME, its congregation is believed to have supported the Underground Railroad and aided fugitive slaves to freedom, together with members of the Antioch Baptist Church established in 1838.
According to oral history tradition, by 1829 “Mother” Priscilla Baltimore led a group of eleven families, composed of both fugitive and free African Americans, to flee slavery in St. Louis, Missouri. They crossed the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois, where they established a freedom village in the American Bottoms. “Mother” Baltimore was said to have purchased her freedom as an adult from her master. She also bought the freedom of members of her family. Born in Kentucky, she tracked her white father to Missouri and bought her mother’s freedom from him.The earliest black families included Anderson, Sullivan, Singleton, Wilson, Cox, Wyatt, and Carper
written evidence that Baltimore still lived in St. Louis in the 1830s; the first documentation of her associated with Brooklyn is from 1839. She may have been traveling between these locations for a time
In 1837, five white abolitionists platted the land and created an unincorporated nearly all-black town. Thomas Osburn was one of them, and he is documented as having lived in the area for decades. Priscilla Baltimore built a house on his former land, which she occupied from 1851-1872. In the 1840s and 1850s, the African-American population of the village was about 200.
Before the American Civil War and the end of slavery, residents here may have used Quinn Chapel AME Church and Antioch Baptist Church (1838) as stations on the Underground Railroad to aid slaves escaping to freedom. Both of these church buildings have survived. Antioch Baptist Church also still stands there’s also underground tunnels under the churches where they hid runaway slaves from slave catchers
On July 8, 1873, Brooklyn, Illinois was incorporated. By 1880, its population included 371 African-American and 203 European-American residents. In the late 19th century, its residents joined in taking new industrial jobs, commuting to those in East St. Louis and nearby areas. “Blacks who migrated to what became known as Brooklyn were attracted to the possibilities of working in an industrialized settlement that would enjoy race autonomy and self-determinism.”
Polly Jackson was a key figure in the Underground Railroad movement and is listed today on a local monument dedicated to her and others who risked their lives to help free the enslaved. According to legend, as a fugitive herself, Jackson fought off bounty hunters with a butcher knife and Kettle of boiling water. Jackson joined a community of free blacks in the settlement of Africa, Ohio, that was established near Ripley. Many of the local black residents served as conductors on the Railroad.
Sara Lucy Bagby Johnson(1833-1906) was the last known ‘fugitive slave’ in U.S. history. Lucy escaped via the Underground Railroad to PA then on to Cleveland, Ohio. Her owner, William Goshorn(WV), eventually located her, and she was returned under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave law. One can only imagine what she went through. She was eventually saved by a Union Captain around the time period of the execution of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Exact date is unknown.
They called it the Underground Railroad because slaves disappeared from plantations so quickly it was as if they’d become passengers on an invisible train running beneath the earth.
Between 1830 and 1860, thousands of American slaves escaped to freedom thanks to this informal network of free blacks and white abolitionists. Traveling on secret routes by night and hiding in barns, cellars, attics, lofts and caves during the day, runaways were spirited along by “conductors” who sometimes risked their own lives to help others.
These conductors included Harriet Tubman, a former slave who, at age 13, tried to protect another slave from a whipping. Her overseer threw a rock at Tubman’s head, causing injuries that resulted in seizures for the rest of her life. In 1849, Tubman fled north, then made 19 trips back to the South, rescuing 300 slaves over a 10-year period.
Chicago-area residents can revisit the history of this freedom network with a trip to the Du Sable Museum of African American History exhibit through April, but if you’re willing to do a little driving in the area, you can see that the Underground Railroad traveled all over the Midwest. From Alton and Oak Brook to Racine, Wis., and Fountain City, Ind., historical excursions to Underground Railroad sites can make a day trip into an educational outing this Black History Month — or any time.
Many Northerners who spoke out against slavery often found themselves objects of hatred. In Alton, a Mississippi River town a few miles north of St. Louis, a mob lynched journalist Elijah Lovejoy after he’d written several anti-slavery editorials in the local newspaper.
After Lovejoy was killed, his brother Owen, a minister, moved north to Princeton, where he publicly declared his farm on the edge of town to be a safe house for slaves. He had confrontations with residents in Princeton, according to Dorothy Herrick, who gives guided tours of the house. Known today as the Owen Lovejoy Homestead, the farmhouse is available for tours by appointment.
Other Underground Railroad sites include Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook, named after German emigre Frederick Graue (open April through November; call 630-655-2090). Another is the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City, Ind. Coffin, a Quaker, once sheltered a girl who’d crossed the Ohio River in winter by jumping from one ice floe to the next (open June through October; call 317-847-2432).
GETTING THERE: The Owen Lovejoy Homestead in Princeton, Ill., is about two hours southwest of Chicago. Take Int. Hwy. 80 west about 20 miles west of LaSalle to Princeton. Exit south at Ill. Hwy. 26 and drive through downtown Princeton. Turn left on Peru Street (U.S. Hwy. 6). The home is on the left (north) side of the road. Free admission. Call 815-875-1626 to arrange a tour.
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