NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Tuesday August 4th 2020

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Tales From Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

179th in a Series

By SUE HUNTER WEIR

Emeline Baker Balch

1830-1867

The Cemetery is listed in the National Register of Historic Places in part because of its ties to the anti-slavery movement.  Its original owners, Martin and Elizabeth Layman, were members of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis which was closely associated with that movement; and there are several others buried in the cemetery, including a number of women, who had ties to both the anti-slavery and temperance movements.  It is hard to gauge the exact nature of their involvement since very few of the women who died during the cemetery’s early years left first-hand accounts of their lives, but there can be little doubt about what they believed.

Emeline Baker Balch was born in Onondaga, New York on 20 March 1830.  When she was 14 years old, Emeline and her family moved to Aurora, Kane County, Illinois.  The town of Aurora was settled by New Englanders who tended to migrate in groups—sometimes extended families, sometimes in colonies of church-members. Many were descendants of Puritans who fled religious persecution and arrived in what was to become America in the 1600s. Emeline’s paternal and maternal grandfathers were veterans of the Revolutionary War.

The New Englanders who relocated to Aurora had been successful merchants and farmers back East and their moves were prompted less by economic necessity than by economic opportunity.  They were reform-minded, religious people, sympathetic to the temperance and anti-slavery movements, and Aurora became an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

In 1908, the author of an early history of Kane County, wrote that the history of the county’s involvement in the Underground Railroad had not been written, and would, in fact, be difficult to write since its activities were by necessity conducted in secret.  But, he offered this colorful description:

It was a strange road.  It had neither locomotive nor cars; it ran in the darkness and was invisible…The friends of this mysterious railway declared that its charter came from God and that it ran from the northern portion of the southern states to Canada.  Its officers were largely volunteers and its route was that which afforded to its passengers the greatest safety—salary, time, if not paid in this world—would surely be in the next; running expenses donated. (P. 129)

Although Illinois was officially a “free” state, there were laws in effect that made anyone convicted of aiding fugitives subject to heavy fines and lengthy prison terms.  Those risks did not deter members of the Kane County Anti-Slavery Society (KCASS).  The KCASS, founded in 1843, encouraged women’s participation in the organization’s activities.  One-third of the Kane County Anti-Slavery Society’s members were women who attended meetings and were among the signers of the organization’s constitution; they raised funds and sewed clothing to aid escapees on their way to Canada. 

Since she was only a teenager in the organization’s early years, Emeline’s name is not mentioned in the Society’s minutes, but there is little question that she supported the abolitionist cause since she married a known abolitionist.

Emeline married Albert Balch on June 1, 1854.  Albert, the son of Stephen and Polly Terrell Balch, was born in Covington, New York in 1823.  His family, like Emeline’s, moved to Illinois in the 1840s, and, like Emeline, one of his forebears was a soldier during the Revolutionary War. When Albert was 16 years old, during a national period of religious revivalism, he joined the Church of the Disciples. In 1865, he “united with the Adventists for whom he preached.”   The Adventists were strongly opposed to slavery.

The same year that Albert joined the Adventists, he and Emeline, and their two sons moved to Minneapolis.  Leonidas Baker, Emeline’s older brother, came about the same time.  Most likely he came for the same reasons as Emeline—lured by promises from the city’s boosters that Minnesota’s climate would cure their respiratory illnesses.  That promise was not fulfilled.  Emeline died from tuberculosis on December 1, 1867, at the age of 37.  After Emeline died, her brother returned to Aurora where he died a few years later from complications of “hay asthma.”  Emeline is buried in an unmarked grave in Lot 33 Block A.

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