Illinois History Minutes

February 25 Illinois History Minute


It’s February 25th. We don’t know the exact birth date of Nance Legins-Costley, who was born to Black indentured servants in 1813, in Kaskaskia, then the capitol of the Illinois Territory. But we know that she spoke out in court repeatedly against her legal status as someone who could be bought and sold, despite Illinois’ anti-slavery laws. By the 1840s, Nance Legins-Costley was living in Pekin, a mother married to a free Black man, but still an indentured servant in the eyes of the law.

The Illinois Supreme Court finally granted freedom for Nance and her children in 1841, after a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln took up the case. As a free woman, Nance Legins-Costley become a respected matriarchal figure in Pekin, and later in Peoria, where she died in 1898.