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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Slaves Found Freedom in Lake County

The issue of slavery was in the hearts and minds of many prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. 
"The Underground Railroad" by Charles T. Webber, 1893
Cincinnati Art Museum
Many citizens of Lake County were active abolitionists, and in 1846 a group organized the Lake County Anti-Slavery Society in Antioch. 

Abolitionists throughout the North organized to aid runaway slaves and worked in small, independent groups to maintain secrecy in what was called the Underground Railroad. This informal network of secret routes and safe houses was like an “underground” resistance and used “rail” terminology. 

There are a handful of stories of escaped slaves passing through Lake County, and also of former slaves settling here after the Civil War. 

One of the few detailed stories of an escaped slave coming to Lake County to took place in the winter of 1858, when Andrew Jackson, a 28-year old slave, arrived from Mississippi at the Deerfield "safe house" of Lyman Wilmot. Because it was winter and travel was difficult, Wilmot found a more permanent residence for Jackson at the Lorenz Ott home where Jackson assisted with chores and even built the family a fence around their log cabin home.


The Caspar Ott cabin (above), where runaway slave Andrew Jackson
wintered in 1858-1859, is preserved by the 
Deerfield Area Historical Society
 

When the roads became passable in the spring of 1859, Lorenz Ott, a tailor by trade, made the young man a new suit and gave him boat fare to Canada. Wilmot then took Jackson to Chicago to board a ship to freedom. 

Lorenz Ott's tailor sheers believed to have been used
to make a new set of clothes for runaway slave,
Andrew Jackson, circa 1859.
LCDM 64.24.1
It is estimated that at least 30,000 slaves escaped to Canada via Underground Railroad networks throughout the North.

During the Civil War, it was fairly common for escaped male slaves to approach Union troops for refuge and liberation. This was the case for James Joice (1822-1872) who settled in Ivanhoe with his family and was featured in a previous post; Henry McIntosh (1843-1915) of Kentucky who enlisted with the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry 102nd U.S. Colored Troops and settled in Lake Forest in 1871, and worked as a coachman and gardener; and Samuel Dent (ca. 1835 - 1890) who settled in Lake Forest. 
Zouaves cadets in their stylish uniforms.

In April 1862, Samuel Dent, attached himself to the ranks of the 19th Illinois Infantry. This Zouave Regiment had several officers and sergeants who had belonged to the original company of Ellsworth Zouaves. (See my post on Ellsworth's Zouaves Cadets).

The regiment had advanced on and captured Decatur and Tuscumbia, Alabama, April 11-14, 1862. Dent, who was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, would have approached the 19th Illinois at this time, seeking freedom and to be of service.

It was also at Tuscumbia that James Davis of Barrington was killed by a sniper. (See my post on the Ghost of the 19th Illinois).

According to a February 1890 article in the Lake Forest College newspaper, The Stentor, Samuel Dent assisted the 19th Illinois' surgeon, Dr. Roswell G. Bogue (1832 - 1893).
Samuel Dent and his livery at the
Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Depot, Lake Forest.
Courtesy of Lake Forest - Lake Bluff Historical Society.
After the war, Samuel Dent settled in Lake Forest in the 1870s. His decision to come to Lake Forest may have been based on his experiences with soldiers from the regiment who were from northern Illinois. Dent may also have been aware of Lake Forest's growing African-American community, which had begun in the 1850s, and tales of the city's strong abolitionist sentiment. 

Chicago and Northwestern Depot, Lake Forest
circa 1914. LCDM M-86.1.525
Dent started his own livery business, picking up passengers at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad depot in Lake Forest and taking them to area hotels and to their homes. He also worked as a "tour guide." By all accounts he was a charming and generous man.

According to census records, Samuel Dent and his wife Eliza (ca. 1847 - 199) had three children--Emma McElroy (1858 - unknown) Eliza's daughter born in Illinois; Charles (ca September 1879 - May 1880) who died from "cerebral congestion;" and Eliza Jane (1884 - unknown).

When Samuel Dent passed away on June 8, 1890, the citizens of Lake Forest subscribed to and erected a monument at Dent's grave, showing their "esteem for a lovable Christian, devoted citizen and faithful friend."
Detail of Samuel Dent monument at the
Lake Forest Cemetery.

Special thanks to Laurie Stein, Curator at the Lake Forest - Lake Bluff Historical Society. 

2 comments:

Kim@Snug Harbor said...

This was a really interesting post. We have often passed the Casper Ott log house and I've always wanted to stop there. Now I will for sure.

Amy said...

Very neat. I had no idea!