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Excerpt from Oscar B. Hamilton, Ed., History of Jersey County Illinois, Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1919, pp. 434-447. There will be typographical errors.
At the time he located there in 1830, Dr. Silas Hamilton was the only physician in Jersey County. He had come here with the intention of retiring from active practice, with the exception of ministering to his immediate family and friends who had come with him but it was impossible for him to carry out his intention in this respect because of his nature, he was impelled to do his utmost to relieve the suffering about him, and the result was that he was called upon as a physician to attend all persons needing his services in English, Otter Creek, Mississippi, Elsah and Quarry townships. In the summer of 1834 there was a great amount of sickness throughout this territory, and his labors were excessive. Hon. Stephen V. White, in his address at Piasa, July 19, 1900, says:
“I remember Dr. Silas Hamilton coming to our fever-stricken home in the summer of 1834, and a few weeks or months afterwards I remember being told that the good doctor who had come to save our lives yielded up his own.”
The labors of Dr. Hamilton were so excessive that year that his health was broken, and, being conscious that his life was nearing its close, during his last sickness, on October 28, 1834, he made his last will and testament, in which he uses the following language:
“Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000.00 for the establishment of a primary school, viz., $2,000.00 to be appropriated to the erection of a building suitable for the school and a place of public worship, and $2,000.00 to constitute a fund for the support of a teacher, said house to be erected not to exceed one mile south of this my residence; nor one mile west; nor one mile north, nor a quarter of a mile east, but at or near the point called the Four Corners, and I desire my executors to oversee the erection of such a building.
“I desire that all the remainder of my estate and property be jointly and properly settled, according to the law, and I hereby constitute and appoint Thomas M. Hamilton and Gilbert Douglas, executors of this my last will and testament.”
This will was duly probated on December 4, 1834, in the county court of Greene County, by order of Jehu Brown, judge of probate. In 1835 the executors erected the building provided for in Dr. Hamilton’s will, and opened a school in the fall of that year. The fund of $2,000.00 was loaned, the rate of interest at that time being twelve per cent per annum, which furnished $240.00 per year income from the fund, It may seem that this was a heavy interest rate, but it should beremembered that at that time land could be entered at $1.25 per acre, so that an eighty acre tract would only cost $100.00, and interest on that sum at twelve per cent would not be excessive. Money was scarce, and wages were low, and therefore the executors were able to secure the besttalent in the country for the operation of the school. The first principal of the school was Prof. James Osgood, who taught several years, and gave this school a very advanced standing as an educational institution. He was followed by Professor Burnap . . .
The teachers who later conducted school throughout the county, were mostly educated at this institution, and until the establishment and building of the graded school at Jerseyville, and the beginning of the administration of Prof. Joshua Pike, this school was the most noted and advanced one in Jersey County. It was erected two years before the Monticello Seminary was established by Dr. Benjamin Godfrey, which has had such a wonderful career as a seminary for young ladies. By an act approved February 1, 1840, by the General Assembly of Illinois, the Hamilton Primary School was incorporated, with the trustees hereinbefore named, and at one time the boundaries of the Hamilton Primary School district were fixed at two miles north, west, south and east from the center of section 14, town 7, range 12, where the schoolhouse was located, making a district of four miles square. Section 7 of that act provides:
“Section 7: – The said school shall be open for all classes of people and denominations of Christians, and the profession of any particular religious faith shall not be necessary by those who became students. All persons, however, may be suspended or expelled from said school by the trustees thereof, whose habits are idle or vicious.”
“Section 8 : – Real estate owned by said corporation at one time shall not exceed 300 acres, nor shall this act be construed so as to prevent such school from receiving its just proportion of the township and fund, as other schools do, kind said trustees shall perform the ,same duties in regard to said school for the purpose of obtaining their proportion of said school fund as is, or may be required of trustees of in other townships.”
The trustees of the new corporation took charge of the new school in the summer of 1840, and it was conducted by them and their successors in the old stone schoolhouse until 1875, when the old house was removed and the present stone building was erected on the site thereof, which has been occupied for school purposes since that time. There was some difference of opinion among the residents of this district. in regard to the removal of the old stone schoolhouse, and the location of the new one, which led to litigation with reference thereto, and the Supreme Court, in the course of that litigation, held that the Hamilton Primary School was a private corporation, and could not levy and collect taxes upon the property in the district for its support. This led to the establishment of a common school district in the four mile square territory, formerly occupied by the Hamilton Primary School, and its purchase by the common school district of the new stone schoolhouse in the said district as the site and school for the new common school district established there, and since that time the directors of the common school district have had the charge and management of all schools within said district. The fund of $2,000.00 left by Dr. Silas Hamilton, is still held by the trustees of the Hamilton Primary School, and the income from that fund is annually appropriated for its benefit, and for the employment of teachers, and for the maintenance of the school in that district, and will so continue as long as schools are maintained therein. The present efficient principal of this school is Prof. Edwin S. Terry, who is a nephew of Jacob and William P. Terry, mentioned as students of the Hamilton Primary School, and it may be noted that both Jacob Terry and William P. Terry, his brother, had been former teachers in this school. They were sons of Isaac Terry, who settled on section 6 of Elsah Township, in 1834.
Roster Hamilton Primary School
The following is the roster for the Hamilton Primary School for the session of 1852-53, which was taught by Linus Humiston. Mr. Humiston died December 2, 1911, aged eighty-six years. The pupils on this roster are:
Wealthy Chandler (Titcomb), deceased; Henry Chandler, deceased; Edwin Chandler, Oscar B. Hamilton; Milton J. Hull; Quincy A. Hull, deceased; Phanetta A. Hull (Shaw) deceased., John B. Hamilton, deceased; Ann Ripson; William Linnell; Allen Vanausdall; Mary Randall, Sarah Ann Randall; Charles Fredinburg, deceased; Catharine Fredinburg; Reuben Curtis; Rowena L. Curtis (Giers); Ann E. Curtis (McAdams); Austin Rogers, deceased; David Doubt, deceased; John C. Doubt, deceased; Jefferson Doubt; Henry Noble, deceased; Levi Noble; Prosper Noble; Justice Noble; Henry Terry, deceased; Thomas J. Terry; Emma Terry (Howard) Mary Ann Waggoner; Sarah Turner (Hutchinson); Virgil Stilwell, Leander Stilwell; Mary Ann Beek (Walters), deceased; Henry Wright Beek, deceased; Mary Ann Piper; Samuel Piper; Emily Jane Maghee; Thornton Hughes, deceased: Thomas Hughes; Ezra Huges; Rebecca Hughes; Elizabeth Jane Montgomery; Hugh Montgomery; Josephine Horn; James P. Johnson. Isabel Evans; Emeline Evans; Emily L. Vanausdall (Grubb), deceased; William Rowden; Wayne Rowden; William Appear; Edward Gatewood; Nancy Hughes; Agnes Lofton; Frank Gates; Timothy Gates; Mary A. Sansom; William D. Curtis, deceased; Lucinda Hurd (Russell); George W. Foval; William Foval; Ellen Gooch; William D. Jacobs; Priscilla Mitchell; Angeline Harry; Henry Sisson, deceased, Louisa Noble; Malissa Rogers (McDow); Lucretia Pool; Viola Gatewood; John T. Curtis, deceased; Leander Curtis, deceased; Ambrose Swayze, deceased; Joseph A Beck; Stephen C. Beck, deceased; William McDow, deceased; William Terry, deceased; John W. Terry, deceased; Anslem Terry, deceased; Albert O. Terry, deceased; Mrs. Adeline Campbell (Lamb), deceased; William Chapman; William Hewitt; Mrs. Susan Sisson (Stephenson); Thomas William Spiking; Sarah Ann Poole; Mrs. Mary McDow (Noble), deceased; James R. Bell, deceased; George W. Sansom, deceased; Mary Jane Doubt; Margaret McDow, deceased; Mrs. Mary Jane Hughes (Waggoner), deceased; Loring Varnum; Samuel Sansom, deceased; Delia Lamb; John W. Brock, deceased; Josephine McDow; Mrs. Vesta V. Humiston (Sturtevant), deceased; Henry E. Dougherty, deceased; Mrs. Dyantha Curtis (Dougherty), deceased; Mrs. Adila Hull (Waggoner); Martha Kreglow; Alcena McDow; Israel C. Noble; Mrs. Mary Brown (Johnson), deceased; A. J. Dean: Jacob Dean; Mary Buffington; W. A. Buffington; Jane Nevis; John Morris; Jesse Morris; Mrs. Lucretia Brown (Ruckstuhl); Emily Rogers (Noble); Tubal C. Brock, deceased; Mary Ann Sansom; James Utt; William Utt; Desdemona Rogers, deceased; Franklin Sisson, deceased; Mrs. Louisa Sisson (Bell), deceased: Silas W. Rogers; Margaret Sansom; Maria Hurd; Caroline Hurd; Florilla Jane Hurd. Marv Jane Foval; Gustavus A. Hull, deceased; John Jacobs; William Roberts; Martha Gooch.
Reminiscences of Jersey County
Hon. Steven V. White, in his address at the Chautauqua in July, 1900, on Reminiscences of Jersey County from 1835 to 1850, referring to the Hamilton Primary School and its founder, says:
“In commenting on important events shaping the destiny of Jersey County, and its early settlers, I shall refer first to educational events, one of which occurred in this county, and the other occurred in the adjoining county of Madison, not half a dozen miles east of our line, the influence of which overlapped our county line, and shed a most benign influence upon it, I refer to the establishment of the Hamilton Primary School in Jersey County, and the Monticello Seminary at Godfrey, Ill. The Hamilton Primary School was unique in the history of new countries at that time. Dr. Silas Hamilton, a Vermonter by birth, at the mention of whose name my head shall always be bared and my eyes turn in profound reverence for the love and wisdom of that good man, Dr. Silas Hamilton, who had come to this county from the state of Mississippi, where he had amassed a fortune, demonstrating his love in this manner for this western country in that new period of its existence. He died in November, 1834. He left a will in which was this provision:
“‘Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relations in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000.00 for the establishment of a primary school, namely: $2,000.00 shall be appropriated for the erection of a building suitable for a school and for a place of public worship, and $2,000.00 to constitute a fund for the support of the teachers.’
“That house was built of limestone, quarried in the sight of my father’s cabin, and there were but few charges of powder exploded, I think, to which I did not listen, and it was the excitement of my life at that period, and in the year 1835, I was four years old. The school was established at what is now Otterville. It provided for the free tuition for the inhabitants of sixteen square miles, embracing all the children of residents coming within the square bounded by the lines running two miles north, two miles south, two miles east and two miles west of the school, It was my fortune to live within that charmed square. I, with very many others, who turned the school to the highest advantage, got the first footing by which to climb for all education. The $2,000.00 endowment fund was invested at twelve percent per annum, or $240.00 per year, and with that $240.00 per year the best talent in pedagogy at that time not only could be obtained, but was obtained, and while men were doubtless far short of the standards of the teachers of the present day, Osgood, Burnap, Guernsey and Wilcox, and later B. B. Hamilton, sent their impress down the ages, in moulding the minds of the children that were placed in their charge, and sent them down with every prediction of a better life. I should mention the name of Linus Humiston, were he dead, as the others are, but, as he is at present, looking at me, I spare his blushes.
“Personally I want to say, here in the presence of these old settlers, that I look upon the founding of the Hamilton Primary School of more importance in my own, life than any other incident of environment which has ever befallen me.”
He then proceeded with his reference to Monticello Seminary. In the above extracts, we have the mature and well considered opinion of Hon. S. V. (Deacon) White, who, for a generation, had been one of the leading characters of Wall Street, a staunch supporter of Henry Ward Beecher, Plymouth Church, of Brooklyn, who had been a member of Congress from New York, several times a multi-millionaire whose fame and reputation as a financier was recognized throughout the nation; whose wife, Eliza Chandler was his schoolmate in the old stone school-house. At the age of three score years and ten, he had journeyed from his home in Brooklyn, N. Y., to the Piasa Chautauqua Assembly on the day set apart in its regular program as Jersey County Day, to meet his old acquaintances, and boyhood friends and associates, and to deliver this address. He later had this address printed, and copies of it are on file in the State Historical Library, the Jersey County Historical Library and the Jerseyville City Library, and no additional comment is necessary to show his estimate of the importance and value of the founding of the Hamilton Primary School.
Among his first recollections as a child was the blasting of the stone for the construction of the old stone schoolhouse. His primary education was received there; he had gone into the world and had been an important actor in the affairs of the nation, and at the mature age of seventy years, he returned to the scene of his boyhood, and the associations of his youth to give expression to the statement that the founding of this school, in his estimation, was of more importance in his own life than any other incident of environment that had ever befallen him.
The George Washington Educational Fund
Arising from an incident of the settlement of Otter Creek Township by Dr. Hamilton, which shows another phase of his character, and develops more fully his purpose in the establishment of this settlement, was the founding of the George Washington Educational Fund.
In 1829, when Dr. Hamilton took his twenty-eight slaves from his Mississippi plantation to Cincinnati, Ohio, and manumitted them, three of those former slaves of his, did not leave him, and lie brought them with him to the Otter Creek Settlement, namely: Henry Walker, usually known as “Uncle” Harry, and his wife, Venus, whom lie brought for the purpose of taking care of his household and doing the necessary work about his plantation; and George Washington, a colored boy whom he had purchased in Virginia, when all infant, and taken to his plantation in Mississippi. It was his intention to educate George and scud him as a missionary to his own people in Liberia, but this plan was put off by the early death of Dr. Hamilton, and George was left among Hamilton’s relatives and old neighbors, to make his own way in the world.
He lived in this neighborhood all his life. During his boyhood, he attended the Hamilton Primary School established by Dr. Hamilton. When he came to mature years, he adopted the calling of a farmer. He was a careful, frugal, very religious and very conscientious, man. For the character of Dr. Silas Hamilton, his former master, he had a most profound respect and admiration, and with regard to the old stone schoolhouse, founded by him, he felt a similar interest. He had no relatives, never having married. He was recognized in this community as the equal of any and all other men therein, but he never sought to press his claims. He was modest in all his actions and demeanor, and wherever there was sickness or distress, George was to be found assisting in any way that he could, even in wintertime hauling wood. In cases of death, he acted as sexton, digging the grave, and performing the last obsequies, without charge, fee or reward. He was the janitor of the Baptist Church, of which he was a devout member, which worshipped in the stone schoolhouse. Like so many of his race, he was an excellent singer, and frequently led the singing in the church services, prayer meetings and the Sunday school. He was a teacher in the latter, and the writer, who was a member of his Sunday school class, is moved to say that he was one of the best Sunday school teachers under whose administrations he ever sat. George was a vice president of the Debating Society held in the old stone schoolhouse, and, on one occasion, when parties from Jerseyville were expected to address the society, the president being absent, George, as vice president, was called upon to preside, which was no uncommon occurrence in the society, but the parties from Jerseyville were very much surprised and felt humiliated at the necessity of addressing a club presided over by a colored man, and in the next week’s issue of one of the Jerseyville papers, there was a column article registering their protest and disgust at the proceeding. However, this had no influence upon the Otter Creek community, the home of George, or upon his character. He pursued the even tenor of his life as a farmer until his death in 1864, at which time he had accumulated considerable property. Dr. J. O. Hamilton attended him during his long final illness, as he had always done when he was sick, the two having attended the Old stone schoolhouse as boys together. Dr. Hamilton after having been graduated as a physician was practicing his profession at that time at Jerseyville.
The day before his death, George expressed his wishes as to what should be done with his property to Dr. Hamilton and John A. Campbell. He died on the next day, and, after his death, this verbal or non-cupative will of George was reduced to writing by Dr. J. 0. Hamilton and John A. Campbell, witnessed by Henry Johnson and William Keith, and filed in the probate court of Jersey County, April 21, 1864. John G. Dougherty was administrator to collect, and Dr. J. O. Hamilton was appointed the regular administrator of Geoge’s estate. The probate of this non-cupative will did not affect the real estate owned by the deceased. At the session of the legislature in 1865, Dr. J. O. Hamilton as administrator of George’s estate, secured the passage of the act of the General Assembly of the legislature, authorizing him to file a petition in the circuit court of Jersey County, alleging, among other things, that George Washington, a colored man without any heirs, had died, leaving this non-cupative will, which had been established in court, and had been proven in court, and provided therein that after the payment of his debts, and the expending of $1,500.00 for the erection of a monument to Dr. Silas Hamilton, his former master, at or near the old stone schoolhouse, that the residue of his estate should be used in the education of colored persons, or Americans of African descent, which were the terms of his will; that upon proof of these facts made in the circuit court, the court should be authorized to enter a decree for the sale of the real estate owned by the said George Washington, the proceeds of which, after paying the necessary expenses, together with the personal funds, should be used for the purpose mentioned in the non-cupative will; that the funds should be invested in United States government bonds, and held in trust for that purpose.
In November of that year, that land that belonged to George Washington was sold, and at the April term, 1866, the report of that sale and the expenses incident thereto, was reported to the court, leaving a balance of $3,371.53, as the net proceeds of the sale of the real estate; and this amount together with the personal estate, was invested in government bonds by Dr. Hamilton, and kept separately from his individual property. In 1875 at the October term, John Cisco, et al, through Hon. Theodore S. Chapman as solicitor, filed a bill in chancery in the circuit court of Jersey County, calling upon Dr. Hamilton for a report of the funds in his hands as trustee of the estate of George Washington, and, pending that suit, before its determination, Dr. J. O. Hamilton had a stroke of paralysis which unfitted him to attend to his business or any other, and, at his own request, he was relieved as trustee, and Linus Humiston, an old friend and teacher of George Washington, was appointed his successor. On October 25, 1875, Dr. J. O. Hamilton made a report, which was approved by the court, and made settlement with Linus Humiston, the new trustee, as his successor. From that time Dr. Hamilton had no connection whatever with the George Washington estate. Dr. Hamilton died in 1883, without having recovered from his paralytic disability. At the time of settlement with the new trustee, the balance of the net amount of the estate was $9,491.39. There being no provision in the non-cupative will as to how and where the funds should be used for the purposes mentioned in the will, at the April term, 1880, Linus Humiston, as trustee, made a report that the fund then amounted to $11,332.22, after the payment of all expenses to that time, and the erection of tile monument provided for in tile will to the memory of Dr. Silas Hamilton, and asked the court to give him authority to use $2,500.00 of the fund for the erection of a schoolbuilding in the city of Jerseyville. The employment and the inauguration of a school for the education of colored children, the reason being given that there were no colored people in the Otter Creek community, and that there were a number of colored families in Jerseyville. A decree was entered giving this authority, but later, before the adjournment of the term, a cross petition was filed by Theodore S. Chapman, as solicitor for P. S. Breeden, et al., asking the court to set aside the decree for the building of a schoolhouse at Jerseyville, and that the income of the George Washington fund should be used for the education of colored persons in institutions already established. At the September term of the circuit court, Judge Burr presiding, the original petition of Linus Humiston, as trustee, and the decree at the April term, were set aside and a decree entered as prayed for by the intervening petitioner, and a new decree entered with the intervening petition, providing for five trustees, consisting of the county superintendent of schools, the principal of the Jerseyville high school, George E. Warren, Leon Marcus E. Bagley, as trustees, they to appoint a treasurer who should be clerk of the board of trustees, and providing that when the income of the fund should amount to the sum of $1,075.00, that an examination should be had and students selected for a collegiate education after due examination as to their moral and educational qualifications, and sent to some established collegiate institution. These trustees, appointed Theodore S. Chapman as treasurer and clerk of the board, and Linus Humiston settled with and turned the fund over to Theodore S. Chapman as treasurer. Mr. Chapman acted as treasurer until 1890, when he resigned and was elected a member of the board of trustees. Daniel J. Murphy, then county clerk, was elected and acted as treasurer and clerk of the board until 1906, when he resigned, and Judge Charles S. White was elected his successor, and continues as the treasurer of the fund, and clerk of the board. After the election of Mr. Chapman as a member of the board, he was named as president of the board and acted in that capacity to the time of his death, December 14, 1914. In the meanwhile the original trustees had died. L. M. Cutting was succeeded by Judge A. M. Slaten as trustee, and George E. Warren by O. E. Hamilton, and Marcus E. Bagley by Dr. A. M. Cheney, and Henry L. Chapman, son of Theodore S. Chapman, succeeded his father, and is now president of the board. During the years of operation of this fund, many colored people have been assisted to a collegiate education, and have gone forth into the world as leaders of their own race, as teachers, lawyers and physicians, so that the fund has had a wide and extended influence on the uplifting and betterment of the colored people.
Local Landmark is National Treasure
The Otter Creek Historical Society (formerly Otterville Hamilton School Festival) had tours throughout February at Hamilton School in honor of Black History Month. The school has gained a lot ofinterest with tourists, who are transported by motor coach with the tour conducted by Eric Robertson. Robertson, secretary of the Alton Museum of History and Arts Board of Directors, has been giving tours of the school for the last four years.
Tourists travel to other destinations in the Jerseyville-Alton area and are informed on subjects such as the underground railroad and other historic places in the area.
The Otterville School was the first free and integrated school in the nation and also played a big part in the underground railroad. Tourists have the option to purchase the book “Noble Master, Noble Slave”, written by Jersey County resident Lila Flautt Melcher, who was born and raised in the county and attended school in Otterville. The book tells the story of Dr. Silas Hamilton and his slave George Washington and their loyalty toward one another as master and slave. It also has information about descendants of many of the families in the area.