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Hancock County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

There was one small unnamed settlement in Sugar Creek Township of Hancock County. John Delaney, born in Virginia about 1788, appears to be the nucleus of this community. An enterprising man, he purchased 140 acres of land in Hancock County in 1833. He established a tavern on the Old Brookville Road (SR 52) a mile west of present day New Palestine. The tavern would be located advantageously at a midway point between Indianapolis and Rush County, home to both the Beech settlement and the town of Carthage. His wife, Maryland native, Sarah Delaney, had a reputation as a good cook. The building is currently a private home still standing at 5714 W US Highway 52; Palestine.

Listed in the 1850 census as a farmer, Delaney is also identified as an early grocer in the county. Both John and Sarah are enumerated as mulatto. It is interesting that accounts of the Delaneys in the standard county histories do not mention race. They are buried in the small cemetery west of New Palestine situated near the site of their former tavern. Other burials in the Delaney Cemetery record the names Cambridge, Malson and Burns. Genealogy forums discuss much intermarriage among these families. Other names encountered nearby include Butler, Chavis/Chevis, Custor, Griffin, Locklear, Roberts, and Washington.

Although it bears more investigation, this settlement seems to have an interesting racial composition. Some of the households in this area appear to be headed by white men who have married “mulatto” women and raised large families. (E.g. the 1850 census lists Francis Malson, a farmer, 36 years old, white, married to Jane Malson, a 33 year old mulatto woman born in Kentucky with five mulatto children in the household.)

Joe Skvarenina, Hancock County Historian, considers racial identity in this area as fluid at the time.

In another example of racial fluidity (and again, more careful research is needed) it would seem that John H. Cambridge (farmer, born in Maryland) and Matilda Malson Cambridge, (possibly born in Ohio), residents in the Sugar Creek vicinity, were the parents of several children. In 1850 the entire household is enumerated as mulatto. However, some sources indicate that their son Edwin later served in the 2nd regiment, Indiana Calvary, a “white” unit, rather than in a unit of the United States Colored Troops.

George Richman relates an incident that illustrates the nature of second class citizenship that people of color experienced in the area.  “About 1853-1854 several families came from Cincinnati…they seemed to be progressive and set about soliciting donations… for a more modern school…A mulatto…Lafe Cambridge had subscribed and paid his money…When he sent his children, objections were raised because they were colored…The children were not permitted to attend.”  

Two of Hancock County’s nine townships did not have any African American population between 1840 and 1870. The numbers are sparse for the other townships with Sugar Creek having the largest black population. In 1840, there is a population of 16. In 1850, there are 41 people. 1860 is the peak year with a population of 48. By 1870 the numbers decline to 11.

The only township to experience an increase in its black population in the 1870 census is Center Township where the county seat of Greenfield is located. The count grows from 9 in 1850, to 17 in 1860, to 31 in 1870.  

In his autobiography, George Knox gives a unique look at life in Greenfield. Knox, a one time barber, successful businessman, owner and publisher of an influential black newspaper, was born a slave in Tennessee. In 1863 he crossed into Union troop lines eventually making his way to Indiana. In 1865 Knox opened a barbershop in Greenfield, a town which Knox himself described as a place where “prejudice was very high.” Nevertheless, Knox and fellow black citizens created fulfilling lives establishing such organizations as a literary club, a debate society, a church and a school. Camp meetings in the countryside drew large crowds of both races.

Race relations come to a head in the decades following the Civil War. When groups of African Americans made attempts to settle in Hancock County warnings were posted, barns burned and livestock killed (Thornbrough, p 222-223). In 1875 a notorious lynching occurred. Armed and masked vigilantes from three counties broke into a jail and took their victim to the county fairgrounds where they hung him. Knox, described as an “accommodationist”, was able to withstand the pressures and controversy. However in 1884, no doubt recognizing his vulnerability as a black man, he ultimately relocated to Indianapolis. 


Binford, J. H. History of Hancock County, Indiana. Greenfield, Indiana: King & Binford Publishing, 1882.

“The Civil War.” National Parks Service. Accessed July 17, 2014.

“Delaney Cemetery.”  “Edwin R. Cambridge.” Find A Grave. Accessed July 17, 2014.

“41st Indiana Regiment / 2nd Indiana Cavalry in the American Civil War.” Civil War Index. Accessed July 17, 2014.

“Indiana’s African American Settlements.” Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. Accessed July 10, 2014.

Knox, George. Slave and Freeman: The Autobiography of George L. Knox. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1979.

Richman, George J. History of Hancock County, Indiana. Greenfield, Indiana: Mitchell Printing, 1916.

Skvarenina, Joseph. Also Great: Stories of the Famous and the Not-So-Famous of Hancock County. Greenfield, Indiana: Mitchell-Fleming Printing, 2000.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana before 1900: a Study of a Minority. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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. 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 Georgia Cravey, July18, 2014