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Lambert: First Black-Owned Biz Opened in 1873

Its success may be linked to Plainfield's large number of abolitionists, who helped establish a section of the Underground Railroad here to help African-Americans escape to freedom.

Part One: Plainfield’s First African-American Businessman

The Inquiry

The Soldiers’ Monument at identifies the local men and boys who fought in the Civil War. But what long-lasting effects did the abolitionist cause and the Civil War have here, in ?

The Facts

In February 1862, the Civil War was entering its 10th month of battle. The War of Rebellion was proving to be a prolonged effort to preserve the Union and to bring closure to a decades-long struggle to end slavery.

Through acts of civil disobedience since the late 1820s, abolitionists had actively waged a battle for the abolishment of slavery in the United States. By the late 1850s, the “agitators” had become more demanding in their fight to end slavery.

Some, such as Elijah Lovejoy, believed so strongly in the cause that he gave his life when he was murdered in 1837 by a pro-slavery mob in Alton.

The Rev. Nathaniel C. Clark, a Congregational missionary minister, was also outspoken against slavery. After 1830, Clark began establishing Congregational churches throughout northern Illinois, including the Plainfield Congregational Church in 1834. Clark and other ministers sought to strengthen anti-slavery networks across the rapidly-populating Illinois frontier. 

Although some leaders were outspoken and fervent in their efforts, many others took up the cause secretly. Numerous Plainfield residents, many connected with the Congregational church, covertly kept safe houses along the Underground Railroad. The numbers of escaped slaves who passed through Plainfield will never be known since few records were kept of the illicit activities.

Beyond the homefront, scores of Plainfield men and boys enlisted in the Union army. Many gave their lives for the preservation of the Union and the abolishment of slavery. 

Plainfield’s volunteers included two brothers, Joseph and Charles Countryman. 

The Countryman Family's Story

In 1843, Joseph and Sophia Countryman, with five children in tow, moved from New York state to Lockport. The following year, they relocated to five acres in Plainfield. The Countryman family grew with the birth of six more children between 1844 and 1869. Spanning the move west, Joseph Countryman Jr. was born in New York while his brother, Charles, was born in Plainfield. 

As Union soldiers, Joseph, 20, and Charles, 17, went off to fight the South in 1861, leaving their 8-year-old sister, Harriet, behind in Plainfield.   

Fourteen years after the start of the conflict, Harriet Countryman married William H. Lee on Aug. 11, 1875. One year later, a son, Edward, was born in Plainfield, where they made their home.

In June 1880, William and Harriet took in two boarders: Frank Madison and David Dishman. Madison, 43, cared for the Countrymans’ horses, according to census records. Dishman, then 23, was a barber. 

David Dishman—and his brother, Elijah—were Plainfield’s first African-American businessmen.

The Dishman Brothers' Story

David Dishman was the grandson of a former Virginia slave who had purchased his freedom. His uncles established the Woodstock Manual Labor Institute in Lenawee, Mich., in 1846. The successful, but experimental, institute was one of the first interracial schools in America in the 1840s.

Born in March 1857, Dishman’s birthplace was likely near St. Louis, Mo. In 1870, 13-year-old David was living with his parents and three brothers in New Lenox, Ill.

In 1873, Dishman and his older brother, Elijah, opened a barbershop on the first floor of the former Clippinger Drug Store, a wood-frame building near the southwest corner of present-day Lockport and Illinois streets. Dishman was just 16 years old. 

Around 1877, the Dishman brothers relocated their business to the second floor of the Root Kent building, a wood-frame structure erected in about 1843 (it was razed about 1915). There, the Dishman brothers occupied a space used earlier by a previous barber.

The Dishman brothers sold their barber business at Plainfield in 1881 and went their separate ways. Elijah established a barbershop near Exchange Street (present-day Jefferson Street) in Joliet. David moved to Morris, where he joined the tonsorial shop of George Washington “Wash” Foster.

Born in 1822, Foster was a well-known barber in Morris, where he established his shop in 1857. A great storyteller, Foster was a popular and beloved figure in Morris. Foster’s legacy was that, “as a free negro,” he was summoned to Ottawa to shave Abraham Lincoln on the morning of the famous debate between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in August 1858. 

While working in Foster’s barbershop in Morris, Dishman met Foster’s daughter Ida, whom he married on Nov. 25, 1883. They had two sons, Walter and Clarence. The Dishman family later moved to Elgin before settling at Fort Dodge, Iowa. David Dishman died in 1925.

A Continuing Connection

When David and Elijah Dishman sold their Plainfield barbershop in 1881, the buyer was Albert Worst, who was moving his family to Plainfield from Lockport. The Al. Worst Barber Shop opened that same year, but the business can actually trace its beginning to the mid-1870s and it's still a barbershop today: The is located at 24045 W. Lockport St.

The Lincoln Way Barber Shop is the oldest continuing business in Plainfield and is one of the longest-lived businesses in Illinois.

*****

Since a chance observation of David Dishman in an 1880 census record, Michael Lambert has spent more than 12 years researching the life and ancestry of Dishman and his descendants. The research effort has covered more than seven states and traces the lineage of Plainfield’s African-American barber, from the late 1780s to the present day. This is the first public presentation of his research.

©2012

*****

This is the first in a two-part series on the impact of the abolitionist movement and the Civil War on Plainfield.

Have a question about Plainfield’s history? Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert in care of the Plainfield Patch.

Olddeegee February 02, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I'd like to see a follow-up of the racism felt by some in Plainfield's history. We have a great town, but there is much that isn't discussed or brought to light. The reputation of Plainfield's past as a whites only town is and was widely known. Many people were simply victims of the era in which they lived, but there were those that were active in the KKK and individual actions that attacked minorities. Again Mr. Lambert, great story.
Miguel Sanchez February 02, 2012 at 05:59 PM
The history you describe is quite different than that of the author. Is this the same Plainfield that hosted the Underground Railroad?
Olddeegee February 02, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Plainfield, like any American town, has two sides to every story. A childhood friend's house is the location of a spot that it's believed was a hiding spot of runaway slaves. One local home-owner, in a racist comment, said it was used to imprison African-Americans until they could ship them back south. Plainfield was the location of one of the largest KKK rallies ever held (in what is currently Van Horn woods) not too long after World War One. We're a town that has good and bad, right and wrong. Studying and understanding the motivation of all opinions and actions in the past can help us gauge our own beliefs and actions.
Michael Lambert February 02, 2012 at 08:22 PM
For better or worse, the stories of every community's history reflect the times and issues of the larger culture. Many times, those values change from generation to generation. Also, the stories that we have heard do not always represent all of the facts. For the record, the large initiation rite and rally that is mentioned in the comments here did not occur at Van Horn Woods but Fraser's Woods. A future article will shed some light on this chapter of Plainfield's past. Thanks for the complimentary words; I am happy that the column has generated a following.
Sam S February 02, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Great story, Would love to read an article about racism's past in Plainfield, it is a section in Plainfield's past that has not been shed of the truth, and frankly not too many people really know the hard facts
Mark See February 02, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Mr. Lambert. I applaud you for your knowledge and writing skills. I also enjoy reading your stories. I am sure you know what you write of, but I have an issue. Was it not "Bleck's woods" where the Klan rally was held? Or, in fact, was it called "Fraser's woods" at that time? Thanks again for what you have provided for our fair community.
Olddeegee February 02, 2012 at 10:02 PM
I stand corrected. Your research has helped clarify many historical errors that have been published and taken as fact. Thanks again!
Tim February 02, 2012 at 10:15 PM
It is nice to see an editor here at the Plainfield Patch that does not rely on censorship to support their claims, and instead uses facts. When seeing incorrect assumptions being posted, seeing the correct answers being posted in response is refreshing, as opposed to the simple-minded deletion of them to avoid any thought or discussion on the subject that may contradict the angle in the story. Well done Mr. Lambert. I hope your ethics and professionalism rub off on other editors here.
Michael Lambert February 03, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Mark, Thanks for the support! Fraser's Woods (hence the naming of the road) was the name of the grove before it was purchased by the Bleck family who did not purchase the site until the 1930s or 1940s. I will be checking some dates when I write the column...
Ram Seichert February 03, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Did they pay the architect for the work completed?

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