Lincoln historians have ignored or inaccurately described the presence and significance of African Americans in Lincoln's Springfield. To a great extent, what they have written has been incomplete or incorrect. Early historians were either silent about or minimized the presence of African Americans. Contemporary historians have often relied on those earlier historians in reaching their conclusions, and in doing so, they have unknowingly acquiesced in the omissions and prejudices of the past. As a result, we have a historical picture of African Americans in Lincoln's Springfield that is based largely on myths. It is time to put those myths aside.

African Americans were a significant part of Lincoln's Springfield community. At the time of Lincoln's arrival in 1837, Springfield had an African American population of approximately twenty-six—1.7 percent of the total population of 1,500. Six of those twenty-six were slaves. [1] By the time of Lincoln's departure in 1861, the African American population had grown to 234—approximately 2.5 percent of the total population of approximately 9,320 [2] These Springfield African Americans had an impact on Lincoln that was far greater than their numbers imply. Page  [End Page 35]

During Lincoln's twenty-four Springfield years, he lived among these African Americans and knew them. He was a friend and a neighbor to some. He accepted the service of African American slaves and indentured servants in the homes of some of his closest Springfield friends and in-laws. He engaged at least two African American ladies to serve in his own home. He was aware of the day-long annual celebrations of Springfield African Americans that marked the anniversary of the emancipation of West Indian slaves. He knew of the schism within Springfield's African American community over the issue of colonization—a movement in which the objective was to relocate African Americans to the African republic of Liberia. He was also aware of the activism of Springfield African Americans on both sides of the colonization issue.

The presence of African Americans in Lincoln's Springfield and their relationships with and influence on Lincoln, however, have been largely ignored or minimized by Lincoln historians. Why?

The simple answer is that most African Americans, as well as Whites, were illiterate and, therefore, left little personal written evidence of their existence. As one Springfield African American historian described

The history of the colored people in Sangamon County, like the sources of the common law, is shrouded in some mystery. The writer is confronted with an embarrassing lack of available data and must draw his material from the memories of such of the older settlers as remain, and to a still larger extent, from their descendants.[3]
Even at this late date, Lincoln historians have not removed the shroud of mystery surrounding Springfield African Americans. They have either overlooked or failed to examine what meager primary evidence does exist. Instead, most have relied on secondary sources—predecessor historians who often recorded incom- Page  [End Page 36] plete or incorrect information or were silent about the presence of African Americans in Lincoln's Springfield. Who were these predecessors?

John Carroll Power's Early Settlers of Sangamon County, published in 1876, is lily white, except for the token recognition given to early African Americans by the inclusion of a biographical sketch of William Fleurville—Billy the Barber.[4] The 1881 History of Sangamon County, Illinois, was more inclusive. It included twenty-four biographical sketches of African Americans, including Fleurville, and explained that those African Americans included represent "only a few of the large number who reside here" and that they "are from the best class of the colored race." [5] After the 1881 History, however, there were fifty years of silence. Neither the 1897 nor the 1912 Sangamon County histories mentioned Springfield's African Americans. [6]

The same silence was characteristic of Lincoln biographers of that period. John Nicolay and John Hay's Abraham Lincoln—A History [7], published in 1886, Ida M. Tarbell's The Life of Abraham Lincoln [8], published in 1895, and Lord Charnwood's Lincoln [9], published in 1917, made little or no mention of Springfield's African Americans. Carl Sandburg's The Prairie Years, published in 1925, described, as only Sandburg could describe, the presence of slaves in pre-Lincoln Springfield but said nothing about Springfield African Americans during the Lincoln period.[10] Page  [End Page 37]

Paul M. Angle's Here I Have Lived, the classic history of Lincoln's Springfield published in 1935, briefly noted the presence of African Americans in pre-Lincoln Springfield and observed that they "were held in practical bondage through the harsh indenture system permitted by the constitution." However, Angle's description of pre-Lincoln Springfield did not identify one African American by name—not even William Fleurville—and in describing Springfield life during Lincoln's residency, Angle said nothing of African Americans. [11]

Benjamin P. Thomas's Abraham Lincoln, published in 1952, mentioned a letter from Fleurville to President Lincoln reporting on Lincoln's dog and the condition of the house.[12] Thomas said nothing more about Springfield African Americans.

Why the silence? The nineteenth-century Springfield historians probably judged African Americans to be unimportant when recording the people and events of Lincoln's Springfield. It is likely that the historians reflected the attitudes of the time and bore a conscious or unconscious personal dislike of or prejudice toward African Americans as a class or race. Contemporary Lincoln historians who have relied on these earlier historians have unintentionally painted a picture of Lincoln's Springfield that is largely void of the color black. The token use of the color has resulted in a portrait of both Lincoln and his Springfield environment that is mythological. The mythology is based on four myths:

The first myth is that William Fleurville was Springfield's first African American resident and Lincoln's sole African American personal acquaintance prior to his becoming president.

The second myth is that neither African American slavery nor indentured servitude existed in Lincoln's Springfield.

The third myth is that Lincoln knew little of African American life prior to his becoming president.

The fourth myth is that Springfield African Americans were passive servants and menials and either incapable of or not interested in speaking out on issues of colonization or racial justice.


The first myth is the incorrect focus on William Fleurville as Springfield's first African American resident and as Lincoln's ex- Page  [End Page 38] clusive Springfield African American personal acquaintance. He was neither.

Fleurville arrived in Springfield in the fall of 1831, thirteen years after the arrival of at least thirty-two African American predecessors. [13] He was not Springfield's first African American resident.

Mark Neely's Lincoln Encyclopedia compared Lincoln's African American "personal acquaintances" in Springfield vis à vis Washington D.C. and concluded that Lincoln's "personal acquaintance" with African Americans increased when he moved from Springfield to Washington. [14] To support his conclusion, Neely named one Page  [End Page 39] Springfield African American, William Fleurville, and three Washington African Americans who were servants at the White House as examples of Lincoln's "personal acquaintances." True, Fleurville was a "personal acquaintance" of Lincoln, but Lincoln's Springfield African American acquaintances during his twenty-four-year residency included others, who were at least as personal in their acquaintanceship with Lincoln as were those African American White House servants that Neely cited.[15]

These may seem to be trivial points of contention, and they would be if the sole point were competition over the claim to "firstness" or "personal acquaintanship." They have greater significance, however. Historical acceptance of Fleurville as Springfield's first African American resident and Lincoln's Springfield African American soul mate has made it unnecessary for historians to look for evidence of the presence of other African Americans in Springfield either prior to 1831—the date of Fleurville's arrival—or after Lincoln's arrival in 1837. Fleurville has become the historian's token antebellum, Springfield African American, whereas other Springfield African Americans have remained largely faceless and nameless—nonexistent in the memory of Lincoln's Springfield. As a result, an important component of Lincoln's Springfield environment has been ignored. White House servants are attributed a greater significance to Lincoln than are those Springfield African Americans who were a part of Lincoln's environment for twenty-four years prior to Washington.


The second myth is that African American slavery and indentured servitude did not exist in Lincoln's Springfield. W.T. Casey, a Springfield African American, made this assertion in his History of the Colored People in Sangamon County, published in 1926. [16] It is incorrect. Slavery and indentured servitude existed in Springfield both before and during Lincoln's residency.

Henry Kelly, the patriarch of the first family to settle in what became Springfield, brought at least one slave with him—Negro Jack. On March 18, 1822, Henry and his wife, Mary, sold eight-year- Page  [End Page 40] old Negro Jack for $300. [17] Jack was probably Springfield's first African American resident and slave.

Two of the four original proprietors of the town of Springfield, John Taylor and Thomas Cox, owned African American slaves while living in Springfield. Cox, who moved to Springfield in 1823 to become the first registrar of the land office, owned at least two female slaves, Nance and Dice, and probably a young male slave, Reuben.[18] The sheriff of Sangamon County sold Nance and Dice at public auction in 1827 in order to satisfy Cox's debts.[19] Later, Nance would be the subject of two Illinois Supreme Court cases involving the issue of slavery and the ownership of slaves by Illinois residents. Lincoln argued one of the cases, Bailey v. Cromwell. [20]

That Springfield slaves were considered as personal property is further evidenced by the fact that in 1827 the Sangamon County Commissioners' Court levied a tax "on slaves and indentured or registered negro or mulatto servants." [21]

The 1830 census—the last taken before Lincoln's arrival—listed African Americans in two categories: "free colored" and "slaves."[22] The Springfield portion of the census lists nineteen African Americans, nine of whom were categorized as "slaves" under the names of their masters: John Taylor, one of the founders of Springfield, is listed as owning three slaves. Dr. John Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln's uncle, is listed as owning five slaves.[23] Temperance Watson, who lived on the land where Oak Ridge Cemetery is now situated, is listed as owning one slave. Page  [End Page 41]

The evidence is clear that slavery was a part of Springfield life at the time of Lincoln's arrival in 1837. It continued for some time thereafter. The 1840 Federal census revealed that Springfield's population of 2,579 [24] included 115 African Americans—approximately 4.5 percent of the total population. Six were "slaves," and the remaining 109 were "free colored." [25] Lincoln knew and had significant personal contacts with at lease three of the slave owners: James Bell, Ninian Edwards, and William May.

James Bell, listed as owning one young female slave, was a member of the trading firm of James Bell and Joshua Speed.[26] Lincoln represented Bell in at least three legal cases, one each in 1838, 1839, and 1842. [27]

Ninian Edwards, Mary Todd Lincoln's brother-in-law, was listed as owning one young male slave.

William May was listed as owning one young female slave. May, a Kentucky native, arrived in Springfield in approximately 1829, when he was appointed the third receiver of the Springfield Land Office. He was a lawyer and partner of Stephen T. Logan.[28] From 1834 to 1839, May was a congressman for whom Lincoln voted on Page  [End Page 42] October 27, 1834. [29] In 1842, May was elected mayor of Springfield. Slavery did exist in Lincoln's Springfield, and Lincoln was aware of its existence.

As an adjunct to slavery, a system of voluntary or indentured servitude flourished in Springfield both prior to and after Lincoln's arrival. The system was legally permitted by the "Black Laws" that were adopted by Illinois' first legislature in 1819 and existed until February 7, 1865. [30] Legally, an indenture is a contract. Indentured servitude was evidenced by a written contract between two persons that provided that one person was to perform services for the other person for a given period of time. "Voluntary or indentured servitude" became a euphemism for Illinois slavery, and it is often difficult to distinguish between the status of an African American characterized as a slave and one characterized as an indentured servant.

Many of Lincoln's Springfield friends and acquaintances, including his in-laws, the Edwards and Todds, participated in the indenture system. I have found seven Springfield written contracts of service—indentures—dated during the period from 1835 to 1845.[31] The earliest, dated October 29, 1835, is between twenty-six-year-old Ninian Edwards, then a new resident of Springfield, and Hepsey, an eleven-year-old mulatto girl without parents.[32] The terms of Hepsey's indenture were typical, providing that she was "to learn the art and mystery of domestic housewifery" and to serve Edwards until the age of eighteen. In turn, Edwards was to provide Hepsey with sufficient meat, drink, washing, lodging, apparel suitable and proper for such an apprentice, and needful medical attention. He was to "cause her to read," and at the end of her Page  [End Page 43] term, he was to give her a new Bible and two new suits of clothes suitable and proper for summer and winter wear.

Hepsey's indenture was in force on the evening of November 4, 1842, when Reverend Dresser performed the marriage of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln in the Edwards' home at the southwest corner of Charles and Second Streets. Hepsey was probably present in the household at the time of the marriage.

Dr. John Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln's uncle, had both a slave and an indentured servant. On April 18, 1836, he entered into an indenture with Elizabeth, an eight-year-old African American girl, with the consent of her mother, Phoebe, one of Todd's slaves.

In April of 1838, Reverend Charles Dresser moved to Springfield to become rector of the Episcopal Church. Dresser was a New Englander who was born in Pomfret, Connecticut, in 1800 and who graduated from Brown University in 1823. [33]

A month after Dresser's arrival in Springfield, he entered into an indenture for the domestic labor of Rhoda Jane, a fifteen-year-old African American girl. In the spring of 1839, he purchased a lot at Eighth and Jackson Streets and constructed a house for his family. Rhoda probably lived in this house. Six years later, Lincoln purchased the house and moved his family there.[34]

There are four other indentures in the period 1841 to 1843: nine-year-old Sidney McIntry, a mulatto girl, [35] to Nathaniel A. Rankin; [36] eight-year-old Josephine to James F. Owings, clerk of the United States District Court at Springfield; [37] sixteen-year-old James [38] to William Hickman, a justice of the peace who in 1860 lived at the northwest corner of Eighth and Cook Streets, two blocks south of Lincoln's residence;[39] and seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Jones to Robert Irwin, Lincoln's banker.[40] Page  [End Page 44]

Although these indentures are interesting, they provide no insight into how indentured servants were treated by their masters. One can glimpse Springfield's mid-nineteenth-century acceptable community standard for discipline of African American servants, however, from an entry in the May 1843 session minutes of the First Presbyterian Church, Mary Todd Lincoln's church.

The session considered the case of member Dorothea Grant, a young, single mother or widow with two young children.[41] Dorothea was cited for "Un Christian conduct in the treatment of a colored girl bound to her." She had whipped the girl with cowhide.

Dorothea defended her conduct by explaining the following:

She had been in the habit of correcting the girl when she thought her conduct required it, and did not think she was correcting her any more severely than she had done at other times; she was not aware at the time that any marks were caused on her body by this whipping & can account for it only from its being done with a different instrument from what she had formerly used.
The instrument "formerly used" is not revealed.

The session reported that Dorothea "acknowledged that the whipping was too severe and not accompanied with that mercy which the Christian should exercise, and she was sincerely sorry for the reproach she had brought in the church." The session meeting concluded with prayer. [42]

A second example of ecclesiastical discipline was that imposed by the Second Presbyterian Church, sometimes called the abolitionist church. [43] That church dealt severely with its members who purchased or dealt in "human beings," as evidenced by the 1843 excommunication of member George Day for such activity. [44]

In addition to slaves and indentured servants, there were a number of free African Americans living in the homes of Springfield White families where they acted as servants. Edward D. Baker, Richard F. Barrett, Jacob Bunn, William Butler, John Calhoun, Levi Page  [End Page 45] Davis, Benjamin Edwards, William Grimsley, Virgil Hickox, Lawrason Levering, John A. McClernand, Edmund Roberts, David Spear, and Samuel H. Treat all had African American servants living in their homes.

The evidence is clear. In the 1830 and 1840 Federal census slave entries, the indentures and the ecclesiastical discipline of church members substantiate that slavery and indentured servitude existed in Lincoln's Springfield.


The third myth is that the Lincoln of 1860 knew little of African American life. Benjamin Quarles' Lincoln and the Negro, published in 1962, made this assertion.[45] Quarles was the first historian to attempt to assess Lincoln's personal relationships with African Americans, but his conclusions about Lincoln's relationship to Springfield's African Americans were flawed. After making a cursory review of Lincoln's twenty-four Springfield years and briefly noting his relationships with African Americans, Quarles concluded that "the Lincoln of 1860 knew the Negro of dialect story, minstrel stage, and sea chantey" [46] and did not have a "rounded knowledge of the colored people." Lincoln "knew little of Negro life" or "John Doe, colored."[47] Quarles' observations could lead one to conclude incorrectly that either Springfield's African Americans had little to do with Lincoln or that they were not representative of African Americans elsewhere in America—the amorphous John Doe, colored. There is little, if any, evidence to support either conclusion.

As pointed out earlier, some of Lincoln's closest associates possessed African American slaves and indentured servants. It is reasonable for one to conclude that Lincoln observed, talked to, and knew the slaves and indentured servants of Ninian Edwards, the African American slaves of Dr. John Todd, the indentured servants of the Reverend Dresser and Robert Irwin, and the servants in the homes of Edward D. Baker and William Butler.

The Lincoln household itself was served by African Americans. Two African American women—"Aunt" Ruth Stanton and Maria Vance—worked in the Lincoln home. [48] Maria, "Aunt Maria" as she Page  [End Page 46] was called, served as a cook, laundress, and maid for the Lincolns from 1850 to 1860, [49] a longer period of time than any other servant known to have been employed by the Lincolns—either in Springfield or Washington.[50]

By late-twentieth-century standards, the Lincolns lived in an integrated neighborhood. In 1860, there were at least twenty-one African Americans, approximately 10 percent of Springfield's African American population, living within a three-block radius of the Lincoln home. [51]

Lincoln certainly knew of the day-to-day life of Springfield slaves, indentured servants, and free African Americans. His experiences with and knowledge of Springfield African Americans were much broader than Quarles's conclusion that Lincoln knew little of African American life beyond the African American of dialect story, minstrel stage, and sea chantey.

A corollary to the third myth is that Lincoln's observations of African Americans while visiting friends and relatives in Kentucky and while residing at the White House were more significant than his observations of and relationships with Springfield's African Americans during his twenty-four-year Springfield residency.

Quarles, in his Lincoln and the Negro, found particular importance in Lincoln's two visits to Kentucky, one of twenty-one days' length in August of 1841 at the Farmington plantation of his most inti- Page  [End Page 47] mate friend, Joshua F. Speed, [52] and a second of approximately twenty-three days in November of 1847 to Mary's family, the Todds, in Lexington. [53] Quarles speculated that Lincoln viewed the slave pens at Lexington and asserted that African American servants served Lincoln at the Speed plantation, where he could see slavery in operation. Quarles further speculated that it is possible that the Speeds assigned a slave to Lincoln for his personal needs. [54]

Lincoln spent a total of forty-four days in making these Kentucky visits. In contrast, there are a total of 8,698 days in the Springfield years. Quarles, however, made little mention of them and nothing of the presence of either slaves or indentured servants in Springfield. He speculated not at all about Lincoln's relationship with Springfield African Americans during those 8,698 days. Were Springfield African Americans—slaves, indentured servants, and free—less notable in their impression on Lincoln than those hypothetically observed by Lincoln in Kentucky? Of course not.


The fourth myth is that Springfield African Americans were menials and servants incapable of activism on issues of racial justice. David Donald's Lincoln, published in 1995, made this claim:

Of nearly 5,000 inhabitants of Springfield in 1850, only 171 were blacks, most of whom labored in menial or domestic occupations.... These were not people who could speak out boldly to say that they were as American as any whites, that they had no African roots, and that they did not want to leave the United States.[55]
There are at least three examples of Springfield African American activism that contradict Donald's passive characterization of Springfield's African Americans. Page  [End Page 48]

The first is that of Springfield African Americans annually celebrating the anniversary of the 1834 emancipation of 800,000 slaves in the British West Indies. One such celebration was held on August 2, 1858, and Springfield's The Illinois State Journal reported that "the colored people of our city ... celebrated the 24th anniversary of the British West Indies emancipation. They formed a procession and with music and banners, marched through the principal streets. They then proceeded on to Kelly's Grove, where they had a number of speeches." [56] Lincoln was present in Springfield on the date of this African American celebration.[57]

The following year, on August 1, a Monday and presumably a work day, The Illinois State Journal reported that "they went out to the Fair ground, where speeches were delivered." P.L. Donnegan spoke on "West India Emancipation." Reverend Myers spoke on "Sabbath Schools."

After this the audience were dismissed till after refreshment. It was amusing to see every one take their baskets and retire on the blue grass, to partake of their pic-nic dinner. After which the audience was called on to rally around the stand to hear more speeches.... A young man from Belleville, John W. Menard, Jr., came to the stand. His voice is very strong and his manner impressive. Subject "American Slavery," which he painted in its darkest hues, and gave able remarks in defense of Liberty and equality. His speech was truly the best of the day; after which all retired with hearty cheers for Menard, Fred. Douglass, and others.
Lincoln was present in Springfield on this date. [58]

The second example is that of thirty-five-year-old Springfield African American barber and Baptist elder, Samuel S. Ball,[59] who in 1848 traveled to the African republic of Liberia and after his return made a written report on its advantages as a place for Illinois African Americans to relocate. The plan of relocation was considered as a possible solution to the racism and legal discrimination that Page  [End Page 49] Illinois African Americans experienced. This plan was known as "colonization."

Ball's adventure began in August of 1847 when he attended the annual meeting of the Colored Baptist Association in Madison County, Illinois. The association reviewed reports on the "condition of the Republic of Liberia favorable to us in America" and resolved to "send Elder S. S. Ball to Liberia, as an Agent to inquire into the condition of the aforesaid country, and to report to this Association on his return, provided means can be raised and procured to defray his expenses." [60]

Ball accepted the mission and, in preparation for his visit to Liberia, obtained a letter of introduction from Illinois Governor August C. French, a supporter of the colonization movement, as was Lincoln. [61] Governor French's letter stated that he had personally known Mr. Ball for some time and regarded him to be a man of strictest integrity and veracity and "worthy of the encouragement and confidence of all friends of colonization."

Ball's April 11, 1848, departure from Baltimore for Liberia was reported by Springfield's The Illinois Journal: "S. S. Ball, a very respectable colored man, late of this city, left Baltimore in a schr. On the 11th April for Liberia, for the purposes of examining that country as an asylum for free blacks."[62]

Ball arrived in Liberia on May 16, 1848. By August 24, 1848, he had returned to America, and his homecoming appearance before the annual meeting of the Colored Baptist Association was reported as follows:

Friday morning August 25, intelligence being brought to the Association of the arrival ... of Elder Samuel S. Ball, our missionary to Africa, whereupon the Association immediately adjourned to receive him ... and conduct him to the ... preaching stand.... Elder Ball responded with much feeling, after which in the shaking of hands, many tears were shed for joy, and praises were offered to God for his kind providence. Saturday at 3 p.m. was appointed for Eld. Ball to make his re- Page  [End Page 50] port to the Association ... and after hearing it was ordered printed, and it came out in pamphlet form and was sold to defray expenses and to remunerate Elder Ball for his services in the trip. Elder Ball exhibited numerous African curiosities. [63]
Ball's report was published in a thirteen-page pamphlet titled Liberia, The Condition and Prospects of that Republic; Made from Actual Observation. The report was well organized and well written, describing the climate, geography, government, agriculture, and religion of Liberia. One cannot read Ball's report without concluding that he was a literate and sophisticated observer entitled to more than the patronizing characterization of "servant" or "menial." At the age of thirty-five, this African American Virginia native left his young family and 3,912 fellow Springfield residents and ventured across the Atlantic to an unknown country for the purpose of determining if it would be suitable for settlement by African Americans. He was obviously disturbed by the condition of African American life and concluded that there might be a better life elsewhere. He took affirmative steps to investigate one alternative.

Back in Springfield, Ball went about his daily life that included earning a living as a barber, cleaner, and bathing-room operator—a Springfield niche for African American males that was discovered by Ball and his business competitor, William Fleurville. Ball's business was located on the south side of the Capitol square and in close proximity to Lincoln's law office at Sixth and Adams Streets. During the period of 1849 through 1851, Springfield's The Illinois Journal printed a number of advertisements for Ball's barbershop. One such advertisement on March 28, 1849, stated that his shop would be open at all times from Monday morning until Saturday night and would have on hand "Ball's celebrated Restorative, so famous for the restoration of hair, and preventative of baldness." [64]

Ball continued to advocate colonization, and in 1851, he spoke at Springfield and St. Louis where he declared, "I am the warm friend and enthusiastic admirer of Liberia." He described Liberia as "the brightest spot on this earth to the colored man. Liberia not only protects the colored man in the enjoyment of equal rights, Page  [End Page 51] but ... its institutions fostered merit, developed the moral and intellectual faculties of its citizens, and produced great men."[65]

That same year, Ball drew a bill for the Illinois State Legislature proposing that state financial support be provided to free Illinois African Americans wishing to migrate to Liberia. Springfield's The Illinois Journal supported Ball's efforts.[66]

On September 16, 1852, at age forty-two, Ball died of typhoid fever. He left a widow and six children and real estate valued at $1,018.59.[67]

Not all Springfield African Americans favored Ball's colonization efforts. In fact, Ball was probably in the minority among his fellow Springfield African Americans in advocating colonization. On February 12, 1858, Lincoln's forty-ninth birthday, the "colored citizens of Springfield" held a public meeting to protest the Dred Scott decision and to express opposition to the colonization movement. [68]

The meeting was prompted by the Illinois State Colonization Society's request of the state legislature for money to assist in the resettlement of African Americans to Africa and the representation that "some of the most intelligent and enterprising of the people of color in the State of Illinois desire the assistance of the Colonization Society, to enable them to remove to Liberia or some other part of Africa."

Landen C. Coleman, a twenty-eight-year-old Springfield African American shoemaker, acted as chairman of the meeting that adopt- Page  [End Page 52] ed a resolution[69] that speaks for itself from the distant past in contradicting Donald's statement that Springfield African Americans "were not people who could speak out boldly to say that they were as American as any whites, that they had no African roots, and that they did not want to leave the United States." Although the entire resolution deserves a full reading, in the interest of space, only a portion is quoted:

We have been unable to ascertain that any intelligent man of color either desires to remove to Africa, or requires aid for such an enterprise.

We have no desire to exchange the broad prairies, fertile soil, healthful climate and Christian civilization of Illinois, for the dangerous navigation of the wide ocean, the tangled forests, savage beasts, heathen people and mismatic shores of Africa.

We ... believe that the operations of the Colonization Society are calculated to excite prejudices against us, and to impel ignorant or ill disposed persons to take measures for our expulsion from the land of our nativity, from our country and from our homes.

We ... most earnestly protest against the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Dred Scott.... The ... decision misrepresents, the great charter of American liberty, the Declaration of Independence and the spirit of the American people....

We take that Declaration as the Gospel of freedom; we believe in its great truth, "that all men are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." ... We claim our rights ... under this "... Declaration" of the Old Thirteen. We also claim the right of citizenship in this, the country of our birth. We were born here, and here we desire to die and to be buried. We are not African. The best blood of Virginia, Mary-land, Kentucky and other States, where our brethren are still held in bondage by their brothers, flows in our veins. We are not, therefore, aliens, either in blood or in race, to the people of the country in which we were born. Why then should we be disfranchised and denied the rights of citizenship in the north, and those of human nature itself in the south?[70] Page  [End Page 53]

This moving statement of Springfield's African Americans was adopted at a public meeting and quoted in its entirety in Springfield's The Illinois State Journal. Clearly Springfield's African Americans had not only an understanding of current events but knowledge of and deep respect and love for the document that best embodies the American soul—the Declaration of Independence.

There is no hard evidence to link Lincoln to these three examples of Springfield's African American activism. Lincoln's Springfield was a small town. At the time of his arrival, it had a population of only 1,500. At his departure, it had grown to a little over 9,320. Place yourself in such a town. For those of you familiar with Sangamon County, Chatham might come to mind. Imagine residing in a town of that size for twenty-four years.

If you were at all cognizant of your surroundings, you would know of these African American activities. Did Lincoln know of them? I would answer emphatically, "Yes." These were not only the news items of the day, but the issues with which Lincoln was consumed. Surely he not only knew of these activities, but he also knew the African Americans engaged in them.

Did these activities influence Lincoln? If he was influenced by brief glimpses of slavery on visits to Kentucky, as Quarles has asserted, then without question the influences of Springfield's African American population engaged in the daily routine of life during Lincoln's twenty-four year residency were even more significant. The celebration of West Indies emancipation, the Liberian explorations of a fellow townsman and colonizationists, and the public protest against the colonization movement coupled with the soulful plea for equal rights under the Declaration of Independence—surely these had an impact on Lincoln even greater than the slave pens at Lexington or the servants at Speed's Kentucky plantation and the White House.

Lincoln historians should put aside the myths of the past and take a fresh look at Lincoln and Springfield's African Americans. They should reconsider their conventional conclusions about the origins, nature, and evolution of Lincoln's mature views on race, slavery, colonization, abolitionism, emancipation, and civil rights. Only then will we have a more complete picture of the significance of African Americans as a part of Lincoln's Springfield community and Lincoln's legacy. Page  [End Page 54]


  1. As used hereinafter, the terms "slave" and "slavery" are not intended to be legal conclusions, but rather, they mirror the characterizations used in the 1830 and 1840 federal censuses and in various Sangamon County, Illinois, records cited herein. I acknowledge that the terms "slave" and "slavery" are not static definitions of a singular condition, but rather change by degree, varying with the culture, customs, and laws of a particular jurisdiction, regions within a jurisdiction, or geographical areas encompassing several jurisdictions. Studies of these variations are the subject of at least three excellent books: Peter J. Parish, Slavery, History and Historians (New York: Harper & Row, 1989); Richard Wade, Slavery In the Cities: The South, 1820–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964) and Ira Berlin, The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 1998). A study of the nature of Springfield slavery comparing it with slavery as it existed elsewhere in antebellum America is beyond the scope of this article. return to text
  2. Based on my study of the 1860 federal census, I have concluded that there were 137 adults and 97 minors and 104 males and 130 females. Their average age was twenty-three, and their total wealth was $26,898. One hundred twelve had been born in Illinois—these were mostly the minors. The remaining 122 were born in Southern states. Thirty were born in Virginia, twenty-two in Kentucky, thirteen in Missouri, eight in Maryland, seven in North Carolina, five in Tennessee, two in Ohio, two in the District of Columbia, and three in Alabama. return to text
  3. W. T. Casey, "History of the Colored People in Sangamon County," in Directory of Sangamon County's Colored Citizens. (Springfield, Ill.: Springfield Directory Co., 1926). The pages are unnumbered, and therefore, page references are not used in these footnotes. return to text
  4. John Carroll Power, Early Settlers of Sangamon County (Springfield, Ill.: E. A. Wilson & Co., 1876), 303 "Fleurville, William." return to text
  5. History of Sangamon County, Illinois (Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Company, 1881), 23, 744 (hereinafter cited as 1881 History); Roberta Senechal, The Sociogenesis of a Race Riot: Springfield, Illinois in 1908, vol. 1 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990), the history of Springfield's 1908 race riot, observed that it was "notable" that any biographical sketches of African Americans were included in the 1881 History as the "early 1880's marked the beginning of a steady deterioration of race relations in the city," 63. return to text
  6. Newton Bateman and Paul Selby, eds., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Sangamon County, vol. 1 (Chicago, Ill.: Munsell Publishing Company, 1912), 482–83 (hereinafter cited as 1912 History); Senechal, The Sociogenesis of a Race Riot, 63–4. return to text
  7. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, vol. 1 (New York: The Century Co., 1914), 154. return to text
  8. Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Lincoln (New York: Lincoln History Society, 1895). return to text
  9. Lord Charnwood, Abraham Lincoln (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1917). return to text
  10. Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years, vol. 1 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926), 299, 301. return to text
  11. Paul M. Angle, "Here I Have Lived," A History of Lincoln's Springfield, 1821–1865 (Springfield, Ill.: The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1935), 5. return to text
  12. Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 485. return to text
  13. Based upon my study, I have concluded that those who preceded William Fleurville were as follows: 1819—Negro Jack; circa 1820—six slaves of the Kelly sisters, for only 30 days; 1821—slaves of Thomas Cox and Edward Voluntine; 1822—Nance Cox (Taylor) and Dice Cox (Taylor); 1825—slaves of Arthur Watson; 1826—Ruben, Mack Shelby, Mary Shelby, Frank Shelby, Cyrus White, Sylvania White; 1827—Phebe (Phoebe) Todd, Elizabeth Todd; 1828—Lurectia Moore ("Aunt Cressy"), Polly Thomas ("Aunt Polly"); 1829—Major Forquer, Smith Forquer, Titus Kirk-patrick, Phoebe ("Feba") Rountree, Daniel Rountree, Judah Rountree, Isaac Rountree; 1830—Parker Moore, three young females, two young male slaves of Dr. John Todd, and one young male slave of Arthur Watson; 1831—John Shelby, son of Mack and Mary Shelby, born on February 9, 1831. The origin of Fleurville's crown as Springfield's first African American may be Power's 1876 Early Settlers of Sangamon County, which included only one African American biographical sketch—that of William Fleurville. Power, Early Settlers, 303 (Fleurville, William). Fifty years later in 1926, Springfield African American historian W.T. Casey published a History of the Colored People in Sangamon County in which he asserted that William Fleurville was Sangamon County's first African American settler. "An exhaustive investigation discloses the fact that to William Fleurville belongs the distinction of having been the first colored settler in Sangamon county. Fleurville, who was a native of the West Indies, came to Springfield in 1831." Amazingly, sixty-four years later in 1990, Roberta Senechal's otherwise meticulous history of the 1908 Springfield race riot cites Casey as her authority for the same assertion. "It is impossible to say exactly when blacks first settled in Springfield. As a local writer (W.T. Casey) observed, 'the history of the colored people in Sangamon County, like the sources of the common law, is shrouded in some mystery.' The first black settler seems to have been William Fleurville, a West Indian who arrived in Sangamon County in 1831." Senechal, The Sociogenesis of a Race Riot, 61. return to text
  14. "As President, Lincoln's personal acquaintance with members of the black race increased. In Illinois, he had known William Fleurville, a black Haitian barber who met Lincoln in New Salem. Fleurville was Lincoln's barber in Springfield, and he apparently engaged Lincoln's services as attorney to help him manage his tax payments on lots he owned in Bloomington. In Washington, the White House servants were Negroes—William Slade, manager of the staff, valet, and messenger for Lincoln; Cornelia Mitchess, the cook; Peter Brown, the butler and waiter; and others. For the first time in his life, however, Lincoln encountered Negroes who were not servants or menials." Mark E. Neely, Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982), 219. return to text
  15. Among those Springfield African Americans who would qualify to be characterized as "personal acquaintances" of Lincoln would be Reverend Henry Brown, Spencer Donnegan, Jameson Jenkins, William Johnson, Mary Shelby, John Shelby, Ruth Stanton, and Maria Vance. return to text
  16. Casey, History of the Colored People. return to text
  17. Illinois Regional Archive Depository, Brookens Library, University of Illinois at Springfield, Springfield, Illinois (hereinafter cited as IRAD). The Bill of Sale is the earliest documentary evidence of an African American residing in Springfield and of Springfield residents treating an African American as property that could be bought and sold. return to text
  18. Sangamon County, Illinois, pleading file in the replevin case of Thomas Cox v. Jehu Durby, initiated on October 8, 1826. IRAD. Affidavit of Jane Cox, filed in Sangamon County, Illinois, pleading file in the habeas corpus case of Nance, a negro girl, v. Nathan Cromwell, and initiated in October, 1827. IRAD. return to text
  19. Response of Nance, a colored woman, dated October 6, 1827, in Nance, a negro girl, v. Nathan Cromwell. IRAD. return to text
  20. Thomas Cox and Harvey Reid, Iowa Biographical Series, ed. Benjamin F. Shambaugh (Iowa City, Iowa: Historical Department of Iowa, 1909), 35.3 Scammon (Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois) (Chicago, Illinois: Callaghan & Co., 1880), p. 70. return to text
  21. Sangamon County Commissioners' Minutes of March 25, 1827. IRAD. return to text
  22. 1912 History, 482–3. By 1830, there were 1,637 free African Americans and 747 slaves in Illinois. return to text
  23. Dr. Todd was a brother of Mary Todd Lincoln's father, Robert S. Todd, of Lexington, Kentucky. return to text
  24. Roger E. Chapin, Ten Ministers: A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Illinois 1828–1953 (Springfield, IL: Frye Printing, 1953), 3, 14. return to text
  25. 1840 Federal Census. The 1840 census was the last census to employ the "Slaves" category. 1912 History, 483. The six slaves are described as such under the names of their respective masters or owners. return to text
  26. The firm did business under the assumed name "James Bell & Co." return to text
  27. April 3, 1838, Lincoln writes and evidently mails to Tremont James Bell's bond for costs in Kennedy and Julian v. Hawley. Earl Schenck Miers, Lincoln Day by Day, A Chronology 1809–1865 (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside, 1991), 88 (hereinafter cited as Day by Day). June 22, 1839, Lincoln writes and files declaration and notice with Sangamon Circuit Court clerk to issue summons in trespass case of James Bell and Joshua F. Speed (doing business as James Bell & Co.) v. Garret Elkin. Day by Day, 112. March 28, 1842, on opening day of Sangamon Circuit Court, Logan and Lincoln obtain judgment for $312.09 in James Bell & Co. v. Lockridge. Day by Day, 180. return to text
  28. Power, Early Settlers, 485; Angle, "Here Have I Lived," 60–62, 64, 107; Zimri Enos, Description of Springfield, Publication No. 14 (Springfield, IL: Illinois State Historical Society), 107. 1881 History, 39, 84, 91, 96, 112, 141 (Fisher Murder Case), 250 (1836, election for Congress: defeated Stuart), 272, 273, 278 (congressman 1834–1837), and 566 (mayor 1841); Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 8 vols. and Index (Springfield, Illiinois: The Abraham Lincoln Association; New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953, vol. I, 25, 206–207, 208, 256, and 262 (hereinafter cited as Collected Works). 1830 Federal Census. George Forquer accused of corrupt dealings with William L. May. Journal, 18 June 1836, p. 2., col. 3. (Published under the title Sangamon Journal until September 23, 1847, and from then until August 13, 1855, as The Illinois Journal and thereafter as The Illinois State Journal. Hereinafter collectively referred to as the Journal.) George Forquer accused of ingratitude to William L. May. Journal, 19 November 1836, p. 3, col. 1. return to text
  29. Day by Day, 40, 59. return to text
  30. The Black Laws had been in force in the Illinois Territory and were copied largely from the slave codes of the states of Kentucky and Virginia. O.W. Aldrich, "Slavery or Involuntary Servitude in Illinois Prior To and After Its Admission as a State," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society vol. 9 (Springfield, IL: 1916), 117. John W. Allen, Slavery and Negro Servitude in Pope County, An Illinois Reader, ed. Clyde C. Walton (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1970), 744. return to text
  31. The originals of these indentures may be found in the manuscript files of the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois, SC 1327-5. return to text
  32. Ninian W. Edwards was born on April 15, 1809, near Frankfort, Kentucky. His father, Ninian Edwards, was at the time of his birth the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, and in the same month in which Ninian was born, his father was appointed governor of the Illinois Territory. The following June, Governor Edwards moved with his family to the Illinois capital at Kaskaskia. He married in Lexington, Kentucky, to Elizabeth P. Todd, who was born in November of 1813. Elizabeth's father was Robert S. Todd, also the father of Mary Todd Lincoln. return to text
  33. Power, Early Settlers, 268–9; Wayne C. Temple, By Square and Compasses: The Building of Lincoln's Home and Its Saga (Bloomington, Ill.: The Ashlar Press, 1984), 2. (hereinafter cited as Home). Wayne C. Temple, Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet (Mahomet, Ill.: Mayhaven Publishing, 1995), 33, 393–4 (hereinafter cited as Prophet). return to text
  34. Home, 3, 7. return to text
  35. Sidney McIntry was born on August 1, 1833. return to text
  36. 1881 History, 287. N.A. Rankin signed the March 22, 1830, promissory note to assist in bringing the capitol to Springfield. return to text
  37. Day by Day, 182. return to text
  38. James was born on February 26, 1827. return to text
  39. William Hickman's residence is shown on two maps of the city of Springfield, the 1854 Hart Map and the 1858 Sides Map, as a wooden irregular structure on Lots 9 and 10, Block 5, E. Iles' Addition. The 1860 City Directory of Springfield lists William Hickman at the same address. 1860 Federal Census, 114; Collected Works, vol. I, 284. return to text
  40. Power, Early Settlers, 405–6. Elizabeth Jones was born on August 25, 1828. return to text
  41. 1840 Federal Census. return to text
  42. Session Minutes, First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, 45–7, original in the manuscript collection of the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Illinois. Chapin, Ten Ministers, 17. return to text
  43. The church is now known as Westminster Presbyterian Church and is located at the northwest corner of Walnut and Edwards Streets, Springfield, Illinois. return to text
  44. Minutes of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois. The originals are located at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. return to text
  45. Benjamin Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962). return to text
  46. Ibid., 40. return to text
  47. Ibid., 39. return to text
  48. Prophet, 33; "A Lincoln Nurse," Journal, 12 February 1895, p. 3, col. 3. return to text
  49. Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 275; Lloyd Ostendorf, "A Monument for One of the Lincolns Maids," Lincoln Herald 66 (Winter 1964), 184–6. return to text
  50. Ostendorf, "A Monument," 185; Jean H. Baker, Mary Todd Lincoln, A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987), 76, 107. return to text
  51. Analysis of the 1860 Federal Census prepared by Richard E. Hart. Jameson Jenkins, a fifty-year-old North Carolina native who drove Lincoln's carriage from the Chenery House to the Great Western Railroad Station when Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, was a neighbor, along with his family of two, and boarders Aunt Jane Pelham, a seventy-five-year-old mulatto washerwoman, and Quintan Watkins. John Jackson, a fifty-year-old whitewasher and Virginia native, his wife Jenny, and their four children, as well as a lady named Diana Tyler were also Lincoln's neighbors. On February 13, 1854, Jenny was received into membership of the First Presbyterian Church—Mary Todd Lincoln's church. David King, a twenty-six-year-old Virginia native and his family of five were also neighbors of the Lincoln family. Three African American servant women lived in the homes of their employers within three blocks of the Lincoln home. Lucy Butcher, a twenty-six-year-old Virginia native, was a servant at the residence of Isaac A. Hawley. Rebecca Smith, an eighteen-year-old mulatto, was a servant at the Jacob Bunn residence. Charlotte Sims was a servant at the John A. McClernand residence. return to text
  52. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln, 88. The Speed visit probably lasted from August 18 through September 7, a total of twenty-one days. Day by Day, vol. I, 167. return to text
  53. The Todd visit probably lasted from November 3 to November 25, 1847, a total of twenty-three days. Day by Day, vol. I, 295. return to text
  54. Quarles, Lincoln and the Negro, 31; John P. Frank, Lincoln As A Lawyer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961), 37. Day by Day, vol. I, 295. return to text
  55. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 167. Mark Neely reached a similar conclusion when he stated that "for the first time in his life, however, Lincoln encountered Negroes who were not servants or menials." Neely, The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia, 219. return to text
  56. Journal, 5 August 1858, p. 3, col. 1. return to text
  57. Lincoln spent part of the day writing eight brief letters. One letter to B.C. Cook of Ottawa warned against nominating extreme abolitionists as candidates for Congress and the legislature in that district. Day by Day, vol. I, 223. return to text
  58. Lincoln attended a preliminary examination in the case of People v. Harrison, a murder case. Day by Day, vol. I, 257. return to text
  59. Lincoln would have been thirty-six, one year older than Ball. return to text
  60. Elder S. Ball, Liberia, The Condition and Prospects of that Republic; Made From Actual Observation (A Report Made to the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Colored Baptist Association) (Alton, Ill.: Printed at the "Telegraph" Office, 1848). return to text
  61. Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, vol. II, 101. In 1857, Lincoln was a member and officer of the Illinois State Colonization Society. return to text
  62. Journal, 25 May 1848, p. 2, col. 7. return to text
  63. Wood River Baptist Association, Semi-Centennial Jubilee Session, 1881,48."Money received for his voyage to Africa and back, ($)8,358.23: amount expended, ($)8,356.33: balance in hand $1.90." return to text
  64. Journal, 18 March 1849, p. 3, col. 1. return to text
  65. The Impartial Citizen, 17 September 1851, p. 1. col. Edited and published by Samuel R. Ward at Boston and elsewhere before Ward went to Canada. return to text
  66. Journal, 17 January 1851, p. 2, col. 2. "We understand that a bill is about to be introduced into the Legislature, making an appropriation to aid in the establishment of a colony in Liberia, under a plan which has been drawn up by Elder S. S. Ball, of this city. We view it as a laudable and philanthropic enterprise, and we hope the members of the Legislature will give it a favorable consideration. Mr. Ball has visited that country, and is acquainted with all the difficulties which emigrants have to encounter.... As to Mr. Ball, he is too well known to the people of this State to require any thing from us in commendation of his character...." The bill failed to get out of committee. return to text
  67. Samuel S. Ball's obituary stated that "he was a man of good native talent, well cultivated for one in his circumstances. He was one of the most active, intelligent and useful colored Ministers in the State. He was extensively known by his visit to the Colony of Liberia, in 1848, as an exploring agent of the Colored Baptist Association of Illinois. He published an account of his travels, which was widely disseminated, and contains much useful information. He was affable in his deportment, respectable in scholarship, kind and affectionate in his social relations, esteemed by all." return to text
  68. Journal, 18 February 1858, p. 3, col. 2. return to text
  69. A committee chaired by Presley L. Donnegan and consisting of members L. Donnegan, Nathaniel B. Smallwood, Albert W. Collier, and T. Coleman presented the resolution. return to text
  70. Journal, 18 February 1858, p. 3, col. 2. return to text