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Jennings County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

Established in 1817, Jennings County had early African Americans settlers.  Forty-eight free blacks were enumerated in its first federal decennial census in 1820 census.  The black population continued to rise–58 in 1830; 158 in 1840; 323 in 1850; 151 in 1860 (noticeable decrease); and 422 in 1870.

Xenia E. Cord’s "Black Rural Settlements in Indiana before 1860" indicates that Jennings County, although unnamed, had one antebellum, black rural community. The Historic Black American Sites and Structures in Jennings County published by the Preservation Association indicates that south of the city of Vernon there was a settlement known as Richland or Africa (located in Vernon Township).  Audrey Werle’s research notes also suggest an early settlement in addition to Underground Railroad activity. 

Early landowners in this Vernon Township settlement included Dennis Carsey (Kersey) born in Georgia in 1789 and William Hood, the son of the Revolutionary War veteran (same name) from Jefferson County, Indiana. Carsey purchased a total of 80 acres of federal land buying 40 acres in 1834, and again in 1837.  Kersey (Carsey) and his household are listed in the 1850 census for the county, but by 1861 they are recorded in Essex County, Canada West, along with the Thurmans (Terman) another early surname from Jennings County. Hood’s federal land purchases included two transactions in 1841 for a total of 160 acres. In 1850, there were 21 black landowners in Jennings County, whose real estate was collectively valued at $8,140 (Heller).  The Historic Black American Sites and Structures mentions two property records, an1841 deed transaction for a Richland Cemetery and the 1847 deed for a plot of land for the African Methodist Episcopal Church that closed about 1900.  Several of the Jennings County surnames recorded in the Indiana Negro Register1852-1865 include Dennis, Dye, Vickery, and Valentine, with birthplaces listed as South Carolina and Georgia. Aaron Wallace, also enumerated in the 1830 Jennings County census, might be the same person that some Indianapolis history books regard as the city’s first black resident.  (Arriving in the early 1820s, Aaron Wallace was the young servant of General John Tipton, who helped select the city as the second state capital.)  The Richland Settlement land is now part of the Crosley State Fish and Wildlife Area. A cemetery with remnants of a few headstones is all that remains.


Bibliography

Ancestry.com. “U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870,” accessed August 12, 2014. 

Bureau of Land Management, “Federal Land Patents,” accessed August 12, 2014, 

Cord, Xenia. “Black Rural Settlements in Indiana before 1860.” Black History News & Notes, February 1897.

Heller, Herbert Lynn. “Negro Education in Indiana from 1816 to 1860.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1951.

Historic Black American Sites and Structures in Jennings County. Vernon, Indiana: Jennings County Preservation Association, Inc., 1998. Accessed October 31, 2014.

Aaron Wallace “Black History Month Hoosier History Makers.” Accessed October 31, 2014.

Robbins, Coy D., ed. Black Pioneers in Indiana. Bloomington: Indiana African American Historical and Genealogical Society, 1999.

Robbins, Coy D., ed. Indiana Negro Registers 1852-1865. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Book, 1994.

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

Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M 792, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.

By Dona Stokes-Lucas, October 31, 2014