23. Jarrot v. Jarrot, 7 Ill. 1 (1845)

Background: When the French entered Illinois in the early 1700s, they introduced slavery to the region. Slavery continued in Illinois under British rule (1763-1783) and during the time Illinois was a territory (1783-1818). Although the Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory, of which Illinois was a part, slavery continued in Illinois. In 1818, Illinois was admitted to the Union as a free state although its constitution appeared to grandfather in slavery. Throughout early statehood, slavery continued to exist in Illinois although not on the magnitude as in the Southern states.

The Document: Joseph Jarrot was a slave in Illinois in the 1840s because his grandmother was a slave to an old French settler in Cahokia. Jarrot sued his owner, Julia Jarrot, for back pay for his services. In effect, he was suing for his freedom. The St. Clair Circuit Court found for Julia Jarrot, and Joseph Jarrot appealed. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned the lower court's judgment, holding that descendants of former French slaves cannot be slaves in Illinois due to the Northwest Ordinance and the Illinois Constitution. The case marked the death blow for slavery in Illinois.

Note: The 1848 Illinois Constitution explicitly outlawed slavery. This court opinion is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Supreme Court of Illinois Record Series 901.009, "Journal and Opinion Record."