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Owen County

African American rural settlements documented: 2

Established in 1819, Owen County's first family of color according to the 1820 census was headed by York Jones, with 11 people in his household.  (He moved to Greene County, Indiana, by 1830.) In the 1830 census there were 25 persons of color, a population which jumped considerably in successive years - 148 in 1840, 156 in 1850 - before dipping back to 85 (1860) and 59 (1870). Overall, most of these rural farmers resided in Washington Township and Marion Township; however, in 1840 the majority were in Washington Township, with the rest evenly divided among Lafayette Township, Franklin Township and Marion Township. 

Washington Township was one of the original townships, dating back to the county's formation. The Walden and Roberts families from North Carolina were the first black  settlers in Washington Township, arriving before 1825.  Walden donated land in 1842 for the Negro Cemetery (Peterson).  Other families associated with Washington Township included Powell, Mitchell, Harper, Ridgley, Brody and Boon. They came from North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, and Virginia.  In 1842 the African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation was established as part of the Terre Haute Circuit, with 20 members. (Robbins).

Marion Township (which was originally called Grayson) was established in 1836. Early settlers to the area were the Harris and Bass families from North Carolina, purchasing large amounts of land from the federal government. By 1850 Marion Township's colored population was on the decline, after the Bass, Harris, Russell and Powell families all left for Vigo and St. Joseph counties. (Peterson).

Owen County was not listed in Xenia Cord’s analysis of rural black settlements prior to 1860. Anna-Lisa Cox identifies Washington Township and Marion Township as among those places with African–American landowners before 1860. Coy D. Robbins’ 1995 presentation at the Roberts Chapel Annual Homecoming states that by 1830, five years before the founding of Roberts Settlement, there had been 14 Roberts families living in five scattered counties, one of them being Owen County. According to Herbert Heller's table of Negroes who owned real estate in 1850, Owen County had more landowners (17) than either Orange County (14) or Gibson County (15).  Roger A. Peterson's book, African Americans Found in Owen County, Indiana Records, 1819-1880, identifies primary source data and provides context to help discover these unnamed settlements.


Ancestry.com. "U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870," accessed June 20, 2014.

Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M0792. William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Bureau of Land Management, "Federal Land Patents," accessed June 20, 2014,

Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Cemetery Registry #CR-60-86 Owen County. 

Gibbs, Wilma L., ed. Indiana's African-American Heritage Essays from Black History News and Notes. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1993.

Heinegg, Paul. "Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware." Accessed June 20, 2014.

Heller, Herbert Lynn. "Negro Education In Indiana From 1816 To 1860." PhD diss., Indiana University, 1951.

Jennings, Debbie. Sweet Owen and Surrounding Areas. "Townships and Towns," website. Accessed June 20, 2014.

Peterson, Roger A.  African Americans Found in Owen County, Indiana Records, 1819-1880. Spencer, Ind.: Peterson, 1996.

Peterson, Roger A. "African Americans in Owen County, Indiana 1816-1880." Article of April 29, 1990.

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

Robbins, Coy D.  “Black Settlements in Indiana Affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church 1840-1845.” (Compiled from Minutes, Indiana Annual Conference, African Methodist Church, 1840-1845, as published in the African Methodist Episcopal Church Magazine, George Hogarth, ed. V1-12 (Sept 1841- May 1844) Schomburg Center Manuscripts and Archives Call No. SC Rare F 89-56)

By Dona Stokes-Lucas, July 18, 2014