The story of Hamilton Primary School is actually the culminaion of the lives of two men of different races who were endowed with the best of human traits and lived lives that were influenced by the spirit of liberty and brotherly love.
Dr. Silas Hamilton, a native and practicing physician of Vermont attempted to conduct a Southern slave plantation in an intelligent and humane way as an example to his neighbors in Adams County, Mississippi in 1820.
While making a trip on horseback to see his mother in Vermont, Dr. Hamilton came upon a young black boy whose mother had been sold into slavery and taken south. Dr. Hamilton purchased the young boy for $100 dollars. The young boy named George Washington came under the influence of a fine and honorable man.
Unable to accomplish his objectives at the plantation, Dr. Hamilton traveled north and eventually settled in Otterville in 1830. He freed his twenty-eight slaves in Cincinnati. However, George and one Negro couple choose to stay with Dr. Hamilton. Dr. Hamilton being the only physician in Jersey County and was therefore forced out of retirement in 1834 by an excessive amount of sickness in the County. His labors were so excessive that his health broke and he died on November 19, 1834.
Even in death he continued to aid mankind in a way he thus expressly stated in his will:
"Believing in the very great importance of primary schools, and desiring that my friends and relatives in this neighborhood should receive the benefit of them, I give and bequeath $4,000. dollars for the establishment of a primary school. $2,000 dollars to be appropriated to the erection of a building suitable for the school and a place of public worship, and $2,000 dollars to constitute a fund for the support of a teacher, said house to be erected not to exceed one mile south of this residence, nor one mile north, nor a quarter of a mile east, but at or near the point called the Four Corners, and I desire my executors to oversee the erection of such a building..."
George proved to be an able and willing learner under the influence of Dr. Hamilton. He absorbed the teachings of the doctor so well that his life was lived with such humility and love of mankind that it approached true greatness.
After the death of Dr. Silas Hamilton, George lived with the Gilbert Douglas family. He attended the primary school and eventually became a highly successful farmer. He was always an active member of the Otterville Baptist Church, served as janitor of the church and Sunday School. Being an excellent singer, he was always depended upon to lead the singing. He became assistant superintendent of the Sunday School and taught a class as well.
George never married; instead, he adopted the people of the community. His acts and deeds speak fluently of his love for his family and neighbors. Whenever there was sickness, George would appear with wood for the fire and food if there was a need. He became the "grave digger", without charge, for the community. George silently performed these and many other acts of kindness.
George's last act in 1864 for his fellowman. In an unwritten will he left a sizeable estate which was to provide for payments of all his debts, a monument to his former master, and for the education of "colored persons, or Americans of African descent".
African Americans may apply for the "GEORGE WASHINGTON EDUCATIONAL FUND", which was established by George at the time of his death, by writing to PO Box 322, Jerseyville, Illinois, 62052.
Lila Flautt Melcher, a Jerseyville native, wrote the book "NOBLE MASTER, NOBLE SLAVE. It is a 156 page hardback book, which gives the history of the lives of Dr. Silas Hamilton and George Washington, and the building of such a wonderful school and monument. The following is a memoir of the school wrote by Lila and is located on page 150 Appendix E in her book.
In the rain on April 1st some sixty years ago I started to the first Free School in Illinois, located in Otterville, Illinois. I was the fourth generation in my family to attend. I had walked half a mile under what I remember as the largest umbrellas, though now I know it was the girl that was small. When I reached the school grounds, the school doorway was filled with children of all sizes, and one big boy called to me, "Lila, look at the canary up in the maple tree." I peered out from under the umbrella but didn't see any bird. All the children started yelling, "April Fool! April Fool."
For over twenty years Miss Minnie Bartlett taught the primary room, and each year all pupils entering first grade started for the last month of school. The term ended May 1st with her traditional picnic to PANSY HILL. She sent food on ahead, and all walked to the wooded area where there was a spring and pansies grew wild.
For information about purchasing this book click on Souvenirs.