Priscilla on The Trail of Tears

Trail of Tears and Priscilla | Illinois Sites | Story Family Mystery | Trail of Tears Association | Priscilla's Origins? | Poems for Children | Links | TOT in Illinois

Welcome to the Trail of Tears.  You will have the opportunity to think a few minutes upon one of the saddest events in American history.  
The Trail of Tears is not a place where you may want to linger.  It was a cold and muddy miserable trip made by people who had experienced broken treaties and broken hearts because of  others' greed. 

Who was Priscilla?
According to oral tradition, Priscilla was a slave to an "Indian chief" traveling with the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois.  She was freed from slavery by Basil Silkwood of Mulkeytown, Illinois,in Jonesboro or else slightly west of Jonesboro down at the Dutch Creek camp area.She lived out her life at Silkwood Inn as a member of that family and was beloved by all who knew her. 
How old was Priscilla on the Trail?
We have no way of knowing, and probably neither did she.  She was tiny as an adult, so her size may have been misleading.  Mrs. Lough Snider, who had seen Priscilla when she was a child, said Priscilla came to Mulkeytown around age 9. Maurice Metzger in Illinois Magazine says she was about 9 when Silkwood first met her on a plantation.  The late Ruby Henderson (whom I consider one the most reliable Priscilla authority we have) wrote she was "about 14" when Mr. Silkwood secured Priscilla's freedom.
Originally there was only a small sandstone marker on Priscilla's gravesite at Reid-Kirkpatrick Cemetery at the Silkwood family plot.  Two Christopher teachers, Lela Penwarden Spegal and Eloise Davis along with their students and parents  collected money and provided a new tombstone probably in 1961.   Because people living at that time knew Priscilla personally, I think the 1824 birth year used was probably as accurate as we will ever be able to get.  The inscription  reads as follows:
1824                         1892

This web site was put up on the unlikely chance that someone reading it might know something about Priscilla Silkwood, who was freed from slavery at Jonesboro, Illinois, on the Trail of Tears.  Can you tell me anything about Priscilla? 
Who originally enslaved her? Where was the plantation in the South where Brazilla Silkwood from Mulkeytown, IL, orginally met her? (Some accounts say the plantation was in Georgia, some say in North Carolina.  One story says South Carolina.)  I have been convinced that researcher John Whitfield is likely correct that she came from the Borders plantation in northeast Georgia.
Who was  the "Cherokee chief" that the legend says owned her?  Could he have been one of the two men who with their pregnant wives were reported to have stayed at the home of Winstead Davie?  One of those "chiefs" was the Rev. Jesse Bushyhead, who led one of the detachments.  He was not a chief, but was very prominent and highly respected for his intelligence and oratorical skill.   He was frequently called  "Chief"  and many years later, his son Dennis was voted into the position of Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  The other chief  at the Davie home was reported to have been "Chief Nowata," and the late Geneva Wiggs pronounced it "Nowattee."  That is confusing because "Nowata" is a Delaware word, and I have been unable to find any Cherokee by that name. I am convinced that "Chief Nowattee" was really the Rev. Stephen Foreman, whose wife had a baby on December 3, 1838, the very day that Winstead Davie applied for a licence to keep Cherokee in his home.  This fits with the Davie oral tradition that these two Cherokee "chiefs" and wives and one baby stayed in the Davie home. I think it is possible that the Foreman baby was actually born that day in the Davie home because the birthplace as Dutch Creek was simply what Southern Illinois University history professor George Washington Smith believed and passed on to the Foreman descendant who asked.
I once thought one of these two detachment leaders, both ministers and ethical men, might have taken on Priscilla as a slave simply to save her from being sold down to New Orleans.  However, I can find nothing to support this view.  I think another "chief" or leader must have "owned" her as the Cherokee  made the forced migration through Illinois.
Someone said there was a photo of Priscilla, but early researchers never found one.  Do you have one in your attic? We did find in 2009 a family photo of the Harrison family with whom Priscilla lived after the death of Brazilla Silkwood, and family oral tradition said that one in the photo was Priscilla.  However, the family did not want the photo to be published. We are still hoping to find a clear photo of Priscilla by herself.
I have been unable to find Priscilla's freedom papers.  John Allen thought they were at the Franklin County court house, and they may have been when he wrote that.  The papers would have only been there if they survived the 1843 courthouse fire.  When I went there, they told me no such papers are there now.  I wrote the state address the courthouse employee gave me in case the papers had been transferred to Springfield, but I did not even receive the courtesy of a reply.  If you have any information, please email me at

Yah Rah!  Signs are up in Pope County on  the largest known trail segment of the Trail of Tears.  The unveiling/celebration for this trail certification  was on Wednesday, September 22, 2010, at the 15th Annual Conference of the National Trail of Tears Association.   
Do You Have An Ancestor Who Traveled the Trail of Tears?
Anyone with a story to tell about ancestors who dropped off the Trail of Tears is encouraged to share the story with the Illinois Chapter of the TOTA. The Illinois Chapter has an ongoing oral history project trying to capture and preserve these fascinating accounts.  Let us know if you have a story and we will be certain you know the next time we have a program to collect more stories.  
Note:    There is a wonderful brochure with GPS and mileage information if you are interested in hiking, biking, or driving the original trail in Pope County.  Find brochures at I-57 rest stops and other tourism spots or phone Joe Crabb for a brochure. 
The purpose of the Illinois TOTA is to discover and share information about the 1838-39 Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois  and to encourage the development and preservation of the Trail.  The public is always invited to the TOTA meetings.

To read my journal, click here.

To read my blog, click here.

Here are some of the past meetings of the Illinois Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association for you to browse to see if you are interested in membership in the Illinois Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association:
The first and second 2010 TOTA meetings were in the Vienna library on the square in Vienna on Sunday afternoon, March 21 and at St. Mary's Church in Cobden on July 25.  Both were sponsored by that county's historical society.    The new video of the Trail of Tears produced by the National Park Service was shown, and Dr. Herman Petersen  talked of his research to discover his Cherokee ancestry.  A third meeting was held in conjunction with the National Trail of Tears Association conference at Metropolis. 
The 15th annual conference of the  National Trail of Tears Association was held in Metropolis on Monday through Thursday, September 20-23.  National researchers and speakers were present.
The Illinois Trail of Tears Association meets three times a year.  However, in 2009, the third meeting was unable to be scheduled as it was to be a celebration of new signage in Pope County and some delay made it impossible to have that meeting.
The second meeting in 2009 was June 13 and featured  a bus tour from the Ohio River to the Mississippi River on the Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois.  Two buses were used, and guides for Pope, Johnson, and Union Counties were on each bus.  A wonderful lunch was catered at the Vienna Park midway through the tour.
The first 2009 meeting of the Illinois Trail of Tears
Association was at the newly remodeled Morris Library on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale on Sunday afternoon, April 26.  Dr. Herman Peterson arranged for a program on the Special Collections section of the library featuring materials about the TOT through Southern Illinois.  Delicious refreshments were served.
The last  meeting of 2008 was at the Jackson County Historical Society building located at 1616 Edith Street, Murphysboro, IL.,  on Sunday, September 28.  People were encouraged to come share and hear stories by those whose ancestors dropped off the Trail of Tears. 
The purpose of the Illinois TOTA is to discover and share information about the 1838 Trail of Tears through Southern Illinois  and to encourage the development and preservation of the Trail.  The public is always invited to the meetings.

Speaking or Appearance Dates for Sue:
Saturday, October 18, 2014, from 2-3:30 p.m. at Harrisburg Public Library. Sue will be speaking on "Myths and Mysteries in Cherokee Heritage."

Sue Glasco
17354 New Dennison Road
Marion, IL 62959

Click here to email me:

To find out about my book Down on the Farm: One American Family's Dream or to learn more about our lives and my writing, click here.

For the story of another young girl named Priscilla, who was also enslaved, click here.

All Horrors Are Not in the Past
It would be less horrible to contemplate the plight of the Cherokee if we knew such events did not go on today.  Unfortunately, horrors continue. 
While 16,000 or so Cherokee were displaced from their homes and an estimated 4000 died, 180,000 have died recently in Danfur, Sudan, of violence, hunger, and disease.  An estimated l00,000 more are in refugee camps. Man's inhumanity to man is always astounding.
We need examples of goodness to help us survive, and the true story of the Silkwoods and Priscilla give us an example.  There are heroes right now in Sudan, and someday we may learn their stories.  Even if we don't learn about them, their kindness and their imitation of Christ is making life better for those with whom they relate. 

See March 12, 2009, sad update on Darfur. Click here and keep these people in your prayers.