Africa was a Negro settlement in the northeast corner of Williamson County. It all began when Alexander McCreery came from Kentucky to Jordan’s Fort in 1812, when he was 14 years old. The following year John McCreery, Alexander’s father, followed his son to Illinois.
John brought a number of family slaves to the territory and settled in what became known as Fancy Farms, in Franklin County. The Negros were valued at 10,000 dollars and were held as indentured servants. Under these terms they were to be freed when they had worked out their worth. This had to be to comply with the law of The Northwest Territory.
In 1818 Illinois became a state. The first constitution, in accord with the Act of the Northwest Territory, had an anti-slave clause. Then John McCreery sent most of his slaves to another son in Missouri Territory. The others he freed and hired as household servants.
When John McCreery died Alexander inherited the slaves. One old woman had a husband that belonged to another man. Alexander bought him for 300 dollars and brought him back to Illinois. This Negro man was Richard Inge, a skilled shoemaker. He plied his trade and saved enough money to buy 80 acres of land near the McCreery farm.
Another Negro family was brought from Kentucky by their master and given 40 acres of land. The Negros took their master’s name, Stewart.
Spencer Wadlins brought Negroes to the northeast part of Williamson County in 1820. Legend tells us that Frank Jordan had two Negro slaves.
Be that as it may, Africa was noted for its religious fervor. Brush arbors were common in summer and at least one such meeting was held annually. The people of Africa were excellent gospel singers. Their stirring camp meetings were attended by hundreds, most of them while. Africa never developed into a village but always remained a rural community, although the Locust Grove Post Office was located there for a while.
Allen Chapel was built in 1890 by Evangelist Beatrice Corley and it became the center of worship. It was rebuilt in 1944 and still stands. It is small and the furnishings are simple, most of them handmade by the worshippers.
Jerry Bean is a legend in the community. He was a poor Negro truck farmer who saved enough money to send his two children through college. His daughter, Dipples, was prominent as an official in the relief office in Harrisburg for more than thirty years. His son is a physician in Chicago. Jerry Bean is remembered in West Frankfort by many former customers who bought produce from his peddling wagon. Jerry Bean is buried in the churchyard but, like John Brown, “his body lies molding in the grave but his soul goes marching on.”
Today three farms are owned by Negro people but none live in the community. These farms are owned by Allens, Adams and Dipples Bean Cregg. The church is still standing but it has been vandalized by inconsiderate people many times. There are no regular services at the church but once a year, on Memorial Day, it is the sight of a homecoming. This is a day when friends meet, when graves of loved ones are decorated with flowers, and barbequed meat is prepared and sold to raise money for the church and cemetery upkeep.
The churchyard grave markers bear the names of old pioneers of the settlement — Stewart, Harrison, and Martin. Morris Stewart, buried in 1890 seems to be the first burial. However, there is an older burial ground southeast of the church. Here in the northeast corner of Williamson County a colorful historical past is fading into the archives of history.
(Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois, by Glenn J. Sneed, published 1977)