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Generations of Pride: African  American Timeline

A Selected Chronology
By Kathryn M. Harris



A Dutch ship with twenty African blacks aboard arrives at Jamestown, Virginia. Captured, sold, and stolen from their native land, these Africans are likely the first permanent involuntary settlers of the black race in what is now the United States of America.


Slavery is recognized by statute in Virginia; the slave codes of Virginia are developed to protect "slaves as property" and to protect white society from "an alien and savage race." Though modeled after indentured servitude laws, the codes prohibit any rights for slaves.  


The French government authorizes Sieur Antoine Crozat to open slave trade in the province of Louisiana, which includes the Illinois country.  Crozat never implements this authorization.


Philippe Renault purchases African slaves in Santo Domingo and brings a number of them to the Illinois country to work in his proposed mines.  


"Le Code Noir ou Recueil de Reglements" ("The Black Codes…"), a system of stringent rules for holding and managing slaves in the province of Louisiana, is issued.

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A French census lists 330 African Americans residing in Illinois.  


Illinois becomes a part of Virginia after conquest by George Rogers Clark during the American Revolution.


Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable (1745?-1818) establishes a trading post at what is now Chicago. 


Virginia cedes its western lands (including Illinois) to the United States government.  


Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude in the Northwest Territory, which includes Illinois. However, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Territory, interprets Article VI so that those who currently hold slaves may continue to do so.

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298 African - Americans are residing in the Illinois country per the U. S. Census of Indiana Territory; 135 are slaves and 163 are free persons of color.

Congress creates the Indiana Territory (which includes Illinois) from the Northwest Territory.  


The Indiana Territory governing council develops a "slave code," a system of long-term indentures which is equivalent to slavery.  


The Indiana territorial assembly re-enacts the 1803 code, legally authorizing the indenture system.  


Illinois becomes a separate territory, due partly to the influence of those desiring that Illinois be admitted into the Union as a slave-holding state.  


781 African Americans are living in Illinois Territory per the U. S. Census: 168 are slaves and 613 are free persons of color. 


Territorial legislation prohibits further migration of free Negroes into Illinois and allows indentures. All Negroes in the territory are required to register with the clerk of the court of common pleas of the county in which they reside.  


The Illinois territorial legislature authorizes the use of slaves in the salt works (saline mines), thus providing a legal context for general slavery.  


In December, a campaign begins for Illinois’ admission to the Union, supported by antislavery factions.  


In December, Illinois becomes a state, adopting a constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude but which permits an indenture system.

1,173 African-Americans are living in the Territory per the Illinois Territorial Census; 847 are servants or slaves and 326 are free persons of color.  


Future Illinois Governor Edward Coles (1822-1826) migrates from Virginia, manumitting (freeing) his own slaves en route and giving each family 160 acres of land in his newly adopted state.  


1,512 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the State Census; 668 are slaves; 469 are free persons of color; 375 blacks are enumerated with no designation.

1,374 blacks are living in Illinois per the United States Census; 917 are slaves and 457 are free persons of color.  


The struggle over legalizing slavery dominates politics in Illinois.  


On December 5, Governor Coles calls upon the legislature to abolish slavery in Illinois.  


In March, Governor Coles is sued for having manumitted his slaves—a clear violation of the state’s "Black Codes" ("Black Laws"). Found guilty in lower courts, this verdict is later overturned by the State Supreme Court.

In August, voters defeat a call for a constitutional convention to permit slavery in the state.

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2,384 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the U. S. census; 747 slaves and 1,637 free person of color.  


"Free" Frank McWorter founds the town of New Philadelphia in Pike county. He arrives in Pike county around 1830 from Kentucky "Free" Frank, a former slave, buys freedom for himself, his wife Lucy, and fifteen other family members for about $15,000. McWorter dies in 1854. New Philadelphia survives until the 1880s.  


The Illinois General Assembly adopts resolutions which condemn abolition societies and approves the U. S. constitutional sanction of slavery in slave-holding states.

After moving his abolitionist press from St. Louis, Missouri to Alton, Illinois in 1836, Elijah P. Lovejoy is murdered by pro-slavery mob.  


3,929 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the U. S. census: 331 slaves and 3,598 free persons of color.  


William de Fleurville ("Billy the Barber") opens his Springfield barber shop in "a new building opposite the north front of the State House." Born in Haiti, Fleurville (Florville) arrived in New Salem in 1831 and met young Abraham Lincoln, who became his life-long friend. Fleurville retained Lincoln as his attorney for various business dealings, including real estate transactions. At his death in 1868, he is among Springfield’s wealthiest citizens  


Samuel S. Ball, a native Virginian, is ordained to the ministry in the black Baptist church and is instrumental in organizing the "Colored Baptist Association and Friends to Humanity." Elder Ball, as he is known, ministers to churches in Springfield and Jacksonville. By 1851, Ball espouses the tenets of colonization and is an ardent and vocal advocate of the "Liberia Movement" and of the American Colonization Society.  


The Illinois constitutional convention adopts a proposal (to be submitted separately to the voters) which prohibits migration of free Negroes to Illinois. 


In March, voters overwhelmingly approve a new state constitution. Article XIV, ratified separately by a large majority, prohibits free persons of color from immigrating to Illinois and prevents slave owners from bringing slaves into the state for the purpose of setting them free.

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5,436 African-Americans are residing in Illinois per the 1850 Federal Census.  


The legislature makes it a crime to bring a free Negro into the state.  


Dred Scott, a Missouri slave, sues for his freedom in state and federal court. He contends that his residence of twenty years earlier at Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, Illinois, gave him the right to be free. The state and federal courts, and eventually the Supreme Court, reject Scott’s argument. The Dred Scott decision declares that no African merican, free or slave, is a "full citizen" and therefore cannot sue; further, the decision states that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the states and territories. Chief Justice Roger Taney writes in his opinion that black Americans have "no rights which any white man is bound to respect."


7,628 African-Americans are living in Illinois per the 1860 census.  


In September, President Abraham Lincoln issues his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the rebellious states abandon their hostilities or lose their slaves by January 1, 1863.  


The Emancipation Proclamation is signed on January 1 declaring slaves "free" in all states and territories that are in rebellion against the Union, excluding Northern states.

The Twenty-ninth United States Colored Infantry is the first Civil War regiment composed almost entirely of Illinois blacks. The exact number is probably higher, but approximately 1,811 Illinois African-Americans are identified as serving in U. S. infantry, artillery, and cavalry units during the War.

1864 - 2002

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