Freedom Seekers in Illinois

Research and story-telling about the Underground Railroad can center more fully on the decisions and actions of freedom seekers/fugitive slaves coming into, settling in, moving through, and leaving areas outside of the slave states. In Illinois, from the 1820s through the early 1860s, it is possible to recover some of these stories and enrich our understanding of the deeply human dimensions of this part of our national history.

These perspectives have become increasingly important in understanding the movement of Freedom Seekers in Illinois:
Individual Accounts of Journeys -- As some consensus emerges around understanding the Underground Railroad, many documents are being identified about freedom seekers themselves, usually heading for Canada. Some of these reflect movement from states and territories west of the Mississippi.
Differences over time -- the movement of freedom seekers and the Underground Railroad often is seen in static images. Yet, all of this had great fluidity. Activity in Illinois can be seen differently in the periods: 1820 - 1837; 1838 - 1844; 1845 - 1854; 1855 - 1861.
African American Leadership -- Increasing research is being done on the commitments to assist freedom seekers and the remarkable stories of the black towns and small settlements established across the state by freedom seekers and free people of color.

Timeframe and representative stories:
Pre – 1820 – always freedom seekers
1820 – 1837 – freedom seekers alone
            1821 thru 1830s – Newspaper notices in southern Illinois
            1820s – Black Bob with Pottawatomie
            1835 – Free Frank and Lucy McWhorter establish New Philadelphia
            1833 – “William” Wells Brown seeks to escape with his mother from St. Louis
1838 – 1844 – anti-slavery societies & organized radical Abolitionists
            1837 – Illinois Anti-Slavery Society formed
            1830s & 40s – networks become the UGRR
            1840s – variety of written accounts emerge
            1842 – the journey of Caroline Quarlls
1845 – 1854 – African-American leadership
             John and Mary Richardson Jones, Wagoners and Fords, and others in Chicago
             George Burroughs in Cario / Jameson Jenkins in Springfield
             Individuals and communities in Alton, Springfield, Jacksonville, Galesburg,
                 Aurora, Joliet, Chicago, and other locations
1855 -- 1861 -- The Railroad on the railroads
              Much of the activity is enhanced by using the railroads, in place across the Midwest
              and the  state by 1855.