The Civil War era: Pekin’s blacks in a time of transition

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Continuing our review of what historical records can tell us of 19th-century African-American residents of Pekin, this week we move on to the period from the 1860s to the 1880s — the decades of the Civil War and its aftermath, when slavery finally was abolished and civil rights for blacks first began to be enshrined in law.

As we have seen, the numbers of African-Americans in Pekin were already quite low at the time of the 1850 U.S. Census. Ten years later, on the eve of the Civil War, their numbers were even lower. Only 18 African-Americans were enumerated as Pekin residents at the time of the 1860 U.S. Census. The number of Pekin’s African-Americans dropped to 10 in the 1870 census, but increased to 19 in the 1880 census.

One of Pekin’s few African-Americans in 1860 was Malinda Cooper, 19, “mulatto” (i.e. mixed-race), born in Illinois, a servant in the household of Daniel and Mary Bastions. Also living with the Bastions at that time was a white girl named Mary or May Warfield, 11, born in Illinois – we’ll hear more about Mary Warfield further on.

Pekin in 1860 was also the home of the “mulatto” family of Virginia-born John Brown, 44, a barber, who is enumerated in the census with his wife Charlotte, 43, and children or grandchildren George W., 20, Caroline M., 20, and Amanda, 3.

The 1860 census also shows a black family living in Pekin, headed by Virginia-born Edward Hard, 29, “black,” a laborer, whose wife Elizabeth Hard, 28, “mulatto,” and one-month-old daughter Mary, are listed in the house with Edward. A year later, the 1861 Roots City Directory of Pekin lists “Howard Edward (colored), laborer, res. Market, ss. 1st d. e. Third” – apparently the same man as “Edward Hard” of the 1860 census. The 1870 U.S. Census for Pekin enumerates the family of Kentucky-born “Edwin Howard,” 45, black, a fireman in a distillery, with his wife Elizabeth, 49, and their daughters Melinda, 10, and Elizabeth, 6 months. “Edwin” is, again, apparently the same man as “Edward” Howard or Hard. Living in the Howard household at the time of the 1870 census was Alabama-born Allen T. Davison, 23, black, a fireman in a distillery, and his wife Sarah J. Davison, 18.

The same year, the 1870 Sellers & Bates City Directory of Pekin shows “Howard Ed., (colored), laborer, res ne cor Front and Isabella.” Six years after that, the 1876 Bates City Directory of Pekin shows “Howard Edwin, (col) fireman distillery, res ns Isabel 1d e Front,” and shows Allen T. Davison as “Davison Travis, foreman distil’ry, res ns Isabel 1d w Second” (“foreman” an error for “fireman”). Four years later, Allen Travis Davison is counted in the 1880 U.S. Census of Pekin as “Travis Davis-Son” (sic), 33, then rooming in the house of the white family of Edward and Mary Elster at 117 Court St. (the census taker erroneously read the “-son” of Travis’ surname to mean that Travis was a son of Edward and Mary).

Travis Davison does not appear as a resident of Pekin after 1880, but his former neighbor Ed Howard appears one more time – in the 1887 Bates City Directory of Pekin, he is listed as “Howard Edwin, barber 233 Court, res. 101 Isabel.

Going back to the 1860 U.S. Census, besides the family of Benjamin and Nance Costley, the only other African-Americans of Pekin listed in that census are Moses “Mose” Ashby, 23, and his brother William Ashby, 21, both born in Illinois and identified as “mulatto.” Mose and William were then laborers living in the household of Peter and Margaret Devore. Besides Moses and William, records show two more of their brothers living in Pekin around this time: Nathaniel (or Nathan) Ashby and Marshall Ashby. The 1861 Roots City Directory of Pekin lists “Ashby Moses (colored), livery hand, Margaret, ns., 1st d. e. Front; res. Ann Eliza, ss., 1st d. w. Third” and “Ashby Nathan (colored), teamster, Ann Eliza, ss., 1st d. e. Second; res. river bank, foot of State.”

Their brother William is listed in the 1870 U.S. Census of Pekin as William J. Ashby, 27, born in Illinois, “mulatto,” a teamster, with his wife Sarah, 30, and children Lewis, 3, and Catharine, an infant. Living with them was a white girl named Laura Correl, 14. Ten years later, William is listed in the 1880 census at 172 Caroline St., as “William Asbey,” 37, black, with his wife Sarah, 45, and children Louis, 13, Catharine, 10, Sarah, 7, and Charles, 7. William next appears in Pekin in the 1887 city directory: “Ashby William J. lab. Res. 127 Caroline.” Listed right before William in that directory is “Ashby Charles, cigar mkr. Moenkemoeller & Schlottmann, res. 127 Caroline.” That seems to be William’s son Charles, who then would have been about 15. The last time William appears in Pekin is in the 1900 census, when he was listed as a 63-year-old coal miner, able to read and write, and a widower.

The four Ashby brothers were the sons of William H. Ashby, born in Kentucky. During the Civil War, the father William and his three sons William J., Marshall, and Nathan are known to have taken a stand in defense of human liberty by serving in the U.S. Colored Troops. Nathan and Marshall both registered for the Civil War draft on in June 1863 (but Nathan’s draft registration calls him “Nathaniel Ashley”). Nathan is listed in the 1870 Pekin city directory as “Ashby Nathan (colored), fireman, res ne cor Mary and Somerset.” The city directories and censuses do not show Nathan in Pekin after that – he later died at age 60 in Bartonville on July 31, 1899, and was buried in the defunct Moffat Cemetery on Peoria’s south side. Nathan had married a certain Elizabeth Warfield (perhaps related to Mary Warfield?) in Peoria County in 1860.

Two of the eight men from Pekin who registered for the Civil War draft in June 1863 were African-American — those two men were the brothers Marshall Ashby and Nathaniel Ashby.

Marshall’s and Nathan’s military records say they were born in Fulton County, Ill., and that they served in Company G of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, enlisting at Springfield on Aug. 21, 1864, and being mustered in there on Sept. 21, 1864, and being honorably discharged at the Ringgold Barracks in Texas on Sept. 30, 1865. Significantly, Marshall, Nathan, and their company were in Texas at the time of the first “Juneteenth,” so it is quite possible that they were present in Galveston for Juneteenth, as their fellow Pekin Civil War veteran Private William H. Costley, of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, Company B, certainly was. Nathan applied for a Civil War pension in 1890, and his widow Elizabeth applied for widow’s benefits on Sept. 18, 1899.

Though Marshall had fought honorably for the unity of his nation and the freedom of his people, it was not long after his return to Pekin that he was reminded the hard way that, even at that late date, Illinois still did not allow interracial marriage. On March 14, 1866, in Tazewell County, Marshall married a white woman named Mary Jane Luce (or Lewis). Marshall’s wife first appears in the 1850 U.S. Census as Mary J. Luce, 5, born in Ohio, living in Peoria with her baby brother Elias Luce in the household of Isaac and Mary Holiplain. Ten years later, the 1860 census shows Mary working in Pekin as a live-in servant in the household of Daniel and Barbara Clauser.

Marshall’s 1863 Civil War draft record says he was then married, but apparently Marshall’s then wife (whose name is unknown) had died before 1866 when he married Mary Luce. After the marriage, Mary Warfield (mentioned earlier in this column) informed the authorities that Marshall and his wife Mary were not the same race. A Tazewell County grand jury therefore indicted them for “marriage of black & white persons,” which Illinois state law then classified as a kind of adultery. Besides Warfield, the witnesses summoned to testify before the grand jury in this case were Mahala Ashby (perhaps Marshall’s mother, sister, or aunt), J. W. Glassgow, H. G. Gary, Benjamin S. Prettyman, Joshua Wagenseller (the noted Pekin abolitionist and friend of Abraham Lincoln), John L. Devore, Granville Edwards, Benjamin and Nance Costley, William A. Tinney (a past Tazewell County sheriff and friend of the Costleys who is remembered as an advocate for African-American voting rights), James A. McGrew, William Divinney, and Benjamin Priddy. Marshall and Mary were probably found guilty, and it is likely no coincidence that Marshall does not appear on record in Illinois after 1866.

In 1866, a Tazewell County grand jury indicted Marshall Ashby, black, and Mary Jane Luce, white, of interracial marriage — eight years before Illinois repealed its ban on the marriage of whites with blacks. IMAGE COURTESY OF CARL ADAMS

Despite what had happened to his brother, on June 1, 1870, Mose Ashby married an Illinois-born white woman, Ellen Woodworth, 24, resulting in a grand jury indictment that they lived “together in an open state of adultery” (i.e., he was black and she was white). The outcome of their case is uncertain, but exactly one month after their marriage the U.S. Census shows “Ellen Woodworth” working for Tazewell County Sheriff Edward Pratt as a domestic servant in the Tazewell County Jail – whether that was simply her job or she was serving her sentence for “adultery” is unclear.

Four years after his brother’s indictment, Moses Ashby also was indicted for marrying a white woman, Ellen Woodworth. IMAGE COURTESY OF CARL ADAMS

The state law under which Marshall and Mose were indicted was approved by the General Assembly in 1829 as a part of Illinois’ old “Black Code” restricting the rights of free blacks in Illinois. The ban on interracial marriage, last of the Black Code statutes, was finally repealed in 1874, just four years after Mose’s indictment.

Next time we’ll take a closer look at Pekin’s African-American residents in the period from about 1880 to the early 1900s.

#abraham-lincoln, #allen-travis-davison, #amanda-brown, #benjamin-costley, #benjamin-prettyman, #caroline-m-brown, #catharine-ashby, #charles-ashby, #charlotte-brown, #daniel-and-mary-bastions, #daniel-clauser, #ed-howard, #edard-elster, #elias-luce, #elizabeth-howard, #elizabeth-spearman, #elizabeth-warfield, #ellen-woodworth, #george-w-brown, #illinois-black-code, #interracial-marriage, #isaac-holiplain, #john-brown, #joshua-wagenseller, #juneteenth, #lewis-ashby, #malinda-cooper, #marshall-ashby, #mary-howard, #mary-jane-luce, #mary-warfield, #melinda-howard, #moses-ashby, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-ashby, #peter-devore, #racism, #racism-in-pekins-past, #sarah-ashby, #sarah-ashby-dau, #sarah-j-davison, #sheriff-edward-pratt, #uncle-bill-tinney, #william-h-ashby, #william-j-ashby

A glimpse of Pekin’s non-white population in 1850

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Recently this column reviewed the known black families who lived in Pekin just before, during, and in the years after World War I. We saw that although some African-Americans lived and worked in Pekin during those years, their numbers were very small – the 1910 U.S. Census counted only eight, while the 1920 U.S. Census counted only 31.

A front page story in the July 24, 1933 Pekin Daily Times attempted to explain the extremely low numbers of blacks, suggesting that Pekin was not as economically desirable to blacks as Peoria, which was larger and offered more and better jobs than Pekin. The story indicated that Pekin’s black population had always been very low and implied that Pekin had long had a reputation for being a place where blacks were unwelcome.

That Pekin’s population of African-Americans had always been very low is borne out by a review of 19th-century U.S. Census records and Pekin city directories, which show that 1850 was the year when Pekin had its highest population of blacks prior to recent decades (both in terms of numbers and proportionally). In this column, we will review the black or mixed-race families and individuals who lived in Pekin at the time of the 1850 U.S. Census, 11 years before the Civil War which resulted in the abolition of slavery. All of the people in this review were free, not indentured servants.

Probably the most prominent and best-known black family of Pekin in the 1800s was the family of Benjamin Costley and his wife Nance Legins-Costley, who have been the subject of several “From the History Room” columns over the years. Ben and Nance and their family of five daughters and three sons are enumerated as Pekin residents in the U.S. censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 (although the 1880 Pekin census entry for this family is obviously spurious, as the Costleys are known to have moved to Peoria in the 1870s).

In addition to the Costleys, the 1850 census of Pekin lists an African-American married couple named Lewis and Eliza Woods, both age 30, enumerated between the families of Robert Stickley and George A. Hamilton. Lewis, a barber, identified as “black,” was born in New York, while Eliza, identified as “mulatto” (an old, offensive term for a person partly of African descent) was born in Virginia. Neither Lewis nor Eliza appear in Pekin in any later censuses.

Also counted in the 1850 census of Pekin was the family of Missouri-born Levi and Laura Williams, ages 30 and 25, who shared a home with Rachael Williams, 70, born in Virginia (probably Levi’s mother), Napolean Williams, 10, born in Louisiana (probably Levi’s son), and Emiline Williams, 27 (probably Levi’s sister). Also living with the Williamses were Charles Neal, 21, born in Louisiana, and his wife Julia Ann Neal, 18, born in Missouri. Like Lewis Woods, Levi Williams was a barber. The census identifies everyone in Levi’s household as “mulatto” except for Rachael, identified as “black.”

Another African-American married couple living in Pekin in 1850 were Daniel and Elizabeth Stephens, ages 25 and 20, both born in Kentucky. Daniel was a teamster. Living with the Stephenses were a young woman named Levin Shoving, 19, born in Illinois, and an Ohio-born barber named William C. Sell, 26, and Williams’ Illinois-born wife Martha, 16. William Sell is identified in the census as “black,” while everyone else in the Stephens household is identified as “mulatto.”

Another black family living in Pekin in 1850 were South Carolina-born Simon Wheeler, 40, laborer, his wife Catherine, 20, born in Illinois, and their one-month-old daughter Adelia, born in Illinois. The Wheelers do not appear as Pekin residents after 1850, and by the 1870 U.S. Census they were living in Randolph County, Illinois.

The “mulatto” family of Ohio-born Jefferson Frizzel, 44, a teamster, was also enumerated in the 1850 census of Pekin, which shows Jefferson with his wife Isabel, 42, and his children John, 19, a laborer, Isaac, 17, Rachal, 15, Jerusha, 13, Lorinda, 11, and Sarah Jane, 5. Isabel and John were born in Ohio, Isaac was born in Illinois, Rachal and Jerusha were born in Iowa, and Lorinda and Sarah were born in Illinois. Unlike most Tazewell County blacks and people of mixed race in those days, Jefferson and Isabel could read and write and their children went to school. Significantly, Jefferson, who had come to Tazewell County about 1833, is shown in federal and state land records to have purchased land in Tazewell County on June 29, 1836, March 18, 1837, and Nov. 1, 1839. That makes Jefferson the only non-white Pekin resident in the 1850 census known to have ever owned land.

Shown is a detail from the federal letters patent signed by President Martin Van Buren confirming Jefferson Frizzel’s purchase of land in Tazewell County on March 18, 1837. Of the non-white Pekin residents in the 1850 U.S. Census, Frizzel is the only one known to have ever owned land.

Jefferson married Isabel (or Isabella) Huddleston on 3 July 1850 in Tazewell County. The date of their marriage indicates that Jefferson’s children may have been born of a prior marriage (unless they were born to Isabel out of wedlock). Ohio records show the marriage of a Jefferson Frizzel and Elmina Broughton on 6 Sept. 1829 in Clark County, which fits the ages of the Frizzel children listed in the 1850 census in Pekin. However, other researchers identify Elmina as the first wife of a Jefferson Frizzel who was born 1808 in Massachusetts and settled in Louisa County, Iowa – the names of that Jefferson Frizzel’s children do not match the names of the Jefferson Frizzel of Tazewell County. Be that as it may, Jefferson Frizzel and his family are not listed as Tazewell County residents after 1850.

The only other black or mulatto person listed as a Pekin resident in the 1850 U.S. Census records is Levina Snooks, 22, born in Illinois, “mulatto,” listed as living with a white family surnamed Freman, headed by a Pekin merchant named George W. Freman, 32. Levina may have been the Fremans’ servant or perhaps one of their relatives. She does not appear in Tazewell County after 1850.

That completes our review of the black and mixed-race persons living in Pekin in 1850: a total of 35 souls, at a time when Pekin’s population was about 1,500. Next time we’ll review the known African-American residents of Pekin during the 1860s and 1870s.

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Where is Nance Legins-Costley’s final resting place? (Redux)

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

“To rescue a name worthy to be remembered and honoured
To recall great events,
To look back upon the deeds of those gone before us,
Are objects worthy of all consideration.”

— U.S. Secretary of State and Illinois historian E. B. Washburne, 1882

It’s not every day that historical researchers discover new facts that solve long-standing mysteries – but today is one of those days.

Several times in recent years, “From the History Room” has had the opportunity to tell of the life and family of one of Pekin’s most notable historical figures – Nance Legins-Costley, remembered as the first African-American slave freed by Abraham Lincoln. Most of what we know of Nance is the fruit of the research of local historian Carl Adams. Only two weeks ago we took another look at the lives of Nance and her son Private William Henry Costley.

Following close upon the heels of that column, we now return once more to the subject of Nance in order to announce that the answer has been found to the three-fold question, “When and where did Nance die and where was she buried?

We previously addressed that question here in Aug. 2015. At that time we noted the speculation of late Pekin historian Fred Soady, who thought Nance died circa 1873 in Pekin and had probably been buried in the old City Cemetery that formerly existed at the southwest corner of Koch and South Second streets. We also considered a May 29, 1885 Minnesota State Census record of “Nancy Cosley,” identified in the record as age 72, black, born in Maryland, and living in Minneapolis with James Cosley, 32, born in Illinois. This record is a perfect match for Pekin’s Nance Costley and her son James Willis Costley, especially considering that Nance’s son William was then living in Minneapolis and died three years later in Rochester, Minn.

Lacking any further information, I wondered if Nance may have died in Minneapolis and was buried there or nearby.

We now know the answer to that question is, “No.” Although the 1885 census record shows Nance in Minneapolis, she later returned to central Illinois (presumably after her son William’s death in Rochester in 1888). A few years later, Nance died and was buried in Peoria.

Those facts were discovered by Debra Clendenen of Pekin, a retired Pekin Hospital registered nurse and local genealogical researcher who has been engaged in a project of creating Find-A-Grave memorials for deceased individuals whose names are recorded in the old Peoria County undertakers’ records.

While engaged in that project, Clendenen came across the burial records of Nance Legins-Costley, her husband Benjamin Costley, their son Leander “Dote” Costley, their daughter and son-in-law Amanda and Edward W. Lewis, and Amanda’s and Edward’s sons Edward W., William Henry, Ambrose E., Jesse, and John Thomas. Clendenen has created Find-A-Grave memorials for all of those members of Nance’s family. She added Benjamin’s memorial on March 8 this year, and then added Nance’s memorial on March 12.

Clendenen described her discoveries earlier this month in an email dated June 6, 2019:

“The heroes of this tale are the undertakers who kept such remarkably detailed records and the Peoria County Clerks who have housed their records for nearly 150 years.

“The records began in 1872 and were discovered in the basement of the Peoria Courthouse a few years ago by Bob Hoffer of Peoria. He photographed the records and gave them to the Peoria County Genealogical Society who transcribed and published them.

“I have been photocopying pages of the books at the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society in Pekin and creating Find-A-Grave memorials from them. I am ‘blessed’ with an enormous curiosity gene. I use Ancestry.com to research the folks I create memorials for. I have created 35,000 memorials over an eight-year period.

“So that is the journey Nance’s burial took from the undertaker to my hands.”

The Peoria County undertaker’s report for Nance says she was born in Maryland and died of old age at the remarkable age of 104, on April 6, 1892. The report lists her residence at 226 N. Adams St., which means she was living with her daughter Amanda and son-in-law Edward. According to the report, Nance was buried in Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria.

Moffatt Cemetery, as shown on an 1896 plat map of Peoria, from the “Illinois Ancestors Presents Peoria County” website.

Her husband Ben had died nine years earlier. His undertaker’s report says he died at the age of 86 on Dec. 4, 1883, with the cause of death listed as unspecified “injuries.” His residence was 517 Hale St., and he was, according to the report, buried in Springdale Cemetery.

Clendenen has expressed doubt about whether or not Benjamin and Nance were really buried in different cemeteries. The undertaker’s reports for their children Amanda and Leander are similar, showing Amanda buried in Springdale and Leander buried in Moffatt. Even though Benjamin is said to have been buried in Springdale, Springdale Cemetery has no record of his burial, so Clendenen thinks it is possible he may have really been buried in Moffatt Cemetery.

Moffatt Cemetery, at 3900 S.W. Adams St. (the corner of Adams and Griswold), was one of Peoria’s oldest cemeteries, starting as early as 1836 as a burying ground for the family of Peoria pioneer Aquila Moffatt (1802-1880). The cemetery has long been defunct, however, being officially closed in 1905 after burial space ran out. Eventually the cemetery sank into decrepitude and neglect, overgrown and the gravestones crumbling and fallen. As Bob Hoffer discovered in his research, the Peoria City Council finally voted in 1954 to rezone the property as light industrial, after which it appears that most of the burials were relocated – but many burials are probably still there, at the site that is now the location of a roofers union office, muffler shop, an electrician, and a parking lot. (See the story of Hoffer’s research efforts in “Peoria searching for Civil War grave finds forgotten cemetery,” in the May 27, 2017 edition of the Peoria Journal Star)

A large part of the site of Peoria’s defunct Moffatt Cemetery, at the corner of Griswold and Adam streets, is today paved over as a parking lot, as shown in this Google Maps Street View image. Nance Legins-Costley was buried in Moffatt Cemetery in April 1892.

Although study of the Peoria County undertaker’s reports for Benjamin and Nance Costley has at last revealed when and where Nance and her husband Ben died, their reports do raise some questions. First of all, in both Nance’s and Ben’s reports their stated ages at death are obviously erroneous. Earlier U.S. and state census records indicate that Nance was born circa 1813 while Ben was born circa 1811 or 1812. In fact even those earlier census records give varying ages. Knowing that Nance and Ben were illiterate, and that Nance had been born in slavery, most likely they themselves were unsure of when they were born.

Carl Adams, leading expert on Nance’s life, has identified Nance as a daughter of the slaves Randall and Anachy Legins, who are known to have had a daughter in Kaskaskia, Illinois, in December 1813 – this matches Nance’s age from the census records, and thus we can narrow down Nance’s birth to that month and year. Their owner Nathan Cromwell was born in Maryland. Nance may have appropriated that as her place of birth, either because she was confused or because, given the grave injustices that Illinoisans had inflicted upon her in her younger days, she disavowed the place of her birth. Or, as Adams suspects, it may have been a census-taker’s error, attributing to the slaves the place of the birth of their master. Be that as it may, Nance was 78 when she died, not 104. Nance’s daughter Amanda was likely the one who supplied the undertaker with her mother’s age, and Amanda herself likely did not know how old her mother really was. Unfortunately we’ll never know how Nance’s age came to be inflated from 78 to 104. As for Nance’s husband Ben, based on census records he probably died at the age of 70 or 71, not 86.

There is still doubt regarding the disposition of the burials that were removed from Moffatt Cemetery. Were they moved to another cemetery, and if so which one? Were the remains of Nance and Leander among those that were removed, or are they still in situ, covered over by a parking lot? There’s no way to be sure at this time.

Even so, with Clendenen’s discovery of the undertaker’s reports for Nance and her family, and her creation of online memorials for them at Find-A-Grave, we can finally write the final chapter of Nance’s remarkable life. Memory eternal!

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