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Henry County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

Like neighboring counties Wayne and Randolph, Henry County was populated by significant numbers of Quakers from North Carolina. Henry County’s African American population was widely distributed across the county with the highest concentration in Greensboro Township.

Greensboro Township was the location of Trail's Grove, the large farm holdings of William and Sarah Trail, and the only documented black settlement in the county. William Trail and his father-in-law, Archibald McCowan/McGowan/McCown/McKown, a resident of Rush County’s Beech settlement, purchased adjacent 160 acre tracts near present day Shirley, Indiana. Trail was born in Maryland but came to Indiana in 1812 having escaped slavery in South Carolina. His wife was born in Virginia. In 1832 Trail and his family removed from their small holdings in Fayette County (formerly part of Franklin County) to begin clearing land for a farm that was the nucleus of community life. A school was organized for Trail’s own children as well as neighboring children. Eventually one or more of the Trail sons attended Union Literary Institute in Randolph County and returned to teach in Greensboro Township. Rush County histories show one of Trail’s sons as a school teacher in the Beech.  His son, Benjamin, marries Ethalinda Wadkins/Watkins who is from a large, prominent Rush County family.

The 1850s reflect the largest population in Trail’s Grove as families grew in size and newcomers settled in the area. The population decreased slightly in 1860 with small increases in other areas of the county. Four of William Trail’s sons served in the Civil War and following the war the two surviving veterans along with Trail’s younger offspring continued farming and lives of active civic engagement. A small untended cemetery still marks the site of Trails Grove. Family names associated with Trails Grove settlement include Trail, McCowan/McCown/McGowan/McKown, Fears, Dempsey, Freeman, Johnson, Gapin and Fix.

Peter Winslow, born in North Carolina, was another prominent Henry County individual. He was the first known African American landowner in Henry County purchasing eighty acres in Dudley Township in 1827. In 1844 Winslow and his wife deeded land for an AME church near the village of Staughn. One of their sons, Reverend Daniel Winslow was a circuit rider who started preaching in Beech (Rush County) in 1840 and went on to help organize AME churches in Wayne County/Dublin, Fayette County/Connersville, and Randolph County communities of Greenville, Snow Hill and Cabin Creek. Willis Revels was a close associate also preaching at Staughn. Records show that Winslow was also involved with Freemasonry, organizing lodges in Dublin and Richmond, Wayne County.

In 1870, although still substantial, African American population declined somewhat. Members of farm families gravitated to towns and villages such as Cadiz, Greenville, Knightstown, Spiceland and New Castle. Special note should be made of Spiceland, home to a Quaker academy and Greensboro where an historic marker commemorates abolitionist Seth Hinshaw’s Underground Railroad Station and Liberty Hall, site of fiery antislavery meetings.


1857 Atlas, Henry County, Indiana: Reprinted from Map of Henry County, Indiana.Knightstown, IN.: The Bookmark, 1984 [i.e. 1994].

“Black History of Henry County.” Henry County Genealogical Services. Accessed June 20, 2014.

Boyd, Gregory, A., Family Maps of Henry County, Indiana. Norman, OK: Arphax, 2010.

Heller, Herbert L. Historic Henry County. New Castle, IN: Courier Times, Inc., 1981-1982.

Henry County Interim Report. Indianapolis: Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, 1993.

Higgins, Belden and Company. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of Henry County, Indiana. Chicago: Higgins, Belden, 1875.

Hubbard, Charles and Georgia Cravey. “The Trials of William Trail.” Traces Magazine, (Winter 2013).

Mayhill, R. Thomas. Land Entry Atlas of Henry County, Indiana, 1821-1849. Knightstown, Ind.: Bookmark, 1974.

Rerick Brothers. The County of Henry, Indiana: Topography, History, Art Folio: including Chronological Chart of General, National, State, and County History. [Richmond, IN]: Rerick Brothers, 1893.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana before 1900: a Study of a Minority. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

[William Trail, Jr.?] Story of a Slave [n.p, n.d.] Available from Indiana Historical Society and Henry County, IN, Public Library.

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.

By Georgia Cravey, June 22, 2014