An impressive stone monument erected by a former slave and
dedicated to the white man who once owned him? It sounds like the
kind of racist mythology promulgated by white supremacist groups
that would have us believe slavery wasn't such an evil institution
after all and that African-Americans held in bondage actually loved
their masters, just as portrayed in those ludicrous Hollywood films
of decades past.
Strangely enough, however, such a monument really exists, and
it can be found in the tiny town of Otterville in Jersey County.
The story behind the striking stone structure comprises one of the
most poignant chapters in American history.
The saga begins in the 19th century with Dr. Silas Hamilton, a
native of Vermont, who abhorred slavery but rejected immediate
abolition in favor of gradual emancipation. Hamilton purchased a
plantation in Adams County, Miss., with the intention of running it
as "humanely" as possible. He naively believed that a plantation on
which slaves were treated with kindness and consideration would
serve as a model for other Southern plantations and thereby rid
slavery of some of its worst cruelties.
Of course Hamilton's experiment was a wretched failure.
Northern abolitionists denounced the notion of the "humane
treatment" of slaves as absurd, while Southern plantation owners
remained unmoved by the "kindness" that Hamilton showed his slaves.
Still, it was during this model plantation fiasco that Hamilton met
the person who would later immortalize his memory through the
While traveling through Virginia, Hamilton stayed at the
plantation of the Washington family and heard the heartbroken
crying of a slave child. He was deeply disturbed to learn that the
lad, named George, had been severely traumatized by the recent sale
of his mother to a slave buyer from the Deep South.
Hamilton offered to buy young George for $100, and the
plantation owner, fearing that the child might grieve himself to
death and therefore was a poor risk as property, readily agreed.
Although he now belonged to Hamilton, George kept the surname of
his former owner and would be known for the rest of his life as
Washington became yet another participant in Hamilton's doomed
model plantation scheme. When the doctor finally became convinced
that his plan was unworkable, he sold the plantation and freed his
28 slaves. Three of the former slaves elected to remain with
Hamilton, however; one of them was Washington.
This rather unusual company made its way to Illinois and
eventually settled in Jersey County, where Hamilton established a
medical practice. …