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The Moline Slave Plantation

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1829, a squatter arrived at what in now Moline, Illinois, and claimed a large tract of land along the Mississippi River near present-day 48th Street. Here he built two very large log cabins in which he kept seventy-five negro slaves. He set the slaves to clearing his land.

The squatter's actions provided a perfect case for testing the power of the Federal government versus Illinois' states’ rights. In the Ordinance of 1787, which established the North West Territory, Congress has specifically prohibited slavery or any involuntary servitude in any future states carved out of that large tract of land.

In 1807, however, the new Territory of Indiana challenged the power of Congress to determine state law by passing an act which made it lawful "for any person, being the owner or possessor of any negroes or mulattos above the age of fifteen years, and owing service or labor as slaves may bring them into this territory."

When Illinois became a state in 1818, the legislature adopted this same law as part of Illinois' constitution, and went one step further, not only providing for bringing slaves into Illinois, but permitting negro and mulatto children born in Illinois to remain as slaves until they were of legal age. It was this Illinois law that had allowed Dr. John Emerson to keep his slave, Dred Scott, at Fort Armstrong. And it was this law that explains why Jim, the escaped slave in Huckleberry Finn, doesn't just cross the river into freedom in Illinois.

Was the squatter with his slave plantation in Moline breaking the law, or obeying it? It was a confusing issue for several other states as well. Had the Federal government taken the squatter to court, where he would be defended by Illinois, the issue may have been clarified then and there.

As it turned out, however, the squatter had a more immediate problem: cantankerous neighbors who had also moved into Rock Island County by 1829, and whose opposition to the squatter was moral rather than legal. They weren't about to wait through a long trial. They made life so uncomfortable for the plantation owner that he left before the year was out.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.