Home > Our Collections > Reference > Early Black Settlements > Bartholomew County > Site Search Results

Bartholomew County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

Bartholomew County’s one known settlement sometimes called “Africa,” “Smokey Hill,” or “Nigger Hill” was located in Columbus Township. Bartholomew County was formed in 1821. According to federal censuses, the total number of blacks and mulattos was 6 in 1830 (including the Nancy Tyler and James Minor families), 34 in 1840, 82 in 1850, 6 in 1860, and 42 in 1870.

The significant decrease from 1850 to 1860 may be attributed to the negative racial atmosphere and/or better economic opportunities in other areas (Handley and Robbins, 33). It wasn't until 1880 that the city of Columbus saw a substantial increase in its black population.The majority of these residents lived in Columbus Township and the city of Columbus. Some of their surnames were: Jones, Oxendine, Galbreath, Mitchell, Simmons and Newby. (Newby and Hill were names that were associated with the Beech Settlement in nearby Rush County.) These early settlers came from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Indiana.

Many of the families that were in the 1850 census are also listed in the Register of Negroes and Mulattoes for Bartholomew County. (Robbins, Indiana Negro Registers 1852-1865) Researcher Xenia E. Cord talks about an unidentified Bartholomew County settlement in her essay, "Black Rural Settlements in Indiana before 1860" (Gibbs, 104-105). On July 31, 1927, historian George Pence presented a paper before a joint meeting of the Bartholomew County Historical Society and the State House Literary Club (Paulette Roberts Collection). In the paper, Pence states: "Along in the early fifties quite a large number of Negroes, some fifty souls, all told, had settled in the south part of Columbus, and the settlement was locally known as Africa.

In later years after the emigration of the colored people the locality was changed to a more modern name that of Smokey Row. It appears the community called “Africa” and “Smokey Row” was referred to as “Nigger Hill” in the late 1870s. An African Methodist Episcopal Church Congregation in Columbus was identified as being a part of the Salem Circuit with 4 members in 1841 (Minutes, Indiana Annual Conference, AME Church). In 1850 there were three “negro” property owners with real estate valued at $520 (Heller, 303).


Ancestry.com. "U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870." Accessed June 20, 2014.

Gibbs, Wilma L, ed. Indiana's African-American Heritage: Essays from Black History News and Notes. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1993.

Handley, Shirley S. and Coy D. Robbins. "Early African American Heritage in Bartholomew County," Indiana Ebony Lines, Fall/Winter, 1992.

Heller, Herbert Lynn. "Negro Education in Indiana from 1816 to 1860." PhD diss., Indiana University, 1951.

Jefferson, Audrey. Bartholomew County African American School Curriculum. Indianapolis: Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, 1999.

"The Nigger Hill" Exodus and Feud Told By Local Historian" (Undated newspaper article; has an Editor's Note- “This paper was read by George Pence before a joint meeting of the Bartholomew County Historical Society and the House Literary Club held in his honor at Donner Park, July 31 1927.")

“Early Records of African Americans in Bartholomew County, Indiana.” [Some of these materials copied for Bartholomew County EAASHI project files, Summer 2014]

Robbins, Coy D., ed. Black Pioneers in Indiana. Bloomington: Ind.: African American Historical and Genealogical Society, 1990.

Robbins, Coy D.  “Black Settlements in Indiana Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church 1840-1845,” as published in the African Methodist Episcopal Church Magazine, George Hogarth, ed.  (Compiled from Minutes, Indiana Annual Conference, African Methodist Church, 1840-1845.)

Robbins, Coy D. Indiana Negro Registers 1852-1865. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1994.

Vincent, Stephen A. Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1999.       

By Dona Stokes-Lucas, June 20, 2014