African American rural settlements documented: 0
Blacks settled in Dearborn County prior to statehood. Although the county’s black population numbers (as recorded on the federal decennial census from 1820–1870) were comparatively large for the state, no settlements were documented. It appears that African Americans were scattered throughout the county, with the largest number living in Lawrenceburg and Manchester townships.
Records show that slavery also existed in this county. An early ledger believed to be from the Dunn and Ludlow store located in Lawrenceburg included the following entries:
“Nancy went to live with Arthur Henry for two years in 1814 at $30 a year.”
“Peter came to live with me September 2, 1815.”
In the 1820 census, some of Dearborn County's founding fathers – James Dill, Jesse Holman, Isaac Dunn, and Thomas Kyle had slaves listed as living with them. A man named Thomas Megruder was a slave of the James Noble family and remained in the county until Noble's widow died. At that time, Noah Noble, who later became an Indiana governor, gave Megruder his freedom. One of Megruder's sons, Moses, was among those who founded the AME church on Lake Street in Lawrenceburg during the early 1850s.
By 1820 a number of free blacks were living in Dearborn County. A man named Spencer Curtis had a large family and owned a prosperous farm in Manchester Township. His children intermarried with families named David and Curtis. Court records also show that free African Americans lived in Dearborn County quite early. An 1829 court case was filed by Thomas Record, who sued Zerah Tousey of Boone County, Kentucky, and William Record of Dearborn County, alleging that they had kidnapped him in 1812 and taken him to Kentucky, where he was held as a slave for many years. He sued for $15,000. Later Thomas Record purportedly immigrated to Liberia. And, although there is no record showing that he actually went to Liberia, there is a letter that was written to the federal government by Jesse Holman requesting that Record and his family receive help to make the journey. In addition, at about the time that he was to have left the country, he disappears from the census.
Another family named Wells lived in Dearborn County for most of the nineteenth century. Samuel Wells died in 1830, leaving a widow and several children. The widow, Patsy, was a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. William Wells, when only 16 years of age, enlisted in the Civil War and served in the Navy aboard the Prairie Bird on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In 1884, another Wells named Ben, applied to have his children attend the Worley School that was located on State Road 148 near Aurora, but was turned down.
Civil War veterans from Dearborn County include Pap Early, William Wells, George Willis, William Hobbs, and Nancy Jones served as a cook for the Union Army. One of the most notable African Americans to live in the county was Elijah Anderson, a blacksmith and Underground Railroad conductor. He lived in Lawrenceburg from about 1850-1854, when he moved to Ohio for his safety.
In 1857, he was arrested aboard a riverboat on the Ohio River and was sentenced to the Kentucky Penitentiary for “slave stealing.” He died in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1861. It has been reported that Anderson assisted at least 1,000 enslaved persons to freedom after the 1850 federal Fugitive Slave Law. Many of these individuals passed through Lawrenceburg.
Churches: Union Valley Baptist Church
Dunn, Isaac. “Dunn's Ledger,” ca. 1810–1820. (Dearborn County Historical Society).
McHenry, Chris. Paper presented for Martin Luther King Celebration at the Union Valley Baptist Church, January 19, 2010
U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Aggregate Amount of Each Description of Persons within District of Indiana,” 1: 352. Sixth Census of the United States, 1840. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1841.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III State of Indiana,” 1:124 Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1852
U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III State of Indiana,” 1:124 Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1862
U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III—State of Indiana,” 1: 124. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1872.
Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M 792, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.
By Maxine Brown, October 20, 2014