Early Slavery in Rock County

Early Slavery in Rock County

At this time in the southern part of the the state Negroes were held in bondage, under what was known and recognized as the indentured or registered servant’s act. This was contrary to the ordinance of 1787 which governed the admission of Illinois into the union as a state, but our Legislature enacted laws which our courts upheld, by which slavery existed in Illinois. In May, 1829, a man named Stephens from St. Louis settled on. the Mississippi where Walker Station now is, two miles east of Moline, bringing with him twenty black slaves, and built two cabins. There were but few settlers in this locality, but this new departure was not in accord with their ideas, and in October Joseph Danforth traveled to the nearest justice of the peace, who resided at Galena, and secured from him a warrant for Stephens’ arrest for holding slaves. George Goble, the father of Benjamin Goble, knowing Danforth’s intention, warned Stephens, who immediately started south with his slaves. Stephens’ two cabins were afterwards taken by two brothers named Smith, who floored the cabins with planks taken from the hull of Major Campbell’s keel boat, which had burned only to the water’s edge, and which had lain imbedded in the sand on Campbell’s Island where it stranded on that ill fated July 19, 1814. No one after this ever tried to own slaves in this county, although some of the officers at Fort Arm-strong had Negro servants, some of whom were held as indentured blacks, a few as slaves. One of the latter afterwards gained national prominence. Dred Scott was a Negro slave owned by Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon in the United States Army, and in the year 1834 came with the doctor from Missouri to Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, where the doctor was stationed. Scott remained at Fort Armstrong until May, 1836, when he went with the doctor to Fort Snelling (now Minnesota) where he married Harriet, a slave of his master, and had two children. Slavery was illegal in both places; in Illinois by our constitution; in Minnesota (Upper Louisiana Purchase) by the Missouri Compromise. In 1838 Scott was taken to Jefferson Bar-racks, a military post at St. Louis, Missouri, and here an action was brought in the circuit court of the state by Scott to test the question of his freedom. The St. Louis court held that Scott’s residence on free soil had made him FREE. The case was appealed to the supreme court of Missouri which court reversed the decision of the St. Louis circuit court and held Scott was a slave. In the meantime Dr. Emerson had sold Dred and his family to John F. A. Sanford of New York and suit was brought against Sanford in the United States court for Scott’s freedom. This case was tried at St. Louis on May 15th, before the court and a jury, and the latter found that “Dred Scott was a Negro slave, the lawful property of the defendant.” A new trial was refused, and Scott carried his case to the supreme court of the United States. The final decision in the Dred Scott case was the longest, and up to that period, the most interesting one ever given by the supreme court of the United States. It is re-ported in the 19th Howard. The substance of the decision was: “Scott was not made free by being taken to Rock Island in the State of Illinois. As Scott was a slave when taken to Fort Armstrong into the State of Illinois by his owner, and was then held as such, and brought back into Missouri in that character, his status, as free or slave, depended on the laws of Missouri, and not of Illinois, He and his family were not free, but were, by the laws of Missouri, the property of the defendant.”

Early Settlements of Rock County 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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