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Simon seeking clemency for Jacksonville abolitionists 

 

Latest petition aimed at clearing father and son for anti-slavery efforts

SPRINGFIELD – July 23, 2013. Continuing her effort to restore the reputations of Illinoisans who fought for freedom and equality, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced today that she is seeking clemency for two Jacksonville-area abolitionists. Simon filed petitions seeking clemency for Dr. Samuel Willard and his father, Julius, who were convicted for their fight against slavery. Simon’s clemency effort comes at no cost to taxpayers, with the petitions prepared by the office’s legal interns.

“The men and women who defied the law to help slaves through the Underground Railroad risked their safety and well-being because they believed that all individuals deserve freedom,” said Simon. “It is time that we honor their memories and sacrifices with pardons for their selfless and courageous actions. Abolitionists were on the right side of history, and a pardon vindicates their foresight and heroism.”

Despite Illinois residents voting to abolish slavery in 1824, both Illinois and federal law prohibited the harboring or assisting of runaway slaves in free states. As part of the effort to honor abolitionists who fought for equality, Simon’s office has invited local historians from around the state to identify men and women around Illinois who were convicted of violating slavery laws. The idea was brought to her by Quincy historians who supported a clemency petition for Dr. Richard Eells.

Simon filed petitions of clemency this week for Julius and Samuel Willard who in 1843 were convicted of secreting and harboring a fugitive slave. Julius, who was close friends with anti-slavery activist Elijah Lovejoy, moved his family from Alton to Jacksonville while their son Samuel attended Illinois College. The family’s anti-slavery efforts reached a climax in February 1843 when Samuel and Julius attempted to aid a runaway slave known only as “D.” Originally from Louisiana, “D” was traveling with her mistress, who was visiting family in Illinois.

When “D” arrived at the Willard home in February 1843, Samuel did not hesitate to help her reach safety. Julius then undertook the dangerous task of helping “D” reach the Underground Railroad. When they were discovered by trackers, “D” was immediately returned to her owner. Julius and Samuel were both convicted for their actions.

Dr. Samuel Willard later served in the 97th Illinois Regiment, participating in the Battle of Vicksburg. An illness contracted during his military service caused partial paralysis, and Dr. Willard was never again able to practice medicine. Instead, he became a lifelong education advocate, working to establish the Springfield Public Library and libraries across Illinois, as well as becoming the superintendant of the Springfield Public School District.

Simon is asking the public to contact her office to recommend additional clemency requests for individuals convicted for their abolitionist activities. Please visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov for updates.