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The Crenshaw House of Southern Illinois, better known as the “Old Slave House,” rests in Gallatin County and is the site of one of the most atrocious crimes against the freedom of Black people in the state. Although Illinois was a free state banning slavery, the owner of the Crenshaw House was permitted to own slaves via a loophole and secretly hoarded slaves for trade, kidnapped free Black people to enslave them, and became wealthy by way of his illegal dealings.

John Crenshaw leased a portion of his land to the state, as it housed a pair of salt mines. Salt was a far rarer commodity than it is today, and the state relied on Crenshaw’s production. Crenshaw became a wealthy man by way of this partnership, but the people he employed at the mines were slaves forced to do perform the backbreaking work. Because Crenshaw couldn’t find able-bodied free men to work at the mine, he was allowed to employ slaves and the states looked the other way.

Possibly to keep his enterprise robust, Crenshaw was rumored to have a hidden slave jail at the mansion, and it was also a stop on the so-called “Reverse Underground Railroad” – with Crenshaw capturing fugitive slaves and trading with southern slave owners illegally. Stories of cries coming from the mansion and other whispers of slaves being kept in attics began to swirl about.

Although Crenshaw faced a grand jury twice, he was never imprisoned for his crimes. He continued to sell slaves across the south in states far south as Texas.

Little Known Black History Fact: The Crenshaw House  was originally published on

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