Nance Legins-Costley’s & Moffatt Cemetery Markers Unveiled

The three markers will be placed on the memorial site on the intersection on SW Adams and Griswold Street
This is apart of our continuing coverage of Peoria's ties to Juneteenth and unique Abraham Lincoln history.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 9:29 AM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - A part of Peoria’s buried past is now uncovered and for the first time we are able to get a glimpse of it.

This is a part of our continuing coverage of Peoria’s ties to Juneteenth and unique Abraham Lincoln history.

Brett Brooks reports, the story of the first Black woman who Lincoln, the young attorney helped free.

“People didn’t even know her story, let alone where she was buried,” begins Colleen Johnson, the Executive Director of the Peoria Historical Society.

Once a piece of hidden history, the story of Nance Legins-Costley will soon be recognized and memorialized at the cemetery where she lies.

Johnson says, “it overwhelms me to think how far we still have to go with human rights things and civil rights issues but if we can look back to an example over 100 years ago of this young woman who fought and won for her freedom I think we can feel good about at least something in today’s society.”

One of three markers that will make up the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial site on the land that was once Moffatt Cemetery, on SW Adams and Griswold Street.

It pays homage to the 52 veterans buried there -- including 49 Civil War Vets.

A second marker just revealed, recognizes the 2,600 known everyday Peorians also buried there.

The third one is dedicated to Nance’s story and her ties with a then-young Abraham Lincoln who would later fight for her freedom in the Illinois Supreme Court.

“I’m really imagining school children will take a tour around this small little plot of land that memorializes the cemetery and that’s going to be an example for her remains to come to life,” says Johnson.

The story of the cemetery was uncovered by Bob Hoffer while doing research for his wife’s family and where they were buried.

Historian Jared Olar, helped with the research and the verbiage on Nance’s marker and he says by recognizing Nance and the people buried at the cemetery will teach others about determination in a time when it seemed impossible for Black citizens.

“She through her bravery and strength of will just stood up repeatedly and refused to let anyone push her down and keep her down,” explains Olar.

The marker dedicated to the Veterans is on display right now at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

All three of the markers will be donated to the City of Peoria so they can install them at the Freedom and Remembrance Memorial site where the cemetery used to be.

A dedication ceremony is planned for Spring 2023.