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.

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‘Black Nance’ and her son, Private William H. Costley

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Four years ago, “From the History Room” shone the spotlight on William Henry Costley, a forgotten figure of Pekin’s past whose remarkable life story serves as a historical link between Pekin and the origins of the annual “Juneteenth” celebration.

We told the story of Costley, a Civil War soldier who served as a private in one of the Union Army’s Colored Troops regiments, in a column entitled, “Bill Costley – Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth,’” which first ran in the Saturday, June 20, 2015 Pekin Daily Times and later was republished at the Pekin Public Library’s “From the History Room” weblog. It was the third of four columns that have featured the members of the family of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin, an African-American woman mentioned in Pekin’s historical records as “Black Nance,” who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln (through the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey vs. Cromwell).

The story of Nance Legins-Costley’s steadfast struggle to obtain freedom for herself and her children is told in the 2014 book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln – A True Story of Nance Legins-Costley,” which was written by local history Carl Adams, formerly of the Pekin area but now residing in Maryland. The Pekin Public Library has a copy of Adams’ book that may be checked out, and a second copy is in the Local History Room collection for in-library research.

Bill Costley was Nance’s third child and eldest son. U.S. Census records indicate that Bill was only about a year old when his mother won their freedom through Bailey vs. Cromwell. Through his research, Adams learned that during the Civil War Bill served in the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), which was one of the regiments sent to the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865, landing at Galveston, Texas, on June 19 and announcing that the war had ended and all of Texas’ approximately 250,000 slaves were free. The four-day celebration of emancipation that ensued is the origin of Juneteenth.

The gravestone of Private William H. Costley in Rochester, Minn., misspells his surname “Crossley” and gives an erroneous estimate for his year of birth. Costley, who was born and lived much of his life in Pekin, was one of the witnesses of the first “Juneteenth” on June 19, 1865.

More recently, Adams interest in the life of Bill Costley has motivated him to get involved with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Members and supporters of NJOF aim to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday to be observed every third Saturday in June. “Since they are not asked for a day off work, nor on a Monday, they have hopes,” Adams said in a recent email to the Pekin Public Library.

This year NJOF kicked off their month-long observance of Juneteenth with nationwide flag-raising ceremonies on Monday, June 3, said Adams. The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room also features a Juneteenth display all this month.

In related news, The Randolph Society, an honor society with a mission of recognizingd prominent individuals who have lived in and contributed to Randolph County, Illinois, has made Bill Costley’s mother Nance Legins-Costley a 2019 Randolph Society honoree. Nance was nominated early this year on Feb. 8, and the formal induction ceremony was held March 10 at the Randolph County Courthouse in Chester, Ill.

The Randolph Society chose to recognize Nance because she was a Randolph County native, having been born in Dec. 1813 in the boarding house of land surveyor Col. Thomas Cox of Kaskaskia, then the capital of the Illinois Territory. Nance’s parents, Maryland-born slaves named Randall and Anachy Legins, were legally classed as indentured servants of Cox, but effectively were Cox’s slaves. Nance later lived in Springfield after Cox moved there in 1822. In 1827, however, Cox’s estate was seized and auctioned off to pay his debts. At that time Nance and her sister Dice were both sold, and Nance was acquired by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, one of the men to whom Cox owed a great deal of money. Cromwell brought Nance to Pekin soon after that, in 1827 or 1828.

Under Illinois law, an indentured servant had to agree to the contract of indenture. However, Cox’s mother Jane later gave sworn testimony in court that she overheard Cromwell ask “Nance if she would go and live with him and said Nance refused and presented she would not.”

This refusal of Nance to agree to her indenture contract in 1827 was key to Lincoln’s eventually winning Nance’s freedom in 1841. Her last owner David Bailey could not provide evidence that Nance was really indentured to serve him, so the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that she was free – and since she was free, that meant her children Amanda, Eliza Jane, and Bill were not born of an indentured servant and therefore were free as well.

Pekin pioneer David Bailey, who belonged to a family of abolitionists, was the last owner of Nance Legins-Costley. Bailey let Nance and her family live as free persons while Abraham Lincoln steered through the Illinois court systems the legal case of Bailey vs. Cromwell. The freedom of Nance and her three eldest children was confirmed when Lincoln won the case in 1841.

The Randolph Society has published a biography of Nance Legins-Costley at its website. The biography, based mainly on Adams’ book “Nance,” may be read at https://randolphsociety.org/nance-legins-costley/

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Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in June 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Bill Costley — Pekin’s link to ‘Juneteenth’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On May 2, 2015, this column featured a review of a new book by local historian Carl M. Adams about a notable early Pekin resident’s stalwart struggle for freedom — “Black Nance” Legins-Costley, who secured her freedom from slavery with the help of her attorney Abraham Lincoln in the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Adams’ book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln,” was recognized April 25 at the annual awards luncheon of the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield.

This week, we will take another look at the family of Nance Legins-Costley in order to learn about Pekin’s historical connection to the origin of the celebration of “Juneteenth,” which is the oldest known public commemoration of the legal end of slavery in the U.S. “Juneteenth” refers to June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers under the command of Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston in Texas with news that the Civil War was over and all slaves were now free. Because Texas had been a part of the Confederate States of America, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation could not be enforced in Texas until then.

Juneteenth 2015 was celebrated on Friday, marking exactly 150 years since Union troops brought the news of freedom to Galveston. One of Granger’s soldiers in Galveston that day was none other than Private William Henry “Bill” Costley of Pekin (1840-1888), eldest son of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley (though Union military records misspell Bill’s surname “Corsley”).

On his enlistment and muster papers, Bill Costley of Pekin is called “William H. Corsley.”

Bill Costley was mustered out of his regiment on Sept. 30, 1865.

We will now lend this column space to Carl Adams so he can share the results of his historical and genealogical research which tell the story of Bill Costley’s adventures during and immediately after the Civil War. (It was only this month that Adams located Bill’s final resting place, with the help of Rich Apri of St. Paul, Minn.)

  • * *

Bill Costley was the first male slave to be legally freed by attorney Abraham Lincoln as a result of the Bailey v. Cromwell Illinois Supreme Court case in 1841. He was an infant at the time. At age 23, Bill Costley decided to join the Union cause of the Civil War.

During the summer of 1864, the Civil War was going poorly for the Union Army on the Richmond-Petersburg front. Commander-in-Chief Lincoln was afraid he would not be re-elected president. To make matters worse, the Illinois 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored) had suffered more than 70 percent casualties at the Battle of the Crater — virtually wiped out, with all the officers either dead or wounded.

In spite of the fact they knew black men would have to fight with muskets at their front and bayonets held by white soldiers at their backs, 13 blacks from Tazewell County decided it was time to volunteer to reinforce the Colored Troops. Those brave 13 were William Costley of Pekin, his brother-in-law Edward Lewis, Thomas Shipman, George M. Hall, Joseph Hubbard, Richard Howard, Wilson Price, Thomas Tumbleton, Morgan Day, and the tightly knit family of William J. Ashby and his three sons, William H., Marshall and Nathan (one of those sons married a sister of Bill Costley).

At least two of them would not come home — Thomas Shipman of Pekin and Morgan Day of Elm Grove fell in battle, and their names are inscribed on the monument to Tazewell County’s fallen heroes outside the courthouse in downtown Pekin. And at least one of them was wounded — William Henry Costley. However, Bill Costley would participate in at least two more historic events before he returned home: the founding of the “Buffalo Soldiers” and “Juneteenth.”

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Thomas Shipman inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Shipman, along with Morgan Day and William H. Costley, were among the 13 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War. Shipman and Day fell in combat, while Costley suffered a shrapnel wound to his shoulder.

Shown is the name of Bill Costley’s fellow soldier Morgan Day inscribed on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial outside the Tazewell County Courthouse. Costley and Day were among the 13 African-Americans from Tazewell County who fought to end slavery and restore the Union during the Civil War.

General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army, sensing a quick victory, were eager to get the spring offensive started in March 1865, but heavy spring rains made movements difficult for horses and men alike, and wet ammunition was also a problem.

Finally, in the last week of March, the Union Army awoke from winter sleep and started to move. A fair-skinned black private from Tazewell County, Private Thomas Shipman, was one of the first to go. Assigned to the sharpshooters under Captain Porter, Shipman was killed trading musket balls with the rebel skirmishers on March 31.

Around noon on April 1, General Sheridan beat General Pickett at Five Forks. Private Bill Costley’s unit, the 29th Regiment of Volunteers (Colored), held part of the right flank of the Union line at Hatcher’s Run. The breakthrough prompted Grant to order a full frontal assault all along the line, spanning miles.

As Bill’s infantry line moved forward on the Confederate breastworks nearing Petersburg, an artillery shell blew an air burst to the front and to the left of Bill, close enough to knock him to the ground with sharp pain to the front left shoulder.

Bill was evacuated to the Regimental Aid Station. Dr. Clarence Ewen later wrote in Bill’s pension file (No. 524296) that he remembered Bill’s wound as badly bruised, but no blood, so Bill was ordered back to the front and, bravely, Bill went back into the fight — only to return the next day with intolerable pain.

So Bill was evacuated again, this time to Division for Triage, then on to the “Negro Only” facility at Point-of-Rocks near the pontoon bridge across the James River, and from there to City Point for transfer to a hospital at Alexandria, Va. Bill spent about five weeks in the military medical system. During this time Bill learned his family’s old friend, lawyer Lincoln, was killed as one of the last casualties of the War of the Rebellion.

Juneteenth — Freedom Day, June 19, 1865, for all of Texas slaves, about a quarter of a million souls.

The scene is the Gulf of Mexico in June 1865. The Civil War was over and Private Bill Costley was recovering from a shrapnel wound to his left shoulder, according to his pension file. After a month in the hospitals at Point-of-Rocks and Alexandria, Va., Bill Costley was returned to duty with his unit.

Most of the white Union soldiers were discharged for home, but most of the black soldiers still had a year of service, and the French had invaded Mexico during the war. Lincoln was dead, so Secretary of War Stanton ordered General U.S. Grant to dispatch the black units to the Mexican border as a show of force along the Rio Grande.

At least two Navy ships, the USS Wilmington and the USS William Kennedy, were ordered to load 2,000 Union soldiers, including General Gordon Granger and the 900 men of 29th Regiment of Illinois Colored Volunteers, which was augmented with former slaves and dispatched to the Mexican border.

It was a rough ride. From Mobile, Ala., the ships were sent out into very rough stormy seas to disembark at South Padre Island near Brownsville, Texas. The weather was too rough to unload anyone and the Rio Grande was flooding. After two days, the Navy needed safe harbor, so they tried Aransas Pass near Corpus Christi for another three days, but it was still too rough to unload.

The senior Navy captain warned Granger they were running out of supplies and the nearest resupply was at Galveston. This would be a turning point of history for the state of Texas.

“June 18 — Arrived off Galveston, at Pier 21.” The sight was surprising, if not shocking, to see black uniformed sailors and soldiers working side-by-side with still enslaved longshoremen, who had never heard of an “Emancipation … what?” This discovery would travel up the chain of command very quickly.

So without further orders and under threat of martial law enforced by black armed soldiers, the entire populace assembled at Ashton Villa the next morning. General Granger stood on the second floor balcony to read General Order No. 3. At the last four words of the first sentence, “all slaves are free,” the entire throng was motionless. It seemed no one even breathed. While it took a while to sink in, the order soon turned into an explosion of emotion that has lasted now for 150 years — Juneteenth, Freedom Day, 1865.

Private Bill Costley of Pekin probably didn’t get much of a celebration when his mother was emancipated 24 years earlier, but he did not miss the joys of this party that lasted all day, into the night and again the next day. However, they were still under military orders. “June 21 — Put to sea.”

  • * *

After the war, Bill returned to Pekin, where in 1870 the Civil War hero found himself indicted for murder. Bill had encountered a convicted rapist named Patrick Doyle brutally attacking a woman in the street. Bill intervened, twice ordering Doyle to stop, and when Doyle ignored him, he shot and killed him. (The records of Doyle’s inquest detailing Bill Costley’s actions are still on file with the Tazewell County Coroner.)

The people of Pekin knew Bill and his family, though, and they also knew who Doyle was and what he’d been sent to prison for — so after a two-day trial, the all-white jury acquitted Bill Costley, finding the homicide justifiable due to Bill’s having come to the aid of a woman in need. (Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 296, has a brief reference to Bill Costley’s trial and acquittal.)

Adams’ research shows that Bill later left Pekin, moving to 320 Main St., Davenport, Iowa, and then to 1134 N. Ninth St., Minneapolis, Minn., where it’s possible some of his family had also moved. Though the years wore on, Bill’s old war wound continued to plague him. Bill kept complaining of shoulder pain to his Pension Board, so he finally was admitted to Rochester State Hospital in Rochester, Minn., in May 1888, and there he died five months later, on the night of Oct. 1, 1888. The ward notes say he had “expired before he could be undressed.”

William Henry Costley, war hero, Buffalo Soldier, and witness to the first Juneteenth, was laid to rest — under the name of “William H. Crossley” — in Rochester’s Quarry Hill Park, in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, located between 11th Ave. NE and Route 22, just north of Route 11.

Shown is the grave marker of Pekin Civil War veteran William H. Costley (surname misspelled “Crossley” in the inscription) in the Rochester State Hospital Cemetery, Rochester, Minn.

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