The story of Hamilton Primary School in Otterville begins half a continent away, in the Green
Mountains of Vermont, with the birth of Silas Hamilton. The year was 1775, shortly before the
signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Hamilton, a well-educated man, served as a doctor and teacher in Vermont before moving his
family to Nashville, Tennessee, to open a medical practice. One of his more notable patients
was Rachel Jackson, wife of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson.

In 1820, Hamilton purchased a plantation near Natchez, in Adams County, Mississippi. There
he hoped to lead by example, showing neighbors that you could run a profitable plantation
while treating slaves fairly and humanely.

While living in Mississippi, Hamilton often returned to Vermont to visit relatives. During one
of these trips, he happened upon a young boy, named George, who was inconsolable over the
recent sale of his mother. Some stories state that George's master was named Washington.
Others state that the boy's mother, although a slave, could read and write and named her son
after George Washington, whom she considered a great and fair man. Hamilton purchased the
boy for $100, a decision that would not only influence their lives but the lives of generations to

By 1830, it had become clear that although his plantation was indeed flourishing, the
neighbors were unimpressed by Hamilton's ideology. To make matters worse, both his wife and
a good friend, one of the few who supported his worthy cause, passed away. Hamilton sold the
plantation, and he and his 28 slaves traveled north to Cincinnati, where he granted all of them
their freedom. George, now 11, and an aged couple remained with Hamilton, and the group
eventually settled in Gullom, Greene County, which is now the town of Otterville in Jersey
    Hamilton hoped to educate George and then send him to
    Liberia to serve as a missionary, but that dream was never
    realized. Hamilton died just four years later. As the only
    physician in the area, some say that his untiring efforts to
    help others led to his premature death.

    In his will, Hamilton left $3,000 to George and $4,000 to be
    used to establish a building suitable for a school and a place
    of worship. He wanted his friends and neighbors to receive at
    no cost the rich benefits of a primary education -- an
    opportunity that would be available to anyone regardless of
    creed, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    The "Stone Schoolhouse" was built in 1835 with stone from
    White quarry, known locally as Beatty Mound. Not only was
    it the first integrated school in Illinois, it was also the first
    free school in the state. The school soon became known to
    those even beyond the borders of Illinois.

    After Hamilton's death, George lived with the Douglas
    Gilbert family (Hamilton's sister was married to Gilbert).
    George made a living farming and never married.  He was
    widely accepted and liked in the community. He was well-
    spoken, serving as the vice-president of the local debate
    society, and known for his kindness to those who were ill,
    always providing fuel for the family.

But George's life was not always easy. He was assaulted by a group of men in Grafton in 1860
and was once held in Gilead, then the county seat of Calhoun county, and charged with being
a runaway slave. Clarence Hamilton, a Jersey County businessman, heard the news while in
Gilead on business and took the necessary steps to secure George's release.  

When George passed away in 1864, his will directed that $1,500 be used to erect a monument to
the man who bought and freed him. After his debts were paid, including the funds for the
monument, George's estate was worth about $7,000, which he left to be used to help "colored
persons or people of African descent" acquire a higher education. The scholarship funds still
benefit Jersey County students today.

The original school was razed in 1873, and a more modern school was built to replace it.
Stones from the original school serve as its base. The school was closed in 1971 due to safety
concerns, but thanks to the hard work of the Otter Creek Historical Society, the school was
placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and they are working to restore it.
The monument honoring Silas Hamilton lies a few feet from the school, and a crypt containing
the bodies of Silas Hamilton, George Washington, and Douglas Gilbert is located a short
distance away.

Visit the Otter Creek Historical Society's website at

Jersey County Historical Society
601 N. State Street
Jerseyville, Illinois 62052

webmaster: Beth McGlasson
Hamilton Primary School