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Antislavery Activism on the Frontier: The Story of the English Prairie

A Road Scholar Program by Caroline M. Kisiel

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This is the forgotten story of the English Prairie settlement in early Illinois, and how they played an important role in keeping Illinois free from slavery. Morris Birkbeck and George Flower traveled from England in 1817 and settled in 1817/1818 in Edwards County, Illinois, at what is now the present-day town of Albion. The locale drew scores of English and American settlers at its height, forming one of the most important early statehood settlements. One of their main criteria for their new home as they traveled westward from the Atlantic seaboard was to settle in a location that was free from slavery. They appreciated the rolling prairie and rich agricultural possibilities of the Illinois territory, but as their settlement thrived, Birkbeck and Flower came to realize that “for all practical purposes, this part of the Territory was as much a slave-state as any of the states south of the Ohio River” (Flower, History of the English Settlement, 1882).

George Flower’s retrospective story of the English Prairie settlement, History of the English Settlement in Edwards County, Illinois, founded in 1817 and 1818, by Morris Birkbeck and George Flower (1882), chronicles the daily happenings of the community but also serves as a significant record of their observations of slave labor that was legally in practice at the salt mines near Shawneetown, as well as slaves he observed as “waiters in taverns, draymen, and used in all manner of work on the north side of the Ohio River.” Flower asserted: “A black man or a black woman was found in many families, in defiance of law, up to the confines of our Settlement, sixty miles north, and in one instance in it.”

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Carol McCartney.

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