Early Settlers

(History of Knox County, Illinois by Albert Perry, Vol. I, pgs 761-764, submitted by Janine Crandell)


Among the first of the negro people coming to Knox county before the civil war were Harry Van Allen and Susan Van Allen, his wife. They came some time about the year 1840. They were free people and if they were ever slaves, the writer never knew it. Being the only colored people in Galesburg at that time, they were very prominent. Mrs. Van Allen was a member of the old First church. Mr. Van Allen died some time in the fifties.
     Two children were born to them, Mary and Owen Van Allen. Owen Van Allen became a barber, following the trade of his father. He is now living in the west. Mary died some years ago.
     Some years after the death of her husband, Mrs. Van Allen was married to Mr. Thomas Richardson, being his second wife. Thomas Richardson was also among the early colored people of Galesburg. He and his first wife, were about the second arrivals in Galesburg of the colored people. Mr. Richardson became a prominent and useful citizen of Knox county. His home was on the corner of West and Ferris streets where the Galesburg Electric Light and Power company's plant now stands. The property passed out of the hands of the Richardsons a few years ago. Mr. Richardson was well known as a good farmer and a very capable teamster. He had eight children, four sons and four daughters and all grew to manhood and womanhood. The boys were Tilford, Samuel, Benjamin and Richard; the daughters, Angelina, Janet, Clarissa, and Prodine. Farming was the principal occupation of the sons. They were well known in the city and county for years. Samuel owned property in the northwest corner of section nine, Galesburg township. As far as known, all of the first family of children are dead. Some of the grandchildren are living. Alfred Richardson still resides in this city. He has been a trusted night watchman of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad company for many years, and his devotion to duty has given him an enviable reputation. It is said of him that he is known to the tramps who swarm in this part of the state as a man who permits no lounging about the company's buildings or yard. He has served several terms on the police force of the city with equal credit.
     The Searles family was one of the largest of the early colored families. The old gentleman, Mr. Francis Searles, was born in Steward county, Georgia, March 8, 1772. He was a white man. His wife, Mrs. Polly Searles, was born in the same county and state and was a colored woman. They left their native state in the year 1847 and came to Galesburg where they made their home until he died, in 1875. For a time they lived on South Chambers street. He bought the old Chappell farm situated one mile northwest of Galesburg, where he was living at the time of his death. His wife followed him a few years after. Their family consisted of three sons and six daughters and they all reached mature ages, and they stood well among their people. James Matteson Searles, the oldest son, was an expert in well-digging and laying sewer. His son George W. Searles was a graduate of Knox college. John Adams Searles, the youngest son, moved to Kansas and settled upon a farm belonging to one of his sisters, where he died last year. The other brother died in 1880. The daughters were Mary Ann, Jane Gensey, Betsey, Sarah, Charlotte and Martha. Four of the daughters are still living and are well along in years. Mary Ann lives on North Henderson street and her name is Richardson. She is the mother of Albert Richardson above spoken of. Charlotte lives at 473 South Chambers street where she has resided since the death of her parents. She was injured in a railroad accident some forty years ago, by which she lost a leg and an arm. She follows the trade of dressmaker and earns her living thereby. The older sister runs a nine hundred acre farm in Kansas. She is a widow. The youngest sister, Martha, lives in Chicago. The mother was a liberated slave before the war and the children were all free-born.
     Rev. Levi Henderson was the first negro minister of Galesburg. He came in an early day and his home was about No. 423 West Tompkins street. Rev. Henderson built the first colored church in Galesburg, known as Allen Chapel on East Tompkins street. Rev. Henderson was a very devout man. The writer of this article, at that time a runaway slave boy, had the pleasure of living with him in July, 1863. He died in the '70s and his wife followed him a few years later.
     Rev. McGill and his wife, Rachel, were a very venerable couple. Mr. McGill was one of the early pastors of Allen chapel. He was a retired minister of the denomination. He was the father of seven children, two sons and five daughters. One of the daughters is living in Iowa. His son, Isaiah McGill, was well known in Galesburg for many years. He followed the trade of brick mason and plasterer. His son, Hiram McGill, is now living in this city and follows the trade of his father Isaiah.
     Many families came from the south during and after the war, which increased the colored population of Galesburg and Knox county very materially. Aaron Welcome and his wife, Sarah, came in 1862. He was a farmer and also followed the carpenter's trade. In 1863 he, with William Webster, John Davis and several others, enlisted in the Union army of the war of the rebellion. There also came the following between 1862 and 1875: George Fletcher, Thomas Roads and wife, Paul Fletcher and wife, Abraham Murray and wife, Perry Cook and wife, Edward Washington and wife, William Stewart, William Laport, Peter Lawsey, William Elsey and brother, George Owens and wife, John Brown and wife, George Solomon, John Hopkins and wife, Elijah Slaughter and wife, John A. Logan, James Lyons and wife, Moses Jenkins and wife, James Johnson and wife, Andrew Anderson and wife, Thomas Stevens and wife, Elias Fletcher and wife, Jefferson Turner and wife, James McGruder and wife and Dennis Fletcher and wife. Several sons of Andrew Anderson are still living in Galesburg and Charles McGruder, son of James McGruder, is now the janitor of Central Primary school building.
     The Gash family constitutes quite a large circle. They came soon after the close of the war. They were Jefferson Gash, Anderson Gash, William Gash, George Gash, Harrison (Tip) Gash, Sarah Gash, Mrs. Craig, Mrs. Waters, Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Williams and George, her husband, and Mrs. Hildridge, being the brothers and sisters of the Gash family.
     Among those who came to Galesburg about this time were William Stewart and wife, Levi Johnson and wife (the wife being a sister of the Gashes), Isaac Green and wife, Mrs. Melissa Alexander (later Mrs. Warren, who became a successful nurse), Jesse Hazel and wife, Henry Will and wife and William Davis. Isaac Green died December 11, 1911, at the age of 76 years. He raised a large family. Jesse Hazel was a soldier in the war of the rebellion, was taken prisoner and confined in Libby prison for nine months. He is still a conspicuous figure on our streets. William Davis was also a soldier and a capable plasterer and mason.
     Most of the above persons spent their lives in Galesburg and helped to develop the resources of the city and county in their respective vocations and trades. Though their pursuits were in the common walks of life, yet they were useful and filled a general demand, some as farmers and some as common laborers or mechanics. Most of these people came from Missouri, but Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana have each furnished quite a number. Richard Worthington, an old soldier, came from Kentucky. He was very well to do and was supposed to be worth $30,000 to $40,000. He died recently, leaving one son, Richard, Jr., and a fourth wife.
     The negroes of the south, as a rule, were better posted on the progress of the war than the poor white people, for the reason that some of their numbers were always with the better educated class of the white people. They were house servants and therefore heard the newspapers read and heard war matters talked over. The information thus acquired was communicated to the colored people on the farms at secret meetings held by the colored people. At these meetings the war situation was pretty carefully considered. The question of freedom was also much talked of. The result of every battle fought, as reported in the southern papers, was soon known to the colored people. They knew the details and whether the victory was favorable to the master or to the slave. The countenances of the white people were carefully observed and if an anxious expression was seen, the colored people knew the news was good for them and bad for their masters, and the reading aloud of the papers told the story. Besides this source of information there could always be found in every community some white man or men who sympathized with the slave, and these men helped to keep the slaves informed of the true conditions and really encouraged them in hoping for freedom as the final result of the war.
     All of the above named families became property owners, as well as a number of colored families not mentioned in this article. Out of a population of about twelve hundred colored people, there are about 165 families who own homes. Many of these homes are comfortable and compare favorably with the homes owned by the laboring classes of other races. As it is with the white men, the homes of the colored men improve as their conditions improve and the race generally develops as conditions grow better.
     There are two churches in the city of Galesburg belonging to the colored people, the African Methodist Episcopal church and the Second Baptist church. The total value of the two church properties is about $20,000.

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