Black Organizing in Pre-Civil War Illinois: Creating Community, Demanding Justice

Location of Vincent Home in Alton, Illinois
A map showing the location (in red) of Job and Mary Vincent’s home in Alton in 1874 on Cherry street between Second and Third streets. (Source: Ruger, A, and Chicago Lithographing Co. Alton, Madison Co., Illinois. [Chicago Chicago Lithographing Co, 1867] Map. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Job Vincent was a delegate to the 1853 Chicago convention about whom relatively little is known. Born around 1813, Vincent was enslaved in Hickman County, Kentucky, until 1842, when he became free through his enslaver’s last will and testament.

Vincent soon settled in Alton, Illinois, and in 1847 he married Illinois-born Mary Ann McKee, who was about nineteen at the time. The couple had a daughter whose name was recorded as Eliza Jane. In 1850, Vincent was working as a barber, which likely allowed him to earn a decent living.1

In October 1853, Job Vincent represented Alton at the statewide Colored Convention in Chicago, where he served on both the agricultural committee and a committee to nominate permanent officers of the convention.2

Although extant records are limited, it is clear that the Vincent family lived and worked in Alton until at least 1876. Job Vincent managed to accumulate real estate of considerable value. In 1850, the federal census reported that he owned $400 in real estate, and in 1870, his land was valued at $500 and his personal property at $250. By that time, Job and Mary Ann had five daughters (Louisa, Martha, Mary, Prisley, and Laticia). An Alton city directory for 1876-77 recorded that Job worked as a drayman—typically an operator of a flat-bed horse-drawn cart designed to haul goods, sometimes from ships to warehouses. In the 1870s, the Vincents resided on Cherry Street, between 2nd and 3rd Streets.3

The sparse and sometimes confusing details available about the Vincent family highlight one problem of reconstructing the lives of free African Americans in the antebellum North. In the convention minutes and other records, we found discrepancies in how the Vincents’ surname was spelled, as well as variations in first names. Inconsistencies such as these presented numerous possibilities and challenges for learning about the family. Each variation created a degree of doubt and frustration in trying to understand their lives and experiences.


Written by Emiliano Aguilar. Contributing research by Zachary Koons. Edited by Kate Masur.


  1. This description is reconstructed from the following records: Job Vinson [sic] and Mary Ann McKee, Illinois, U.S. County Marriage Records 1800-1940,; 1850 US Census: Job Vincent,; Madison County Illinois Slave Emancipation Registry Book #3, 40 (Job Vincent),, accessed Nov. 1, 2021.
  2. First Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of Illinois (1853 : Chicago, IL), “Proceedings of the First Convention of the Colored Citizens of the State of Illinois, Convened at the City of Chicago, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, October 6th, 7th and 8th, 1853.,” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records, accessed Sep. 18, 2021,
  3. 1860 US Census: Joseph Vincent,; 1870 US Census: Job Vincen,; Pryor and Co., Alton (IL) City Directory, 1876-1877, 97,; E. F. Owen, Alton (IL) City Directory, 1874, 116, accessed Sep. 6, 2021,