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Full text of "The History of the Underground Railroad of McDonough County, Illinois"

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*THE HISTORY OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD 
OF McDONOUOH COUNTY, ILLINOIS. 

By D. N. BiiAZEB. 

I have been asked to write a historical account of the 
underground railway that was in existence in McDonough 
county before the Civil war, but it is impossible, after a lapse 
of more than sixty years, with no authentic records to draw 
from, to assemble anything like a chronological account of 
the events that transpired in those troubled times. As it is 
my aim to deal only with those events that I know to be true, 
I must therefore confine my account largely to episodes that 
came directly under my attention as a boy, and to incidents 
related to me by my father and mother, coupled with much 
valuable information secured from the children of Andrew 
and Harmon Allison, who like the Blazers, my father James 
Blazer, and his brother, John Blazer, and their families, 
were ardent abolitionists, and a part of the underground 
system. I trust that this account, which is as accurate and 
complete as it is in my power to give it at this late date, may 
assist you in gaining an idea of the strife and animosities that 
existed in the decade in 1860. 

It was preached that slavery was a divine institution and 
that the negro was nothing more than an animal ; the fearless 
men who operated the underground system were criminals in 
the eyes of the law but they gained courage for their danger- 
ous work in the firm belief that they were performing a duty 
in the eyes of God and that the black man was a human being 
with a soul. 

All underground railroads started on the line of some 
free state that bordered on a slave state. The road that ex- 
tended through McDonough county started at Quincy, which 
was station No. 1, receiving negroes from across the Missis- 
sippi river in Missouri. Station No. 2 was down at Bound 
Prairie in Hancock county, at the Pettyjohn or Burton home. 



*An address before the McDonough County Historical Society, October 20. 
1922. 



580 D. N. Blazer. j.i.s.h.s. 

Station No. 3, in McDonough county, was generally at the 
home of some one of the Blazers down on Camp Creek in In- 
dustry township, or at the home of Uncle Billy Allison, or 
one of his sons up on Troublesome Creek. Part of them 
lived in Chalmers and others in Scotland township. Station 
No. 4 was at the home of Henry Dobbins in Fulton county, 
from whence cargoes of negroes were dispatched to Gales- 
burg, Princeton and on to Canada, the terminus of all under- 
ground railroads. It is interesting to recall that the Prince- 
ton station was in charge of the Lovejoy family, which played 
such an important part in the early abolition movement. 

At the time when the quarrel between the abolitionists 
and adherents of slavery was becoming most bitter, projjon- 
ents of emancipation engaged an orator to speak afternoon 
and night at Old Camp Creek church, then located about a 
mile and a half southeast of Ebenezer church and a like dis- 
tance southwest of the present Camp Creek church. Antag- 
onists served notice that the speaker would not be permitted 
to talk, and when the afternoon meeting hour drew near there 
was an organized gang present bent on breaking up the meet- 
ing and probably doing violence to the orator. These men 
were armed and acting in a threatening manner. 

The atmosphere was tense with excitement. Bloodshed 
was feared. 

There were men and women present, who, while not in 
sympathy with any argument that could be delivered against 
slavery, were governed by cooler judgments, and they pre- 
vailed upon the gang not to start any trouble. ^*Let him 
speak; we'd like to hear what he has to say,'* was the admoni- 
tion that calmed the armed band. 

The address was an impassioned speech depicting the 
negro in chains, cowed to the dust under the whip of the 
master, sold and bartered like cattle and torn asunder mother 
from child, father from son — the negro, though black by no 
fault of his own, born in the image of his Creator and entitled 
to life, liberty and happiness no less than his white brother. 

The orator held his audience well, but only for the mo- 
ment. Animosities were too bitter to be wiped out with a 
single flash of oratorical genius; hatred of the negro as a 
free and equal being was too deeply imbedded. When the 



voi.xv,Nos.3-4 J). N. Blazer. 581 

address was finished and the more inflammable minds de- 
scended to the level of everyday thinking, these hatreds and 
animosities again came to the surface, and there was a gen- 
eral determination that the speaker had said enough for one 
day. A council of the abolitionists was held, and both men 
and women debated whether or not it would be advisable to 
permit the speaker to go through with his evening program. 
It was finally decided that in order to avoid probable blood- 
shed, the evening session should be called off. 

In 1852 the abolitionists had a candidate for president 
in John P. Hale. The adherents of slavery declared there 
should not be an abolitionist vote cast in McDonough county. 

In those days there were a number of voting places in 
the county and any resident could go where he chose to vote, 
but there was no secret ballot then. When you went to the 
polls you gave the clerk your name, who wrote it down, called 
through the list of offices to be filled and you told him your 
choice, which was registered. The voting place in Macomb 
that year was James M. CampbelPs store on the west side of 
the square and north of West Jackson street, known for years 
as CampbelPs Comer. 

Now the abolitionists were just as defiant as their op- 
ponents and sent word back to them that they would vote at 
10 o'clock in Macomb. The records show there were nine 
votes cast for Hale. The archives in the attic of your court 
house have been thoroughly searched for the names of the 
nine men but they are not to be found. George, Andrew and 
Harmon Allison and Charles, John and James Blazer made 
up six of the nine men, but I am not positive as to the other 
three. 

I am indebted to the late Alex. McClain for the informa- 
tion that the nine men met in the Court House yard. By lot 
they decided their places in the line, and then marched across 
to CampbelPs Comer, single file, each with his gun on his 
shoulder. There were many men of the opposition there with 
guns and many who were there just to see what would happen. 
Of course, the vast majority of them, as now, felt that every 
man should have the right to vote his own sentiments, and 
probably that spirit had much to do with preventing blood- 
shed. 



582 D.N. Blazer. J.LaH.s. 

In assembling data I have had the honor to receive a com- 
munication from Sarah K. Allison, now living at 504 East 
Washington street, Macomb. This commnnication, coming 
from the grand-danghter of Uncle Billy Allison, one of Mc- 
Donongh comity's foremost ardent abolitionists is especially 
interesting and I take pleasure in including it in its entirety, 
as follows : 

**The first I remember of hearing about the Underground 
Eailroad was when I was a little girl in our district school 
in the country. This was when Lincoln ran for President 
in 1860. We school children were political enthusiasts on the 
sides our fathers were on. We had gleaned many notions of 
right and wrong. 

**I remember one day I was told we kept ** niggers'' in 
our attic. This I was too small to understand but that even- 
ing I told mother and asked what they meant. She replied, 
''You may tell them there are none there now." This did not 
improve matters much — ^because I heard a lot about the ''nig- 
ger." One thing was he was not more than a sheep, with 
wool on his head, etc. These went home again to mother, who 
said, "They do not know it all — God made all people and he 
made the colored man too." 

"Years later I heard father telling about taking some 
farm produce to market to a named place and returning with 
several colored people underneath the straw on the bottom 
of his wagon bed. After a time he noticed he was followed 
by three horsemen. They were gaining on him although he 
was driving as fast as the roads would permit. 

"Coming to a gully or deep ravine he slowed down and 
told these colored people to jump out, and keep along the 
stream. This they did while he drove on as fast as possible. 
Yet he was overtaken and ordered to halt. This he did and 
explained he had marketed produce and was returning home 
but they turned everything upside down in the wagon — ^then 
let him go on. 

"This incident father repeated more than once, because 
he said he never knew what became of them — ^those colored 
people. He searched the ravine for them when it was safe 
to do so but he never heard from them in any way afterward. 



Vol. XV, Nos. 3-4 Underground Railroad 583 

**This related incident brought more questions from me 
and mother then told me ' ^ The Allisons helped slaves to free- 
dom and sometimes had kept them a while when pursued.'* 
The attic in the old home had old gowns, hoods, coats, etc., 
used as disguises. They helped them reach the Blazers. 

^*The Quincy Station was from John Van Dorn's. My 
mother's oldest brother, John Brown, helped them from Mis- 
souri across. He had many adventures that worried his 
mother. She told me about this. 

**My mother, Beulah Brown, and her sister, Lucinda 
Brown, married two Allison brothers, Harmon and Andrew, 
and came to reside near Macomb in 1851-1853. My father's 
sister, Mary, married into the John Van Dorn family by a 
previous marriage at Quincy, Illinois. There was another 
wedding, the spirit of those independent times, made to slip 
*^Twixt the cup and the lip" as it were. Elizabeth, my 
father's sister, met a southern gentleman with southern prin- 
ciples, but Cupid played a part and he promised she should 
be free to hold her own views on the slavery question and 
so express them. The wedding was arranged for, guests in- 
vited, the table set, and guests, groom-to-be, minister and 
everyone there. Then he broke his promise and plead with 
her not to talk abolition politics in the home he was taking 
her to ; for her own sake as well as his, he asked her not to 
do so. 

*^She replied he had commenced just a little bit too soon 
to curb free thought and the freedom of expression. She 
handed him back his ring and in her wedding gown went into 
the guest room where the company had gathered and an- 
nounced there would be no wedding, giving her reason. 

*^The would-be groom was met by his party and friends 
and departed. Later Elizabeth married a Yankee doctor 
from Massachusetts. They agreed on politics. 

**I wonder if there are not times when silence is really 
wisdom after all. So much depends but young America be- 
lieves in independence and I glory in her spunk, don't you?" 

I was told by a friend that McDonough county had a com- 
plete account of the Underground Eailroad in Clark's His- 
tory. That interested me and I secured a copy which I prize 
highly. It is an interesting and accurate account of the early 



584 D. N. Blazer. J.i.&h.s. 

history of the county, and as a whole the abolitionist question 
is treated ably, but the story of the Underground Eailroad in 
McDonough county could be told only by the families who 
conducted it and they would not talk. 

Mr. Clark did not mention an Allison and but one Blazer, 
John Blazer, who told him one story and only part of that. 
The strife and worry of twenty years with their neighbors 
had worn them out and they did not want to say or do any- 
thing that would stir up old scores. I can remember Mr. 
Olark visiting at my father's house and insisting that my 
father tell him something but father and mother said no. He 
told them that John Blazer had given him a story and my 
father said that was enough. 

The story was about Tom, a bright, likely young negro 
who was quite religious. My uncle asked him what church 
he was going to join. He said: *^When I get up North I'm 
gwine to join the Yankee church. One thing sure I nebber 
will join the Presbyterian church.'' Now that was quite in- 
teresting as the Blazers were Presbyterians. '*No," said 
Tom, *'they are perfect debbils and I'll never join that church. 
My master was a Presbyterian." 

While John Blazer told the anecdote of Tom he did not 
tell that Tom, together with an old negro, a young wench and 
two little pickaninnies were in the same shipment and that it 
was extremely muddy at the time. That cargo was held a 
week or more at Burton's. 

At that time our family was keeping house for a year or 
more at the home of my uncle, John Blazer, his wife, my Aunt 
Mary, having died. The two negro men, the black woman 
and two pickaninnies were delivered to us by Burton and 
stayed in a bedroom just off the living room, and although 
neighbors happened in frequently we never heard a whimper 
from the babies. The neighbors were none the wiser except 
of course that the Blazers were always under suspicion of 
aiding negroes to freedom. Why didn't John Blazer tell 
Mr. Clark this? Twenty years of strife, threats of imprison- 
ment, and an aversion against stirring up old animosities 
closed the lips of those men who could have written a first 
hand account of the underground railway in McDonough 
county or furnished the material for Mr. Clark to do so. 



Vol. XV, Nos. 3-4 Underground Railroad 585 

One of the early experiences of the Blazers, told to me by 
my father, occurred in the early 'forties. One evening there 
was a party of several men gathered across the ravine back 
of my grandmother Blazer's house, better known in late years 
as the Butcher place. They all carried guns and the Blazer 
men went into the house to get their weapons but my grand- 
mother said, '^No, do not take any guns, we will just go over 
and see what they want." They went but by the time they 
got there the men had disappeared. On their way back the 
boys discovered that their mother carried a meat ax under 
her apron. 

When my cousin, Jennie Blazer Watson, was a little tot 
and just beginning to talk, a neighbor man, who had very 
curly hair, came to my grandmother's. Jennie toddled up to 
him and said, ^'You have curly hair all over your head, just 
like little Maggie." Well, Maggie was a little black girl, who 
with her mother, previously had gone through on their way to 
Canada. 

A child's prattle could not be used as evidence in court 
so nothing came of it except to cause more talk and more dis- 
cussion of the fugitive slave law, for the Missouri Compro- 
mise and the Dred Scott decision were ably and fluently dis- 
cussed at that time by school children and men who could 
neither read nor write. 

The most interesting story connected with any negro that 
passed through the Underground Eailroad of McDonough 
county was woven around Charlie, a very light colored buck, 
with a sharp nose. He probably was a quadroon, or quarter- 
blood and was the property of a man by the name of Busch, 
whose plantation lay back some miles from the Missouri river. 
It was customary with the planters when the wheat was 
threshed to go to town and stay while negro boys hauled it 
to market. Charlie and two others were hauling the Busch 
wheat. When 'Heaed up" one night Busch and the other 
planters were discussing recent escapes of slaves from Mis- 
souri, when Busch turned banteringly to Charlie and asked 
him why he didn't try running away just for a little excite- 
ment. When Charlie went to his quarters that night he was 
thinking, and before he went to sleep he had it all figured out 
how he was going to make a break for Yankeedom. 



586 D. N. Blazer. j.i.s.h.s. 

Next morning Charlie was up early and on their way the 
boys scolded him for driving so hard. When they reached 
home Charlie, who was the boss when his master was not 
around, put the boys to loading the wagons with wheat for the 
next day's trip to the river. Charlie told the boys he was 
going to a dance across the way and went to an old mammy 
and asked for some bacon and pone. She gave it to him but 
said, ^* Nigger what you up to? You know you would not 
need any bacon or pone if you were going to a nigger dance. 
You are up to some deviltry.'' Charlie struck out afoot, but 
not a word did he tell his wife for he said he knew it would 
break her heart. He had nearly forty-eight hours start, for 
the boys had to drive to the river and the master go back home 
to secure dogs and organize for the chase. When the pur- 
suers reached the big river Charlie was housed securely with 
the Van Dorns and John Brown in Quincy. 

The Blazers gave Charlie the credit of being the smartest 
negro that ever passed over the McDonough county route. 
After reaching Canada Charlie got some Pennsylvania Pres- 
byterians interested in trying to get his wife and two children 
to Canada. They sent an old Presbyterian minister through, 
who arranged with Busch for their freedom for $800. The 
preacher went back and raised the money but when he re- 
turned with the cash Busch had raised to $1200. He went 
back to Pennsylvania, secured the $1200 but Busch had con- 
cluded he must have $1500. This Charlie would not agree to, 
determining to go back, steal them, and take them to Canada. 
He made several trips. Twice he succeeded in getting his 
wife and children and making a start. After the first attempt 
Busch had the mother and two children sleep in the loft above 
his and his wife's bedroom, which was reached by a ladder 
and a scuttle hole, but Charlie climbed to the top of the cabin, 
removed the clapboards and succeeded in getting nearly to 
the Illinois side of the Mississippi with his loved ones when 
the chase was so close it was evident they were going to be 
captured. On the advice of his wife Charlie jumped into the 
river and escaped in the dark. 

A few days later he was at the Blazers on his way to 
Canada. Charlie by this time knew the road and did not 
require any conductor. Lodging and something to eat were 



Vol. XV, Nos. 3-4 Underground Railroad 587 

his only needs and he always had a new and interesting ex- 
perience to relate. One is worth a place here. 

Charlie was on his way to Missouri and left Dobbins, the 
Fulton county station, for the Blazer post, but he had not 
gone far when a fog arose and Charlie lost his way. He 
wandered around nearly all night, finally gave up and lay 
down to sleep. When he awoke it was daylight and two men 
were standing over him. They ordered him to get up, which 
he did, but Charlie jerked a big dirk knife and made a slash 
at one of them. Charlie escaped and arrived at my father's 
early that night. They fed him but decided he had better 
strike out for the next station immediately. Charlie said he 
cut the fellow's clothing but did not think he was hurt much. 
The fact that one of them carried an ox whip suggested that 
the men from whom Charlie escaped had been plowing prairie 
and were at the time of the encounter looking for their cattle 
which had been unyoked and turned loose to graze during the 
night. This guess proved to be true, for later one of the 
ploughmen was found laid up from a slight wound such as 
might have been caused by a knife. However, the ploughman 
did not mention any set-to with the fugitive negro, declaring 
that he had accidentally fallen against a ploughshare. Per- 
haps they thought it would not be of any credit to them to 
acknowledge that a negro was too much for two of them. 

Charlie did not succeed in stealing his wife and children 
but on the other hand they finally captured Charlie and sent 
him to the hemp works in Tennessee. There was only one 
place worse that you could send a negro and that was the 
indigo works in Florida. There he would lose his finger nails 
inside of two years and be a dead man in five years. But 
Charlie was too smart for them to keep him any place unless 
they kept him chained. A few months later, just at the open- 
ing of the Civil war, Charlie crossed the Ohio river near Cin- 
cinnati and went up through Ohio. He told the Ohio people 
of his wonderful experiences, which they doubted, but he gave 
them the address of Henry Dobbins. They wrote to him and 
he verified Charlie's story. 

After the emancipation of the slaves Charlie's wife and 
two children reached Canada, the Canaan of all negroes. 



588 D. N. Blazer. j.i.s.h.s. 

It frequently happened that families were divided on 
the slave question. The Chase family and an incident directly 
connected with the Underground Eailway is worth a place in 
this article. A conductor from the station in Hancock county 
started to bring a darkey to the Allison station. A fog, which 
was very common at that time, rose and he found he was lost. 
After driving for some time he came to a house and called 
the man out and asked the road to Macomb and found he was 
just out south of town. He knew Rev. James Chase lived 
close to Macomb and was an abolitionist, so he inquired the 
way to Chase's. 

He was told it was just a little way over to the Chase 
home and was directed to the Harvey Chase place, which 
stood just this side of Kill Jordan, now within the city limits 
of Macomb, where the Archie Fisher home stands. Now it 
happened that Harvey Chase, who had been reared as an 
abolitionist the same as James, had changed and was on the 
other side of the question. 

When he called Mr. Chase out and informed him of his 
mission he was told that he was wanting James Chase and 
was directed to his home, which was on the farm east of the 
county farm. 

When the abolitionists asked Harvey Chase why he did 
not call an officer and have the darkey sent back to his master 
he explained by saying, ''the stranger came to him in good 
faith and he, as a gentleman, was honor bound to keep the 
faith.'' But his brother, James, had a different explanation. 
He said ''brother Harvey knew slavery was wrong and while 
he talked in favor of it he did not believe in it." The Chase 
brothers were gentlemen of honor. 

The last cargo of negroes passed over the Undergroimd 
Railway in McDonough county in 1860. This last cargo was 
not only the largest but the most valuable that ever passed 
over our route, and the only negro ever captured in this 
county was taken from this cargo. They were all big husky 
fellows, picked with a view to strength and endurance and 
were brought up for the hemp works of Tennessee. They 
were brought into a river town and were to be delivered the 
next morning when the master would get his money but that 
night they all escaped and reached Quincy, this was in June. 



Voi.xv,Nos.3-4 Underground Railroad 589 

The prize was a big one ; $500 per head was the sum offered 
for their capture. 

The cargo of negroes had been out to Round Prairie two 
or three times and back-tracked to Quincy until things would 
quiet down, but was finally delivered to us by Pettyjohn of 
the Huntsville country one morning before daylight in Sep- 
tember, 1860. 

I was aroused and told to go to my uncle's to inform him 
of the arrival of the negroes. I rapped gently on the window 
of Uncle John's bedroom. He signalled with a light tapping 
on the pane to let me know that he understood. I returned 
home, and by the time I had reached there the negroes had 
been stowed away, each in a shock of corn, and supplied with 
food and water. I am not sure at this late date whether there 
were eleven or twelve negroes in the cargo, as the shipments 
were then called. Clark's history incorrectly reports the 
number as five. 

When Pettyjohn delivered the negroes at our home he 
started on his return trip immediately. 

Just after daylight on a hill west of Middletown, or Fan- 
don, he passed a man on horseback. At some distance Petty- 
john looked back and saw that the other traveler had stopped 
and was looking over the conductor and his empty train. 
Pettyjohn at once knew that he was suspicioned. The man 
on horseback was not one of those that took part in hunts 
for runaway slaves, but as afterwards told to my father, he 
cargo had arrived at the Blazers. That was Dave Chrisman's 
who was the leader of the slavery-sympathizers in Mc- 
Donough county. Clark's History reports that the driver 
got lost and left his team and wagon in a gully near Dave 
Chrisman's house, and in that way it was learned that the 
cargo had arrived at the Blazers. That was Dave Chrisman's 
story, and it was generally believed. There was no means of 
knowing that it was not true and Mr. Clark was justified in 
writing it as the abolitionists would not give the historian any 
facts. At the time this history was written the negroes had 
long since been free and the abolitionists were only too glad 
to dismiss the old strifes from their thoughts. Dave Chris- 
man was a bluffer and invented the story of finding the team 
near his house thinking it would add to his notoriety. 



590 D. N. Blazer. j.l&h.s. 

I recall very well that while the dozen negroes sat and 
sweated in the corn shocks, for it was a hot September day, my 
father and John Blazer flailed buckwheat just south of the 
John Blazer house and they had company all day long. Dave 
Chrisman was the first visitor. He had been the rounds and 
notified his followers and made arrangements which were to 
be carried out that night. No one stayed very long but one 
visitor was not any more than gone when another rode up 
and would sit on his horse out in the road and talk for a time. 
All carried rifles, which was not unusual those times for there 
was still considerable game in the country. But the visitors 
were not the only people who had guns for two rifles stood 
inside the fence near where the two men flailed and talked to 
their neighbors while I sat on the fence, listened and watched 
and reported who was coming. The sober, quiet, determined 
men knew that trouble was ahead of them and when by them- 
selves talked over their plans for the coming night when the 
valuable cargo must be delivered to the next station. 

You may think it strange but each insisted that he 
should be in charge of the negroes when they started on the 
perilous trip and each had a good reason why he should go 
but John had the best argument. It was his turn and my 
father, when the time came, started up the prairie just after 
dark with a wagon load of grain covered with a tarpaulin. 
Before he had gone a half mile some twenty-five or thirty 
horsemen rode up, all carrying guns, and rode along for a 
mile or more and visited, when they dropped back and held 
a short consultation, and four came back, caught up with 
him, and rode several miles with him when they turned and 
rode away. My father went on to Bernadotte to mill and 
did not know the fate of the darkies until he returned home 
the next day. 

Now John and the colored boys had swung off towards 
the timber and then went straight east up the prairie until 
even with the Dickie Craig farm. When they started to the 
timber they had to cross a new plank fence which had been 
built just along the south side of the Craig land. Just as 
John and the negroes got on top of the fence Chrisman and 
his men, who had been lying in the shadow of the fence, 
raised up. 



Vol. XV, Nos. 3-4 Underground Railroad 591 

John Blazer said to the negroes, **Run boys for the 
timber/' They did as told and all got away but one, whom 
Chrisman hit over the head with a gun. 

Chrisman, accompanied by one or two of the leaders, 
took the negro to Macomb where he was held in jail until the 
owner came and claimed his property. But Chrisman, as 
was often the case, then failed to get his reward, as the owner 
said he had lost his man's work, and spent so much money 
trying to get him back that he could not afford to pay any- 
thing. 

Ten or twelve men, comprising the balance of the party 
that, together with Chrisman, had captured the negro, came 
back that night and threw clubs and rocks on our house and 
shouted and yelled. My mother went to the door which had 
no lock, and stood with an ax in her hand, ready to protect 
her home and children. 

Threats that my father and uncle would be indicted by 
the next grand jury, that they had been caught red handed 
in transporting negroes and would have an opportunity to 
serve time at Alton, was not a pleasant greeting to their 
families. This did not go direct to the ears of my father and 
uncle. Even Dave Chrisman was too gentlemanly to discuss 
the question with the Blazers or Allisons. Those were trying 
times but do not conclude this condition existed all over the 
county. It was much worse in the neighborhoods where there 
was an underground station. Now, I do not believe any one 
who was not intimate with conditions, can realize just what 
it meant to a family to be in such strife and turmoil. 

With the emancipation of the slaves by Abraham Lincoln, 
there was, of course, no further need for the Underground 
Railway, but many years and a new generation were required 
to wipe out the old animosities.