The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 made slavery illegal in the territory that would later become Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. However, many Black individuals’ rights were denied by white enslavers who continued to hold them captive in the territory well into the nineteenth century. Set in this period of American history, Enslaved, Indentured, Free shines a light on five extraordinary Black women—Marianne, Mariah, Patsey, Rachel, and Courtney—whose lives intersected in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.
Focusing on these five women, Mary Elise Antoine explores the history of slavery in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, relying on legal documents, military records, court transcripts, and personal correspondence. Whether through perseverance, self-purchase, or freedom suits—including one suit that was used as precedent in Dred and Harriet Scott’s freedom suits years later—each of these women ultimately secured her freedom, thanks in part to the bonds they forged with one another.
Albert Coryer, the grandson of a fur trade voyageur-turned-farmer, had a gift for storytelling. Born in 1877, he grew up in Prairie du Chien hearing tales of days gone by from his parents, grandparents, and neighbors who lived in the Frenchtown area. Throughout his life, Albert soaked up the local oral traditions, including narratives about early residents, local landmarks, interesting and funny events, ethnic customs, myths, and folklore.
Late in life, this lively man who had worked as a farm laborer and janitor drew a detailed illustrated map of the Prairie du Chien area and began to write his stories out longhand, in addition to sharing them in an interview with a local historian and folklore scholar. The map, stories, and interview transcript provide a colorful account of Prairie du Chien in the late nineteenth century, when it was undergoing significant demographic, social, and economic change. With sharp historical context provided by editors Lucy Eldersveld Murphy and Mary Elise Antoine, Coryer’s tales offer an unparalleled window into the ethnic community comprised of the old fur trade families, Native Americans, French Canadian farmers, and their descendants.
In The War of 1812 in Wisconsin, author Mary Elise Antoine brings a little-known corner of Wisconsin’s history to life. Prairie du Chien, located just above mouth of the Wisconsin River, was the key to trade on the upper Mississippi. Whoever controlled the prairie commanded the immense territory inhabited by thousands of American Indians—and the fur they traded. When war broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, British and Americans fought to maintain the ever-shifting alliance of the tribes.
This is the story of the battle for the control of Prairie du Chien and the western country, which began many years before the three-day siege in July of 1814 for which the Battle of Prairie du Chien is named. It is also the tale of the people, Euro-American and Native, who lived in pre-territorial Wisconsin and how the contest for control of the region affected their lives and livelihoods. The outcome of the War of 1812 would determine what "manifest destiny" would mean to all who called these lands home.