Nance Legins-Costley and Pvt. William Costley to be honored by Pekin monument

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

Plans are underway for a permanent stone monument in downtown Pekin to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William Henry Costley.

In the past few years, Nance and her son William have been the subjects of multiple articles posted here at “From the History Room.” Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) of Pekin and Peoria is known to history as the first African-American to secure her freedom with the help of Abraham Lincoln, through the landmark 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case Bailey v. Cromwell. Her oldest son William H. Costley (1840-1888) of Pekin later went on to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in the 29th Illinois Colored Infantry, Co. B., and was present in Galveston, Texas, on the first Juneteenth in 1865.

The story of Nancy Legins-Costley is told by Carl Adams in his book, “Nance: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln.” IMAGE PROVIDED BY CARL ADAMS

Partners involved in this project include Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman, the City of Pekin, Pekin Main Street, the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce, the Dirksen Congressional Center, and Abel Monument. Ackerman also credits research on Nance Legins-Costley and her family that has been conducted or made possible by the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society and the Pekin Public Library’s Local History collection.

According to Ackerman, the memorial is being privately donated, and Abel Monument is now at work on it.

The monument will be four feet in length and three feet in height, and will bear a header inscription reading, “Tazewell County Remembers.” The names of Nance and her son William, and words of tribute to their lives, will be inscribed on the front and back of the monument.

Ackerman says the memorial is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St.

Coming this summer, a memorial to honor the memory of Nance Legins-Costley and her son Pvt. William H. Costley is to be installed in the “pocket park” on the north side of Court Street across from the Tazewell Building, located between the Studio 409 beauty salon at 411 Court and the law offices of Joseph W. Dunn at 417 Court St. GOOGLE STREET VIEW IMAGE

Placement and dedication of the monument is to be on or near Juneteenth this summer.

This will be the second Central Illinois memorial devoted to memorializing the life of Nance Legins-Costley.

As was reported here last week, the life of Nance Legins-Costley is also commemorated on an Illinois State Historical marker currently on display at the Peoria RiverPlex facility.

That marker and two others were created last year for the planned Freedom & Remembrance Memorial that will be placed and dedicated this spring at the corner of South Adams and Griswold streets in Peoria. The purpose of the memorial is to honor the lives of the more than 2,600 Peorians (Nance among them) buried at the defunct Moffatt Cemetery that was located a very short distance north of that intersection.

Nance Legins-Costley’s life and that of her family forms a part not only the history of Pekin, where she lived from 1829 to the late 1870s, but also of Peoria, where she lived for most of the rest of her life from the late 1870s until her death in 1892. She and her husband and one of her sons were interred in Moffatt Cemetery.

But I am of the opinion that Nance and her story really belong to all of Illinois, since she was born in Kaskaskia, the old territorial capital (and later the first state capital), and later was taken to Springfield before Nathan Cromwell brought her to Pekin. She even lived briefly with one of her sons in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after her husband Benjamin’s death.

However, the real reason it can be said that Nance belongs to all of Illinois is the indomitable courage and persistence she showed in fighting to secure the recognition of her freedom – for her fight and her strength resulted in an important Illinois Supreme Court ruling benefitting not only her and her family but every other African-American held in indentured servitude in Illinois.

In my opinion, that’s definitely worthy of a monument or two – or more.

#abel-monument, #abraham-lincoln, #bailey-v-cromwell, #carl-adams, #john-ackerman, #juneteenth, #local-history-room, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-area-chamber-of-commerce, #pekin-history, #pekin-main-street, #pekin-nance-memorial, #peoria, #peoria-freedom-remembrance-memorial-park, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #william-henry-costley

The Alchemy of ‘Oops!’: Inaccuracies in Heerman’s treatment of Nance Legins-Costley’s trials

By Jared L. Olar

Local History Specialist

In recent years, the lives of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892) and her family have become much better known thanks chiefly to fresh light being brought to the subject as a result of the research of Carl Adams, who began delving into Nance’s story in the 1990s.

As we have related here at “From the History Room” more than once, Nance Legins-Costley is known to history as the first African-American slave to secure her freedom with the help of Abraham Lincoln. First appearing in published Pekin historical accounts in 1871 (in William H. Bates’ original narrative of Pekin’s early history), Nance and her persistent efforts to obtain acknowledgement of her freedom later were briefly mentioned in the 1949 Pekin Centenary volume. A much fuller (though far from complete) account was included in the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial (pp.6-7).

Apart from local historical narratives, prior to Adams’ research Nance’s story has been mostly relegated to relatively brief notices or passages in Lincoln biographies and studies. For example, John J. Duff devoted just four extended paragraphs to the story in his 1960 tome “A. Lincoln, Prairie Lawyer” (pp.86-87).

Adams himself has contributed two significant articles on the subject to the Abraham Lincoln Association’s newsletter, “For the People” – first, in the Autumn 1999 issue (vol. 1, no. 3), “The First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A Biographical Sketch of Nance Legins (Cox-Cromwell) Costley, circa 1813-1873,” and second, in the Fall 2015 issue (vol. 17, no. 3), “Countdown to Nance’s Emancipation.” Adams is also the author of the paper, “Lincoln’s First Freed Slave: A Review of Bailey v. Cromwell, 1841,” in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (vol. 101, nos. 3/4 – Fall-Winter 2008, pp.235-259). Finally, Adams has treated this subject in story form in his 2016 book, “NANCE: Trials of the First Slave Freed by Abraham Lincoln: A True Story of Mrs. Nance Legins-Costley.”

More recently, Nance and her story have been treated in a number of histories devoted to Lincoln or to the subject of American slavery.

For example, Lincoln scholar Guy C. Fraker addresses the case of Bailey v. Cromwell and McNaughton in a single paragraph on p.52 of his 2012 book, “Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency: The Eighth Judicial Circuit.” There Fraker offers a bit of polite criticism of the manner of telling the story of Nance and her trials “as a case where Lincoln’s role was to ‘free a slave,’” which Fraker says “is simply not accurate.” Rather, Fraker insists, “Nance’s gallant efforts to assert her free status, not Lincoln, resulted in her freedom.

Fraker’s criticism is well received, because while Lincoln’s place in Nance’s story was very important in enabling her to secure the freedom that she always (and rightly) insisted was hers, this is in truth Nance’s life story rather than the story of how Lincoln purportedly set out to free a slave. From the standpoint of Lincoln scholarship, this case is significant as the first time Lincoln had to directly wrestle with the moral and legal issues related to slavery. But, as Adams himself agrees, from the viewpoint of Nance Legins-Costley this case was quite simply a matter of the greatest importance, because on it depended her freedom and that of her children.

Most recently, Lincoln historian and scholar Michael Burlingame tells the story of Nance and the case of Bailey v. Cromwell in a lengthy paragraph on pp.20-21 of his new (2021) book, “The Black Man’s President: Abraham Lincoln, African Americans, & the Pursuit of Racial Equality.”

As only to be expected in historians of the stature and scholarly diligence of Burlingame and Fraker, their accounts of Nance and Bailey v. Cromwell are accurate and informative.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to use those two adjectives to describe the way in which the story of Nance is told in M. Scott Heerman’s 2018 volume, “The Alchemy of Slavery: Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730-1865.” I have not had occasion to give a close reading to Heerman’s entire book, which appears to be a generally compelling study of the manner in which human servitude was practiced in the officially free state of Illinois. Nevertheless, regarding Heerman’s treatment in his book of the life and trials of Nance Legins-Costley, a number of serious factual errors seem to have slipped past his fact checker during the editorial process.

Heerman introduces Nance and her trials in his chapter 4 (pp.105-106), where he refers to, “The first case, Nance, a Negro Girl v. John Howard (1828).” More accurately, that was the second case. The long tale of Nance’s struggles to win her freedom began (as Heerman himself describes) the previous year, when Nance’s master Thomas Cox’s possessions (including Nance and her family) were auctioned off to pay for a debt. She did not wait until 1828 to protest her freedom, but already in October of 1827 we find the freedom suit Nance, a Negro girl v. Nathan Cromwell. The second case, against Howard, was filed due to Sangamon County Coroner John Howard’s role in selling Nance to Cromwell.

Heerman returns to the story of Nance in his chapter 6 (pp.135-136), but here we again find factual errors. Of Nance he writes (p.135), “Born in Maryland around 1810, she was brought to Illinois and converted into a registered servant.” U.S. Census records consistently show Nance’s place of birth as Maryland, and indicate that she was born circa 1813. However, Adams’ research into Nance’s family history shows that she was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois, not Maryland. It was rather her master Nathan Cromwell who was born in Maryland, and presumably Nance, not knowing where she was born, herself came to believe she was born in Maryland as well. Her parents and siblings, who perhaps could have reminded her of where she was born, were sold away from her in 1827, when Nance was about 14. It was Nance’s parents Randol and Anachy (Ann) Legins, not Nance herself, who were brought to Illinois (by Nathaniel Green) – but they were from South Carolina, not Maryland.

Next, on the same page Heerman says, “In 1828, Nathan Cromwell sold Nance at public auction to John Howard. She disputed her sale before the Illinois Supreme Court, in Nance, a Negro girl v. John Howard (1828), . . . .” This is a remarkable instance of confusion on Heerman’s part. Howard did not purchase Nance; he rather oversaw the auction whereby Nance, an indentured servant of Thomas Cox, was sold to Nathan Cromwell. Heerman’s confusion seems to have arisen from his overlooking the earlier case of Nance v. Cromwell, and from misreading the court documents in Nance v. Howard.

Heerman once more returns to the story of Nance and her family in his concluding chapter (pp.166-167). There he correctly recalls that “In 1841, Abraham Lincoln helped to free Nance Cromwell from bondage in a local case, and during the war, her son William Costley took up arms.” But at this point we again encounter some very serious errors of fact.

Heerman proceeds to say that Nance’s son William “enlisted in the 26th Volunteers, and after fighting in Missouri and Mississippi, the company went to Virginia, where on April 9, 1865, Costley witnessed Lee’s formal surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

Shown here is the white Union soldier William Henry Costley (1845-1903) of Weldon, DeWitt County, Illinois, who is not to be confused with the black soldier William Henry Costley/Cosley (1840-1888) of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. Image is from the Logan Collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, and may also be found at the Find-A-Grave memorial of William H. Costley of Weldon.

On this point, Heerman and his fact checker should have paused to consider how and why a black man, William Costley, would have served in a white Union regiment during the Civil War. Even more remarkable, on p.167 Heerman presents the photograph of a white Union soldier whose name, regiment, and company are written in cursive hand as “William Costley, Co. D, the 26 Ills Volls.” Heerman’s caption for this photo reads, “William Costley, son of Ben and Nancy Cromwell, age about twenty-one, Boys in Blue, Logan Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield Ill.” (The same photo may be seen at William Costley’s Find-A-Grave memorial.) This same image appears on the front cover of Heerman’s book.

In fact, William Costley was the son of Ben and Nancy Costley, not Cromwell. “Cromwell” was one of the surnames that Nance bore during her lifetime – specifically, during the time she spent as a servant and ward of Nathan Cromwell. (Before that, she would have been known as Nance Legins and then Nance Cox, and the Peoria County marriage records of her children also give her a maiden name of “Allen”.) In this case, Heerman made a simple mental slip, for in his book he usually refers to Nance as “Nance Cromwell.”

However, he clearly has misidentified the white soldier William Henry Costley (1845-1903) of Weldon, DeWitt County, Illinois, as the black soldier William Henry Costley/Cosley (1840-1888) of Pekin, Tazewell County, Illinois. Nance’s son William (Bill) served in the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, Co. B. – and although the 29th U.S.C.I. was present (along with the 26th Illinois Volunteers) at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Bill himself was not there, because (as his pension file says) he was wounded in action on April 1 and subsequently was sent to a military hospital. Bill recovered in time, however, to take part in the landing at Galveston, Texas, on 18 June 1865, and thus was present for the first Juneteenth.

Incidentally, Carl Adams believes the white Costleys of DeWitt County may have formerly been the owners of Nance’s husband Benjamin Costley – a fascinating possibility that I have not been able to confirm or disprove. All we know at present is that Ben Costley was a free black, born in Illinois, and first appears on record in the 1840 U.S. Census as a head of household in Tazewell County, where he and Nance married on 15 Oct. 1840.

As I mentioned above, generally speaking Heerman’s work seems to make for a compelling study of the way slavery perdured in Illinois despite laws banning it — and he rightly and very helpfully places the story of Nance Legins-Costley in its broader historical context. However, Heerman’s fact errors and misinterpretation of primary documents regarding the story of Nance and her family (matters with which I have had occasion to become familiar), give us reason to be cautious and critical regarding his treatment of historical examples elsewhere in his book.

#29th-u-s-colored-infantry, #a-lincoln-prairie-lawyer, #abraham-lincoln, #anachy-legins, #benjamin-costley, #carl-adams, #col-thomas-cox, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #guy-fraker, #illinois-history, #john-howard, #john-j-duff, #juneteenth, #lincolns-ladder-to-the-presidency, #m-scott-heerman, #michael-burlingame, #nance-cromwell, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #nathaniel-green, #pekin-history, #randol-legins, #the-alchemy-of-slavery, #the-black-mans-president, #william-h-bates, #william-henry-costley

Nance Legins-Costley, Pekin home owner

By Jared Olar
Local History Specialist

Earlier this year, another important part of the life of Nance Legins-Costley was uncovered by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. As was announced in the May 2022 issue of the TCGHS Monthly (pages 348-349), Nance became the owner of her own home during the approximately five decades that she lived in Pekin.

Rynerson made this discovery on Saturday, 19 March 2022, while engaged in research in early Tazewell County land deeds. There she found a deed of sale dated 19 July 1849, by which “Nancy Costley” purchased the land that her home occupied, Lot 6, Block 26 in the City of Pekin, from William and Caroline Cromwell for the price of $10.

This deed of sale, dated 19 July 1849, conveyed Lot 6, Block 26 in the Original Town of Pekin from William and Caroline Cromwell to Nancy Costley, for the price of $10. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

This deed of sale is significant not only for the new light it sheds on Nance’s life, but also for the early history of Pekin and Tazewell County – for it means that Nance had achieved the status of homeowner a mere eight years after the landmark case of Bailey v. Cromwell which had confirmed Nance’s freedom and that of her three oldest children. It also means Nance was one of the earliest African-American landowners in the county.

It’s also interesting and significant that the deed of sale was made out to Nance rather than to her husband Benjamin. Illinois coverture law at that time, however, considered that the land became Benjamin’s by virtue of his being the head of the Costley household. That law was changed in 1861 such that wives would retain title to their land rather than it passing to their husbands.

It is also noteworthy that Nance bought her home from William Cromwell and his wife Caroline, because Nance had lived and worked in the Cromwell household from 1828 until 1836, when her purported master Nathan Cromwell (one of Pekin’s co-founders and father of William) attempted to sell Nance to David Bailey for $376.48. It was Bailey’s refusal to pay that amount (because Nance had again asserted her freedom) that led to the legal process that culminated in the Bailey v. Cromwell ruling of 23 July 1841.

The Pekin city directories for the years 1861, 1871, and 1876 show the Costley family living at the location of Lot 6, Block 26 in Pekin, which is the southwest corner of Somerset and Amanda streets. Rynerson noted, however, that it appears from the map of Pekin in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas that Lot 6 had been covered by the widening of Somerset Street by that time.

On this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin, from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County,” a star indicates the location of the home of Benjamin Costley and Nance Legins-Costley and their children.

Nance and her family left Pekin and moved to Peoria in the late 1870s, but Rynerson found that in 1868 the Costleys lost possession of their home lot due to delinquent property taxes.

Although William Cromwell sold the lot to Nance for only $10, the county decided to assess the value of the land at $200 – no small amount for that period, which would mean an annual tax assessment that Nance and Ben were too poor to be able to pay. The 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register newspaper listed “Benj Costly” as owner of Lot 6, Block 26, and owing $6.44 in back taxes for the years 1856 and 1857. The taxes were listed as delinquent again in 1860.

This detail from the 14 July 1859 issue of The Tazewell Register lists Benjamin Costley among those owing back taxes to Tazewell County. (Image reproduced in the May 2022 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly)

Eventually the county auctioned of the Costleys’ home lot to pay off the delinquent taxes. On 10 Oct. 1868, the Tazewell County Sheriff deeded dozens of parcels of land – including Lot 6, Block 26 – to Benjamin Bourland of Peoria. Bourland acquired title to the lot for the price of $9.

In 1875, Bourland quit claimed the land to someone named Eggleston, and then in 1883 (by which time the Costleys had been living in Peoria for at least three years) the Tazewell County Clerk transferred this lot to Joseph Dietz.

Despite their land being sold out from underneath the Costleys, there is no evidence that the Costleys were evicted from their home. It seems rather that as long as the county received its property tax revenue, the Costleys were left unmolested. It is known from William H. Bates’ 1870 history of Pekin that Nance herself was esteemed in the community: “For more than forty years she has been known here as a ‘negro’ upon whom there was no discount, and her presence and services have been indispensible on many a select occasion,” Bates wrote.

During the course of the 1870s, some of the Costley children (by then adults) moved to Peoria, and toward the end of that decade their parents joined them there also. Benjamin Costley first appears in the Peoria city directories in 1880, and he died in Peoria in 1883. Nance followed him in death almost 10 years later, in 1892. She, Ben, and their son Leander were buried in Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria.

#bailey-v-cromwell, #benjamin-bourland, #benjamin-costley, #caroline-cromwell, #david-bailey, #eggleston, #joseph-dietz, #moffatt-cemetery, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-history, #susan-rynerson, #tazewell-county-genealogical-historical-society, #william-cromwell

Pekin’s feminine street names

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in December 2011, before the launch of this weblog.

Pekin’s feminine street names

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

In a previous post here, we looked into the historical accounts and legends of how pioneer settler Ann Eliza Cromwell named Pekin in 1830. As it happens, Mrs. Cromwell is also said to have chosen the names for most of the streets in the original town of Pekin. History and legend credits her with Pekin’s feminine-named streets.

Most of the standard works on Pekin’s history state unequivocally that Mrs. Cromwell chose the street names. For example, “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” says she was “responsible for the early naming of the streets and the unique designation of the east and west street series with the names of women.

The same thing is repeated in “Pekin Sesquicentennial 1824-1974” and “Pekin, Illinois: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004), but with the additional detail that, as it says in “Pekin Sesquicentennial,” the streets were named “in honor of female relatives and friends of the original settlers.” Local historian Fred W. Soady’s 1960 paper, “In These Waste Places,” also says the street names “remain as daily reminders of the pioneer women of the city.

The two earliest published accounts of Pekin’s founding, however, express some hesitation about Mrs. Cromwell’s role in the street-naming. Most remarkably, the 1870 Pekin City Directory of W.W. Sellers & W.H. Bates says it was Major Nathan Cromwell who named the streets: “The streets were named by Maj. Cromwell, assisted, doubtless, by his wife, and the singular femininity of the nomenclature still in a great degree, retained, will be accounted for when we state, on the best authority, that our daily walks are, to a great extent, over the quiet monuments of the early women of our beautiful city – that with but few exceptions the older streets are named to correspond with the given names of the daughters, mothers, grandmothers and wives of the old regime.

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” similarly presents Mrs. Cromwell’s role as a likely speculation rather than an indisputable fact: “We should think the streets were also named by this goodly matron, judging from the feminine names they bear. It is stated that they were named in honor, and perpetuate the names, of the early women of the city, and that the older streets, with few exceptions, bear the names of the mothers, grandmothers, wives and daughters of the pioneers.

Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County” presents a handy table identifying the women for whom the streets were named (but leaves out Cynthiana St., and calls Sabella St. “Isabel”):

Ruth – Ruth Stark

Minerva – named for the goddess Minerva

Matilda – Matilda Bailey, sister of Samuel P. Bailey, one of the pioneer lawyers of Pekin, after whom Bailey’s Lake (now Meyers Lake or Lake Arlann) was named

Lucinda – Lucinda Pierce, second wife of William Haines, who was the original purchaser of “Town Site”

Amanda – Amanda Swingle, wife of Major Hugh Woodrow, a pioneer and an officer in the Black Hawk War

Harriet – Mrs. Harriet Sandusky, mother of Mrs. Elijah Mark

Jane – Jane Adams, first wife of William Haines

Catherine – after the wife of Samuel Woodrow

Margaret – for the eldest daughter of Seth Wilson, known as “Grandma Young,” died 1901

Isabel – Isabel Briggs, daughter of one of the pioneer Sheriffs, Benjamin Briggs

Henrietta – Henrietta Shoemaker, cousin of William Haines

Charlotte – Charlotte Amanda Dusenberry, afterwards Mrs. Lincoln

Caroline – Caroline Perkins, whose father, Major Isaac Perkins, was killed in the Black Hawk War

Ann Eliza – the wife of Major Cromwell

Elizabeth – one or both of the wives of Thomas Snell and Gideon Hawley

St. Mary – the Blessed Virgin Mary

Susannah – wife of Major Perkins, who operated a horse mill near Circleville, which was converted into a fort during the Black Hawk War

Sarah Ann – daughter of William Haines, afterwards the wife of the Hon. B. S. Prettyman.

The names of the streets of the Original Town of Pekin (shown here in pink) that are perpendicular to the Illinois River were chosen by Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell, who named them about the wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers of Pekin’s early settlers.

#amanda-swingle, #ann-eliza-cromwell, #benjamin-briggs, #benjamin-prettyman, #blessed-virgin-mary, #caroline-perkins, #charlotte-amanda-dusenberry, #charlotte-amanda-lincoln, #elijah-mark, #fred-w-soady, #gideon-hawley, #harriet-sandusky, #henrietta-shoemaker, #hugh-woodrow, #isaac-perkins, #isabel-briggs, #jane-adams, #lucinda-pierce, #margaret-wilson-young, #matilda-bailey, #minerva, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #ruth-stark, #samuel-p-bailey, #samuel-woodrow, #sarah-ann-haines, #sarah-ann-prettyman, #seth-wilson, #susannah-perkins, #thomas-snell, #william-haines

The descendants of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin and Peoria

By Jared Olar
Library Assistant

This week “From the History Room” will commence a systematic genealogical account of the family of Nance Legins-Costley (1813-1892), known to history as the first African-American slave freed through the agency of Abraham Lincoln. As we have noted in previous posts at this blog, Nance and her husband Benjamin Costley (c.1812-1883) are known to have had five daughters and three sons. This account of Nance’s family begins with her parents and siblings, and we then will proceed from Nance herself through the generations down to our own generation.


First Generation

Randol Legins, b. c.1772 in Laurens Co., S.C., d. c.1817 in Ill.; m. Anachy (‘Annica,’ ‘Anne’), b. c.1774 in Laurens Co., S.C. Randol and Anachy brought to Ill. 13 Apr. 1810 by their master Nathaniel Green, who then placed Randol under a 16-year contract of indenture and Anachy under a 25-year contract of indenture. Green and his servants lived at Green’s Old Ferry (Willard’s Ferry) in Union Co., Ill.


  • Ruben (‘Ruby’) Legins, b. c.1808 in Va., m. Elizabeth Hayse, b. c.1806 in N.C. Ruben and Elizabeth may be the R. F. Ligan, 41, and Elizabeth Ligan, 40, mulattos, in the 18 Oct. 1850 census returns for Sumter, S.C., listed with mulatto children Ann E. Ligan, 12, James R. Ligan, 5, Eliza J. Ligan, 2, along with James Hayse, 80, mulatto (prob. Elizabeth’s father).
  • Charles Legins, b. c.1809 in Cape Girardeau, Louisiana Territory (later Mo.). Circa 1813, at the sale of Nathaniel Green’s estate, John Earthman purchased the contract of Green’s indentured servant Charles Legins, 4, for $220, separating him from his parents and his brother Ruben.
  • Nance Legins, b. Dec. 1813 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill., d. 6 April 1892 in Peoria, Ill., buried in Moffatt Cemetery, Peoria. [See next]
  • Dice (‘Dicey’) Legins, b. c.1815 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill.; m. 24 Aug 1835 in Sangamon Co., Ill., Major Cartwright. Dice Legins-Cox and her older sister Nance Legins-Cox, indentured servants (slaves) of Col. Thomas Cox, were auctioned 12 July 1827 in Springfield, Ill. Dice’s contract was purchased by Sangamon Co. Sheriff John Taylor.

Second Generation

Nance Legins, daughter of Randol and Anachy Legins; b. Dec. 1813 in Kaskaskia, Randolph Co., Ill., d. 6 April 1892 in Peoria, Ill.; m. 15 Oct. 1840 in Pekin, Ill., Benjamin Costley, b. c.1812 in Ill., d. 4 Dec. 1883 in Peoria; Nance and Benjamin both buried in Moffat Cemetery, Peoria. Records starting with the 1850 census consistently give Nance’s place of birth as Maryland, but Ill. Supreme Court document say she was born in the Illinois Territorial Capitol building in Kaskaskia – Nance prob. came to think she was born in Maryland when she was a child servant in Illinois working for Maryland natives. In addition, in the marriage records of some of her children, Nance’s maiden name is given as “Allen.” Nance’s surname changed several times as she went from master to master, but “Allen” may have been a name of Nance’s own choice. On 12 July 1827 in Springfield, Ill., Nance Legins-Cox and her sister Dice Legins-Cox, slaves of the late Col. Thomas Cox, were auctioned by John Howard – Nance was purchased by Nathan Cromwell for $151, but refused her consent to the contract of indenture and was punished severely. She then challenged her servitude in a habeas corpus hearing in 1827 and in the Ill. Supreme Court case Nance, A Girl of Color v. John Howard (Dec. 1828), but was ruled to be the ward and servant of Cromwell, who brought her to Pekin in 1829. Cromwell sold Nance to David Bailey of Pekin, of an abolitionist family, but when Nance protested that she had never consented to indentured servitude, Bailey allowed her to live as a free woman in her cabin off the southwest corner of his property at Amanda Street, and he declined to pay off the promissory note to the Cromwell estate after Cromwell’s death in 1836 since Nance said she was free. The Cromwell family sued Bailey in Circuit court in Cromwell v. Bailey (1838) and won, but Bailey appealed the ruling to the Ill. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Bailey v. Cromwell (1841), in which his attorney Abraham Lincoln argued successfully in favor of Nance’s freedom. In his 23 July 1841 ruling, Justice Sidney Breese affirmed Lincoln’s legal reasoning that stressed the language found in the Northwest Ordinance and the Illinois Constitution, that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist” in Illinois. This reinforced Illinois’ standing as a free state and helping to close the indentured servitude loophole by which the institution of slavery was allowed in Illinois. A year before her case went to the Ill. Supreme Court, Nance married Benjamin Costley of Pekin, a free black with whom she had already had two daughters, Amanda and Eliza Jane, and a son, William Henry. (In the marriage record, Nance’s name is given as “Nancy Cromwell.”) Because Illinois law then mandated that the children of an indentured servant also were indentured servants, Breese’s ruling secured the freedom not only of Nance but of her children. She and Ben went on to have three more daughters and two more sons. The Costleys lived in Pekin (where she was known to the white settlers as ‘Black Nance’) until the 1870s, when they moved to Peoria, where Ben died in 1883. Nance is found living with her youngest son James Willis Costley in Minneapolis, Minn., in the 1885 Minnesota State Census, but records afterwards show her living again in Peoria with her eldest child Amanda and Amanda’s husband Edward Lewis in an upstairs apartment at 226 N. Adams St., where Nance died in 1892. She and her husband Ben, and their son Leander, were buried in the defunct Moffatt Cemetery on the south side of Peoria.


  • Amanda E. Costley, b. 3 July 1834 in Pekin, Ill., d. 5 Feb. 1900 in Peoria, Ill., cause of death: heart disease, dropsy and bronchitis; m. 24 March 1858 in Pekin, Pvt. Edward W. Lewis (son of Ambrose and Phillis Lewis), b. c.1831 in Petersburg City, Va., d. 1 April 1907 in Peoria, cause of death: dropsy; both Amanda and Edward were buried in Springdale Cemetery, Peoria (no grave markers). They had issue five sons and also adopted a dau. After Amanda’s death, Edward m. 2nd. (her 3rd. m.) 15 April 1903 in Peoria, Mary Victoria (Morgan) (Harper) Cornish (dau. of George and Mary Morgan), b. 25 Dec 1854 in Paris, Mo., d. 9 March 1927 in Peoria; buried in Springdale Cemetery, Peoria.
  • Eliza Jane Costley, b. c.1838 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown. Listed as “Eliza Jane Costley,” age 12, second daughter of Benjamin and Nancy Costley of Pekin, in the 12 Dec. 1850 U.S. Census. She may be the Eliza Jane “Castle” who m. 18 Aug. 1859 in Tazewell Co., Ill., Cornelius Sheridan.
  • Pvt. William Henry (‘Bill’) Costley, b. c.1840 in Pekin, Ill., d. 1 Oct. 1888 at Rochester State Hospital, Rochester, Minn.; buried in Rochester State Hospital Cemetery under name “William H. Crossley”; m. c. 1880 prob. in or near Davenport, Iowa, Mary Rebecca (Webster) Marshall, b. July 1847 in Cincinnati, Ohio, d. unknown, ex-wife of Charles H. Marshall of Davenport, Iowa; had issue one dau.; m. 18 Oct. 1883 in Davenport, Iowa, Margaret A. (‘Maggie’) Hartman, dau. of Joseph H. and Mary Jane (Cox) Hartman, b. c.1857 in Plymouth, Hancock Co., Ill., issue of this m., if any, unknown.
  • Mary Jane Costley, b. c.1842 in Alton, Ill., d. unknown, m. 1st. 25/28 Dec. 1866 in Tazewell Co., Ill., Pvt. George W. Lee, son of (NN) and Mary Ann Lee, b. c.1845 in Peoria, Ill., d. prob. betw. the 6 July 1870 U.S. Census and the date of Mary’s 2nd. m., no known issue; Mary Jane m. 2nd. (also his 2nd m.) 2 Jan. 1873 in Peoria Co., Ill., Joseph Brandon of Peoria, b. c. 1837 in Virginia, and had issue two sons; Mary Jane m. 3rd. (his 1st. m.) 22 Feb. 1881 in Peoria, Ill., William Johnson of Peoria, son of Ed and Nancy (Apperatha) Johnson, b. c.1848 in Virginia, no known issue; Mary Jane m. 4th. (his 2nd. m.) 3 Jan. 1887 in Peoria, Ill., Benjamin B. Miller of Washington, Ill., son of Wiatt and Mina Miller, b. c.1819 in Kentucky, no known issue.
  • Leander B. (‘Dote’) Costley, b. c.1845 in Pekin, Ill., d. 6 March 1886 in Peoria, Ill., cause of death: lung fever, buried in the defunct Moffatt Cemetery, Peoria, Ill.; unexecuted marriage license 2 June 1873 in Pekin, Tazewell Co., Ill., between Leander Costley and Eliza Haines; m. 8 July 1876 in Peoria, Ill., Sadie Chavers (or Chafers) of Peoria, prob. dau. of James W. and Louisa (Gaines) Chavers; but not married long, as by 8 June 1880 U.S. Census Leander was living alone and listed as single. Issue, if any, unknown. Living at 575 Hale St., Peoria, at time of death.
  • Harriet E. (‘Hattie’) Costley, b. c.1847 in Alton, Ill., d. unknown; m. 5 Feb. 1878 in Peoria, Ill., Richard H. Taylor, b. c.1852 in Jersey Co., Ill., son of John C. and Mary (Trokey) Taylor of Jerseyville, Ill.; issue, if any, unknown.
  • Eliza Ann (‘Annie’) Costley, b. April 1850 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown; unknown if she ever married; enumerated in Pekin in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Censuses, and in Peoria in the 1870 U.S. Census as single and a domestic servant in the home of her oldest sister Amanda and Amanda’s husband Edward Lewis.
  • James Willis Costley, b. Oct. 1852 in Pekin, Ill., d. unknown; m. prob. Mary [Smith?], b. c.1863 in Arkansas, prob. dau. of (NN) and Hannah Smith; James moved to Minneapolis, Minn., by the time of 29 May 1885 Minnesota State Census, in which “James Cosley” is listed with “Mary Cosley“ (apparently James’ wife), “Hannah Smith” (apparently Mary’s mother), and “Nancy Cosley” (James’ mother Nance); issue, if any, unknown; James last appears on record in the 1910 Minneapolis City Directory, working as a porter and living at 1325 S. 4th St.

To be continued in two weeks . . . .

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Memorial park planned to honor Nance Legins-Costley and remember Moffatt Cemetery

By Jared Olar

Library Assistant

It was two summers ago that “From the History Room” was the first to announce the recent discovery of the death record and the final resting place of Nance Legins-Costley (c.1813-1892), who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln. We now know that Nance, along with her son Leander and probably her husband Benjamin also, was buried at the defunct Moffatt Cemetery that was located near the intersection of South Adams and Griswold streets in Peoria.

This is a rendering of the proposed Freedom & Remembrance Memorial Park and its monuments. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEORIA FREEDOM & REMEMBRANCE MEMORIAL PARK TEAM

In the more than two years since Nance’s death and burial record was found in the Peoria County Undertaker Records, a group of interested volunteers has begun a project to create a special memorial to honor Nance Legins-Costley and the thousands of Peorians who were laid to rest at the former Moffatt Cemetery.

As regular readers of this weblog will recall, Nance came to Pekin in the 1820s as an indentured servant of Pekin co-founder Nathan Cromwell. Even though Illinois was nominally a free state, under Illinois law at the time slavery existed in the form of indentured servitude. However, the law stipulated that a person could not become an indentured servant against his will, and Nance vehemently and steadfastly maintained that she never agreed to be anyone’s slave.

Shown is a memorandum from the Tazewell County court file of the 1838 case of Cromwell vs. Bailey, which was the legal prelude to the 1841 Illinois Supreme Court case of Bailey vs. Cromwell. The memorandum was written by Tazewell County attorney William Holmes, who assisted Abraham Lincoln in the case. In the memorandum may be read the momentous words, “was then and still is a free woman,” signaling that the case wasn’t really about an unpaid debt, but addressed the question of whether or not Nance Legins-Costley and her children were free or slaves. IMAGE COURTESY OF CARL ADAMS

Three times Nance sought relief from the courts, and the third time was a charm. In the case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, in July of 1841 Lincoln argued successfully before the Illinois Supreme Court convened at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Springfield that Cromwell never had legal title to Nance’s service and therefore Nance and her three children were free. Justice Sidney Breese issued the ruling confirming Nance’s freedom on July 23, 1841. It was a significant legal precedent that confirmed Illinois’ standing as a free state and led to the end of indentured servitude in Illinois.

As we have recalled several times here, Nance and her husband Benjamin Costley and their eight children lived in Pekin until circa 1870, when they moved to Peoria. After Ben’s death in 1883, Nance lived for a while with her youngest child James Willis Costley in Minneapolis, where her oldest son Bill also lived during the 1880s. After Bill’s death in 1888, however, we find Nance back in Peoria, living with her oldest child, Amanda (Costley) Lewis, with whom she spent her final years. Nance passed away at home on April 6, 1892, and was buried in old Moffatt Cemetery.

Nance Legins-Costley and her kin were among the approximately 2,500 people from the Peoria area who were buried in Moffatt Cemetery during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among those interred there were 48 Civil War veterans, including Pvt. Nathan Ashby, formerly of Pekin, an African-American who served in the U.S. Colored Troops and was an eyewitness of the first “Juneteenth” in Galveston, Texas, in 1865.

On Memorial Day in 2017, this temporary Civil War memorial was placed and dedicated on Griswold Street near the former site of Moffatt Cemetery in Peoria, to honor the Civil War veterans buried there. One of them, Nathan Ashby, was a resident of Pekin when he volunteered for the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry in 1864, and went on to become a eyewitness to the first Juneteenth in June 1865. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEORIA FREEDOM & REMEMBRANCE MEMORIAL PARK TEAM

Moffatt Cemetery was founded by Peoria pioneer settler Aquilla Moffatt as early as 1836, but was closed in 1905 and fell to ruin, and finally was destroyed in the 1950s and the land rezoned to light industrial. Although many of Moffatt Cemetery’s burials were relocated, the vast majority apparently were left in situ, and today are paved or built over – forgotten for many decades, their burial records lost. Only the names of the Civil War veterans buried there were remembered.

In 2016, however, Bob Hoffer of the Peoria Historical Society and Peoria County Genealogical Society made a significant discovery in his search for the grave of his wife’s great-grandfather Mans Nelson – he found and photographed the crumbling pages of the old Peoria County Undertaker Records, which include information on which cemetery a person was buried in. Thanks to those records, we again know the names of most of the approximately 2,500 people who were buried at Moffatt Cemetery.

A photo montage of grave stones and monuments in the former Moffatt Cemetery, from the 13 Sept. 1936 issue of the Peoria Journal-Transcript. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEORIA FREEDOM & REMEMBRANCE MEMORIAL PARK TEAM

In 2020, Hoffer and other citizen volunteers launched a project to create a memorial park near the site of the former Moffatt Cemetery, where monuments and markers would be erected to ensure that the people buried at the cemetery are, in Hoffer’s words, “Forgotten no more.”

Besides Hoffer, the core members of the volunteer team are David Pittman, a Peoria area community activist, Peoria Park District advocate, and member of the Executive Committee of the Peoria Branch NAACP; Carl Adams, a Lincoln historian who literally wrote the book on Nance Legins-Costley; Joe Hutchinson, a member of the Peoria County Genealogical Society and Officer in the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War; and Bill Poorman, a writer and media producer and Lincoln enthusiast.

The core team invites other volunteers and allies to participate in and support the project as well.

Their proposal is to convert a small area of land at the northwest corner of South Adams and Griswold – just south of where the cemetery used to be – into “Freedom & Remembrance Memorial Park.” At the park will be placed special monuments to memorialize the remarkable life of Nance Legins-Costley, the Union soldiers who were buried in Moffatt Cemetery, and all of the other everyday Peorians who were laid to rest there, some of whom never had a grave marker to help people remember them.

In addition, an Illinois State Historical Marker will be placed at the park, telling the story of Nance Legins-Costley and how she and her three eldest children, Amanda, Eliza Jane, and William Henry, were freed from slavery in 1841 with the assistance of Abraham Lincoln. No more will Nance lie forgotten under a parking lot.

Shown here is the site of the proposed Moffatt Cemetery memorials and park. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEORIA FREEDOM & REMEMBRANCE MEMORIAL PARK TEAM

At this point, the Peoria Freedom & Remembrance Memorial Park project is approaching the point where it can begin fundraising for the park and the monuments. However, donations can now be made to pay for the Illinois State Historical Marker, which requires private funds to pay for the creation and setting of the marker. Checks for the marker may be mailed to:

Illinois State Historical Society
Nance/Lincoln Project (on the memo line)
P.O. Box 1800
Springfield, IL 62705-1800

For more information on the project, visit the website at, or the project’s Facebook page, “Peoria Freedom & Remembrance Memorial Park”.

#abraham-lincoln, #amanda-costley, #aquilla-moffatt, #bailey-vs-cromwell, #benjamin-costley, #bill-poorman, #bob-hoffer, #carl-adams, #cromwell-vs-bailey, #david-pittman, #eliza-jane-costley, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #james-willis-costley, #joe-hutchinson, #juneteenth, #justice-sidney-breese, #leander-costley, #mans-nelson, #moffatt-cemetery, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-ashby, #nathan-cromwell, #peoria-freedom-remembrance-memorial-park, #william-henry-costley, #william-holmes

Nance Legins-Costley and her historian recognized by African-American Hall of Fame Museum

On Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at the culmination of African-American History Month, the African-American Hall of Fame Museum held a ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Among the highlights of the evening was an award and recognition ceremony, and among those honored as inductees into the Hall of Fame were Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (formerly of Peoria) and her historian Carl Adams, who has published a book on Costley as well as several papers on Costley and her family.

The stories of Costley and her family, and Carl Adams’ work, have previously been featured here at “From the History Room” several times. Brought to Pekin as an indentured servant (a virtual slave) by Nathan Cromwell, one of Pekin’s co-founders, Costley was steadfast in her efforts to secure legal recognition that she and her children were free. With the aid of an attorney named Abraham Lincoln, that legal recognition finally was obtained for Costley and her three eldest children through the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, in which the Illinois Supreme Court handed down a verdict declaring that Costley had never been an indentured servant. In effect, Costley and her three eldest children were the first slaves freed by Lincoln.

Nance Legins-Costley was well-known to Pekin’s pioneer families, and was so highly esteemed that Pekin’s pioneer historian William H. Bates devoted a long paragraph just to her in his original 1870 sketch of Pekin’s history. The paragraph, headed, “A Relic of a Past Age,” says:

“With the arrival of Maj. Cromwell, the head of the company that afterwards purchased the land upon which Pekin is built, came a slave. That slave still lives in Pekin and is now known, as she has been known for nearly half a century, by the citizens of Pekin, as ‘Black Nancy.’ She came here a chattle (sic), with ‘no rights that a white man was bound to respect.’ For more than forty years she has been known here as a ‘negro’ upon whom there was no discount, and her presence and services have been indispensible (sic) on many a select occasion. But she has outlived the era of barbarism, and now, in her still vigorous old age, she sees her race disenthralled; the chains that bound them forever broken, their equality before the law everywhere recognized and her own children enjoying the elective franchise. A chapter in the history of a slave and in the progress of a nation.”

Plaque presented in memory of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (later of Peoria) during the African American Hall of Fame Museum Ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Costley had been an “indentured servant” (de facto slave) in Illinois. The African American Hall of Fame Museum chose to honor her memory for her repeated efforts to secure legal recognition of her freedom which culminated in the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, which Abraham Lincoln successful argued before the Illinois Supreme Court. The verdict in the case established that Costley and her three eldest children had never been indentured servants and were therefore free.

Plaque presented Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, to local historian Carl Adams during the African American Hall of Fame Museum Ball at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. The plaque recognizes Adams’ contribution to civil rights, which include his book and articles on the family of Nance Legins-Costley of Pekin (later of Peoria), who is remembered as the first slave freed by Abraham Lincoln.

#abraham-lincoln, #african-american-hall-of-fame-museum, #bailey-v-cromwell, #black-nance, #carl-adams, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #william-h-bates

‘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

#abraham-lincoln, #amanda-costley, #anachy-legins, #bailey-v-cromwell, #bill-costley, #black-nance, #carl-adams, #col-thomas-cox, #david-bailey, #eliza-jane-costley, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #juneteenth, #kaskaskia, #nance-legins-costley, #nathan-cromwell, #national-juneteenth-observance-foundation, #njof, #randall-legins, #randol-legins, #randolph-society, #william-h-crossley

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

Abraham Lincoln slept, stood and walked here

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The Union barely had time to celebrate Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, before the nation was horrified by the assassination of its Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 14 – a mere five days later.

One of Pekin’s pioneers was in Washington, D.C., during those days of sorrow: Seth Kinman, who formerly operated a hotel in downtown Pekin, claimed to have been an eye-witness of the president’s assassination, and contemporary newspaper accounts say Kinman took part in Lincoln’s funeral cortege.

As a result of his assassination, Lincoln came to be revered as a martyr for the cause of preserving the Union and for the abolitionist cause. The people of Illinois in particular have held his memory in the highest esteem ever since. It is in the state capital, Springfield, where he is entombed, and in towns and cities throughout the state Illinoisans are still proud to point to buildings and locations where Lincoln once lived, worked, or stayed. This is especially true of communities in central Illinois.

One of our county’s Lincoln sites unfortunately was destroyed by fire in May 2014 – the approximately 180-year-old Lilly Inn in eastern Tazewell County, one of the county’s oldest buildings, was a local link to President Abraham Lincoln, who stayed at the inn while riding the circuit as an attorney in central Illinois from the 1830s to the 1850s.

The Lilly Inn was, of course, far from the only site in our area with ties to Lincoln. For example, his work as a lawyer sometimes brought to him Mason County, where he is known to have stayed in the home of his friend Samuel C. Conwell on Washington Street in Havana. Conwell’s home, which he built in the early 1850s, is still standing.

In Tazewell County, Washington also boasts of its connection with Lincoln. At the old Washington Hotel, which stood where a BP parking lot is today, Lincoln made a stump speech during a stop on the way to Galesburg to debate Stephen A. Douglas. Some years ago, Washington placed five Bronze footprints at locations in Washington where Lincoln is known to have stopped in his travels.

Lincoln’s work brought him to Tazewell County two or three times a year, and he represented clients at the county’s courthouses in Tremont and Pekin. Naturally this work produced numerous Tazewell County legal documents bearing Lincoln’s signature or handwriting or name, and most of these precious mementos of Lincoln’s life, while remaining the possession of Tazewell County, are now in the keeping of the state of Illinois in Springfield.

One of Lincoln’s more important cases was Bailey vs. Cromwell (1841), in which Lincoln appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield and won the freedom of Nance Legins-Costley (“Black Nance”) of Pekin, a slave of Pekin pioneer co-founder Nathan Cromwell. Lincoln successfully argued that Costley and her children had to be recognized as free under Illinois law since there was no legal documentation establishing that they had ever been the property of the principals involved in the case, or that Costley had ever agreed to a temporary contract of indentured servitude.

When he came to Pekin for court, Lincoln often stayed at the old Tazewell House hotel, which stood from 1849 to 1904 at the corner of Court and Front streets (Gene Miller Park today). After the Tazewell House hotel was demolished, its threshold was preserved at the Tazewell County Courthouse, and was inscribed with words commemorating the fact that “Hereon trod the great Abraham Lincoln – Stephen A. Douglas – John A. Logan – Robert G. Ingersoll – David Davis – Edward D. Baker and others.

Tazewell House presumably was the Pekin hotel in the lobby of which, according to Tom Wheeler’s article, “The First Wired President,” published on a New York Times blog in May 2012, Lincoln first saw a telegraph key in 1857.

Lincoln’s legal career created another tangible link between Lincoln and Tazewell County – Lincoln sometimes would purchase his clients’ land and hold it for them in his name, later returning it when cases were concluded. That’s how Lincoln came to own several parcels of land in Tazewell, including the land at the intersection of Allentown and Springfield roads (where Morton has held the annual Punkin Chuckin event).

This 2008 Pekin Daily Times informational graphic chart describes 22 sites in Pekin that have direct or indirect links to President Abraham Lincoln. The list was researched and compiled by Dale Kuntz.

In 2008, retired teacher Dale Kuntz of Pekin, who served on the Tazewell County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission preparing for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth in 1809, proposed that the city of Pekin create a historical “Lincoln Walk” in downtown Pekin to help visitors and residents learn more about Lincoln’s ties to the city.

Kuntz’s historical research had identified 22 sites along the proposed route that can be shown to have direct and indirect Lincoln connections, starting at the bank of the Illinois River where Lincoln had landed in 1832 when his oar broke while he returned from the Black Hawk War, then heading along Front Street south to Cynthiana, then east to Broadway, out to Sixth Street, then back west along Court Street to end at Gene Miller Park, the former site of the Tazewell House hotel.

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The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of two videos about Pekin’s first astronaut Lt. Commander (ret.) Scott Altman. The videos are a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

First will be a 35-minute video of Altman’s keynote address at an April 1996 meeting of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards will be a showing of the footage of Altman’s recent induction into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, a video 20 minutes in length.

While the Bicentennial Series videos next week exemplify the astounding technological progress of the modern age, this week’s “From the Local History Room” column looks back to an important aspect of the push for moral and cultural progress in Illinois. This will we will take a trip back to the days of the slavery abolition movement, which made its mark in Pekin and Tazewell County, as it did in many other communities in the Northern States. The “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” volume presents an enlightening narrative of that important time in our local history.

As we have seen from earlier columns in our Illinois Bicentennial Series, although Illinois was a “free” state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois. In our area, according to the Centenary (p.15), “Pekin was a pro-slave city for years. Some of the original settlers had been slave-owners themselves, and the overwhelming sentiment in Pekin was Democratic. Stephen A. Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln, was the local hero, although Lincoln was well-liked, and had some German following.

Lincoln, of course, was one of Illinois’ leading abolitionist attorneys and politicians, and in 1841 he argued and won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that secured the freedom of “Black Nance,” a Pekin resident who was the former slave of Nathan Cromwell, whose wife Ann Eliza had chosen Pekin’s name. On Oct. 6, 1858, Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin and addressed a large crowd in the court house square. (Trumbull would later co-author the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery.)

It was largely due to the influx of German immigrants into Pekin, many of whom had fled religious persecution in their home countries, that abolitionist sentiment began to flourish in our city. Many Baptists were abolitionists, and in 1853 a German congregation of Baptists organized in Pekin – the origin of Pekin’s Calvary Baptist Church.

Among Pekin’s abolitionist leaders, according to the Pekin Centenary, was Dr. Daniel Cheever, who engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad), by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada. Other early Pekin settlers active in the abolitionist movement were the brothers Samuel and Hugh Woodrow (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife, and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s). The Woodrows aided runaway slaves at their homes in the vanished village of Circleville south of Pekin.

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Illinois cities such as Pekin and Peoria were divided between the pro-slavery element, who favored the Confederacy, and the abolitionist and pro-Union element. In the early days of the war, a secessionist organization calling itself the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (which was something of a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan) boldly worked in support of secession and slavery. The Centenary says the Knights were “aggressive and unprincipled,” and “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid.”

This detail from an 1877 “aerial view” map of Pekin shows the building, marked by the number 55, where the Union League was organized on June 25, 1862.

To counter the dominance of the Knights and promote the cause of the Union, a secret meeting was held on June 25, 1862, above Dr. Cheever’s office at 331 Court St., where 11 of Pekin’s early settlers formed the Union League to promote the cause of Union and abolition. The anti-slavery Germans of Pekin quickly became active in the League. Soon a chapter of the Union League was organized in Bloomington, and then an important chapter in Chicago, where John Medill, founding publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a leading member.

Very soon the Union League had “swept the entire North and became a great and powerful instrument for propaganda and finance in support of the War” (Pekin Centenary, p.21). After the war, the League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

The 11 founding members of the Union League were the Rev. James W. N. Vernon, Methodist minister at Pekin; Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

The building where these 11 men gathered in June 1862 was later the location of the Smith Bank and Perlman Furniture in downtown Pekin. Perlman Furniture burned down in 1968 and a few years later Pekin National Bank was built on the site. Plaques commemorating the Union League’s founding are displayed inside and on the outside of the bank building.

A historical plaque on the outside wall of Pekin National Bank at the corner of Court and Capitol streets in downtown Pekin marks the site where the Union League of America was founded. IMAGE COURTESY OF ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

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