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Fleurville, William de

Born: 1807-09-12

Died: 1868-04-13 Springfield, Illinois

Flourished: Springfield, Illinois

Alternate name: Florville

William de Fleurville was an African American barber, businessman, and friend of Abraham Lincoln. Born most likely in Cape Haitien, Haiti, de Fleurville emigrated from Haiti to the United States about 1820 and settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where he learned the barber trade. In 1831, de Fleurville left Maryland for the west, traveling to New Orleans, St. Louis, and Mississippi, before arriving in New Salem, Illinois, where Lincoln befriended him. Lincoln helped de Fleurville secure customers in New Salem, and de Fleurville subsequently moved to Springfield, where in May 1832, he opened the first barbershop, opposite the Post Office. In July 1832, de Fleurville opened a clothes-cleaning establishment in Springfield. He married Phoebe A. Rountree, with whom he would have five children. De Fleurville's barbershop proved popular, and Lincoln, who referred to de Fleurville as "William Florville" and nicknamed him "Billy the Barber," was one of de Fleurville's most loyal patrons. In 1842, he entered into partnership with Isaac Rountree and owned a new barbershop on the south side of the public square. De Fleurville continued in business at this location until January 1847, when a fire destroyed his shop, but he immediately resumed business. An acute businessman, de Fleurville acquired sizable land holdings, and he retained Lincoln on several occasions to protect his property rights. By 1850, de Fleurville owned real property valued at $1,000, and by 1860, the value of his real property had increased to $2,000, and he had a personal estate of $2,000. In addition to his business activities, de Fleurville played clarinet in the Springfield Artillery Military Band, and he entertained Springfield residents with flute performances in the evenings. Although a Roman Catholic, he contributed to charities of various religious organizations and supported education for African American children. When Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, DC, he entrusted his property to de Fleurville. De Fleurville visited Lincoln at the Executive Mansion during the Civil War.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), 3 May 1832, 3:2; 26 July 1832, 3:3; 30 September 1842, 3:3; 28 May 1846, 3:6; 28 January 1847, 2:6; Obituary, Illinois Daily State Journal (Springfield), 14 April 1868, 4:2-3; Gossie Harold Hudson, "Fleurville (Florville), William de (Billy the Barber)," Dictionary of American Negro Biography, ed. by Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), 226; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Springfield, Sangamon County, IL, 70; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Springfield, Sangamon County, IL, 238; Gravestone, Calvary Cemetery, Springfield, IL; For de Fleurville's cases involving Lincoln, search "Florville, William," Martha L. Benner and Cullom Davis et al., eds., The Law Practice of Abraham Lincoln: Complete Documentary Edition, 2d edition (Springfield: Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 2009), http://www.lawpracticeofabrahamlincoln.org.