Years ago my family took a trip to Illinois and along the way we saw advertisement announcing The Old Slave House just ahead. So we stopped and took a look. It is just over the Ohio River a few miles into Southern Illinois. It is a stately three-story-mansion, a plantation type house. We soon discovered it was the site of some of the cruelest treatment of slaves in all of America. It was originally the home of John Hart Crenshaw. He controlled the salt mines of Southern Illinois and had become very wealthy, eventually owning over 30,000 acres. Working the salt mines was extremely harsh and often led to an early death, so Crenshaw decided to use slave labor. Many slaves ran for freedom from the South through Southern Illinois, so Crenshaw advertised that his was a safe house for runaway slaves. Moreover he posted men at river crossings to intercept runways and lead them to his plantation. The strongest and healthiest he forced to work in the salt mines and the others he sold back to the South. We saw the rows of cages on the third floor, no bigger than 4’ by 6’ in which he kept as many as 6 slaves locked in each one. They were half starved, beaten and tortured into submission. A whipping post with shackles was still in place along with balls and chains (some children’s size). He kept a breeder male to service young female blacks, hoping to produce stronger healthier workers. Abraham Lincoln while campaigning once visited Crenshaw and later said that he did not understand how wrong the slave trade was until that visit. Lincoln said it was this that contributed much to his insistence that the slaves be freed.
Once while whipping a female slave, several male slaves became so angry, they broke loose and attacked Crenshaw. They hacked off one of his legs before they were subdued. While not a perfect example of the proverb: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him”, at least Crenshaw realized a bit of the measure with which he measured, and the rest is yet to come.