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Decatur County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

Decatur County was organized in 1822 and about the same time, a free black man from Kentucky named Joseph Snelling purchased 56 acres of land in Fugit Township located in the northeastern corner of Decatur County.  Fugit Township was the area in the county that was settled earliest. This area became the beginning of a large free black community known as the Snelling Settlement.  Joseph Snelling is listed in the 1830 census as a head of household with seven children between the ages of 10 and 24; however, no other adult was included.

Another early black settler was Allison Snelling, Joseph Snelling's son. He bought 80 acres of land for $168.78 in 1830.  By the 1850 census, he owned land in Fugit Township valued at $1,200, the largest amount of land owned by an African American.  Public records in Decatur County list “a Negro named Stephan” who was emancipated from slavery.  In 1834, Andrew Robinson of Fugit Township is recorded as providing care and support for a certain 16-year-old colored boy named William Jackson for five years.  Another public record states that a man named Marshall Key posted a $500 bond for a “colored woman named Ruth.”

These early black settlers were farmers or laborers.  The census of 1850 lists 151 persons in 22 different households.  Three blacks were living in Greensburg at that time and a young girl was living in Salt Creek Township.  Although the Snelling community established its own African Methodist Episcopal church in 1843, in 1849, land was given by African American, James Gilmore, for the building of an AME church.  A Black cemetery was also dedicated in the northeast corner of Fugit Township and cemetery records show that at least twelve persons were buried there.  Blacks were also buried in Kingston Cemetery.  A truer picture of the African American population in Decatur County must also be combined with a black community across the county line in Franklin County.  The combined population of Blacks in this bi-county community was about 270.  The settlement existed from about 1823 until the exodus of the entire community around 1856.  In 1860, U.S. Census records show that Allison Snelling and his family, along with several other black families, had moved to Cass County, Michigan.

A section of African American farms that were near one another and formed a corridor going north along the eastern boundary of Decatur County had a settlement of white abolitionists in the middle of the area that was known as the village of Kingston.  An historical occurrence in 1847 happened here that was known as “the escape of Caroline.” Luther Donnell, a white, Decatur County abolitionist, was indicted in the 1847 case.  His conviction was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Cemeteries:  One unnamed cemetery with about 30 or more graves.

Bibliography

Robbins, Coy, compiler. “Black Settlements in Indiana Affiliated with the African Methodist Church, 1840-1845” Minutes of the Indiana Annual Conference, 1840-1845. African Methodist Episcopal Church Magazine, 1988.

Bureau of the Census, United States Government, 1830, Fugit Twp. Decatur County, Indiana.

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.

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

Decatur County Record Book R, page 197, Deed dated January, 1844, from Alison Snelling to James P. Gilmore, 51 acres.  James P. Gilmore donated land for $1.00 for an AME church. [Recorder’s Office, Decatur County Courthouse]

Decatur County Tract Book, page 284, 1824 land purchased by Joseph Snelling.  [Recorder’s Office, Decatur County Courthouse] Decatur County Deed Record Book B, page 446.  [Recorder’s Office, Decatur County Courthouse]

The revised laws of Indiana, in which are comprised all such acts of a general nature as are in force in said state; adopted and enacted by the General Assembly at their fifteenth session…… Chapter LXVI Indianapolis: Douglass and Maguire (printers), 1831.

Harding, Lewis, History of Decatur County, Indiana. Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen and Co., 1915.

By Maxine Brown, October 20, 2014