Several freed slaves owned land in county

At the suggestion of Gale Red, I sat down one day and worked my way through the 1870 Federal Census of Fayette County, searching for men who may have been soldiers of the Confederacy.

Gale, a member of the Dixon Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, is heading up the effort in Illinois to compile a list of all known Confederate veterans buried in the state.

The results surprised me a little, because as I scanned the entries and identified families from Virginia, Tennessee, etc., all of the Confederate veterans known to us showed up in this census.

So did a man by the name of Moses Armistead. He lived with his family in "Vandalia Township, west of the Illinois Central," with a near neighbor being Jacob Ritter, whose home on the corner of Gallatin and South Remann streets stands today.

What caught my attention was not the fact that Moses, age 36 and born in Virginia, was black, but that in his household was Mary Chrisman, age 75 and born in Virginia, and 98-year-old James Chrisman, born North Carolina, which puts his birth year as 1772. Surely James and Mary were born into slavery.

Moses Armistead was a widower in 1870, and owned $1,000 in real estate. He died on March 25, 1874, at his residence in Vandalia, and his estate was probated in Fayette County. At the time of his death, his heirs were: children, Robinson, Parker, Alice, Otto and Willie; a wife, Melvina; and 7-month-old daughter, Cora. All were shown as mulatto.

In searching the earliest census records, we find certain families, such as State Treasurer Elijah Conway Berry, Gov. Duncan and Robert McLaughlin, all having slaves in their home. In 1820, Jonathan Ward was the only "free colored" living in the city of Vandalia.

Cupid Smith ran one of the first ferries in operation across the Okaw (Kaskaskia) River in 1823. Cupid was born 1775-1777, and lived with his wife, son (Robert Cupid) and daughter near downtown Vandalia.

John Roye kept a dram shop in Lot 3 of Square 36, which was the block between Fifth and Sixth streets and Main and Gallatin streets. When he died in 1829, Roye was a fairly wealthy man, and many Vandalia gents owed money to the estate. Pheney Hudley, a local woman, was left a quarter section of land in the military district by John’s will.

John Roye came to Vandalia from Terre Haute, Ind., where he helped start the first school for former slaves and children of slaves. Why was John Roye in Vandalia? To help Jonathan Ward with the operation of the Underground Railroad.

Roye’s son, Edward, who was his heir when he died, later moved with the African Colonization Society to Liberia, became a Supreme Court judge and served as that nation’s seventh president.

Pheney Hudley lived with her husband, Stephen, and daughter near Gov. William L.D. Ewing in 1830. The governor’s home stood on the corner of Seventh and St. Clair streets, the current site of Mother of Dolors’ Parish Center.

Pheney Hudley has an interesting and sad tale. Brought to Bond County from Kentucky by the Houston family in the early 1820s, Pheney was ill when the Houstons found they did not like the Illinois climate and made plans to return to Kentucky.

She was left behind under the care of the White family, along with the children, Stephen Jr. and Charity. Pheney was a washerwoman and baked ginger cakes to buy the freedom of her husband, Stephen Sr., from his owner in Missouri.

While she recuperated from her illness, Robert McGoon and accomplices kidnapped Pheney and her children, with the plan of taking them south to sell them. This plan was carried out while folks were at church, and when the citizens learned of it, they took out after McGoon, securing the release of Pheney and her children, returning them to Bond County.

McGoon made a second attempt, and was successful in kidnapping Pheney’s 11-year old son, Stephen, who worked for a neighboring farmer. Stephen was sold into slavery, and was not heard of until the Civil War, when Bond County soldiers found him in Georgia and learned his story.

Moving forward to Vandalia in 1840, we find that Jonathan Ward has been joined by heads of families, Dennis Waller, Stephen Hudley, Dennis Latter, Barney Stewart, John McCalester and Archibald Harris, although Harris was a Cherokee Indian.

In September 1840, a total of 13 freed slaves of Martin Dawson of the Bell Aire estate in Martin, Albemarle Co., Va., were moved to Bear Grove Township, where land had been found for them by an agent of the estate. Each family was given 40 acres and $200.

Freed by the will of Dawson were George and Milley, both born in Virginia in 1795, who took the name of Myers; Tom and Dinah, who took the name Brown; Joe and Rebecca "Beck" Moore; Edward and his family, Hannah, Pete, Cary, Cann, Ciller and Jane, who took the name of Allen; and William Dawson, a single man.

What happened to Vandalia’s black population? Many died here and were buried in city cemeteries. Jonathan Ward, his wife, son-in-law, John Harris, and daughter, Emeline Ward Harris, have grave markers in the Old State Burial Ground.

Emeline Harris made Vandalia history by joining the Presbyterian Church. For many years, flowers from Emeline’s garden adorned the church altar on Sunday.

As we study the history and records of Vandalia and Fayette County over the past 190 years, it serves to show us that there is always more to learn.

Leave a Comment