African Americans inhabited a multicultural spectrum of bondage and resistance in the antebellum Illinois-Wisconsin lead district. Contests between early Upper Mississippi River Valley Native American, French, and British inhabitants first forced bondspeople into the lead country. There, overlapping US and French practices of bondage and lengthy race-based indentures made a mockery of the Northwest Ordinance that forbade slavery, consigning black men and women to outright slavery at worst or a liminal, limited freedom at best. Bondage fractured families and imposed arduous mining and domestic labor upon African Americans. Simultaneously, it underpinned white Americans’ bids for supremacy in the region, making elite masculinity, protecting whiteness, promoting political advancement, and civilizing the “wilderness” in the process. In response to the miseries inflicted upon them, bondspeople pursued courtroom resistance and sought extralegal respite through religion and within military culture. Too often, their efforts yielded disappointment or devastation. Freedom eluded most until 1850.
See Paul Finkelman“Evading the Ordinance: The Persistence of Bondage in Indiana and Illinois,”Journal of the Early Republic9 (Spring 1989): 21–51; Finkelman An Imperfect Union: Slavery Federalism and Comity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2000); Keith Griffler Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad (Lexington Ky.: University Press of Kentucky 2004); M. Scott Heerman “In a State of Slavery: Black Servitude in Illinois 1800–1830” Early American Studies 14 no. 1 (Winter 2016): 114–139; Steven Lubet Fugitive Justice: Runaways Rescuers and Slavery on Trial (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 2010); Michael McManus Political Abolitionism in Wisconsin1840–1861 (Kent Ohio: Kent State University Press 1998); Lea VanderVelde Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (New York: Oxford University Press 2014); and Dana Elizabeth Weiner Race and Rights: Fighting Slavery and Prejudice in the Old Northwest (DeKalb Ill: Northern Illinois University Press 2013). Christopher Lehman Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley 1787–1865: A History of Human Bondage in Illinois Iowa Minnesota and Wisconsin (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co. 2011) provides an introduction to the lead district but with limited attention to gender family servitude contingent emancipation and resistance and with minimal analysis of censuses and residents’ letters and memoirs.
Examples include James F. BrooksCaptives and Cousins: Slavery Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press1994); Christina Snyder Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2012); and Barbara Krauthamer Black Slaves Indian Masters: Slavery Emancipation and Citizenship in the Native American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2013). Brett Rushforth Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 2012) examines the colonial period.
HurtIndian Frontier171–172; Michael Witgen An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2012) 346–347; “Treaty of Prairie du Chien” 1825 Wisconsin Historical Society Madison http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/55642. Accessed 27 Mar. 2016.
Samuel MazzuchelliMemoirs Historical and Edifying of a Missionary Apostolic of the Order of Saint Dominic among Various Indian Tribes and among the Catholics and Protestants of the United States of America (Chicago: W.F. Hall1915) 141 244 263; Jones “Autobiography” 144.
Phillis indenture to Brown 14 Mar.1845Jo Daviess County Commissioner’s Book 1838–1847 Galena Ill. For analysis of the constitution’s wording see Finkelman “Evading the Ordinance” 45–48.
Joan Cashin“Black Families in the Old Northwest,”Journal of the Early Republic15 (Autumn 1995): 462; Max Grivno Gleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave along the Mason-Dixon Line 1790–1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2011) 180.
John Davidson“Some Distinctive Characteristics of the History of Our Lead Region,” in Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin1899) 188–190.