Monday, February 1, 2016

Slavery in Illinois and the Slave Name Roll

One of the prized possessions in my genealogy book collection is my two-volume, Centennial History of Madison County, published in 1912.  From it I learned the French first brought slaves to the land that became Illinois as early as 1719. When the Illinois territory split from Indiana in 1809 it adopted an Indiana code, which permitted a modified form of slavery. The code allowed slaves to be introduced into the territory and held as "indentured slaves." This enabled Southerners moving into the Illinois territory to bring their slaves with them as long as they indentured them for a term of years. There were thought to be about 900 slaves in Illinois when it became a state in 1818.

Illinois came into the United States as a free state under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. However, the pro-slavery people believed the ordinance could not abrogate the rights of property guaranteed by the 1763 treaty in which Virginia ceded the land. So the slavery issue roiled the state for several years.

In the 1820s pro-slavery elements tried to call a convention to legalize slavery. A referendum held the next year indicated 60 percent of citizens were opposed. It was during this period that a possible[1] Riggin descendant joined an anti-slavery association. In 1853 a law was passed which prohibited African-Americans, including free persons, from settling in the state.

From the Centennial History of Madison County; personal collection

The Centennial History of Madison County included an example of a Record of Indenture:

"Be it remembered that this day, to-wit the 15th of March in the year of our Lord 1815, personally appeared before me, Josias Randle, Clerk of the County Court of Madison county in the Territory of Illinois, JACK BONAPARTE, a man of color, and Joshua Vaughn, both of the county of Madison, and the said Jack now being the property of said Joshua, and for other considerations, doth hereby agree and freely oblige himself to serve the said Joshua Vaughn, his heirs and assigns, ninety years, as a good and faithful servant, and the said Joshua Vaughn obliges himself, as long as said Jack continues with him, to furnish the said Jack with good and wholesome food, necessary clothing and all other necessaries suitable for a servant. In testimony thereof both parties have hereby agreed to the forgoing bargain in my office the day and year aforesaid.

Josias Randle, County Clerk of Madison county
Entered 1815, Term of service: 90 years. Jack Bonaparte will be free in 1905.

Fielding Bradshaw"

The 1820 tax list indicated that 20 people owned indentured slaves in Madison County. One of them was Isom Gillham, father of John C. Riggin's wife, Mary Adeline Gilliam. That must have made for some interesting discussions over dinner. Isom owned an unnamed indentured slave valued at $700 and his son-in-law was a founding member of the Madison Association to Oppose the Introduction of Slavery in Illinois. John C. Riggin's father, Reverend James Riggin, had manumitted his slaves when he converted to Methodism and became a preacher.

If you find named slaves in documents about your ancestors, will you consider participating in the Slave Name Roll Project? The project is a collaborative, continuous effort to help those with slave ancestors break through brick walls in their research by putting slave names in places that make them available to Internet search engines.

[1]There were two different Riggin families in Madison County in the early days of the county's history. Descendants of Rev. James M. Riggin claim those families were unrelated. However, I have a DNA match with a descendant of Rev. Riggin's youngest son. So my Riggin family, which begins with a John Riggin who married (and divorced) Margaret Farris, are likely related to the other, more prominent Riggin family in some undetermined way.


  1. A fascinating post on a subject where I know little , so very illuminating. Thank you.

    1. Thank you! The Riggin line is my one true Irish line. All the others from Ireland were actually Scots who were planted in the northern part of Ireland by England.