Slavery In Illinois After The American Revolution

We recently discussed slavery in Illinois Country up to and after the French and Indian War in 1763, after which England controlled the territory. And as you already know, England would only control Illinois for little more than a decade because the American Revolution was right around the corner. And what happened to slavery after the American Revolution?

The United States formerly took control of Illinois and all nearby territories after the American Revolution. Interestingly, this was one of the first areas that outlawed slavery. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 created the Northwest Territory. It was enormous. It’s boundaries ran from the upper Mississippi River in the west to the Great Lakes in the north, to the Ohio River in the south. 

Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance said, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.”

In other words, slavery was outlawed — but there were plenty of loopholes that allowed the ownership of African slaves, both in the northwest after the Northwest Ordinance, and in the south after the Civil War. Perhaps worthy of noting is that we’re not entirely sure who wrote this article of the ordinance, although at least one person claimed credit.

For decades, there would be renewed efforts to reimplement slavery in the northwestern territories, including in Illinois. These were doomed to fail, but an “Indentured Servant” law allowed some limited forms of slavery when transporting a slave from one state or territory to another. 

Also worth noting is that southern states were on board with eliminating slavery in the northwest because it means that northwestern territories would have more difficulty competing economically.

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