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"The Old Slave House" Hickory Hill, Illinois

"The Old Slave House" Hickory Hill, Illinois


"To the student of American history in the twentieth century, it seems incredible that at any time in the history of Illinois a considerable number of its citizens were in favor of establishing slavery of human beings as a part of the policy and law of the state; and yet such is the historical fact."

Stories about "The Old Slave House" Hickory Hill, Illinois

The Old Slave House History



Built in 1834-38, on the top of high Hickory Hill, on highway 13, about 14 miles east of Harrisburg, near the town of Equality, Illinois, Hickory Hill Mansion overlooks the Saline River. Address The Old Slave House Museum, Highway 13, Junction, Illinois 62954. Harrisburg is located at the most southernmost tip of Illinois.

Description: Hickory Hill Mansion was not only designed to be the dream home of John Crenshaw, his wife, Sinia Taylor and their five children, it was also built with an evil purpose in mind; to house an illegal slave trade and establish a breeding program. The outside of the mansion was designed in a "pseudo-Greek revival style," having both upper and lower verandahs, all which was supported by massive columns, spreading the width of the mansion. The first two floors had six rooms each, where the Crenshaw family enjoyed a life of privilege, and looked on as model citizens of their community. The attic, just above the family's living quarters had thickened walls, and consisted of 12 tiny rooms, not much bigger than horse stalls, and a hallway with two whipping posts.

History:  John Hart Crenshaw got his start in running a salt refinery, started by his father, who died when John was in his teens. By 1834 he had made a small fortune. Because he now had money to invest, John was able to lease several salt springs from the government and also applied to be authorized to lease slaves from their owners, as it was an old, established, legal practice in Illinois. Back In 1817, because it was getting harder and harder to hire laborers, Illinois, a slave-free state, had given employers permission to lease slaves from their owners in slave territory, and bring them to Illinois to work in businesses suffering from labor shortages, such as salt mining.

But why spend money leasing slaves, when you could kidnap freed blacks in Illinois/elsewhere? Why not "breed" your own slaves and sell them on the southern market? With these evil ideas in mind, John had a carriageway built that entered directly into his new mansion. By 1838, when the house was finished, Carriages full of slaves/ kidnap victims could be driven right into the mansion, and secretly hustled up the back stairway to the infamous attic; a place of imprisonment, suffering, rape, birth and death. It is said that at least 300 babies were produced from the efforts of one sire slave alone! Pregnant slaves, or a slave woman with a child brought a high price in the slave states. Crenshaw found the Saline River to be a very convenient way to transport his cargo to and from the slave states interested in his business. Slaves were shackled to the floor of their stall-like rooms. Ventilation was poor, and there was little light. They had to endure indignities, torture, bad treatment and a doomed existence.

In 1842, John was arrested, and accused of selling into slavery a family of freed blacks, who owed him services. Because of his financial and political standing in the community, he was found not guilty. His mill was burned, though, as public sentiment turned against him. No one found out what had gone on in the attic until after John and his wife died, in (1871 & 1881). John Crenshaw was considered the most evil man who ever lived in Illinois. What he did to make money was the largest scandal in Illinois' history.

Note: Although Illinois was constitutionally a free state, slaves worked on Crenshaw's 30,000 acres, his own private empire. There had been a labor shortage at about the time Illinois became a state, so the state constitution had a provision to allow slaves on the saline land it leased. Crenshaw leased slaves from Kentucky. In 1830, he leased 746 slaves.

One anecdote of the Crenshaw House is that at one time, he beat some female slaves. The beating must have been especially brutal, because some of the male slaves rose up against their master and hacked one of his legs off. Later pictures of Crenshaw with his wife show him with a crutch across his lap.

In 1996, the Sisks closed the museum because they could no longer keep the mansion museum open. Thus began the long battle to get the state interested in buying the property as a part of Illinois history, though the place has an infamous history. Although the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency finally acquired the house in December 2000, the site remained closed to the public, due to lack of state funding to hire staff. On June 9, 2003, between 40 and 50 residents from more than seven counties met at Southeastern Illinois College and adopted a Plan of Action that could reopen the site.                                                                        ~


Crenshaw, John Hart 1797, wife Sina (Taylor) 1799, Alexander 1829son of J.& S. Crenshaw

Nancy 1824-1826 dau of J.& S. Crenshaw, Mary M. 1844dau of William J. & A.L. Crenshaw

Crenshaw, William 1774-1814 wife Mary 1767(dau of John Hart, Rev. soldier & a signer of Declaration of Independence.)

HICKORY HILL Cemetery located 3/8 mile SW of crossroads of State Routes #13 and #1.

In Equality Twp. Section 14, T9S R8E. in the lower SE part of the section. On a hill overlooking State Route #1. This is near the old "Slave House" owned by the Crenshaws during the 1800's. It is believed to be the oldest cemetery in the county that is recorded.

Gen. Michael K. Lawler

Gen. Michael K. Lawler, was born in County Kildare, Ireland, Nov. 16, 18l4.  Michael K. Lawler grew to manhood in Gallatin County. On Dec. 20, 1837, he was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth, daughter of John and Sina Crenshaw, old residents of the County.   When the Mexican war broke out M. K. Lawler was bookkeeper for his father-in-law. He gave up his position, organized a company, of which he wag elected captain, and was immediately sent to the front. At Cerro Gordo the company distinguished itself, and from that time until the close of the war was in several of the fiercest engagements. After the war Captain Lawler took up the occupation of farming which he followed until the conimencement of the Civil war. Then the old military spirit revived and he organized the Eighteenth Illinois volunteer infantry, afterward known as the "Bloody Eighteenth," of which he was commissioned colonel. The regiment was in many of the hottest engagements of the war, particularly in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. At Fort Donelson Colonel Lawler was severely wounded in the arm, but after a short time rejoined his command and remained in the field until the end. On April 15, 1863, he was made brigadier-general by President Lincoln, and on April 17, 1866, received the rank of brevet major-general from Andrew Johnson. At the close of the war he was appointed commandant of the post at Baton Rouge, and while there bought a cotton plantation, but soon afterward sold it, having been appointed to a position as government storekeeper at San Antonio, Tex., where he remained for two years. He then returned home and lived on his farm until his death, July 26, 1882.

Servitude and Emancipation Records, 1722–1863

County: Gallatin, Name of Servant: Charles, Name of Other Party: John Crenshaw, Husband of Mariah and Father of Nancy Lane, Remarks: Charles is an indentured servant


County: Gallatin, Name of servant: Mariah, Name of other party: John Crenshaw Remarks: Wife of Charles & Mother of Nancy Lane, Mariah is an indentured servant.


County; Gallatin, Name of Servant: Nancy Lane Name of Other Party: John Crenshaw, Remarks: Born 10, 1829, Document Type: Birth, Daughter of Charles & Mariah


County: White, Name of Servant: None Given, Name of Other Party: Daniel Crenshaw, Remarks: 1 free person of color

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