In Honor of Black History Month-Wisconsin Black Civil War Era History

I visited the Kenosha Civil War museum to attend an exhibit about fashion and dressing during the 1860s. Since I was there, of course I had to explore the rest of the permanent exhibits. There was quite a bit of history about how Wisconsin dealt with slavery and information about black soldiers. The following is my respectful, nonhistorian attempt to make you aware of a bit of Wisconsin Black History.

Here is a bill of sale for slaves from Kentucky. I’m sure it infuriates you as much as it does me, but I thought it was important to show as proof that this happened and that there really were documents as terrible as this.

In a totally different vein, here’s a copy of a Northern paper that advertised Frederick Douglass’s speech/sermon about the evils of slavery. Northern states arise!

In 1840 there were less than 200 African Americans living in Wisconsin. By the early 1860s there were over 1200. In my opinion, this was due, in part, to the Underground Railroad.

Wisconsin was one of the Northern states that was against slavery and was active with the underground railroad. The settlers who came from the East Coast, were strong abolitionists who did everything they could to squash slavery. Was absolutely everyone of the same mindset? Of course not, but at least our state largely, was one who didn’t want to be part of the problem.

Caroline Quarlls was one of those ferociously brave women (actually girl-she was only 16), who escaped her slavery in St. Louis, MO and made it to Wisconsin. She was hidden by abolitionists in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Pewaukee, Spring Prairie and Burlington. Her final place of residence was Detroit.

Most people don’t know this but the Republican party was started to abolish slavery. The Democratic party supported it and wanted to continue with slavery.

I remember reading at the Smithsonian American History museum that the Republican party was started by a black gentleman but I can’t remember what his name was. If anyone knows, please let me know via a comment.

Here’s a document emancipating a slave from Kentucky in 1862. The slave was given his freedom at the request of his “owner” after the “owner” died. My thought is, if you want your slaves to be free, why have them to begin with and also, why wait to set them free until after you died? Repent and set them free now!

Even though African Americans were treated less than human, they still wanted to help fight for their country. Prior to 1863, they weren’t even allowed to be in the military but did it on the down low. On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation gave black men the right to enlist and fight in the Union army. Over Wisconsin 300 men did this. Thirty years after the war was over, there were 45 black Civil war veterans living in Wisconsin.

“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.” – – Frederick Douglass

The Freedman’s Bureau was founded in 1865 to help 4 million freed slaves. It was the only federal agency to help them. The bureau acted with Northern states to give them food, clothes and help them find jobs. Southern states usually were hostile to the bureau.

Woman Power Info: There were 4000 black women employed as nurses by Women’s Nurses in the Union for $10/month.

Roster of Company F - 29th Regiment of Colored Soldiers

Martha & Notley Henderson -I love this picture-a wealthy African American family back in the day.

These 2 images are from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

I had a very enlightening visit to the museum and hope this has given you a small glimpse into Wisconsin’s role with human rights during the Civil War era.

Note: Some of my researching was also done on



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