African American rural settlements documented: 4
The four best known African American rural communities in Gibson County include one unnamed settlement in Montgomery Township and Lyles Station, Roundtree, and Sand Hill in Patoka Township. Each of these settlements appears to have a building that served as its church/school. Surnames associated with county African Americans include Anderson, Banister, Bass, Cantrel, Chaves, Cliff, Cole, Grier, Hardimen, Liggens, Lyles, McDaniel, Morland, Nolcox, Roundtree, Switch, Walden, and Williams.
The arrival of African Americans into Gibson County seems to have begun with Charles Grier. He bought 40 acres in 1815 in what became Montgomery Township. He came to Indiana from Virginia. He and his wife, Keziah, eventually acquired 260 acres of land. He appears to be the nucleus of an unnamed settlement in the township. Although Grier’s home is a distance from the African American settlers of Patoka Township, he funded an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sand Hill. In addition to his homestead he owned land near the present day Lyles Station. Grier (died in 1872) and other family members are buried in a Montgomery Township cemetery.
The ending date of this settlement is unknown. The Montgomery Township census lists 11 blacks in 1850, 24 in 1860, and 33 in 1870. Audrey Werle’s index lists Grier, along with five other African American heads of household from the 1870 census. Four of these people, including Grier, are identified as farmers. When Grier died, his children continued to own land in Montgomery Township.
Within Patoka Township, there were a large number of African American pioneers. The Gibson County census lists 45 free blacks in 1820, 53 in 1830, and 137 in 1840. In succeeding federal decennial censuses for Patoka Township black residents are listed as follows: 171 in 1850, 209 in 1860, and 312 in 1870.
Roundtree Settlement was located by the Patoka River. James Roundtree is the name most associated with this community. He and others built the Black Bridge. Later when it needed to be repaired, he fought and won a case that went to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The settlement of Sand Hill was located below Lyles Station. The Hardiman and Nolcox families are two early pioneers associated with this black rural community. Both families are still farming in Gibson County.
Arlene Blanks Polk, a descendant of Joshua Lyles provides a brief summary of Lyles, the namesake of Lyles Station. In this recent Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History article, she corrects the century-old myth that Lyles was a slave that was freed by a benevolent, white master. Through court records and other documents, she demonstrates that he belonged to a family of free African Americans from Virginia. The family moved to Tennessee and then to Indiana where Llesis listed on the 1840 Patoka Township, Gibson County census. Many of the African American heads of household that are listed with him lived near him in Tennessee. In the Agricultural Schedule for 1850, Joshua Lyles owns 320 acres of land with a farm value of $500. He provided land for the subscription school in1864, and in 1870 he donated land to the Airline Railroad. It was after this time that the area took on the name Lyles Station. Joshua Lyles died around 1885, leaving a very rich legacy.
Research in Gibson County has uncovered other early African American settlement names including: Algerville Hill, Switch, and Walden. More investigation needs to be done to discover if they were independent communities or how they relate to the better known settlements in Montgomery and Patoka townships.
The present day African American farmers in Gibson County have their roots in these historical settlements. Many still farm grain and raise cattle. More work needs to be done to connect these names with the census, locate the land of the early pioneers on the plats and track their migration. Lyles Station will serve as an antebellum African American rural settlement prototype for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). This Smithsonian museum is slated to open on the National Mall in 2016.
Cox, Anna-Lisa. “200 Years of Freedom: Charles Grier and the History of African American Settlement in Gibson County, Indiana," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Winter, 2013.
Polk, Arlene Blank. “The truth about Joshua Lyles A Free African American Settler of Lyles Station,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History.
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.
S. Wangersheim. An illustrated standard atlas of Gibson County, Indiana. Boonville, Ind.: Hammond & Tillman Pub. Co., [1899?].
Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M 792, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.
By Lishawna Taylor, July 27, 2014