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La Porte County

African American rural settlements documented: 2

The Banks and the Henderson Settlements, established in different sections of La Porte County, were interconnected.  The two settlements also had connections with Clear Lake Settlement in Porter County, the Huggart Settlement in Saint Joseph County, and the black community in Cass County, Michigan. 

The Banks Settlement in Centre Township was located two miles north of the city of La Porte. African Americans owned property in several sections of the township. Surnames of those residing in the settlement included Armstead, Banks, Destarch, Dogan (Dugan), McClellain, and Medford.  In 1856, Thomas Dugan married Milly Butter, who possibly had a connection to the Nathaniel Butter farm in Berrien County, Michigan. There is also likely a connection with the Clear Lake Settlement in Porter County as a Banks also lived there, and the property borders those living in La Porte County.  The first Banks Settlement property owner was Adam Medford, who came with his family from New Jersey.  He purchased twenty acres on April 15, 1839. The 1840 census lists John Banks living next to the Medford farm (bringing the Banks Settlement population up to nine). The 1850 federal census records and land deeds show that the Medfords had increased their acreage to a value of $1,000 and new neighbors of the Medfords, Berry and Lucinda Banks owned $50 worth of property.  Berry Banks was originally from Virginia and his wife Lucinda was from Kentucky.  They had migrated to Indiana, where their first child, Jemima, was born by 1838. Berry was elected to the trustees of the African Methodist Protestant Meetinghouse in La Porte. 

By 1860, the Banks Settlement had reached its peak, when thirty-eight individuals resided in five households, of which, three were land owners. Because of the proximity to the town of La Porte, these farming families most likely would have had social connections to the large population of African Americans living in town. The Banks Settlement’s population had declined by the 1870s. The only new owner of property in the settlement at that time was Jackson McClellain, who came from Mississippi and bought forty acres of land near the Medfords. 

The Henderson Settlement, a smaller community consisted of two-square miles of land and was located in Lincoln Township. From 1844, at least three African American families lived on this land.  The Hendersons, Thompsons, and Wanzers (or Warners) came from Virginia. Terry Goldsworthy suggests that these families might have migrated to Indiana in response to the 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion. The settlement reached its population peak in 1860, when seventeen individuals were counted. At this time, Joseph and Debby Wanzer owned property worth $2,200 and the Henderson’s property was valued at $800.  The Thompsons, who did not own land, had their personal estate listed at $50.  By 1870, John Henderson who owned the 80-acre nucleus of the settlement had passed, and the population decreased to 15 people and only two families remained in the area. By 1880, the Thompsons had relocated to the Banks Settlement and only Joseph Wanzer remained at the Henderson Settlement. 

There are also other accounts of African Americans living in the county, particularly the town of La Porte before 1870. The first known African American settler in La Porte County was Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, who has commonly been called the Founder of Chicago. He was in Indiana before moving on to Michigan, and Illinois. 

Goldsworthy estimates that up to 50% of African Americans that lived in the county lived in rural areas, and had farming occupations at these settlements or on farms of nearby whites.  The La Porte County Historical Society has a large collection of primary source materials related to these settlements and other African Americans that were included in the large population numbers of La Porte County. 


“African Methodist Protestant Meeting House-Election of Trustees, March 31, 1845.” Recorder Book O, Page 412, March 6, 1845. La Porte County Historical Society Archives. 

“At Rest.” La Porte Daily Herald, November 21, 1892, page 3, col. 5. 

“First Colored Persons of La Porte County.” Charles Cochran Papers, La Porte County Historical Society Archives.  

Eddy-Shultz, Fern. “Early Black History of La Porte County, Indiana” La Porte, Indiana: La Porte County Historical Society, 2014.  (County historian’s presentation file)

"General Index of Deeds #1 Grantee, April 1833–April 1848, La Porte County, Indiana." Deed Book H, page 442. County Recorder's Office, LaPorte, Indiana.

"General Index of Deeds #1 Grantee, April 1833-April 1848, La Porte County, Indiana." Deed Book F, page 179 and 188. County Recorder's Office, La Porte, Indiana.

Goldsworthy, Terry. “Kankakee & St. Joseph River Valleys of Indiana.” in Underground Rail-road Research in Select Indiana Counties, 89-121. Indianapolis: Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, 2003.

Goldsworthy, Terry. “Was Freedom Dead or Only Sleeping?: The pre-1870 African American Rural Communities of the Kankakee River Valley.” Black History News & Notes, November, 1997.

Hickman, Russell and Elvis Oats, “Quaker Meetings and Cemetery in La Porte.” La Porte County Historical Society Archives, Society of Friends [vertical file.] 

Higgins, Belden & Company. An Illustrated Historical Atlas of La Porte Co., Indiana. Chicago: The Company, 1874.

History of La Porte County, Indiana: Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages, and Townships : Educational, Religious, Civil, Military, and Political History: Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens: History of Indiana, Embracing Accounts of the Pre-Historic Races, Aborigines, French, English, and American Conquests, and a General Review of Its Civil, Political, and Military History. Chicago: Chas. C. Chapman & Company, 1880.  

Jessen, Julie K. “African-American Culture and History Northwestern Indiana 1850-1940.”  Masters thesis, Ball State University, 1996.  

La Porte County Historical Society. Combined Atlases of La Porte County, Indiana, 1874-1892, 1907-1921. Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1998.

McDougald, Lois C. “Negro Migration into Indiana, 1800-1860.” Masters thesis, Indiana University, 1945. (Allen County Public Library)

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

U.S. Census, 1840: Population Schedules of the Sixth Census of the United States. Accessed July 10, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1850: Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States. Accessed July 10, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1860: Population Schedules of the Eighth Census of the United States. Accessed July 10, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1870: Population Schedules of the Ninth Census of the United States. Accessed July 10, 2014.

By Andrea Sowle, July 18, 2014