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Black Grove Plantation

Page history last edited by edadams0197@aol.com 13 years, 5 months ago




Located in the northeast corner of Coles County, Illinois.  The land is now in Douglas County, Illinois.


Date Constructed/Founded



Associated Surnames

Matson, Corbin, Peyton 


Historical Notes

Black Grove Plantation is thought to be more of a farm than a plantation. General Robert Matson owned a farm in Fulton County, Kentucky on which he had ten slaves in 1850. He brought his slaves from Kentucky to work the land, Black Grove, in Illinois. He appointed one of the slaves, Anthony Bryant, as a foreman. Jane Bryant, Anthony’s wife, and her four children, had a problem with the housekeeper who threatened to tell Robert Matson to sell them down south.   


Associated Slave Workplaces

Matson Farm, Fulton Co., KY


Associated Free Persons

  • Robert Matson – owner
  • Mary Ann Ladore Corbin Matson – wife
  • Mildred Matson – daughter
  • Joseph Dean - worked for Matson
  • Anthony Bryant - free black 



Associated Enslaved Persons

  • Jane Bryant – wife of Anthony Bryant
  • Robert Noah Bryant - child of Anthony and Jane
  • Mary Jane Bryant - child of Jane and, possibly, Anthony
  • Mary Catherine - child of Jane
  • Sally Ann - child of Jane  
  • Son - child of Jane.  He was sent back to Kentucky earlier
  • Simeon Wilmott - brother of Jane




Research Leads and Plantation Records


  • Robert Matson, 1835, April 20, entered northwest quarter of Section 22, Township 15, Range 10, 
  • Gresham, John (Compiler), Historical and Biographical Record of Douglas County, Illinois
  • Logansport, IL: Wilson, Hampshire and Company Press, June 1900, page 90-91.  
  • Sixth United States Federal Census, 1840, Bourbon, Kentucky; Roll: 104; Page: 306.

          Names of Heads of Families

          Robt Matson - Line 11

          (Not a resident in this state - owns the slaves attached)

          Free White Persons, Including Heads of Families

          Males - None

          Females - None



          Under 10 = 1

          10 & Under 24 = 1


          Under 10 = 4

          24 & Under 36 = 1

          Free Colored Persons  

          Males - None

          Females - None

  • Sixth United States Federal Census, 1840, Edgar, Illinois;

          Roll: 58; Page: 102.

          Names of Heads of Families

          Free White Persons, Including Heads of Families


          Under 5 = 1

          20 & Under 30 = 1

          40 & Under 50 = 1


          Under 5 = 1

          20 & Under 30 = 1


          Males - None

          Females - None

          Free Colored Persons 

          Males - None 

          Females - None  

  • Seventh United States Federal Census, 1850, Fulton, Kentucky;

          Schedule 2 - Slave Inhabitants

          Robert Matson - 10 Slaves

          Age     Gender     Race

          34        Male        Black

          33        Male        Black

          21        Male        Mulatto

          19        Male        Mulatto

          19        Female     Black

          17        Female     Black 

          14        Female     Black 

          12        Male        Black 

          11        Male        Black

           8         Male        Black



Miscellaneous Information

Robert Matson bought land in Coles County, Illinois and established a farm that he called Black Grove.  Matson worked the farm using slaves that he brought to Illinois from his plantation in Bourbon County, Kentucky.  Each year, he took them back to Bourbon County after the harvest to preserve their legal status as slaves.  This way they were not considered permanent residents of Illinois and could not be considered as free.  Matson appointed a free black man Anthony Bryant a foreman on the farm.                                                                                                          


Matson brought some Kentucky slaves to the farm in 1845.  Among them were Jane Bryant, wife of Anthony Bryant, and her children.  Anthony was free man.  His wife and the children were still slaves.  Jane was a slave when the children were born.  The children take on the condition of the mother.  This means that the children are also slaves. 


Jane was a bright complexioned mulatto woman of 40 years old.  Her daughters, Mary Catherine about 14 years old; Sally Ann about 12 years old, and Mary Jane, about 5 years old, were also bright complexioned mulattoes.  Her son, Robert Noah, about 3 years old, was dark.  According to a source that knew Jane, it was said that Jane had five children and that Matson had previously sent one child, believed to be a male child, back to Kentucky.  It was said that the Matsons kept Jane as a concubine in Kentucky as her mother had been before her.  Jane’s father was James Matson, a brother of Robert Matson.  One or more of Jane’s children probably had a white father.  One of Jane’s children had reddish hair and blue eyes. 


Mary Corbin was Matson’s housekeeper.  She was also Matson’s mistress having had a child by Matson in 1846.  Matson had a habit of visiting Kentucky a few times a year and leaving Mary Corbin in charge at Black Grove.  She had a terrible temper and in August of 1847 she got mad at the slaves and threatened that the children would be sold south.  The threat was to Jane Bryant.  Jane's brother, Simeon Willmot, another slave at Black Grove, heard the threat and told Jane.  The Bryants chose to fight back.  They felt they should be free and decided to resist being sent south since Illinois is a free state.  There was proof that blacks could live free in Illinois.  There was the Brushy Fork community that consisted of free black people of black, white, and Native American heritage.  It was located near Brushy Creek about ten miles southeast. 


The Bryants sought help from Gideon Madison “Matt” Ashmore who owned a tavern in Independence, Illinois.  Independence is known today as Oakland, Illinois.  Matt was born in Tennessee and moved with his family to Illinois when he was 18 years old.  Matt’s family did not like slavery and it was one of the reasons they left Tennessee.  He had no problem helping the Bryant family.  He owned a tavern in the building known as the Columbian Building.  Matt kept Jane and her children in his tavern.  Matt enlisted the help of Dr. Hiram Rutherford to provide guidance and financial help.  Matt and Hiram were two of thirty-three people in the Coles County area known as supporters of abolition. 


Hiram Rutherford, the only northerner involved, was born in Pennsylvania.  His father and most of his family were anti-slavery.  Hiram’s brothers, John Rutherford and William Rutherford Jr., took part in the Underground Railroad.  Dr. Hiram Rutherford often traveled to the homes of his patients.  He had been to Black Grove Plantation and once the owner, Robert Matson, introduced him to Anthony Bryant. 


Matt and Hiram, later, took Jane and the children to the jail in Charleston, Illinois where it was thought they would be safe.  They bravely declared their abolitionist leanings with little regard to the social and legal consequences.  Matson petitioned the court that Jane and her children were his slaves in the State of Kentucky and by her request he brought them to Illinois on a temporary sojourn with the intention of returning to Kentucky and that Jane and her children by the laws of Kentucky are his slaves and owe him labor and service in the state of Kentucky for and during their natural lives, and that they refuse to return and they are now in the Coles County in the State of Illinois.  Jane and the children were declared runaway slaves according to the Runaway Law of the State of Illinois. 


Illnois law required free blacks to certify their free status with their county of residence.  Since Jane and her children were not certified, they were assumed to be fugitives from labor, and at Matson's request, the county sheriff arrested them.  Jane and her four children spent 58 days in jail in Charleston awaiting a ciruit court trial to determine if they were fugitives per Illinois Black laws.  Hiram Rutherford helped to pay for the legal defense for the Bryant’s.  Hiram tried to hire Abraham Lincoln to represent him.  Abraham Lincoln told Hiram that Matson talked with him about the trial but had not hired him.  Hiram left to find another lawyer.  Lincoln did contact Hiram about two hours later and offered to represent him but Hiram, who had not hired anyone else, refused to hire Lincoln.  


Matson accused Matt Ashmore of harboring slaves, Jane and her children, and sued Matt $500 for each slave, a total of $2500.  Matt accused Matson of having an improper relationship with Mary Corbin his housekeeper, who was also Matson’s mistress.  Corbin had a baby by Matson that was born in 1846.  Matson was arrested and convicted on the charge having lived in improper relations with Mary Corbin.  He was ordered to pay a court fine.  It is believed that Matson never paid this fine.     


Matt hired lawyer, Orlando B. Ficklin, to represent him.  Hiram hired Charles H. Constable.  Abraham Lincoln was hired to represent Matson.  Matson paid Lincoln with an I. O. U. and Lincoln gave the I. O. U. paper to his father before leaving for Washington, D. C.  Matson never made good on the I. O. U.  Lincoln was never paid for his services in the Bryant trial. 


When the circuit court convened on October 16, 1847 for a hearing on habeas corpus two state Supreme Court justices, William Gilman and William Wilson, who were circuit judges at the time

they heard the case.  This was unusual.  During the trial, Lincoln argued that the Bryants were in transit, they were going back to Kentucky and thus, rightfully, Matson's property.  Illinois Courts were bound to honor the Kentuckian's rights under the doctrine of interstate comity.  The judges ruled in favor of the Bryants and gave them their freedom.  Judge William Wilson cncluded that Matson had held the Bryants in a condition of slavery for over two years at Black Grove and, in doing so, he had manumitted them from service under the Illinois Constitution.  


Anthony Bryant was 70 years old in 1847 at the time of the trial.  He had been advised by Ashmore and Rutherford to not attend the trial.  He waited, wondering about the fate of his family, until the trial was over.  Following the trial, Anthony, Jane, and the children stayed around Independence.  They were later taken, probably by Ashmore, to Quincy, Illinois, a town on the Mississippi River.  There they boarded a boat which took them down river to New Orleans, Louisiana.  The sailed on a ship from New Orleans to Liberia.  Their passage paid by donations from Matt Ashmore, Hiram Rutherford, and others.    


Jane’s brother, Simeon Wilmot moved to Brushy Fork, the community of free blacks nearby, and stayed with the Edward Minnis family.  Isom Bryant, a black man who came from the same Kentucky county as Anthony Bryant, moved to Brushy Fork.  It is not known if Isom Bryant was related to Anthony Bryant.  Isom’s wife, Lucy Minnis, was the sister of Edward Minnis.  The Lewis James family and the Lucy Dupee family also lived in Brushy Fork. 


Lewis James was a free black who came to the area about 1839.  he and his wife, Nancy, had been slaves in Virginia about ten years earlier.  He was a slave of Benjamin Lewis in Brunwick County, Virginia.  Benjamin Lewis died about 1824.  Lewis James is listed on the 1830 Census by name.  He paid 300 plus dollars for his freedom and paid over 100 dollars for the freedom of his wife.  Lewis, his wife Nancy, Lucy Dupee, who might have been Lewis’ sister, Lucy’s daughter, Malissa Armstead and Malissa’s children, Lucy, John, Joseph and Emily all moved north to Illinois.    


Samuel S. Ball, a black barber and Baptist elder from Springfield, Illinois attended the annual meeting of the Colored Baptist Association in madison County, Illinois in August, 1847.  During the meeting, the associationb reviewed reports on the condition of the Republic of Liberia favorably and sent Ball to Liberia to review the conditions and report on its advantages as a place for Illinois blacks to relocate.  Relocation was considered as a possible solution to the racism and legal discrimination that Illinois blacks experienced.  Ball arrived in Liberia on May 16, 1848.  While there he encountered Anthony Bryant and his family.  Ball returned to America by August 24, 1848 and submitted his report.  He included his meeting with Anthony Bryant.  


He wrote in his report, "saw a family of six while in Monrovia, the Rev. Anthony Bryant, wife and four children, who were sent from the State of Illinois in 1847...They were truly in a deplorable situation."  Anthony Bryant had told Ball that his family came to Liberia from Coles County, Illinois.  They spent the little money they ahd on the passage from New Orleans.  They had to beg for food in Liberia.  Anthony asked Ball for money to help them return to America.  Ball was not able to help.  It is not known whether or not the Bryants ever returned to America.          


The courthouse in Charleston, Illinois, is near the campus of Eastern Illinois University.  It is in Coles County.  The area of Matson’s farm, originally located in Coles County, is now in Douglas County, Illinois.  Douglas County was named after Stephen A. Douglas, United States Senator from Illinois whose house is approximately three miles from my grandfather’s house in the Bronzeville area of Chicago, Illinois where I grew up.  I have visited the grounds of the Douglas house.  Douglas is buried there.  Douglas left the house and property to the black family that lived with him and took care of the place.  I went to school with some of the descendants of this family. 


I have visited the Coles County Courthouse and the visited the site of the Lincoln and Douglas debate that took place in Charleston.  I attended an reenactment of the Matson Trial that was presented in Oakland, Illinois inside the Columbian Building which once housed Gideon Madison “Matt” Ashmore’s tavern.  It is the same place where Matt kept Jane and her children before taking them to Charleston.  I look forward to attending the next reenactment of the trial.  I learned from Renee Henry that it the reenactment will be on the weekend of September 16, 17, and 18, 2010.  





  • Duff, John J., A. Lincoln: Prairie Lawyer, New York: Branhall House, 1960.  
  • Rowland, Dunbar, History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South, Volume I,

          Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1927.

  • Davis, William C., A Way Through The Wilderness: The Natchez Trace

          and the Civilization of the Southern Frontier,

          New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., 1995.

  • Angle, Paul M., editor, "The Recollections of William Pitt Kellogg",  

          Abraham Lincoln Quaterly, Volume III, Number 7, September 1945, p. 326.

  • Brooks, Noah, Abraham Lincoln: The Nation's Leader in the Great Struggle through which was

          Maintained the Existence of the United States,

          Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2007.

  • D. T. McIntyre Report from the Oakland Weekly Ledger, July 17, 1896,        

          reprinted in the Tuscola Review, September 7, 1922. 

  • Trials & Tribulations sponsored by the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.  Co-sponsored by:

          Independent Pioneer Village; Oakland Historical Foundation; Oakland Landmarks, Inc.,; City

          of Oakland; and Oakland Chamber of Commerce.  Program made possible in part by a grant

          from the Ruth and Vaughn Jaenike Access to the Arts Outreach Program of the College of Arts

          and Humanities, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois. (my thanks to Renee Henry).

  • Lincoln, Abraham, author, Daniel W. Stowell, editor, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, 4 Volume set: Legal Documents and Cases, supra note 22.01.18; In the matter of Jane, A woman of color 5 west.  L. J. 202.202-06, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007.
  • Ball, Samuel S., Liberia, The Condition and Prospects of the Republic: Made From Actual Observation, A Report Made to the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Colored Baptist Association,  Alton, Illinois: "Telegraph Office", 1848.  



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