The Beard family’s story of hope goes back to the Civil War. Both Henry and Julia (Judy) Jones Beard were born slaves, who later made their way to Sycamore. Henry Beard (1831-1924) was a slave in Kentucky. A newspaper article described Beard: “He was a big, strong, fine looking man, of good disposition and dependable, and was valued highly, although, like most colored men at the time, he could neither read nor write.” But he had an “ultra polite manner and deference to all of his acquaintances on the street” .
This story starts in 1863 when Henry Beard joined the 105th Illinois when they were in Kentucky. Beard worked as a cook for Company A in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and into Maryland. This was dangerous because the 105th was under Confederate gunfire almost daily, and the threat of Confederate atrocities on black troops increased after the Fort Pillow Massacre on April 12, 1864.
Those who knew him remembered, “Everyone liked him, and he accompanied the Regiment back to Illinois” after the war. At Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1871, Beard met his wife, Judy Jones, and brought her back to live in the two-room house on the five acres he had purchased from Deacon David West in “the Big Woods” north of Sycamore. The Beards “were always highly respected and very well liked.” Several of his children attended North Grove School, a one-room schoolhouse, where the classes were taught in Swedish during this time period.
After ten years there, they moved to a larger home on another portion of the land, a mile west of Brickville Road. The Beards had 14 children.
Henry Beard died at Glidden Hospital in DeKalb on December 11, 1924, hours after being clipped by a train at the age of 84. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery. Judy Beard died in 1942.
Judy Beard (1852*-1942) a Sycamore resident from the 1871 until her death in 1942, was born a slave in Texas. Details about Julia Beard’s life were shared in a Sycamore True Republican article from February 21, 1942. Note, Judy was a slave in Texas in 1865, which means she would have been in Texas for the first Juneteenth celebration.
She recalled, “My mother was owned by the master of the place where I was and my father was owned by another master who was situated a few miles away. When I was but a little girl the only kind of work I could do is to pick cotton and I was put to this task when I was very young. When I turned ten years of age, I was brought to work in the house, waiting on members of the household in the master’s home.”
“When slaves were freed” as the Civil War ended, “our family had to go out and make a living,” she later recalled. “I was hired out to work for one man at $35.00 a year, and he put me to work plowing his fields when I was but 12 years old. I did not like this very well and I was happy when I later learned that our family was to leave for the North.”
In 1865, her family was part of a caravan of eight wagons and about 70 people “who were some of the first to come out of the south for a new land.” The group “would camp by the side of the road at night” until they reached Kansas City, Missouri. Later, at Ft. Scott, Kansas, she met Henry Beard, who would become her husband. After their marriage, the couple settled in Sycamore.
For more information about the Beard family, click here to see the local North Grove One-Room School their children attended. Top image: Sycamore True Republican, June 10, 1941.
* In this article, the Sycamore True Republican lists that Julia Beard was born in 1862. This is incorrect. She was most likely born between 1851-1854. Her death certificate lists her birth date as March 15, 1852. While the exact date may be off, other primary sources show her being born in the 1850s (ie census records reflect she was born in 1854 [1880 census], 1851 [1910 census], 1853 [1920 census] 1883 [1930 census – which appears to be a mistake], and 1852 [1940 census].