A couple and Washington ended up staying with Hamilton, a widower whose only son had died. They moved to what became unincorporated Jersey County and built a house. Living across the Mississippi River from Missouri, a slave state at the time, was not always a shield of security, as shown by the 1837 mob assassination of the editor of the abolitionist newspaper Elijah Lovejoy in Alton.
The plan was to send Washington to Liberia as a missionary once he was ready, but there were no schools in what became Otterville. And Hamilton got sick.
Around the age of 60 and near death, Hamilton drafted his will to keep part of the plan alive. “Believing in the very great importance of elementary schools and wishing that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood benefit from them”, he gave and bequeathed $ 2,000 to build a school and an additional $ 2,000 to operate it so that the students do not. do not. have to pay a fee.
The stone building, which also served as a church, was constructed in the mid-1830s. Washington was among the first students. It is not known if other African-American students attended later, but rumors spread across the country among the pioneers that there was a free school in Illinois.
“At that time, many immigrants came from states further east and settled in this neighborhood,” explains a 1910. paper about Washington in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. “They often noticed that before reaching the eastern state limit, after asking for the route to ‘Stone School House’, people all seemed to know immediately where it was and would easily give them the right directions. . “