This is a true story. It happened near Equality, Illinois in the year 1842. And the man behind this diabolical deed was named John Crenshaw.
John Crenshaw, a man known as the "Salt King of Southern Illinois," had a long history of involvement with kidnapping free blacks and shipping them back down South into slavery in what was known as a reverse Underground Railroad. His base of operations was what has become known today as the Old Slave House.
So, what became of this man who was not considered "much of a saint" by members of his own church? In 1848, he lost a leg when his slaves attacked him, allegedly because of a particularly brutal beating Crenshaw was dispensing to several female slaves at the time. In 1850, he moved his family into the nearby town of Equality and hired a German family to take over the operations at Hickory Hill. By all accounts, he became a pious man toward the end of his life and had left his life of crime behind. The house atop Hickory Hill still stands, although it is currently not open for admission. It was purchased by the State of Illinois in 2003 and because of funding woes, remains closed to the general public at this time. I was fortunate enough to be able to tour it in the late 1970’s, when it was still a popular attraction. I can still see the worn, wooden stalls where human beings were kept chained in a life of servitude. That image will never leave me.
This is the first in a series of blogs dealing with the local history and landmarks of my immediate area. Please let me know what you thought of it.