Kane County History: Amazing Stories of Batavia's Thriving Black Community Date Back To 1855

Kane County History: Amazing Stories of Batavia’s Thriving Black Community Date Back To 1855

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Batavia Depot Museum Director Kate Garrett. All photos are courtesy of the Batavia Depot Museum.

In 1965, Jennie White Prince presented her work, “The Negro in Batavia,” to the Batavia Historical Society.

Her writing details the personalities and circumstances of the families she grew up with on River Street in the early 20th century, where her parents had helped establish Logan Street Baptist Church in 1921, and where the Rev. Abraham Hall — a Black man from Pennsylvania who had lived free his whole life — had co-founded the African Methodist Episcopal church in 1855, eight years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

We are grateful today that she had the foresight to record this vignette of the neighborhood of her youth, giving us a picture of a thriving Black community of the early 20th century.

Jennie White Prince’s work can be found in full in the Batavia Historical Society’s archive, digitally accessible here: https://bataviahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Historian-Vol-6.pdf

First Settlers

James Watt’s cabin, at the corner of River and Lake Streets. The two men are unidentified. James Watts had two sons, Jim and Mott. Mrs. Prince recalls, “They hunted, fished and worked on the ice. They liked to fight with bare knuckles. Maybe they helped give Gore Street its name.”

“I do not know who the first Negro settler was in Batavia, I only know of the families who my grandfather, John Ozier, knew in his lifetime.

“He came here after the Chicago fire of 1871 by way of Turner Junction, now West Chicago. He told me after that he left behind him four lots in the burned-out area.

“Here he dug in at the corner of River and Gore Streets and built his cabin, as he called it, one room at a time. He then was one of the not more than 15 families, some of whom, like he, had wandered here, coming with other families, or who sought a home free from slavery or with better working conditions.

“All prospered and became owners of what is now valuable property in different sections of the town. They lived mostly on the east side of the Fox River, but one, Mr. Thomas Guyder, lived on the west side. Others owned or had businesses in the downtown area, later three or four families lived south of Wilson Street.”

Remembering John Ozier

Image Courtesy Batavia Historical Society. Pictured standing L to R: Allie Bird, Steve Smith, Robert C. Hollister, John Ozier; seated, L to R: Ann Ozier, Jud Young, Guy Conde.

“John Ozier, my granddad, was gardener, cook, handyman and owned the first candy, tobacco and whatever-he-could-sell store, just outside Laurelwood Park at the time of the park years.

“He was a Civil War veteran. His name does not appear on the Newton Monument in the West Batavia Cemetery because the papers given him for recognition of service came from Rhode Island.

John Ozier, seated, with two unidentified companions.

“He told me often that he was in the battle of Bull Run and remembers filling his canteen with water where a horse had been killed. He drank from it and was glad to get it, and also anything he could get to eat.

“He left his home with the armies that came through Tennessee. He evidently was sold with his mother for he often said that he saw her and other slaves beaten and salt and pepper put in their stripes.

“The Batavia Herald for the week of June 12, 1919 carried an article about him. He died on June 4, 1919, after living to be 100 years and five months old.

“One article that I read in a Kane County History said that Negroes had to have a guardian in Illinois. That is why Mr. Marley, editor of the Batavia Herald, became his guardian. The bowl and some other articles that he used in the Civil War are upstairs in the library. (They are presently on display at the Batavia Depot Museum.)

” … Time has erased from my memory nearly all of the old timers, but good luck to the present group who are making their homes here and may they hold high the torch of success passed on to them in their different fields, be it church, school, hospital or science.

“May the God of all men walk beside them each day to make and keep us a united city.”

About The Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a joint effort between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854 and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. Suggested donation: $5.

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