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

Franklin County

African American Settlements Documented: 1    

When Franklin County became official in 1811, people of African descent were already living along the Whitewater River.  Their exact origin and number is unknown; but their riverside presence was reminiscent of the encampments favored by the French during their occupation. Ready access to waterways for hunting and transport contributed greatly to the success of the fur trade.   But the 19th century pioneers that followed aspired to homesteads, rather than trade outposts.  The steep and rocky terrain dominating the county was not conducive to farming.   Consequently, these latter-day pioneers coveted the river more for its flatlands and rich soil.

When freedman William Trail arrived in Brookville Township in 1814, the black river dwellers had been driven onto the hillside—where those of lesser means, black or white, worked low yielding land that most could not afford to buy.   Many pursued employment on the larger wealthier farms.  Trail took a job clearing land in nearby Union County, eventually earning enough money to purchase property in Fayette County, which he later sold to buy more acreage in Henry County. There, he and his family became respected community members with significant ties to the Beech Settlement in Rush County, Indiana.

Sometime before 1849, James Hays, a North Carolina freedman acquired land in Posey Township, where he, his wife and children lived.  While working for a wealthy farmer, he also cultivated his own marginal farm into profitability.  This was significant in a region where few were able to do so and landownership remained unusual, 30 years after Trail had briefly resided there.  

Soon after the Indiana Colonization Society was established in Indianapolis in 1829, Franklin became one of the first counties to form its own chapter. In 1850, as its black population peaked, anti-black legislation on a national and statewide level advanced—the latter with broad-based public support. 

By 1850, more than half of Franklin County’s recorded black population lived in Salt Creek Township. One large rural settlement in the township extended into Posey Township, Franklin County and Fugit Township in Decatur County.  Many of these people had migrated from North and South Carolina. There was a major disruption to the settlement, causing the majority of the people to leave.  It is unclear if this was due to an event or an escalation of events. (See Decatur County Historical Sketch from this project.) The 122 people recorded in the federal census for Salt Creek Township in 1850 had dwindled to 14 by 1860.  A total of eleven blacks were listed in all three townships in the 1870 census.  

As for Hays, violence and a series of newsworthy court battles drove him out of Franklin Co. by 1860.  And, as the figures below suggest, like the Whitewater River hamlet decades before, Franklin’s mid century black settlements soon disappeared as well. 

U.S. Census Estimates of African American Residents in Franklin County (1820-1900)

Census Year
1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900
No. of Inhabitants
65 91 82 209 103 24 12 6 7


Because of their possible ties to settlements prior to the Northwest Territory expansion and earliest settlement days, Whitewater and Brooksville townships may be areas for further investigation.

Bibliogrpahy 

Atlas of Franklin County, Indiana. Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1882

Bigham, Darrell E. On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley.  Lexington, KY: University Press. 2005.  

Bigelow, Bruce. “The Cultural Geography of African Americans in Antebellum Indiana” Black History News & Notes. May, 2009. 

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 0013 – 1820.  Clark, Dearborn, Floyd, Franklin, Gibson, Jackson, Jefferson, Pike, Posey, and Randolph Counties. Accessed on August 22, 2014. 

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 0027 – 1830.  Cass, Johnson, Dubois, Harrison, Jennings, Dear-born, Franklin Counties. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 0080 – 1840.  Fountain, Franklin, Fulton Counties.  Volume: Reel 0013 - 1820.  Accessed on August 23, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 00146 – 1850. Franklin, Fulton Counties. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 00259 – 1860. Franklin County. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 00315 – 1870. Franklin County.  Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume Reel 00259 – 1880. Franklin County. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Moore, Wilma.  “The Trail Brothers and Their Civil War Service in the 28th USCT.” Indiana Historical Bureau. Accessed June 20, 2014.

Nation, Richard, “Violence and the Rights of African Americans in Civil War Era Indiana: The Case of  James Hayes.” Indiana Magazine of History, Sept 2004.

Reifel, August J.  History of Franklin County. Indianapolis, IN: B. F. Bowen, 1915. 

Thornbrough, Emma L. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.

Werle, Audrey. “Thomas Malston: Indiana Pioneer, 1771–1867,” Black History News & Notes,  November, 1988.

By Martina Nichols Kunnecke, September 17, 2014