Category Archives: Frustration

“Wind Talkers” of World War II weren’t all Navajos

The feature film “Wind Talkers” was probably the first time most people heard that Native Americans, members of the Navajo Tribe in the movie’s plot, were pressed into service during World War II to create secure communications. The Native People, speaking their own language, foiled efforts by both the Germans and Japanese to listen in.

But the Navajos were far from the only tribespeople involved in the project, and World War II wasn’t the first time Native Americans were pressed into service to provide secure voice communications during wartime.

Choctaw “code talkers” of World War I. (Texas Military Force Museum)

During World War I, the men of the 142nd Infantry Regiment, comprised of National Guardsmen from Texas and Oklahoma, had only just arrived in France when they were suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into combat when a portion of the French line collapsed and Germans poured into rear areas.

During the confusion, an officer of the 142nd overheard some of his men talking back and forth in a strange language, which turned out to be Choctaw. The army was suffering because its communications were being intercepted by the Germans who were tapping their landline phones, and the officer’s bright idea was to put Choctaws at both ends of the unit’s telephone lines to translate from English to Choctaw at one end and back into English at the other. The idea proved a rousing success.

It was so successful that according to the U.S. Army, after the war, Germany sent some scholars to the U.S. to covertly study Native American languages in case another war broke out, but the government discovered their aim and sent them back home.

The reason the code talkers were so effective was that of all the Indian languages, only the Cherokees had a written language, famously developed by Sequoia. As a result, the only way to learn any of their languages was to live with the tribes, which pretty much limited the opportunities to missionaries and government officials.

Ironically, the U.S. government had done its level best in a shameful effort to eradicate the languages and cultures of Native People, going so far as to punish students at government-run Indian schools who were caught speaking their own languages.

By the time World War II broke out, their best efforts to stamp out the Indians’ languages had—fortunately—failed and the idea of ‘code talkers’ was quickly revived. The Navajos who served with the U.S. Marines are the best known code talkers, but both the Marines and the Army also made use of servicemen from the Comanche, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Choctaw, Creek, Hopi, Kiowa, Menominee, Seminole, Oneida, Pawnee, Sac and Fox, and both Lakota and Dakota Sioux tribes as well as many others. In all, some 33 tribes and tribal subgroups served during World War II as code talkers.

168th Infantry in Tunisia. (America in World War II Magazine)

The Sac and Fox Tribe lived in Illinois and Wisconsin before tribal land was seized by the government and they were forcibly moved west of the Mississippi in the 1830s. Even so, with war on the horizon, Native American men began flocking to the colors to volunteer their services. Early in 1941, on the eve of World War II, a group of young men from the Fox and Sac homeland at Tama, Iowa enlisted in the Iowa National Guard. They were assigned to the 168th Infantry Regiment, a component of the 34th Infantry Division.

Eight of the men were assigned to the communication section of Company H in the 168th’s 2nd Battalion. The Fox and Sac code talkers included Dewey Roberts, Edward Benson, Melvin Twin, and Dewey Youngbear, and two sets of brothers, Frank and Willard Sanache and Judy Wayne Wabaunasee and Mike Wayne Wabaunasee (whose surname ought to ring a bell with Fox Valley residents).

Waubonsee, principal war chief of the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Tribe. (Little White School Museum collection)

I haven’t been able to track down the origin of the Wabaunasee boys’ surname, but it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility they might have some distant relationship to our Chief Waubonsee, even if he was a Potawatomi and they weren’t. “Our” Chief Waubonsee was the primary war chief of the Prairie Potawatomi Band and a confidant of the famed Native American leader Tecumseh and was at the Battle of the Thames in Canada during the War of 1812 where Tecumseh was killed in action. Waubonsee and his friend Shabbona returned to the Fox Valley where they both lived until the region’s Native People were forcibly removed west of the Mississippi in 1836 and 1837.

In our area, a creek, a high school, and a junior college all honor Chief Waubonsee.

After training in Louisiana, the men of the 34th Division were loaded aboard transports and sailed to Northern Ireland where they received more training, before being assigned to the invasion of North Africa.

The 34th Division went ashore at Algiers and then moved on into Tunisia where they collided with Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in some of the U.S. Army’s first heavy land warfare of World War II. In fact, the Fox and Sac boys from Tama became the first code talkers to find themselves in combat.

And it didn’t go well. At the battles of Faid and Kasserine passes in February 1943 the inexperience and sometimes downright incompetence of the U.S. Army’s commanders became all too apparent, as the Germans and Italians chewed up both the 1st Armored Division’s unwieldy Grant tanks and the badly deployed men in the 168th Infantry.

And given their positions as communications scouts, three of the Sac and Fox code talkers were captured, Frank Sanache by the Italians, and Dewey Youngbear and Judy Wayne Wabaunasee by the Germans. All three spent the rest of the war in German prisoner of war camps, only liberated at the end of the conflict. Youngbear, though, escaped several times during his captivity, only to be recaptured.

Seminole Code Talker Edmund Harjo wasn’t honored for his World War II service until 2013.

Although the code talkers served with distinction, and were vital parts of the war effort, their service was considered a military secret until the 1960s and so they never received the recognition they so richly deserved. Not until 2001 were the Navajo code talkers honored by President George H.W. Bush, but even then they received non-military Congressional Gold Medals.

Former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, learning that Iowa had also produced code talkers, got the ball rolling to honor all the code talkers. But government being what it is these days, they weren’t all finally recognized for their service until 2013, long after most had died. Youngbear, for instance, died in 1948 of tuberculosis contracted as a result of his captivity.

As Edmond Harjo, 96, an Oklahoma Seminole code talker and one of the few who lived to be honored, noted, the honor was a long time—too long a time—coming.

 “If I was young, I would enjoy it,” he mused.

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Filed under Frustration, Government, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Military History, Native Americans, People in History

The post office was at center of major 19th century social issue disputes

We often seem to think our own times are the most turbulent, and when it comes to social issues it’s fair to say that now is certainly more than a little unsettled.

But U.S. history is studded with eras when controversy over social issues has driven the nation’s political dialog. The 19th century was particularly unsettled, and in its first half, none other than the U.S. Post Office found itself embroiled in two of the hottest of hot button issues of the day: abolitionism and a growing religious evangelical movement.

The postal service didn’t seek out these issues, of course. Instead, the issues were thrust upon the service by social and political forces far outside its control. In the end, uneasy compromises were struck that left many far from satisfied.

These days, there are a lot of issues plaguing the postal service, many inflicted on it by Congress and even more of them by the current postmaster general, Louis DeJoy. While DeJoy is seeming to weaken the postal service in what appears to be an effort to boost privatization of mail deliveries, at least we don’t have to worry about postal officials opening and censoring our mail. At least as far as we know.

Not so back in the 1830s, when pro-slavery postal officials as well as private citizens were engaged in efforts to stop abolitionist tracts from being mailed to residents of southern states.

On July 29, 1835 a pro-slavery mob broke into the Charleston, SC post office, stole anti-slavery tracts from the mail and burned them the next night.

For instance, on the night of July 29, 1835, a small group of men broke into the Charleston, S.C. post office and stole a huge pile of anti-slavery tracts, a mass mailing sent by the American Anti-Slavery Society to persuade Southerners to renounce slavery. The next night, the tracts were burned.

It was the opening move in an increasingly bitter, and ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to make sure the idea of slavery would not see any opposing viewpoints in the South and so threaten the region’s dependence on slave labor. Actually, the mailing was probably the first use of junk mail, made possible by the combination of new, more efficient papermaking techniques and the perfection of the steam-powered printing press along with the era’s remarkably efficient postal service, efficiencies ironically created by Southerners.

It was already illegal in slave-owning states to circulate abolitionist literature, no matter what that pesky First Amendment to the Constitution said. The gang that stole those anti-slavery tracts in Charleston were convinced they were upholding state’s rights.

The Anti-Slavery Society had targeted its mass mailing carefully to the 200,000 most distinguished movers and shakers in the South, figuring—incorrectly as it turned out—that mail to important men would at least be delivered. What actually happened was that pro-slavery forces were energized even more than before.

Mail schedule: This notice listing the mail schedule for Oswego and other Fox Valley area communities was published in the Illinois Free Trader, an Ottawa newspaper, in 1840—a full 21 years before the start of the Civil War. (Courtesy of the Little White School Museum)

And it didn’t take long after that for Southern postmasters to simply start interdicting the mail on their own, with no gang of thieves necessary to encourage the process, and with the full cooperation and assistance of the Post Office Department itself. Abolitionist tracts, newspapers, and magazines were simply turned over to local officials for destruction, with First Amendment rights considered inferior to the right of whites to own black slaves and not be criticized for it.

The issue’s importance to the South did not wane as years passed either. In 1849, George H. Legg, the postmaster in Spartanburg, S.C., was jailed by local officials for his refusal to turn over a letter for inspection by local pro-slavery groups.

The resulting abridgment of First Amendment rights that prohibited mailing anti-slavery literature to the South was only lifted following the Civil War after the issue of slavery itself was settled by force of arms.

The case of the Sabbatarians was also a national issue on which the post office found itself on the wrong side thanks to its insistence on delivering the mail as quickly and efficiently as possible to everyone everywhere in the nation.

In order to make sure the mails reached post offices as quickly as possible in those days of mail carried in horsedrawn stagecoaches, the system operated seven days a week. The arrival of the stagecoach carrying the mail was a major social and economic event, especially for those living in the small towns like the ones that were springing up here in northern Illinois on what was then the western frontier.

A Stanley M. Arthurs (1877-1950) painting of an 1830s stagecoach arriving in a village, with the driver blowing his tin horn to announce the arrival. Illustration from Scribner’s Magazine, November 1908.

When the coaches neared a settlement with a post office, the drivers blew their long tin or sheet iron horns to herald the mail’s arrival. The sound of the horn was the signal for anyone who could to get to the post office to see if any letters for them had arrived, and to listen to others read aloud the latest political and social news from the newspapers and magazines the coaches carried.

Mary Simmerson Cunningham Logan, wife of famed Civil War General John A. Logan, recalled the thrill of hearing the stage driver’s horn when she was a young girl living in southern Illinois in the 1840s. Her father had enlisted to fight in the war with Mexico and the family was starved for news.

“I can to this day in imagination hear the sound of the long horn the stage-driver used to blow as he entered our town at the midnight hour twice a week,” she wrote in her memoirs. “I was then but twelve years of age, and yet at the first sound of the horn, in moonlight or darkness, I would rush out and never stop running till I reached the post-office.”

1830s sheet iron stage driver’s horn in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. 65-3/8” long.

On most days, this rush to the post office—which in the 1830s and 1840s was often located in a community’s general store or local inn—was eagerly looked forward to by all residents. However, when the coach arrived on a Sunday, ministers saw the male halves of their congregations evaporate at the sound of the coach driver’s horn as they hurried down to the post office to hear the latest news.

The discontent caused for the more religious members of communities by the disruptions created by the Sunday arrival of the mails resulted in the Sabbatarian movement, which aimed at halting Sunday mail delivery.

In April 1810, Congress had decreed that postmasters were required to deliver every item they’d received in the mail on every day of the week, including Sunday—the Sabbath—and to open their offices every day the mail arrived. Including Sunday.

The opposition to the new law grew swiftly and the loosely organized opposition’s members became known as Sabbatarians.

Not only did the Sabbatarians want the mandate to open post offices every day of the week eliminated, but they also opposed the mails even moving on Sundays. And that threatened to have an economic impact on not only the businesses that relied on frequent, fast mail deliveries, but also the private contractors who carried the mails via stagecoaches and wagons.

The arrival of the mail stage in town instantly drew crowds to the post office—no matter what day of the week it was—to hear the latest state, regional, and national news it carried.

The Sabbatarian campaign grew for the next 20 years, with petition after petition (many at the instigation of the Presbyterian General Assembly) being dispatched to the post office department demanding cessation of Sunday delivery.

But by the late 1820s, the anti-Sabbatarian movement, one of whose leaders was a Wall Street merchant with the marvelous name of Preserved Fish, had begun to grow as well. Fish and his allies organized their own petition drives, even helped by some religious groups, such as the Alabama Baptist Association, that treated Saturday as the Sabbath.

Also joining the fray was travel book author Anne Royall, whose books hinted darkly at a conspiracy by Sabbatarian Presbyterian postmasters to destroy the separation of church and state.

Finally in 1841 the Sabbatarians were able to get the post office to curtail Sunday service on some routes. The invention of the telegraph also helped the Sabbatarian cause as merchants soon found electronic communication of vital economic news faster, though more expensive, than the mails.

Amazingly enough, it wasn’t until 1912—a little over a century after the Sabbatarians’ campaign started—that the post office finally agreed to halt mail delivery and order the closure of all post offices on Sunday.

Today, the postal service is still struggling to survive, although it no longer has to worry about the combined assaults of pro-slavery forces and the Sabbatarians. Which, I suppose, might be mistaken for progress by some. The main threat to the postal service today is its own top management and Congressional privatizers, who all seem determined to sabotage efficient mail delivery in an apparent effort to entice private companies to take over delivering the mail.

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Filed under Business, Civil War, Frustration, Government, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Newspapers, People in History, Semi-Current Events, Technology, Transportation

End of another era, this time in Kendall newspapering…

Eras have been ending right and left during the past few years of political upheaval and the on-going worldwide pandemic.

The most recent era to end is the recent closing of the last physical newspaper office in Kendall County. For the first time since 1852, there’s no place to go to drop off news items, give news tips, and generally kibitz with the staff. Instead, the entire KendalCountyNOW staff that publishes the Shaw Media subgroup’s four local weeklies is now working wherever they can find a WiFi connection instead of in a newsroom.

This is not an entirely surprising development. After Shaw bought the Kendall County Record, Inc. group, they closed both the Ledger-Sentinel office on Main Street in downtown Oswego and the venerable Kendall County Record office on Bridge Street in downtown Yorkville. The two offices were combined and moved to a second floor office suite in a Yorkville bank, a location that did not invite casual visitation. Now the withdrawal from the communities the group’s papers report on is complete.

You’d think that having a visible presence in towns located in the fastest growing county in Illinois, and one of the fastest growing in the nation, would be a good move to advertise the brand, but apparently modern bean-counters are more in tune with today’s economic and marketing realities than old retired editors like me.

Time was, of course, there were newspaper offices in virtually every community in the county. It took a while after Kendall County’s establishment in 1841 for its first newspaper to open, but in 1852 Hector Seymour Humphrey began publishing the weekly Kendall County Courier in Oswego, then the county seat. Then, as now, local government legal advertisements were the lifeblood of local papers, and locating in the county seat made it easy to pick up those public notices from property tax assessment lists to new county ordinances.

Humphrey was born in Tompkins County, N.Y. Jan. 29, 1828. Early in his life he got into the newspaper business at the Ithaca Chronicle and News where he learned the trade. He headed west to Chicago in 1848, where he worked as a journeyman printer on the old Chicago Journal.

H.S. Humphrey’s Kendall County Courier was our first county weekly, and also Oswego’s first newspaper.

Then Humphrey moved west to Naperville where he worked in the newspaper business and got married. And in 1852, he and his wife packed up their press and type and moved farther west to Oswego where he started the Courier. It advertised itself as neutral in politics, and was apparently just barely successful. Humphrey ran the paper himself as both editor and publisher until the fall of 1854 when he sold it to Abraham Sellers. Humphrey agreed to stay on as the editor. That arrangement lasted until the summer of 1855 when Humphrey bought the paper back from Sellers.

Then during the winter of 1855-56, Humphrey sold the Chronicle to the cantankerous and combative William P. Boyd. Boyd, a pro-slavery native Kentuckian, writing under the pen name of Niblo, made the mistake of changing the Chronicle from a neutral paper to a Democratic sheet.

That didn’t go down very well in Oswego or the rest of Kendall County, which had been fairly strong Whig country before the Republican Party was established. After the Republicans organized, Kendall County, driven by its heavy population of New Englanders and New Yorkers, leaned heavily towards the new party.

As Humphrey recalled the era in a 1903 letter to Kendall County Record Publisher John R. Marshall: “In the spring of 1856, the Republicans desiring an organ, called a meeting of the leading men of the county, decided to establish a paper, and requested me to take charge of it. Subscriptions were made for the paper, for advertising and job work, for which money was advanced for about two-thirds of the cost of material, which was purchased at once and ‘the Kendall County Free Press’ was out soon after for the campaign of 1856.”

At the behest of local Republicans, H.S. Humphrey established the Kendall County Free Press in the years immediately prior to and during the Civil War.

You may remember that the campaign of 1856 was famed in Illinois for the series of debates the Republican and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator held throughout the state. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates introduced Abraham Lincoln to a statewide audience for the first time. While Lincoln was unsuccessful in that campaign, he was able to parlay his name recognition—and his considerable political skills—into winning the Presidency in 1860.

The Republican hold on Kendall County only grew more pronounced following the 1856 campaign. Boyd’s Chronicle was soon out of business, his printing outfit sold to an Iowa newspaper. A cutthroat businessman, land agent, and lawyer known for his pugnaciousness, Boyd was murdered on Nov. 24, 1859. His assailant was never identified.

Humphrey’s Free Press was successful, and he continued publishing it through the Civil War years until the county seat was moved back to Yorkville in 1864. At that point, Humphrey decided to move on to Vandalia.

In May 1864, John Redmond Marshal, a young Chicago newspaper man and Civil War veteran of the Sturgis Rifles, decided to start a new county seat paper in Kendall County. Naming it the Kendall County Record, Marshal located his office and printing press in space above a store in downtown Yorkville, moving it to a new one-story brick building on busy Bridge Street in November 1867—where it stayed until the paper was sold to Shaw in 2015.

The flag from John R. Marshall’s Kendall County Record, which started publishing as Kendall County’s newspaper of record in 1864.

While the Courier was Oswego’s first paper, it was hardly the last. In fact, Oswego has seen far more than its share of newspaper start-ups. Besides the Courier and The Free Press, papers published in Oswego included the Bald Hornet, 1855; Oswego Vidette, 1873; Oswego Daily Times, 1877; Oswego Reporter, 1892; Kendall County Press, 1884; Oswego Herald, 1904; Oswego News, 1948; Oswego Ledger, 1949-1980; Fox Valley Sentinel, 1974-1980; Ledger-Sentinel, 1980 to 2015; and now the Oswego Ledger again after the name was shortened, supposedly for marketing purposes, a few years ago.

As I noted above, virtually every other town in Kendall County has had its own newspaper, no matter how briefly, over the years.

Yorkville, of course, had—and still has—its Kendall County Record as well as in the mid-20th Century the free distribution Fox Valley Shopper, the 19th Century Kendall County Clarion, and in 1872, the Yorkville News. That paper eventually moved to Plano and became the Plano News in 1876, changing its name again in 1881 to the Kendall County News. Plano was also served by the Kendall County Journal, the Plano Pivot and the Plano Standard. Two religious newspapers were published in 19th Century Plano, The True Latter Day Saints Herald and Zion’s Hope, both by Joseph Smith Jr.’s Reorganized Church of the Latter Day Saints.

The Ledger-Sentinel was formed by the merger of the Fox Valley Sentinel and the Oswego Ledger in the summer of 1980. The name was shortened back to Oswego Ledger by it’s current owners, Shaw Media, Inc. It’s still Oswego’s award-winning weekly newspaper.

The stagecoach hamlet of Little Rock in extreme northwestern Kendall County was briefly served in the 19th Century by The Little Rock Press, and Millington by The Millington Enterprise. The Newark Clipper was organized in 1872, and The Lisbon Comet was published early in the 20th Century.

It’s also worth noting that back in the late 20th Century, the daily Aurora Beacon-News had a bureau in Kendall County.

Nowadays, though, the whole idea of newspapers, even local weeklies, not maintaining a visible presence in the communities they serve has become the norm, especially with papers owned by large chains thet really seem more interested in profits than in community service and keeping their fingers on the pulse of the communities they serve. Most independently-owned weeklies still think that’s not only important to the places they cover, but also figure it’s good business—Cheryl Wormley’s successful Woodstock Independent up in the northern suburbs immediately comes to mind.

When I was the Ledger-Sentinel‘s editor, we had a lot of news stories just walk in—or past—the door of our Main Street office. For instance, there was the day a sheep galloped past the window, followed by another, followed by one of our former sports writers. Turned out he was working for a local farmer whose load of sheep got loose when they stopped at the gas station just up the street. Or the day a nicely-dressed white-haired woman walked in up to our counter, held her hand out to me and said, “Hello, I’m Jean Simon. What’s happening in Oswego we ought to know about?” Turned out she was Sen. Paul Simon’s wife, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Or the day Sen. Chuck Percy stopped in to chat about the I&M Canal Corridor legislation he was co-sponsoring. We had a nice chat, but I don’t think he ever figured out we were some miles outside the corridor he was so enthused about.

But while there will no longer be a physical newspaper office presence here in Kendall any more, that doesn’t mean the KendallCountyNOW staff won’t be getting and printing as much local news as they can.

Because, really, when it comes to finding a source for local news you need and can actually use—where your property tax dollars are being spent, what various local governmental boards are really up to, and what’s happening in local schools—weekly newspapers are the only serious game in town.

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Filed under Business, Frustration, History, Kendall County, Local History, Newspapers, Nostalgia, Oswego, People in History, Semi-Current Events

Modern Millerites are not swayed by facts, either

Anne Applebaum’s recent piece in The Atlantic, “The MyPillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy,” lays out, at least partially, the argument that predicting the second coming of Donald Trump seems to have replaced millennialism among right wing true believers.

And when discussions of millennialism get underway, the historian’s mind almost naturally moves right to the Millerites of 19th Century America.

Cultism is, in fact, about as American as you can get. And that, of course, includes the present day. One of the most modern enduring cults is that of the runaway inflation predictors. Nowadays, they’re led by economist Larry Summers, but their dire, never fulfilled predictions, date back quite a ways.

Back in 2014, for instance, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote on his blog that voices, mostly on the right of the political spectrum, who kept wrongly predicting runaway inflation because of this or that government policy mostly resembled end-of-the-world religious cults.

And every once in a while, members of such religious cults do pop up in the news in this day and age. Besides the political cult of the Trump worshipers, one of the most recent religious cults (I’m leaving QAnon out of the religious equation here, although maybe I shouldn’t) that popped up predicting the end of the world as we know it, and which got a lot of coverage was when religious broadcaster Harold Camping decided that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on Saturday, May 21, 2011. The day came and went with nothing unusual, such as the end of the world, happening. That fazed Camping but it didn’t seriously deter him. In fact, Camping went back to his calculator. Or maybe it was his abacus. After all, he had already been unsuccessful in predicting the end of the world in 1994, but but previous failures didn’t seem to deter his followers much.

Harold Camping was convinced the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. It didn’t, nor did it end on Oct. 21, 2011. And it seems to still be going strong today.

And, in fact, Camping himself wasn’t much deterred, either. He regrouped, refigured, and announced the real day Jesus Christ would return and the world—plus the rest of the universe—would end was Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. The day came and went without much end-of-the-world stuff happening, or anything else either—except for the usual, ongoing run-of-the-mill global mayhem. In fact, Oct. 21, 2011 was remarkable for exactly how little happened that day.

After that, Camping’s ministry announced that he’d finally decided nobody could determine when the end of the world would arrive, which seemed sensible from his own point of view, because that’s exactly what the Bible reports Jesus warned his followers not to do.

As noted, Camping was far from unique. End-of-the-worlders are a historical tradition that extends back all the way to Biblical times when whoever it was who wrote the Book of Revelation recounted, with ill-disguised relish and in painful detail, what would happen to non-believers—defined as anyone who did not believe whatever the author believed—on Judgment Day.

By the 19th Century, predicting the end of the world was becoming almost a cottage industry, especially here in the United States, and so when our own, homegrown end-of-the-worlder, William Miller, predicted that 1843 was the year and April was the month the world would end, a lot of people took notice.

Miller was a Massachusetts man who volunteered to fight in the War of 1812, serving as a captain in the U.S. Army. A near-death experience in combat led to Miller’s fascination with death and the afterlife, not to mention his conversion from deism to evangelical Christianity.

Joining the Baptist Church, he closely studied the Bible, developing his own interpretations of the book. He eventually decided there were hidden facts to be excavated from the text.

In September 1822, he formally and publicly announced his findings: “I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years,—on or before 1843.”

William Miller, about 1844

The deadlines Miller and his followers set for the end of the world, March and April of 1843, came and went, and were followed by what became known as “The Great Disappointment,” as thousands of his followers left their beliefs behind and tried to get back to their regular lives.

In Kendall County, there seem to have been quite a few Millerites, but they apparently mostly kept to themselves and were apparently not nearly as obnoxious as modern end-of-the-worlders seem to be.

The Rev. E.W. Hicks, one of Miller’s fellow Baptists, was not impressed by the Millerite craze. In his 1877 history of Kendall County, Hicks wrote: “During the early part of 1843 the Miller excitement in regard to the end of the world was at its height. William Miller had fixed on April, 1843, as the time of the end, and there were many believers in his arithmetic in this county. It is no doubt a fact that some of them had their white robes ready made for the occasion, from a wrong interpretation of Rev. 7:9. The clothing of heaven is holiness, spiritual in texture, and not cloth from the Georgia cotton fields. Christ is coming again, ‘in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven;’ but he, himself, was careful to teach us that ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven.’ And if still we are curious to know, we have his rebuke, that ‘it is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.’ ‘Watch, for ye know not when the Master cometh.’”

Millerites came in for more than their share of kidding after the world failed to end in 1843 or 1844. Miller’s movement resulted, however, in the formation of two new, uniquely American Christian sects.

George M. Hollenback, who was one of the first two White children born in Kendall County (his twin sister was the other) and so was a young eyewitness to the Millerite craze, wrote in the 1914 history of Kendall County that: “During the winter of 1843, the Millerites created excitement over the whole country and had much influence among the weak and superstitious and even extended far among the apparently well informed people. There was a good deal of anxiety until the time set for the great catastrophe of the end of the world had come and had happily passed. A few of the neighbors procured their ‘ascension robes’ in expectation of the day when the heavens were to open ‘and melt with fervent heat.’ As the weather was cold, the material from which the robes were constructed was white flannel. It is said of one woman that she gave out publicly that she would not believe in the Bible if the Savior did not appear. He did not appear, so the ascension robes of herself and husband were not used for the purpose for which they were constructed.”

Miller died in 1849, still eagerly looking towards Christ’s second coming. His legacy includes the Advent Christian Church with 61,000 members, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church with over 19 million members, both denominations having a direct historical connection to the Millerites and the Great Disappointment of 1844.

The craze William Miller started passed, but his ideas were not forgotten. Through the years, others have attempted to predict the end of the world, some based on supposed truths hidden in the Bible, others based on other ideas up to and including UFOs, with no notable success thus far. Some of these folks were true believers, like Harold Camping, who seemed genuinely perplexed why the world didn’t end when he was sure it was going to. And we can’t forget the Heaven’s Gate cult, 39 of whose members committed suicide in 1997 as they awaited the UFO that was supposed to carry them away. Others have proven to be pure charlatans, some who proved to be much worse than grifters aiming to separate the gullible believers from their cash.

As Applebaum noted in her piece in The Atlantic, “The apocalypse has been variously predicted for the year 500, based on the dimensions of Noah’s Ark; the year 1033, on the 1,000th anniversary of Jesus’s birth; and the year 1600, by Martin Luther no less; as well as variously by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nostradamus, and Aum Shinrikyo, among many others. When nothing happened—the world did not end; the messiah did not arrive—did any of them throw in the towel and stop believing? Of course not.”

Like their religious cousins, the political and economic end-of-the-worlders aren’t fazed by facts proving their views wrong. Although unsuccessfully (but enthusiastically) predicting runaway inflation and devaluation of the dollar since 2008, they continue to do so, despite the actual data proving them to be in error. As Krugman continues to note, their continued popularity and hold on positions of authority is one of the mysteries of the 21st Century.

And likewise the My Pillow Guy and his accomplices continue to confidently predict Donald Trump’s second coming as President despite its legal and political impossibility—there’s simply no constitutional provision for a Presidential election do-over. That so many either believe or say they believe (which I suspect includes many complicit Republican Senators and House members) it will happen, though, illustrates that fervent wishes, no matter how outlandish and crazed, exert as powerful an effect on modern people as they did nearly 180 years ago. In fact, with crackpot ideas now being reinforced 24 hours a day, seven days a week by complicit, ubiquitous electronic media, the effects of those ideas on society as a whole may well be far more serious.

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A Kendall County witness to history: Nathan Hughes and the first Juneteenth

It’s not often that a Kendall County resident is present during a momentous historical event, but that was the case when the first Juneteenth took place at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. When he issued his General Order Number 3, Union Major General Gordon Granger formally—and forcefully—notified the State of Texas that slavery was irrevocably eliminated.

And last week, President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth the United States’ newest national holiday as a symbolic celebration of the end of slavery throughout the nation.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger

From the time of its settlement as a part of Mexico that welcomed U.S. colonists, Texas had enthusiastically embraced slavery. Mexico’s abolition of slavery in 1829 was, in fact, one cause of Texas’ 1836 war of independence. The Mexican government had encouraged Stephen A. Austin to recruit settlers for Texas. He mostly recruited in the southern U.S., encouraging slave owners to emigrate by allowing them to purchase an extra 50 acres of land for every slave they brought with them. Both before and after it was admitted to the Union in 1845, East Texas and the state’s Gulf Coast became major cotton growing regions relying extensively on slavery.

So when the Southern states seceded, Texas went right along with them, citing Northern efforts to end slavery as the main reason they were leaving the Union. In their Declaration of Causes approved by the Texas legislature on Feb. 2, 1861, the state’s leaders contended:

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

“That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.”

Legally, slavery had been abolished by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1862 immediately after the bloody Union victory at Antietam. Lincoln’s executive order did not free all the nation’s slaves. Instead, it was aimed at the South as an economic weapon and therefore freed the slaves only in areas of the Confederate states not under the control of the Union Army. And that meant Texas. But the state’s slave owners, like those in the rest of the Confederacy, paid no attention to Lincoln’s proclamation.

But by the spring of 1865, the Confederacy was imploding. Robert Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered on April 9, and the rest of the South’s organized forces quickly followed suit.

On May 9, Gen. Granger was ordered to concentrate his XIII Corps at Mobile, Alabama and then move to the Gulf Coast to secure the area for the Union. Granger was a familiar name to Kendall County residents since he’d commanded the 36th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment—along with many others—at the Battle of Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga back in 1863. In fact, the 36th had been the first unit to plant its regimental flag atop the ridge. The 36th included four companies of Kendall County residents, Company D, the Lisbon Rifles; Company E, the Bristol Light Infantry; Company F, the Newark Rifles; and Company I, the Oswego Rifles.

Gen. Joseph A. Mower

By June 18, Granger had arrived at Galveston with Major General Joseph A. Mower’s division of the XIII Corps. Units that reportedly came ashore with Granger at Galveston on June 18 included the 28th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, recruited in Indiana; the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, recruited in Illinois; and the 26th and the 31st U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments, both recruited in New York.

The 29th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment had been recruited in Illinois and was mustered in in April 1864. It had served well, including at the brutal Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia.

Serving in Company B of the 29th was Nathan Hughes, who had escaped from slavery in Kentucky before the war, fled north into Illinois and briefly lived in Kendall County before he enlisted to fight for his own freedom. By the time the 29th came ashore at Galveston, Hughes had been wounded twice—once at the Battle of the Crater—and was a seasoned veteran.

It’s interesting to contemplate what the residents of Galveston must have thought seeing 2,000 smartly uniformed and well-armed Black soldiers disembark and march through their town. Especially since it’s more than likely the only Black Americans most of them had ever seen had been slaves.

On April 19th, Granger issued his General Order Number 3 and had it read at three locations throughout Galveston so there would be no confusion about the new situation in which Texas found itself. According to Granger’s order:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

And the thing is, there were a LOT of slaves in Texas in 1865. As Union armies had moved through the Confederate states east of the Mississippi, worried slaveowners had sent more and more of their enslaved people west to Texas. In 1861, there were 275,000 slaves in Texas. By 1865, there were 400,000.

Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Hughes, photographed in July 1893 on the occasion of their 10th wedding anniversary. Hughes, a witness to the first Juneteenth in 1865, is proudly wearing his Grand Army of the Republic medal. He was the only Black member of the Kendall County G.A.R. (Little White School Museum collection)

In addition, Texans tended to believe that while perhaps slaves had been freed elsewhere, certainly their enslaved people wouldn’t be freed. As William Lee Richter wrote in The Army In Texas during Reconstruction, 1865-1870. “Planters vainly hoped that they would be compensated for the loss of their slaves or that the Supreme Court or the election of 1866 would overturn the Republicans’ majority in Congress. In addition, there was a cotton crop to bring in that fall. For these reasons, the planters forced their ex-bondsmen to stay on the plantation as slaves in fact, if not in name. To achieve this end, the farmers liberally employed whipping and murder.”

Southerners began resisting extending basic rights, including the right to vote and to peacefully assemble, as soon as the war ended. The U.S. Army and the newly formed Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands worked hard to combat the racist violence with which the South responded to its defeat at the end of the Civil War, but those efforts proved ineffective. The violence grew to such an extent that during the Presidential election campaign of 1868, John R. Marshall, publisher of the Kendall County Record in Yorkville—himself a veteran of the Civil War who served in the Sturges Rifles—was far from alone when he wondered whether the war had ended two years too soon:

“Did not the war end too soon? Is the cursed spirit of rebellion crushed? Are we to be threatened with the bayonet at every Presidential election? If the Democrats are defeated in November they threaten the bayonet. If they are successful, they will overthrow the acts of Congress passed during and since the war. Slavery or serfdom will be re-established and the country will be placed back to where it was in the days of Pierce and Buchanan. Then the five years’ war will have been a failure and this progressive people will have once more to contend with the devils of treason and slavery.”

That, however, was in the future, a bleak future at that, in which it would take nearly a century from the time Gen. Granger issued General Order Number 3 until acts enshrining civil and voting rights in U.S. law. From the time Granger impressed upon Texans that slavery was over once and for all, Black Americans began quietly observing June 19 as their own private day of independence from being enslaved and finally gaining their freedom.

After showing the U.S. Flag in Galveston, the 29th marched to the Rio Grande River where it was part of the Army of Observation tasked with reminding Maximilian and his French supporters that the United States was not pleased with their intervention in Mexico. The 29th was mustered out of U.S. service on Nov. 6, and its troops left for their homes.

Nathan Hughes came back to Kendall County and settled on a small farm on Minkler Road, went down to Kentucky and found his children, and brought them back to Illinois. His wife, however, decided to stay in familiar Kentucky and not move north. He eventually remarried. His grandchildren became the first black high school graduates in Kendall County, and THEIR grandchildren and great-grandchildren became teachers and professors, and lawyers and other professionals.

The family, now scattered across the nation, continues to pay forward the momentous results of that first Juneteenth Nathan Hughes had been part of in 1865.

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Nation’s long history of terrorism against Black Americans is actual ‘hidden history’

The destruction of the Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma has been much in the news recently, and for good reason. This year, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the destruction of the community by a White mob and the murder of more than 300 Black Greenwood residents, all with the collusion of local governmental officials.

It was a horrific event, one that none of us ever heard about in school. I’d never heard of such a thing until I started doing research several years ago into the effect of organized racism and anti-immigrant activities that led to the recreation of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s for a column I was working on concerning the Klan’s popularity here in northern Illinois’ Fox River Valley.

That’s when I stumbled across the East St. Louis race riot of 1917, and then when I looked further into things I came across the Tulsa riot—and many, many more such outrages.

We tend to think of riots concerning race and racial issues as relatively recent things. The ones that stick in most minds were those that occurred after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in the late 1960s, during which large portions of many of our major cities were destroyed.

Race riots are nearly as old as the nation, but instead of mostly involving Black rioters attacking Whites, the opposite is by far most common in the nation’s history.

In fact, Wikipedia has a handy page where you can check out the dismayingly long list of violent racial clashes across the nation’s history beginning in the early 19th Century.

The map at left I found on-line is a good reference tool, too, although it only includes a relatively small number instances of major U.S. racial violence. But it does illustrate one eye-opening fact—at least for me. And that is that while Louisiana seems to be the champion state for hosting racial riots targeting Black residents, Illinois comes in a distressing second.

Which, I suppose, shouldn’t really be all that much of a surprise. Illinois was initially settled by Southerners. In fact, it was originally governed as a county of the State of Virginia during and after the Revolutionary War. After the war, most of Illinois’ settlers came from Southern states, west through Kentucky and Tennessee and up into southern Illinois.

In accord with the Northwest Ordinance, Illinois was admitted as a free, non-slave state in 1818. But the state was never a friendly place for Black residents. A few years after statehood, in fact, agitation by pro-slavery politicians nearly rewrote the state’s constitution to legally permit slavery. That move was thwarted, narrowly.

But then things began to change. The Erie Canal in New York opened and the rush of settlers from New England and the Middle States (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) began and soon the population of anti-slave Northerners in northern Illinois easily outpaced Southerners in southern Illinois. So, by the time the Civil War broke out, Illinois as a whole was firmly in the anti-slave column, although most of the southern part of the state was more or less pro-Confederate. In fact, the state had to station troops in towns including Quincy to guard against pro-Southern violence during the war. And a number of Illinois men fought on the Southern side during the war.

There was a lot of discussion about this map on line the other day, but I find it generally accurate in offering the basic mindset of the people who live in the color-coded areas.

So the seeds of racist violence had long been planted here. And as the 20th Century dawned, the nation experienced a surge in racist and anti-immigrant violence fueled by social change. Blacks were leaving the Jim Crow South to make new lives in Northern manufacturing cities, while immigration from southern Europe—particularly Italy—was fueling anti-Catholic and anti-foreign tensions and violence, all whipped up by racist radio personalities and the reincarnation of the Ku Klux Klan.

By 1917, the 1908 Springfield riot was some years in the past and the Chicago violence was on the horizon. That July, one of the state’s most violent race riots broke out in East St. Louis. At least 50 persons were killed (the toll was undoubtedly higher) and 240 people were reported injured. Damage was set at $1,400,000—which would be $29 million in 2021 dollars.

The history of the riot and accompanying murders and destruction was not completely hidden, although it’s place in Illinois history has certainly been downplayed. In 1964, Elliott M. Rudwick, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, published an in-depth study of it, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 1917. And during the state’s 1968 sesquicentennial, Bob Sutton included Robert Asher’s “Documents of the Race Riot at East St. Louis,” previously published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, in his two-volume The Prairie State: A Documentary History of Illinois. It was certainly not covered in any of our junior or senior high school history courses, nor was the general topic covered in my college U.S. History survey course at Northern Illinois University. As someone on History Twitter noted the other day, back then it was as if Black Americans completely disappeared between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the public aspects of the Civil Rights movement a century later.

Granted, the story’s there. But you have to dig to find it. Letters and personal accounts left by victims of the violence vividly describe the events of July 2, 1917, something that makes it all the more puzzling the East St. Louis violence, along with all the other outbreaks preceding it and following it during the next few years were virtually erased from the histories taught in Illinois schools.

Trouble had been brewing in East St. Louis for several months, fanned by the labor problems then existing in the area. On July 1, supposedly as a means to forestall violence, police and Illinois National Guard soldiers appeared at the homes of black families and demanded their weapons. Most of the families complied. But in spite of—or perhaps because of—the seizure of Black citizens’ arms, throughout the day, warnings that rioting would begin that evening spread through the Black community.

But according to the testimony of a White woman, the actual riot started about noon, when a colored man came to her house to deliver gasoline. Whites attacked the man, but the woman held the mob at bay with a revolver while the black tried to escape through the back door. The mob pursued him and killed him. Scott Clark, a black teamster, was next. He was stoned to death by women in the mob as he was dragged through the streets by a rope around his neck.

The July 3, 1917 St. Louis Globe-Democrat described the violence in lurid detail. Although U.S. Senator William Yates Sherman frantically requested U.S. troops be sent to quell the violence, President Woodrow Wilson refused.

Most Black residents felt their only hope was to get to the Municipal Free Bridge across the Mississippi to St. Louis, Missouri. Many made it, but many more did not, and were either hung, shot, or burned to death by the mob. Although the governor called out the Illinois National Guard, that seemed to have little or no effect on the destruction.

Among those who made it to safety was Daisy Westbrook. Westbrook, a young black woman at the time, was the director of music and drawing at Lincoln High School in East St. Louis. She described her experiences in a letter written on July 19, just l7 days after the riot, recounting the terror of the black residents of East St. Louis in graphic detail.

“It started early in the afternoon. We kept receiving calls over the ‘phone to pack our trunks and leave, because it was going to be awful that night. We did not heed the calls, but sent grandma and the baby on to St. Louis and said we should ‘stick’ no matter what happened. At first when the fire started, we stood on Broadway and watched it. As they neared our house we went in and went to the basement. It was too late to run then. They shot and yelled some thing awful, finally they reached our house. At first, they did not bother us (we watched from the basement window), they remarked that ‘white people live in that house, that is not a nigger house.’ Later, someone must have tipped them that it was a ‘nigger’ house, because, after leaving us for about 20 min. they returned and started shooting in the house, throwing bricks and yelling like mad ‘kill the nigger, burn that house,’

Destruction along six blocks of Walnut Street in East St. Louis caused by the race riot in July 1917.

“It seemed the whole house was falling in on us. Then some one said, ‘they must not be there; if they are they are certainly dead’. Then some one shouted ‘they are in the basement. Surround them and burn it down.’ Then they ran down our steps. Only prayer saved us, we were under tubs and any thing we could find praying and keeping as quite as possible, because if they had seen one face, we would have been shot or burned to death. Sister tipped to the door to see if the house was on fire. She saw the reflection of a soldier on the front door and pulled it open quickly and called for help. All of us ran out then and was taken to the city hall for the night. The next morning, we learned our house was not burned, so we tried to get protection to go out and get our clothes and have the rest of the things put in storage. We could not, but were sent on to St. Louis. Had to walk across the bridge with a line of soldiers on each side in the hot sun, no hats and scarcely no clothing.

“On Tuesday evening at 6 o’clock our house was burned with two soldiers on guard. So the papers stated. We were told that they looted the house before burning it.”

Things eventually calmed down in East St. Louis, only to flare up again in Chicago in 1919 and then in Tulsa in 1921. The riots could, I suppose, be seen as Jim Crow moving violently north in on-going efforts to stymie Black economic advancement. The riots and massacres destroyed millions in business and home equity that was thereby eliminated from being used to finance Black families’ generational advancement.

If that wasn’t bad enough, some years in the future when President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Alphabet Agencies” began fighting the Great Depression by pumping money into the economy, Black families were effectively barred from receiving any assistance. Black homeowners, farmers, and business owners were kept from participating, again denied the chance to build equity for the future. And yet again, after World War II with the passage of the G.I. Bills, rules created by Southern legislators effectively barred Black veterans from accessing federal housing and education loan and grant programs.

Not until passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 did some equity begin making its way into the systemic racism that was baked into the nation’s governmental and social life. And as soon as that happened, racist Southern Democrats left the party in droves, to be warmly welcomed by cynical Republicans who figured they could keep the racism parts quiet while using the old Confederacy to cement their political power.

And so here we find ourselves in 2021, observing the centennial of the horrific Tulsa race massacre at a time when overt racism is again being promoted and encouraged by politicians as shameless as those who encouraged the racism and religious bigotry of the early 20th Century. Until the last five years, I’d assumed we’d come a lot farther along this particular road than we obviously have. It’s apparent the road’s a lot longer and more winding than I’d hoped or imagined.

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When it comes to ‘hidden history,’ this is no time to get hung up on semantics

There appears to be some discussion in online history circles these days about “hidden history.”

Hidden history refers to history that is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed or ignored, either by established scholars, politicians, or the general public. Casually study history of any time period for any length of time, and it’s a guarantee you’ll soon come across hidden history of one kind or another.

This current online controversy seems to revolve around the word “hidden.” Wrote one professional historian on Twitter, “Pals, I hate the term ‘hidden histories’ increasingly and would much prefer ‘stories we discriminate(d) against,” suggesting that not only do historians quibble about terminology, but they are daringly cavalier about grammatical rules.

Added another, “I have had so many rants about this. I’ve generally settled on ‘excluded’ rather than ‘hidden.’”

Said a third, “I really dislike it for lots of reasons, mostly because it lets people off the hook. If the history has been ‘hidden’ then people have an excuse for not having seen it.”

Well, yes, that would be an excellent reason for people not having seen it. The expectation here is that those who are not professional historians should carry some blame for not knowing which patches of history have been placed beyond their reach by people—historians—who should be in the business of bringing to light all facets of history, even the unpleasant and uncomfortable bits.

Because the awkward fact is, historians who knew better did hide and otherwise obscure vast portions of the nation’s history for a variety of reasons. Mostly, their motives seem to have been to comfort themselves by assuring average citizens wouldn’t become ‘confused,’ or at least that’s what they seemed to have told themselves. Because the conventional wisdom about the nation’s history was sometimes either the exact opposite of what we—the consumers of popular history including grade and high school students—were told and taught, or that there were a lot of gray areas that made black and white, good and evil comparisons difficult if not impossible.

The Civil War was prompted by the South’s fear that slavery would be abolished, not that the rights of states to levy tariffs or other such rights would be abrogated. Ironically, Lincoln began the war ready to compromise on the subject.

For instance, slavery being the major cause of the Civil War was hidden for years as the South’s “Lost Cause” myth about states’ rights dominated history texts for decades. The myth was a cornerstone of the Jim Crow Laws that terrorized Southern blacks in the late 19th Century, preventing them from enjoying the most basic rights as Americans.

In fact, the racist myth continues to be actively supported while also being publicly hidden for political reasons by many today. But all it takes is reading the actual articles of secession passed by Southern legislatures when they rebelled against the U.S. Government in 1860 and 1861 to confirm that, yes, in the words of the leaders of the Southern states at the time, slavery was THE major and proximate cause of the Civil War.

More locally, the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was hidden when the rampant anti-immigrant and casual racism of the era moderated. This second iteration of the Klan (reestablished in 1920) was a popular and vigorous political movement here in the Midwest in general and throughout the Fox Valley in particular, bringing its opposition to and hate of immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and people of any color other than white right to our own doorsteps.

The Feb. 28, 1923 edition of our county newspaper, the Kendall County Record, reported that: “A Klan was organized in Sandwich last week when 75 of our neighboring townsmen allied themselves with the much criticized organization. The Sandwich Free Press prints the following creed of the Ku Klux Klan:

“The tenets of the Christian religion.

“White supremacy.

“Protection of our pure womanhood.

“Just laws and liberty.

“Closer relationship of pure Americanism.

“The upholding of the Constitution of these United States.

“The sovereignty of our State Rights.

“The separation of church and state.

“Freedom of speech and press.

“Closer relationship between capital and American labor.

“Preventing the cause of mob violence and lynchings.

“Preventing unwarranted strikes by foreign labor agitators.

“Prevention of fires and destruction of property by lawless elements.

“The limitation of foreign immigration.

“The much needed local reforms.

“Law and order.”

In a bit of local hidden history, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally of thousands of members just outside Yorkville here in Kendall Countym during which some 30 ‘novitiates’ were inducted into the terrorist organization.

The language of these declarations is always fascinating to read. Here, that one that particularly stands out is the one concerning lynching. Which doesn’t advocate preventing lynching itself, but the ‘cause’ of lynnchings. In other words, if we lynch somebody, they made us do it—the classic excuse of spousal abusers the world over—so these people must stop making us kill them.

The extent of the Klan’s popularity is truly astonishing by our modern 21st Century sensibilities. On June 4, 1924, the Record reported: “Members of the Ku Klux Klan from Aurora, Elgin, and Joliet staged a big picnic and demonstration at the big woods east of town [Yorkville] Friday. It was a perfect day for the outing and several thousand visitors took advantage of the day to visit Yorkville, the beauty spot of the Fox, and take part in the events of the organization. During the day there was a steady influx of cars and people, basket dinner, viewing the scenery along the river, and attending the ball game. In the evening, the Yorkville band gave a concert for the visitors which was much enjoyed and the members of the Klan expressed their appreciation.

“As darkness fell a large fiery cross was displayed on a prominent hill south of the ball park and several speeches were made by Klan enthusiasts. The weird light of the cross, reflecting on the strange costumes of the members of the order made an impression on the visitors never to be forgotten and the words delivered from the speakers’ stand left an indelible impression.

“Later in the evening the members of the Klan exemplified the work of initiation on some 30 novitiates, showing the visible work of the degrees to the large concourse in attendance. It was wonderfully effective and interesting.

“The crowds who visited Yorkville during the picnic were an asset to the good name of the Ku Klux Klan. They were pleasant people to meet and the conduct of the picnic was such that made friends.”

The Klan’s local popularity and its ‘good name’ were both committed to the hidden history rolls by our parents and grandparents who simply didn’t want to talk about it.

Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Hughes were among the Black families who farmed along Minkler Road south of Oswego–a bit of local hidden history.

In a more benign light, the formation of a fairly vigorous community of Black farming families just south of Oswego in the post-Civil War years was also hidden. Why these families, all comprised of former slaves, decided to settle in the Minkler-Reservation Road area after the war has unfortunately been lost to history. But settle they did, sending their children to the local one-room rural schools in the neighborhood and later into Oswego to high school, where they became the first Black graduates in Kendall County.

Numerous towns and geographical features in the Fox Valley are named after the region’s former Native American residents. The stories of what happened to those people is safely hidden behind the stories of the White settlers that arrived here in the 1820s and 1830s to pioneer the ‘empty’ prairies—which were anything but empty, peopled as they were by thousands of Potawatomi, Chippewa, Ottawa, Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo people. The Federal Government, using the threat of military force, coerced the tribes to move west of the Mississippi starting in 1836, journeys that rivaled in misery and wretchedness the infamous “Trail of Tears” of the Five Civilized Tribes, a disaster that has been successfully obscured by the tales of those early White settlers.

With right wing politicians ascendant in states across the nation is unfortunately coming more and more forceful efforts not to bring the nation’s hidden history to light, but rather to hide even more of it, seemingly in the name of some misguided version of patriotism.

As these efforts at virtually falsifying what we know about the past gather steam, arguments about whether history is being hidden, excluded, marginalized, obscured, or whatever seem more than a bit like rearranging the Lusitania’s deck chairs.

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Filed under Black history, Farming, Frustration, History, Illinois History, Kendall County, Local History, Military History, Native Americans, Newspapers, Oswego, Semi-Current Events

The Fox: River of not enough respect?

I’ve lived along or on the banks of the Fox River for most of the years since I was eight years old. And one of the things those of us who grew up on the river know is that it can quickly become dangerous, and therefore demands respect—especially during this time of year.

Far too many of those who live in the Fox River Valley and nearby areas take the Fox for granted. It’s “only the Fox,” I hear far too often. And while it is generally a fairly placid, shallow, well-behaved stream, it can quickly and often unexpectedly become a danger to the unwary.

When the settlers arrived, they knew the river posed its greatest danger during the spring ice breakup when heavy rains and melting ice created a raging torrent that bore no resemblance to what it was like the rest of the year. And they also knew that sudden storms at any time of the year could also turn the Fox into a dangerous antagonist.

The valley’s early residents called those floods “freshets.” Major 19th Century freshets were recorded in 1840, 1857, and 1868. It was the consensus of the old-timers that the 1857 event was by far the worst. Oswego resident J.H. Sutherland wrote in the Oswego Herald in 1907 that the February 1857 spring freshet was still clear in his mind: “When I arose next morning at about seven o’clock, lo! and behold, the river was a raging torrent. A lumber yard owned by a Mr. Rowley was floating downstream, and was all lost during the day; the bridge was washed away, a sawmill at the east end of the mill dam also floated downstream, the flour mill was seriously damaged, and the mill dam was washed out.”

Downtown Aurora during the Freshet of 1857 saw all sorts of things floating down the Fox River, including entire buildings, not to mention the town’s bridge.

Twenty years after the flood, the Rev. E.W. Hicks’ account of the flood in his 1877 history of Kendall County still rang with the fear the flood caused among the Fox Valley’s residents: “The spring of 1857 opened with the most destructive freshet ever known on Fox river, caused by a heavy rain on February 6th, which melted the snow and broke up the ice and set the entire winter’s crop free. All the bridges from Batavia to Ottawa were swept away, and the river was covered with boards, boxes, furniture, chickens, and debris of all kinds. At Oswego, Parker’s saw mill was taken at a loss of three thousand dollars, and Rowley & English’s lumber yard suffered a loss of one thousand dollars. At Millington half the village was flooded; water was waist deep on Vine street, in front of Watters’ store, two blocks from the river. The freshet extended throughout the country, and in other places many lives were lost. Houses were undermined and carried away while the inmates were still asleep, and they knew nothing of their danger until the hungry waters swallowed them up. Such another freshet has not been known in this country; yet each winter the materials for such another accumulates, and it is a striking exemplification of the goodness of the providence of God that these materials are dispersed gradually, and rarely allowed to go out with the terrible and fatal rush of 1857.”

Dwight Young snapped this photo in March 1913 from the west bank of the Fox River looking east towards Oswego as the river’s thick ice broke up. (Little White School Museum collection)

The Freshet of 1868, Fox Valley residents agreed, was close to, but did not surpass, the 1857 flood. Nevertheless, it did considerable damage here in Kendall County. According to the Kendall County Record’s March 12, 1868 edition: “The ‘breaking up’ of 1868 has been unusually severe and disastrous in the destruction of property. Last year our freshet began about the 12th or 13th of February and this year it took place on Friday and Saturday, the 6th and 7th of March. It commenced raining on Thursday afternoon and continued till Saturday night, carrying off the snow into the streams and raising them rapidly. We have heard that one of the piers of the new bridge at Oswego was badly damaged by the ice, and that travel over it was impeded for some time till the beams were shored up by blocks…Post’s bridge across the river opposite Plano was carried away, piers and all. The greatest loss, however, to our county is the destruction of the new bridge at Milford [Millington], which was only finished last summer at heavy cost. Three spans of this bridge were lost, and as it was built mostly by private subscription, the damage is severely felt.”

The river’s freshets were destructive, but most people knew enough to stay out of the river while they were happening. At least most did. Sometimes, however, people just didn’t pay attention and were in danger of paying with their lives. A good example of daring the river to do its worst—and luckily surviving—was recounted by silent film star William S. Hart.

Parker’s Gristmill at the west end of the dam just above downtown Oswego, with the miller’s house where William S. Hart’s family lived when his father worked at the mill about 1870. (Photo by Irvin Haines. Little White School Museum collection)

As Hart put it in the first two sentences of his 1926 autobiography, My Life East and West, “I was born in Newburgh, New York. My first recollection is of Oswego, Illinois.”

Hart’s father was the miller at the Parker & Sons gristmill on the west bank of the Fox just above Oswego. In the spring of 1870, the ice was just going out of the Fox River, with huge, thick floes of ice rushing down the stream and across Parker’s dam. At the sawmill across the river at the east end of the dam, the sawyers needed supplies from the Hart family at the gristmill. The supplies were loaded aboard a rickety rowboat and Nicholas, William’s father prepared to set off to deliver the supplies. Like kids anywhere, six year-old William and his sister begged to go along for the boat ride. Astonishingly, their parents agreed.

Popular silent cowboy movie start–and one-time Oswego resident–William S. Hart was featured on the cover of the June 1917 issue of Motion Picture Magazine.

Off the party went, the plan being for Hart’s father to row upstream along the west bank to Bullhead Bend—opposite today’s Violet Patch Park—before turning across the current to land at the sawmill on the east side of the river. As Nicholas battled the current and the ice floes battered the flimsy rowboat, the family dog—Ring—suddenly decided to swim out and join the fun. They managed to get dog hauled aboard, but by that time the boat was dangerously close to the dam. Had it gone over, the roller wave at the base of the dam would certainly have drowned all three Harts. But through a truly Herculean effort, Nicholas somehow managed to make the east bank, and get everyone ashore, although the boat was badly damaged in the process by the ice floes.

Then there was the March 1879 adventure of teenagers Etta McKinney and Hattie Mullen who went down to the flooded river by the Oswego bridge with friends and found a rowboat tied up along the bank. The two thought it would be great fun to float downstream, Etta promising she “knew how to make the boat go.” But once underway, Etta found she couldn’t control the boat in the flooded river and couldn’t get back to shore, either. Meanwhile their friends ran for help shouting the two girls had probably drowned by then. Etta managed to get close enough to shore that Hattie sensibly jumped out and waded ashore. But Etta couldn’t gather the courage to jump, and instead continued downstream, “industriously singing Sunday school hymns,” to keep up her courage, according to the newspaper account. Eventually adult help arrived, got the boat to shore, and rescued Etta. When she was finally safely ashore, and despite her lusty hymn singing, Eta (who was apparently what my dad used to call “a real pistol”) maintained she hadn’t been frightened a bit and that “it was the best boat ride she ever had.”

Not everyone was so lucky, though. A month later, young Ed Moore was swept over the Yorkville dam, bounced around badly on the river bottom in the roller wave and nearly drowned. In January 1880, George Wormley, a relative of the Wormleys who lived on the west side of the river, and his friend George Pollard were rowing their boat across the river just above Oswego when they struck a sandbar just below the Oswego dam, overturning the boat and drowning Wormley.

In February 1965, a rapid breakup on the Fox created an ice dam at the Oswego bridge that backed water up all the way to Montgomery and left these giant chunks of ice littering the bank along Ill. Route 25 at Boulder Hill. (Photo by Bev Skaggs. Little White School Museum collection)

In April 1896, ten year-old Willie Stein fell in the flooded river at Montgomery while fishing and drowned, and in June 1908 Israel Blume and Louis Spink drowned at Yorkville when their rowboat went over the dam and they were caught in the roller wave at the dam’s base.

In most of the cases of people drowning in the river, in the 19th and 20th centuries, and right up to the present century, the deaths can be attributed to people being unacquainted with the river and not taking the stream, especially when flooded, seriously. After all, it’s only the familiar old Fox.

Those of us who grew up on the river know some of its secrets: Where the occasional deep holes are, places where the currents can play havoc with boats and canoes, and where dangerous rocks and bars endanger those using the river. But for the occasional canoeist, kayaker, or angler the Fox can present problems that can sometimes turn dangerous—or even fatal.

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Out with the old President; in with the new…

President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

Joe Biden has just taken the oath of office, finally assuring the peaceful transfer of power to the 46th President of the United States.

Usually, this is a time for celebration; in 2021, it’s a time for considerable relief. Since the election in November, the former occupant of the White House, Donald Trump, refused to admit he’d lost. Further, he continually inflamed his supporters, assisted by those who have enabled his extraordinarily bad administration, to the point that they attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in an attempt to overturn the election and detain and execute members of Congress and the Vice President of the United States.

Trump leaves the White House already judged the worst President by virtually all presidential historians. In addition, history is unlikely to be kind to him as a person, much less as a politician. About the only good thing, historically speaking, about the Trump years will be that it will provide historians with years of work trying to determine exactly what happened and why. That won’t be as easy as it should since Trump was as contemptuous about obeying the Presidential Records Act of 1978 as he was the rest of the nation’s laws he had solemnly sworn to uphold.

At this point, it’s hard to determine exactly how destructive to the nation Trump’s Presidency has been; that will take some study and perspective and months, if not years, of investigation. But it’s not to early to judge his administration as a failure on its own terms. Here’s a great rundown of how Trump failed to meet his own stated goals–whether he ever meant to is obviously a topic for another time:

http://www.honestgraft.com/2021/01/in-end-trump-presidency-was-failure-on.html

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Filed under Frustration, Government, History, Law, People in History, Semi-Current Events

Pre-Civil War Illinois was an unfriendly place for people of color…

The treatment of Black Americans is once again big news as much of the nation has apparently decided they’re dissatisfied with how law enforcement treats people of color.

The senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of a veteran Minneapolis police officer, recorded on video by a young bystander has led to weeks of demonstrations, some initial violence, and quite a bit of introspection. The latest twist in the on-going story is the announced aim by the Minneapolis City Council to disband and completely reconfigure the city’s law enforcement agency in an effort to rid police ranks of those who can’t be trusted to wield authority.

That seems like a drastic situation, but it’s far from unprecedented. Camden, NJ successfully did the same thing a few years ago, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in crime. And Kalamazoo, Michigan essentially did the same by disbanding their police and fire departments and then reconstituting them as a single public safety department, reportedly with good results.

I wonder if those who won the Civil War—which more accurately ought to be called the War Against Treason in Defense of Slavery—thought we’d still be fighting the battle to assure equal treatment under the law for people of color more than a century and a half after Robert Lee surrendered to Gen. U.S. Grant in 1865 to end the war.

The struggle to end slavery had been on-going for many years before the Civil War began. After the nation’s founding following the Revolutionary War, northern states gradually outlawed or otherwise discouraged slavery. Anti-slavery societies were established to fight the institution all over the North. Abolitionists fought against a continual campaign by Southern states to protect and expand slavery into new territories as the nation expanded to the west. Part of that fight was to encourage slaves to escape their masters and head north, assisted by members of the Underground Railway—a network of anti-slavery advocates who hid, supported, and helped enslaved persons flee.

1826 Slave sale Kaskaskia

A Kaskaskia, Illinois newspaper carried these two advertisements in December 1826, clearly illustrating that slavery definitely existed in the state.

We’ve been led to believe that during the pre-Civil War era, if escaped slaves could just get north of the Ohio River or east of the Mississippi and into states like Ohio or Illinois, they were pretty much home free. But that’s far from the truth.

Granted, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were “free” states, but that didn’t mean that Blacks were welcomed—or even tolerated. In fact, racism and anti-slave sentiment were strong partners during that era, especially here in Illinois where a pro-slavery state constitution was nearly approved in the 1820s.

Actually, from the Black Codes of the early 19th Century to the largely unwritten “Sundown Laws” of the 20th Century, the history of race relations in Illinois has always been fraught with conflicting views and actions.

In accord with the terms of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the new states formed from the old Northwest Territory—the region north and west of the Ohio River—were to be admitted to the Union as free, and not slave, states.

Illinois was formally admitted as a state of the Union in December 1818, the bicentennial of which we celebrated a couple years ago. But while slavery was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance, that didn’t result in the new state being slave-free.

First of all, Illinois’ French inhabitants, a colonial remnant from the era before 1765 when the British prevailed in the French and Indian War, were allowed to keep their slaves, which created a significant legal loophole right off the bat. Further, state law permitted indentured servitude, meaning slave owners could bring their chattel property into Illinois as long as the owners engaged in the legal fiction of classifying their slaves as indentured servants.

In 1818 when it became clear Congress was going to establish the State of Illinois, elections were held and the first General Assembly began meeting on October 4, the session lasting until March 31, 1819. During that first General Assembly, one of the major pieces of legislation passed was the state’s first Black Code, a remarkably restrictive piece of legislation. In fact, Illinois’ restrictions on people of color were some of the toughest in the nation, North or South. Under the new law, black residents of Illinois were prohibited from voting, testifying in court, or even bringing suit against whites. They were further prohibited from gathering in groups of three or more without risk of being jailed or flogged. Finally, they were prohibited from serving in the militia and so were denied their Second Amendment right to own or bear arms.

It was made mandatory for blacks living in Illinois to obtain and carry a Certificate of Freedom with them at all times. Otherwise, they were assumed to be escaped slaves by default and were liable for arrest.

The new Illinois constitution also allowed unlimited indentured servitude—which was slavery in all but name—at the salt mines in southern Illinois, one of the new state government’s main sources of revenue.

At that time, most of the state’s residents had arrived by emigrating from the South, and most of the early state officials were southerners who were former—and sometimes current—slave owners. As a result, almost immediately after statehood, pro-slavery forces began militating for a new state constitutional convention at which they planned to write and pass a pro-slavery constitution. In 1822, the statewide referendum to do just that failed by a fairly substantial margin, but in response and as a sop to the state’s large pro-slavery faction, a series of even more restrictive Black Codes were adopted.

1854 John & Mary Jones certs of freedom

John and Mary Jones’ certificates of freedom issued by Madison County in southern Illinois in 1854. Black Americans were required to present their certificate of freedom issued by their county of residence or face being sold at auction.

For instance, an 1829 addition to the Black Codes required all free Black Illinois residents to register at their county seat. They were also required to register a certificate of freedom from the state in which they had previously lived. Further, each free Black, no matter their age, was required to post a $1,000 bond to cover any future costs should they become indigent or break the law. In today’s dollars, that was requiring a $25,000 cash bond, something that very few Black families could afford for even one person, let alone every single family member. In practice, most blacks who emigrated to Illinois during that period usually found a friendly white resident who would post the bond for them—something that created nearly insurmountable debt.

1859 Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad routes through Livingston, LaSalle, and Kendall counties in the years before the Civil War, as illustrated in the 1914 history of Kendall County.

As a result of these restrictive laws, most of the Black slaves from south of the Ohio River who fled their owners lived in Illinois illegally, subject to arrest and flogging if caught. The frequent arrival of escapees created an atmosphere of fear in Black communities, especially in southern Illinois where slave catchers from Kentucky and Tennessee had no compunctions about kidnapping even legally free blacks and selling them south of the river. Selling someone down the river wasn’t just a saying back then; it was a real threat. Kidnapping and selling people of color was, in fact, a financially lucrative practice with which state officials either ignored or tacitly supported.

Illinois’ official antipathy towards Black residents resulted in a large and active group of Underground Railroad supporters, who worked to hustle escaped slaves north to Canada where the government was far more welcoming.

It was under these restrictive, racist laws that Kendall County had its first, and last, slave auction. On Christmas Eve, 1844, Mr. McLaughlin, a prominent resident of Bureau County, was on his way to Chicago with three bobsled loads of dressed pork. McLaughlin was driving one of the bobs, his hired man was driving the second, and an African-American was driving the third.

As they traveled northeast on the old Chicago to Ottawa Trail, they passed the farm of John Boyd. Boyd and his son-in-law, Matthew Throckmorton, were working outside and saw the procession pass on the snowy road. The pair, natives of Kentucky and strongly pro-slavery, immediately suspected the black man driving one of the bobsleds was an escaped slave. So they mounted their horses and pursued McLaughlin’s party, catching up to it just as it crossed Hollenback Creek.

Boyd and Throckmorton forced the party to stop, and Throckmorton, in the words of George M. Hollenback, “rushed up to the negro driver, and with a great show of authority said. ‘Come down off that, suh, I want you.’” Hollenback went on to explain, “Throckmorton was a native of Kentucky, and had been a slave driver in his native state, and used to considerable extent, the southern dialect in ordinary conversation.”

Boyd ordered Throckmorton to tie both the black driver and McLaughlin up, but McLaughlin replied that he was a free man and would not stand to be detained, indicating that both he and his hired man would fight for their rights. George Hollenback, who had arrived at the scene by that time with several family members, including his son, George M. Hollenback, vouched for McLaughlin, who he knew, and ordered Boyd and Throckmorton to leave him alone. In the face of this defense, the two former Kentuckians decided to leave well enough alone, and told McLaughlin to go on his way, which he did, probably glad not to have had to use violence to free himself.

The Black man, however, was not so lucky. He could not produce his certificate of freedom (in fact, it’s likely he really was a traveler on the Underground Railroad, heading to Chicago and points north), so Boyd and Throckmorton headed to Newark to find the justice of the peace there, George B. Hollenback (nephew of McLaughlin’s defender, George Hollenback—that area was rife with Hollenbacks at the time). The two former Kentuckians demanded that Justice of the Peace Hollenback take charge of their prisoner, but he refused, claiming ignorance of the relevant law, and instead told the two men to take the man to Kendall County Sheriff James S. Cornell at Yorkville.

Boyd and Throckmorton took their prisoner to the county seat at Yorkville, where Sheriff James Cornell confined him with the intent to sell him to the highest bidder to defray the costs of boarding him.

At the time, abolitionists were considered by many to be far left extremists. While many Illinoisans disliked slavery, most opposition was based more on economic issues arising from the large pool of slave labor in the Southern states. On the other hand, many of the county’s settlers prior to 1844 had come from Northern states, including Vermont, Massachusetts, and, especially, New York. Their views of the evils of slavery put them at odds with settlers, like Boyd and Throckmorton, who had emigrated from Southern states.

1841 KC Courthouse

The 1844 Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville, photographed shortly before it was demolished. The ‘new’ courthouse, built in 1864, can be seen in the left background.

The ensuing auction of the unlucky Black man took place on the steps of the original county courthouse, which stood a couple blocks from the present Historic Courthouse in Yorkville. A large crowd gathered, and from various accounts it appeared as if the members of the Kendall County Anti-Slavery Society were well represented. Pro-slavery residents, if they attended at all, were apparently intimidated by the large number of anti-slavery members of the crowd. In the end, the only bidder was Dr. Townsend Seeley, a prominent member of the Anti-Slavery Society (and an undercover member of the Kendall County Underground Railway), who won with a bid of $3. Under terms of the state’s Black Codes, Seeley could put the newly purchased Black man to work to work off the cost of his purchase. Since Illinois was such a hostile place for Black Americans, Seeley came up with an innovative way for the man to work off his debt and escape at the same time.

As Kendall County’s first historian, the Rev. Edmund W. Hicks, put it, since Seeley “could put him at any work, he decided to set him traveling toward liberty. The dark man was willing, and biding good-bye to his new acquaintances at the capital of Kendall county, he set out on a successful trip to Canada.”

As if the existing Black Codes weren’t bad enough, the 1853 Black Exclusion Act, sponsored by John A. Logan, later a Civil War general and creator of Memorial Day, was even more draconian and unfair.

So escaping to Illinois created a precarious existence for runaway slaves, but one many enslaved people were willing to chance to gain their freedom. And things didn’t significantly change until the later years of the Civil War.

1864 Repeal Black Codes

Prominent African-American John Jones (see his freedom certificate above) made this plea to repeal Illinois’ Black Codes in 1864. The General Assembly agreed to repeal in 1865 to encourage Black enlistment in the Union Army.

As the war dragged on, more troops were needed, and eventually the entreaties of prominent northern Blacks and anti-slavery whites persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to authorize enlistment of several regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Illinois Governor Richard Yates enthusiastically jumped at the chance to enlist a Black regiment from Illinois, but recruitment was slow as Black Illinoisans pointed out the onerous and unfair restrictions on their freedoms represented by the state’s Black Codes.

In partial response, and bowing to the reality that Black Illinoisans were indeed being armed by the hundreds to fight against southern sedition, the General Assembly repealed the Black Codes early in 1865. But even then, Black residents were not granted the right to vote or most of the other civil rights white residents took for granted. Those were finally won thanks to the passage of the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, as well as, two decades later, the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 1885.

Even so, Yates was able to use promises of future civil rights, as well as monetary bounties to facilitate recruiting for Illinois’ Black infantry regiment, which was mustered into United States service as the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. The regiment fought through the later stages of the Civil War, acquitting itself well. It was severely mauled during the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia, suffering many killed and wounded. Among the wounded was Pvt. Nathan Hughes, who would recover only to get wounded one more time before moving to Kendall County after the war to farm along Minkler Road. Hughes and his 29th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment comrade Thomas Jefferson, are buried in the Oswego Township Cemetery, along with Robert Ridley Smith, a veteran of the 66th U.S. Colored Infantry and Tony Burnett who served as a cook with the 4th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.

Given the roadblocks thrown up in front of them, it is remarkable that so many Black Illinois residents tenaciously fought for the right to honorably serve their nation and their state during the country’s time of such great need.

 

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