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The Articles started December 2007.
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Searching for an abolitionists gravesite
By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................June 12, 2012
The great-great-great grandson of Sycamore abolitionist David
West was in the area recently on business and decided to visit
the Elmwood Cemetery, where he knows his ancestor is interred.
Harlen Persinger, a photojournalist, resides in Milwaukee and
had been to the cemetery in the 1990s researching the familys
history. He also has a farm in Iowa.
Despite the fact that the cemeterys records before 1910
had been lost, he still was able to find some West family tombstones.
He showed me four similar markers in a row that were all so weather-worn
the lettering was obliterated except for the last one.
That one has the initials S.L.W. on it and nothing else. He identified
that ancestor as Sara Louise West, who had not married and died
here in 1903. The crumbling marker next to it he believes is
the one for David West, who died in 1890 at age 84.
Harlen Persinger pauses behind the crumbling grave marker
he believes belongs to his ancestor David West in Sycamores
Elmwood Cemetery. The marker at right has the initials S.L.W.
which stand for Sara Louise West. (Barry Schrader photo)
The other two he theorizes belong to Wests first and second
wives: Sarah, who died in 1849, and Lucinda, who died in 1884.
I photographed him with the damaged stone and the one next to
it with the initials still visible. They are in a row south of
the large Ellwood family tombstones.
He provided some family history and his lineage, so I decided
to look further into this fascinating mans life by perusing
files at the Sycamore History Museum and the Joiner History Room.
Much has been published about the Underground Railroad, which
harbored runaway slaves before the Civil War, and involved residents
of DeKalb County who assisted them in their flight to Canada.
West was one of the better-known abolitionists who provided a
hiding place in his barn or corncrib that contained an underground
room. He also built a special wagon with a roof and canvas sides
that concealed the occupants as he and his son Elias shuttled
them to the next station on the road to freedom.
A particularly interesting article, written by Lonny Cain, appeared
in the Sycamore Sun-Tribune on Sept. 18, 1968. He was able to
interview another descendant, Herbert West, then 81, who recalled
stories his father had told many years earlier. His father was
just a boy when his grandfather Deacon West began
helping African-Americans who were fleeing the South for Canada.
It was a dangerous act of courage, as fugitive slave laws at
the time enabled federal marshals and Southern sheriffs to pursue
runaways for the reward money, which sometimes ran into the thousands
of dollars. They didnt hesitate to use their guns when
chasing those suspected of transporting runaways. The law also
called for a $1,000 fine for the offense and another $1,000 to
be paid to the slave owner for damages. A federal prison sentence
also could be imposed. All of this came to an end during the
Civil War, when Southern lawmen no longer ventured this far north.
Persinger said he hopes to return again to do more family research,
and wishes there could be a monument or marker erected honoring
West and other local abolitionists whose acts of heroism enabled
many slaves to reach their freedom. If anyone has information
that would help him in his quest, he would like to be contacted
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. There will be no column from me for the next four
weeks as I am taking a vacation to travel out West to see our
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115