By: Jae Jones
The Crenshaw House, which was formerly known as the Crenshaw Mansion, Hickory Hill in Gallatin, Illinois. Many people also referred to it as the Old Slave House. The National Park Service named the mansion in 2004 as a “station” Reverse Underground Railroad to acknowledge the owner’s, John Hart Crenshaw’s, practice of kidnapping free Blacks in Illinois and selling them in the southern slave states.
The house was used as a pit stop to house captured escaped slaves and kidnapped free black slaves before selling them to back to the southern slave states. The third floor of the home had 12 rooms. These rooms were believed to have been where Crenshaw kept the slaves chained in a jail. Crenshaw was believed to be the master mind behind the capturing of these Blacks, because there was no way he could not have known the Blacks were being chained and housed on his property, although he owned several acres of land. Crenshaw was well-known and a very wealthy man during his time. Illinois was a free state, and no one was allowed to have slaves. However, there was an exception to Crenshaw because of his business in salt. The law permitted the use of slaves at the salt works since the labor was so arduous that no free men could be found to do it.
Crenshaw was indicted in 1820 for operating the slave jail, and again in 1842 but not all information about his indictments are known. The case’s victims, Maria Adams and her seven or eight children, ended up as slaves in Texas. In 1828, Crenshaw took Frank Granger and 15 others downriver to Tipton Co., Tennessee, and sold them as slaves. Crenshaw also kidnapped Lucinda and her children in 1828, who were later ended up in Barren Co., Kentucky. Letters identifying Crenshaw’s role back both cases. Crenshaw also kidnapped Peter White and three others in the 1840s. They were sold into slavery in Arkansas, but later rescued. Stories of strange noises upstairs coming from victims, date to 1851. Despite accounts that the rooms were slave quarters, Crenshaw family stories indicate a distinction between the plantation’s household servants and field hands, and the victims of Crenshaw’s criminal activities. It was believed that the fates of the slaves and those who were forced into labor was sometimes deadly. The mansion was believed to be haunted by the spirits of those who suffered there.