The Old Slave House

Years ago when I was at the hairdresser’s, I read a magazine article about an old slave house in southern Illinois. The house, called Hickory Hill, is supposedly haunted. The article described the house and the purpose of the house. It also said nobody would spend the night in the third floor attic because of the paranormal activity.

Interior of a slave cabin

Interior of a slave cabin

Years later I met a man who said the Old Slave House was fascinating; that I should definitely visit there. The last owner’s wife disliked the house and never felt comfortable living there.

With good reason, there are slave shackles, a whipping post, and other remnants of slavery. Unfortunately, the house is closed to visitors because the state of Illinois owns it, and the state is in financial ruins. My best friend, who is black, scoffed, “Illinois is in a financial mess, and they go buy something like that.” However, the fact remains, the Old Slave House is part of Illinois history, and the people who suffered there should be remembered.

John Crenshaw owned Hickory Hill and used his slaves to mine salt on his property. Instead of housing the slaves in cabins, he incarcerated them on the third floor of his mansion, which resembles a jail. Not only did Crenshaw use his slaves to mine salt, but he impregnated the females with a stud slave so they would be worth more money. When I visited the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, this was common practice. The mistress of the plantation ordered impregnated female slaves. To make matters worse, Crenshaw also kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery.

There is justice to this story, however. When a slave saw Crenshaw beating another slave, he took an ax and struck Crenshaw’s leg.

Since the Old Slave House is closed to the public, you can still view it on YouTube. A young man filmed the inside as well as the grounds. It’s a bit preachy, but it’s worth viewing if you’re interested in American slavery and Illinois history.

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