Abolitionism in McDonough County, Illinois

McDonough County and Macomb have reputations as being settled by Southerners, primarily from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

Pro-slavery factions wanted the practice of slavery to continue; it was integral to the cotton industry which represented economic prosperity of the plantation owners in the south.  The northeast was complicit in the economics – the textile mills of the northeast relied on low priced cotton.

Supporters of Colonization proposed to free and transport former slaves to live in Africa (Liberia). Many of them were from border states like Kentucky. Some supported a slow transition; perhaps they feared the violent struggle of changing entrenched economics & politics.

Abolitionists worked for freedom without colonization; most assisted freedom seekers who were traveling north. Researchers have found positive correlations between settlements from the northeastern states, as well as areas with a larger percentage of non-US born citizens (e.g. European immigrant settlements).


The Blazer family (Section 8, Industry Township) and William “Uncle Billy” Allison and his sons George, Andrew and Harmon were conductors on Underground Railroad. Allisons’ ancestors were driven by religious persecution from their native Scotland to the north of Ireland.  The Allison family’s anti-slavery sentiments were long standing. In 1789, William Allison’s father James was a member of Supreme Executive Council at Philadelphia, where he cast his vote for abolition of slavery.  The Allisons were Presbyterians, and William Allison was a ruling elder and member of the church at North Strabane Township, Washington Co, PA under Dr. John McMillan.  William was also a trustee of Jefferson College abd supported the merger with Washington College.  (Rev. William J. Fraser, who was later Allison’s pastor in Illinois, was a graduate of the college in 1822.) (The Allison family crest: Truth Prevails)

William Allison settled on the southwest ½ of Section 24 of Chalmers Township in the spring of 1834. [Troublesome creek enters in Section 24 at a point about 3 miles south of Macomb]. A large barn on the Allison property, which was removed in 1936 for a more modern structure, was reported to have been the place of concealment for many of the unfortunate fugitives prior to the war between the states.  {Watson, 1976}

Rev. James M. Chase, who served the Presbyterian churches of Shiloh and Camp Creek, reportedly was a conductor; his brother Harvey F. Chase was a Democrat and anti-abolitionist but reportedly assisted a lost traveler in reaching James’ home. Their brother Rev. Moody Chase, who settled in Indiana, served as moderator of the Presbytery where Henry Ward Beecher served as stated clerk. and their uncles may have been connected to his father, Lyman Beecher.

Rev. Cyrus Riggs, another Presbyterian pastor, was indicted for harboring.  The county histories suggest a Mr. Thompson was also charged in these actions.

1844 – Liberty Party received 9 votes in McDonough county, 6 were believed to Blazers and Allisons.


1839 – Feb 16. The State Colonization Society was re-organized last week at Vandalia, with Gov. Carlin, President.  The assemblage on the occasion was addressed by Rev. W. K. Stewart of McDonough County, and Hon. John Hogan of Alton. (from Sangamo Journal)

Rev. William K. Stewart was pastor of Macomb’s First Presbyterian Church and had attended meeting of the Colonization Society in Kentucky in the 1820s.

Cyrus Walker emancipated 6 who emigrated to Liberia.

Anti-abolition (Pro-Slavery?):

David Chrisman (Christman) of Industry Township is identified in the county histories as pro-slavery. Although it can be difficult to recognize with our 21st Century perspective, at the time David lived in McDonough County, the law was on his side in his efforts to thwart the abolitionists and freedom seekers.

Bob Smithers, Capt. F. D. Lipe, and Tom Fountain were reported in an article in the Aug 16, 1861 issue of the Macomb Journal to have impersonated abolitionists and detained and transported 2 freedom seekers in exchange for a reward. (http://eagleandjournal.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/august-16-and-17-1861/)


“Willis Wayland of Carrol County, Kentucky, … in 1832 brought his family to settle in Sec. 34 of Chalmers Township…accompanied by the Neeces, the Canotes, the Champs, and McCormicks, all from the same area in Kentucky. The Willis Wayland family brought with them several Negro female servants who were soon given freedom. An instrument filed in 1836 before the County Commissioners court by Wesley Wayland stated he had given a certificate of freedom to a certain Negro woman brought from Kentucky in 1832 as a nurse to his invalid spouse.” — compiled by Wade E. Watson, 1976.


Blazer, D. N. (1923) The History of the Underground Railroad of McDonough County, Illinois. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society Vol. 15, No. 3/4 (Oct., 1922 – Jan., 1923), pp. 579-591. Online at http://www.jstor.org/stable/40186939


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