Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Two Slaves in Jacksonville

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Two Slaves in Jacksonville

Article excerpt

THERE IS STILL A MISUNDERSTANDING in Jacksonville, Illinois about what took place in the Porter Clay House on West State Street more than 170 years ago. There is a local myth that this residence was a station on the Underground Railroad because two slaves, a brother and sister named Robert and Emily Logan, stayed there. Porter Clay and his wife Elizabeth brought these slaves with them when they moved from Kentucky to Jacksonville in 1836. Two years later, the Logans walked out of the Porter Clay House to escape being sent back to Kentucky and slavery. Trials followed in Jacksonville, Frankfort, Kentucky and Springfield, Illinois to determine whether Robert and Emily were still slaves or were now free individuals.

Two years after their marriage in 1830, Porter Clay and his second wife Elizabeth Logan Hardin purchased six acres of land in Jacksonville in her name from Judge Samuel D. Lockwood. Porter Clay, younger brother of the nationally known statesman Henry Clay, had lost his first wife, Sophia Grosh, in 1829.1 He had practiced law in Versailles, Kentucky and served as auditor of public accounts of the state for fourteen years. Then, following in the footsteps of his father, the Reverend John Clay, Porter Clay became a Baptist preacher and evangelist. Later he claimed that he was the first minister to preach a sermon in the English language west of the Mississippi.2

Elizabeths first husband, Martin D. Hardin, was also a lawyer and held several political offices in Kentucky. He was also elected to finish the two remaining years of the term of a U.S. Senator from Kentucky who had resigned this position.3 Martin died in 1823 at the age of forty-three leaving Elizabeth to raise their four children. Unlike most widows of her day, Elizabeth was able to make enough money on the estate to pay Martins debts totaling $50,000, buy land in Jacksonville and build the Porter Clay House.4

When Porter and Elizabeth Clay and the rest of the Hardin family arrived in Jacksonville, Elizabeth's son John J. Hardin had already lived there for five years and owned a house in the eastern part of the town. He was born in Frankfort, Kentucky and graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky. After studying law and being admitted to the bar in Kentucky, he began practicing law in Jacksonville in 1831 when he was twenty-one.5

Hardin and Abraham Lincoln were friends but also rivals for political leadership of the Whigs. On September 27, 1842, when Lincoln and James Shields met to fight a dual on an island in the Mississippi River near Alton, Hardin rushed there to stop the fight. Five days later, the wedding of his sister Martinette and Alexander McKee took place in Jacksonville. Hardin and his wife invited his distant cousin Mary Todd and his friend Abraham Lincoln to their house after the ceremony, but neither Mary nor Abe knew that the other one would be there. They had called off their engagement on New Year's Day in 1841 and neither one expected to see the other again. But when Mary and Abraham met in the Hardin home, they reconciled and were married about a month later on November 4,1842.6

When Porter Clay, Elizabeth and her children Lucy Jane, Charles and Martinette moved into their new home in 1836, two slaves came with them. Their surname Logan came from Elizabeth's father, the original owner of the slaves. Because women did not own property, Elizabeth's first husband Martin Hardin inherited these slaves when her father died. But when Martin died in 1823, Elizabeth became the temporary keeper of the Logans until she could give them to her younger son Charles when he reached the adult age of twenty-one. Emily lived inside the Porter Clay House while Robert stayed in a building located next to the west side of the house that contained his room, a laundry room and a room for storing wood. In later years this building was moved to south of the house and turned into a garage for the automobile owned by residents of the Porter Clay House. …

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