Hamilton Primary School

Hamilton Primary School

107 E. Main Street
Otterville, Illinois 62052

  • Phone: (618) 971-8509
  • Hours:
    Open during yearly festival, the 2nd weekend in June

Built in 1835, the Hamilton Primary School was the first free and integrated school in the United States. A monument to Dr. Hamilton, the visionary benefactor of the school, is located at the site. It was dedicated by George Washington, a former slave who was freed by his master, the same Dr. Hamilton.

Dr. Silas Hamilton, a Vermont physician, settled his practice in Otterville, Illinois in 1830 with his slave, George. Upon his death in 1834, he left behind $4,000 to establish a primary school in Otterville that would be free to residents along with his freed slave George.

As the first integrated school in the nation, the Hamilton Primary School opened in 1835. George attended the school, becoming a successful farmer and active member of the Otterville Baptist Church. In 1864, George died leaving an estate to erect a monument west of the schoolhouse to his former master and began a scholarship fund for the education of African Americans. On the site, Dr. Hamilton, George Washington, and Gilbert Douglas (Hamilton’s brother-in-law) are buried in a crypt. This is one of the only known instances where a slave erected a monument for this master and where the two are buried side-by-side.

The original school building was razed in 1870 with the school rebuilt at the site. Used through 1971, the school is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The school is open for tours during the annual festival or by appointment throughout the year. Otterville was also a part of the Underground Railroad network between St. Louis and Jacksonville, Illinois.