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Bill Thayer

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The Old
Slave House

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Wm. Jennings Bryan
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small two‑story rectangular wood frame house with a gabled pitched at about 45° with one chimney, and a wooden portico extending over both stories of the front. It is the Basil Silkwood House near Mulkeytown, Illinois.]

Simpson Studio

Basil Silkwood House, near Mulkeytown, Built 1830's.

 p32  Home of the Quadroon Girl

Among the many colorful stories of that hilly region of southern Illinois known as "Egypt," one of the most familiar is that of the Quadroon Girl. The house in which this girl spent most of her life still stands near Mulkeytown. The original log house was built more than a century ago, but about sixty years ago it was covered with clapboards and other improvements were made. Each midsummer, when hollyhocks bloom around this house, one hears of the Quadroon Girl once again. This touching story was finally put into print by J. G. Mulcaster, historical writer of Makanda, who gave all the details in an article in the October, 1935, issue of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.

It was on a Carolina plantation in the early years of the nineteenth century that the story of the Quadroon Girl begins. She was then a child. Her name was Priscilla. She and the other Negro children on the plantation enjoyed a happy existence, playing games among the cabins and around the big house. And when she grew tired of playing Priscilla found pleasure in admiring the hollyhocks which bloomed in profusion on her master's estate.

Then, when Priscilla was about nine years old, the master of the  p33 plantation became ill and died. All of the Negro children, as well as their parents, were saddened by his death. In due time the master's estate was sold at public auction. And this sale included the Negro slaves, among them Priscilla. She was in a group of older slaves who became the property of a wealthy Cherokee Indian. As the Indian returned home with his slaves, Priscilla carefully guarded something in the pocket of her apron. What she had in that pocket was a handful of hollyhock seeds from her late master's garden. The Indian finally arrived at his home in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.

Here Priscilla lived for the next few years, and, although in a strange mountain country and among strange people, she derived pleasure from the hollyhocks which the Indian had allowed her to grow. But in 1838 the government issued an order that the Cherokee tribe of Indians must move westward to Indian Territory.

Once more the Quadroon Girl had to give up her beloved hollyhocks. Along with hundreds of other Cherokees, the Indian who owned Priscilla journeyed westward over the mountains. He was not allowed to take any other property but his slaves. Finally they arrived at Jonesboro, near the southern tip of Illinois. As it was then early winter, makeshift quarters were provided until spring.

It was here that Priscilla was bought by a new master, a white man. But this purchase was a stroke of good luck for her. For her new master, who paid one thousand dollars for her, merely bought Priscilla to free her. This man was Basil Silkwood, who had come to Illinois from Pennsylvania, acquired land in Franklin County, near Mulkeytown, built himself a log house and set up a tavern in his dwelling, which in the early days was known as the Silkwood Tavern, or Half Way House, being situated halfway between Shawneetown and East St. Louis.

Basil Silkwood hated slavery. He did all he could to prevent its spread in Illinois in those early days. He was also a childless man. So he became the foster father of sixteen orphans. When these orphans grew to maturity and were married, he gave each forty acres of land. Among his charges was the Quadroon Girl. Although he gave Priscilla her freedom, she preferred to remain in the Silkwood household where she lived to be seventy years old.

During the summer months the visitor to this old home can see the hollyhocks originally planted by the Quadroon Girl — hollyhocks which reminded the woman of her carefree childhood days in the South. These hollyhocks are not of the usual variety seen in the North. They are a dwarf type and have small, red blooms. Not far from the house is the grave of the Quadroon Girl in the Silkwood lot of Reed Cemetery.

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Page updated: 2 Dec 17