Brown Bag/Local Lore “Antislavery Activism on the Frontier: The story of the English Prairie.”
Antislavery Activism on the Frontier
February marks the beginning of Black History Month. The DeKalb County History Center and Ellwood House Museum are proud to explore this topic as part of the February 4 Brown Bag/Local Lore talk, “Antislavery Activism on the Frontier: The story of the English Prairie.” This program will be held virtually at 12:00 p.m.
Many people are not aware of the story of the role of English settlers in early Illinois, and how they played an important role in keeping Illinois free from slavery. Morris Birkbeck and George Flower traveled from England in 1817 and settled in 1817/1818 in Edwards County, Illinois, at what is now the present-day town of Albion. The locale drew scores of English and American settlers at its height, forming one of the most important early statehood settlements. One of their main criteria for their new home as they traveled westward from the Atlantic seaboard was to settle in a location that was free from slavery. They appreciated the rolling prairie and rich agricultural possibilities of the Illinois territory, but as their settlement thrived, Birkbeck and Flower came to realize that “for all practical purposes, this part of the Territory was as much a slave-state as any of the states south of the Ohio River” (Flower, History of the English Settlement, 1882).
George Flower’s retrospective story of the English Prairie settlement, History of the English Settlement in Edwards County, Illinois, founded in 1817 and 1818, by Morris Birkbeck and George Flower (1882), chronicles the daily happenings of the community but also serves as a significant record of their observations of slave labor that was legally in practice at the salt mines near Shawneetown, as well as slaves he observed as “waiters in taverns, draymen, and used in all manner of work on the north side of the Ohio River.” Flower asserted: “A black man or a black woman was found in many families, in defiance of law, up to the confines of our Settlement, sixty miles north, and in one instance in it.”
Caroline Kisiel, an Illinois Humanities Roads Scholar, will be the presenter for this event. She draws on academic research for presentations and has delivered at numerous historical conferences. Kisiel is a public historian and educator who has been teaching for over 25 years. With a background in immigration law, literature, history, storytelling, and performance, Caroline writes and presents on early Illinois history and is currently conducting research on the role of Albion, Illinois in the struggle to keep Illinois slavery-free in the early years of statehood.
The Brown Bag/Local Lore program takes place on the first Thursday of the month at 12:00. These programs are a partnership between the DeKalb County History Center and Ellwood House Museum, and funded through the generous support of the Mary E. Stevens Concert and Lecture Fund and the Illinois Humanities. The program is free, but registration is required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register or if you have any questions.