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The Crenshaw House, better known as the "Old Slave House"
Crenshaw House (also known as the Crenshaw Mansion, Hickory Hill or, most commonly, The Old Slave House) is a historic former residence and alleged haunted house located in Gallatin Countymarker, Illinoismarker. The house was constructed in the 1830's. It was the main residence of John Crenshaw, his wife,and their five children.

Early history

John Crenshaw and his wife, Francine.
Crenshaw carries a crutch because of his maimed leg.
and slave trader John Hart Crenshaw leased the state-owned salt works at the The Gallatin Salines were two saline spring along the Saline River near Equalitymarker that were important sources of salt since prehistory. Salt was vital to the early American frontier economy, both as a nutrient and as a means to preserve food. Illinois was a free state, and the Illinois State Constitution bans slavery. However, 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. As the lessee of the salt works, Crenshaw was therefore the only Illinois resident legally entitled to keep slaves, and Crenshaw became remarkably wealthy. At one point, Crenshaw's taxes amounted to one-seventh of the revenue of the entire state. Crenshaw owned thousands of acres of land, in addition to the 30,000 acres (120 km²) he leased from the state, and more than 700 slaves. [410922] In 1838, Crenshaw and his brother Abraham used this wealth to build the mansion on Hickory Hill, a few miles from the salt works near the town of Junctionmarker.

Abraham Lincoln’s Visit

In September of 1840, Abraham Lincoln, a state representative, was in Gallatin County for over a week attending debates in Shawneetown and Equality. The Crenshaw’s hosted a ball in honor of the debates. The ball was held on the second floor. The second floor of the house was designed to be easily converted into a ballroom because the hall and two of the rooms were made from moveable partitions particularly for such events.Mr. Lincoln along with other male guests spent the night in the Southeast bedroom of the Crenshaw House. The furniture in the room consisted of one bed and two chairs. Mr. Lincoln either slept on the bed, which was shorter than he was, or he could have spread out over the two chairs, or possibly slept on the floor.In 1840, before he left for his campaign Mr. Lincoln made a number of bipartisan social soirees in Springfield. It was at one of these parties that Mr. Lincoln met his future wife, Mary Todd.

Kidnapping and the Inhumane Treatment of the Slaves

Crenshaw was notorious for capturing free blacks and smuggling them to the South to be sold into slavery, as part of the “Reverse underground railroad”. Crenshaw was indicted for kidnapping in the 1820s and again in 1842, but never convicted. The house on Hickory Hill had a carriage door located on the North side that opened directly into the house, so that kidnapped slaves could be brought in and out of the house without being observed. The slaves were kept in the attic, just above the family's living quarters. The attic consisited of cells, the larger ones were about the size of a big bathroom, ususally eight to ten women and children shared the cell. The smaller cells had a wooden bunk bed and fit two slaves. Crenshaw bred the slaves because he found out that a pregant slave, or a slave woman with a child brought a high price in the slave states. It is said that at least 300 babies were produced from the efforts of one sire slave alone, called Uncle Bob Wilson. In 1848, Crenshaw lost a leg when his slaves attacked him, allegedly because of a particularly brutal beating Crenshaw was dispensing to several female slaves at the time.

Strange events and later years

The Old Slave House (1970s photo).
In 1850, Crenshaw and his family moved to the nearby town of Equality, and hired a German family to live in the house and operate the farm. By 1851, there were reports of strange sounds coming from the third floor. The house soon developed a reputation as haunted, perhaps based on stories of the suffering endured by Crenshaw's slaves in the attic. Crenshaw sold the house in 1864. Crenshaw died in 1871 and was buried in the Hickory Hill Cemetery. By 1913, the house was owned by the Sisk family. By the 1920's, tourists began visiting to see the slave prison on the third floor; people claimed to hear whispering, footsteps, and music being played. As many as 150 curious tourists, ghost hunters, and self-described exorcists have attempted to spend the night in the attic, but fled. One man allegedly died after spending the night in the attic. Finally, in 1978, David Rodgers, a reporter from a local TV station (WSIL-TV) stayed an entire night in the attic, despite "strange noises."

In 1996 the Sisk family closed the muesuem. In December of 2000 the Sisk family sold the house to the state of Illinois. It is currently closed to the public as the state determines its ultimate fate. Some people hope that it will reopen as a historical site under the ownership of the state.

References

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