By Jared Olar
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.
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.