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Jay County

African American rural settlements documented: 0

The 19th century African American population in Jay County was minimal. 

In 1840 the census shows a total of eleven free people of color residing in the county. (The enumeration is not available by township for 1840.)

In 1850 only three townships in the northwest corner of the county have African Americans living in them: Penn, 11 persons; Jackson, 17 persons; and Greene, 2 persons. (See Blackford County sketch for details on the Jefferson Hill household, Penn Township, who migrate from Blackford to Jay County by 1860.)

By the 1860 census Penn Township’s African American population increases to twenty, while Jackson and Greene Townships lose all their African American residents. Wayne Township, with the county seat Portland, has one African American.

In 1870, Penn Township has ten African Americans. Wayne Township has a population of eleven African Americans. All the other townships are exclusively white. 

The 1870 Index of Heads of Households lists the following names in Penn Township: Edith Hall, black female, keeping house, age 55, born in North Carolina; and Josiah Locust, age 55, mulatto male, farmer, born in North Carolina. The other households are from Wayne Township as follows: Hilary Chavions, age 47, mulatto male, turner, born in Virginia; and Jacob Chavions, age 30, mulatto male, teamster, born in Virginia. One other household in Wayne Township includes at least one African American but it is headed by a 43-year-old white male (Nimrod Headington) with substantial household value. (Possibly the non-white household member(s) are hired hands.) 

As a note of interest the History of Randolph County profiles a Hilary Chavous, born free in 1829 in Virginia. Chavous is described as a skilled lathe operator, a businessman and an inventor (p 137). According to this account, Chavous/Chavions established a business turning neck yokes in Portland, Indiana, in 1866. This is probably the same individual. The surname Locust shows up in Lick Creek settlement in Orange County.

Jay County had its share of racial prejudice. However, it would seem, that some held more tolerant beliefs than in neighboring Wells and Blackford Counties. Abolitionists such as John P. Shanks were a strong influence and there is considerable evidence of Underground Railroad activity especially in Penn Township. Liber College in Wayne Township was illustrative of aspirations of equality. Liber was founded in 1853 by a Presbyterian missionary. When George Lowe (aka George Hunter), an African American, was proposed as a student, some stockholders objected and withdrew their support for the school. Farmers’ Academy was established as a segregated institution at College Corner, just a short distance down the road from Liber College.


Jay County, Indiana 1982: A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories. Portland, Indiana: Jay County Historical Society 1982.

Jay County Interim Report. Indianapolis: Historic Landmarks Foundation, 1985.

McBride, Michael.  “College Long Gone, But History Still Strong.” Muncie [Indiana] Star Press, n.d.. (IHS clippings file) Montgomery, M.W. History of Jay County. 1864. Reprint, Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, 1969.

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.

By Georgia Cravey, July18, 2014