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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History

Anti-Slavery Movement

In the earlier days of the county, very little of what was called Abolition sentiment existed. There was plenty, however, of latent anti-slavery sentiment, and it onlv needed a little friction to bring it out. In 1848, there were four votes cast for Van Buren, and while many voted for him in some parts of the country who were not, it is pretty sure that these four men were Abolitionists.

It is not now possible to find out who they were, but Capt. Strawn, pretty good authority, says he believes the four pioneer anti-slavery voters were Otis Whaley, George and Xenophon Richards, and Moses Rumery. At any rate these men, together with Dr. H. H. Hinraan, C. P. Paget, Capt. Wm Strawn, and perhaps James Stout, formed the nucleus, a few years after that date, of the first Abolition organization in the county. For some years, they had taken a decided stand against the extension of slavery, and were looked upon as dangerous men.

Word was brought to some of them that some of the officers at Pontiac had captured a fugitive slave who was pushing through the country to Canada. The story ran that the fugitive was chained to a staple driven into the floor of the old Court House. The news created considerable excitement, and was the means of the organization, by Dr. Hinman, of an Abolition society. The slave was returned to his master, but he did not suffer in vain, for if the Society thus formed did not liberate all the slaves in America, it certainly did its part toward it. Moses Rumery, who was closely identified with the movement,, did not join the Society, as it was both a church and a political organization, and he, being a Methodist, could not well join it, but was with them in spirit..

These men laid the track of the underground railroad through the county, with Rumery as conductor, and Hinman, Strawn, Paget and Whaley as station agents, flagmen and stokers. No dividends were declared on the stock, but the officers worked with untiring zeal, and no more negroes were seen chained to the Court House.

About this time, an incident occurred which aroused the minds of some citizens who had before this been much opposed to abolition. One Sunday morning, about the year 1853, Judge Babcock, who had recently purchased the Grove farm, heard a terrible racket down the road, and, accompanied by a man who was making it his home there, stepped to the road to see what was the matter, when a most singular, and to him a new sight, met his eyes. In a covered wagon were two as frightened negroes as ever drew breath in the prairie air of Illinois ; beside the wagon were two men on horseback, demanding in the most boisterous tones an unconditional surrender. Between them and the two chattels, walked a man, with a pistol in each hand, threatening the lives of the two pursuers if they came any closer, and alternately threatening the fugitives if they attempted to get out of the wagon, in response to the demands of their pursuers. They were two fugitives, accompanied by a colored barber from Bloomington, and pursued by two Pontiac citizens.

As soon as the pursuers saw Judge Babcock and his companion, they rushed up and demanded help, which was politely refused, and then wanted to borrow their guns, which was also refused, and the Judge was, by the force of circumstances, forced to help these fleeing fugitives on their way to Col. Stewart at Wilmington, whereas for all his life, up to that moment, he had been an opponent of all the schemes of Abolitionists. The next time he went to Pontiac, he found it generally noised about that "a d-----d Abolitionist had just come from York State, and settled almost right in our midst."

Hon. William Strawn, whose whole heart was in the move, who not only spoke for the cause here, but went to Kansas to fight, and afterward enlisted in the war against rebellion from sentiments of anti-slavery, writes:

"My particular acquaintance with Livingston County did not begin till 1850. Dr. H. H. Hinman's advent into the county was, I think, in 1852. A man wo, with little physical strength, possessed the most magnificent moral courage and downright integrity of any man I ever knew, save perhaps, old John Brown, who added to an equal moral courage physical courage and bodily vigor of grand proportions. The Doctor, meek, heroic, energetic, persistent for the right, like his Divine Master loving absolutely all men, instant in season and out of season in every good work, was a power for good in this county which few could rightly estimate."

"The precise date at which James Stout came into the county, I cannot say, but to him and Dr. Hinman, this county owes more than to all others combined for redemption from pro-slavery rule. Courageous to a fault, never thoroughly happy except when miserableŚlike the typical Englishman ; never sparing his dearest friend, if he thought he caught him in a mean trick, belligerently honest to his convictions, he secured both the enmity and sincere regard of a vast proportion of the inhabitants of the county. * * Though not then a resident of the county, I had the honor to be the anti-slavery candidate for the Legislature. I remember making a speech in the old Court House, to perhaps an audience of fifteen persons. S. C. Ladd was of the number, who thoroughly agreed with me in all propositions, except the voting part."

In addition it must be said that Owen Lovejoy, who, as a candidate for Congress, spoke here, did much to arouse the latent anti-slavery sentiment. He was probably the most effective political speaker ever heard in this vicinity. Thoroughly at heart believing every word he spoke, clear, positive and convincing, he never had his superior on the stump in this State. The remarkable unanimity with which the people of this county accept the ideas which were so unpopular a quarter of a century since, the slow growth of those ideas through the previous quarter, and until the passage of the "Nebraska bill," that Pandora's box of the propagandism, illustrates one of those wise sayings of an unlearned but very sensible negro, to a friend whose want of information he was lamenting, "Ignorance is a mighty thing, sah ! and comes without study."

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


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