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The town with the incongruous name

There’s no getting around it.

The town of Equality in Gallatin County, Illinois, was anything but in early Illinois history.

Because for years, there was slavery in one little corner of Illinois — the little corner near Equality.

And all because of that little white powder even The Legal Genealogist uses all too much of: salt.

Salt was enormously valuable in early America. Salt mines and works were leased out to private developers and, in early Illinois, revenues from the salt works were enough to pay for about a seventh of the state budget.

Work in the salt mines and salt works was also dirty, hard and downright dangerous — which meant few men would choose to do it in a new territory with lots of available land.

Enter slavery.

Yes, I know the Northwest Ordinance said there wouldn’t be slavery in the Northwest Territory or states created from it.1

And yes, I know the first Constitution of Illinois, adopted in 1818 as part of the process to become a state, also said there would be no slavery.2

But read the language of the first sections of Article VI of that Constitution for yourself:

1818 Constitution

The first part of Article VI does say there won’t be any slavery in the new state. But read the second section carefully. “No person bound to labor in any other state, shall be hired to labor in this state, except within the tract reserved for the salt works near Shawneetown…3

The salt works.

In other words, slaves could be brought in legally from outside of Illinois to work in the salt mines and salt works. And they were. By 1820, Gallatin County’s census officially recorded 239 slaves,4 and adding in Randolph County the officially tally was more than 500 slaves.5

And at that time, the Gallatin County salines at Equality, using over 1,000 slaves, produced nearly 300,000 bushels of salt.6 And after 1825, the “indentures” the salt works operators extracted from the workers lasted for decades.7

So there was a time when slavery was legal in Illinois.

And when there was inequality in Equality.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “blog post title,” The Legal Genealogist, posted date ( : accessed 10 Aug 2018).
  2. Constitution of the State of Illinois (Washington : E. De Krafft, 1818), 14-15; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 Aug 2018).
  3. Ibid., §2.
  4. Wikipedia (, “Equality, Illinois,” rev. 16 Mar 2018.
  5. Jacob W. Myers “History of the Gallatin County Salines,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (Oct 1921-Jan 1922): 337-349; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 Aug 2018).
  6. Bill Nunes, “Salt licks and slavery in Illinois,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, posted 17 Oct 2007 ( : accessed 10 Aug 2018).
  7. See Jon Musgrave, editor, “History of the Gallatin Salines,” ( : accessed 10 Aug 2018), note 41 (“Most of these contracts were for 20, 30 and 40 years. A number of the early ones in Gallatin County lasted 99 years. That is (not) voluntary servitude. That’s slavery.”).
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