African American Rural Settlements Documented: 1
Parke County was formed in 1821; by the 1830 census, there were 16 free persons of color. By 1840, that number had nearly quadrupled (to 63), and by 1850, it soared again (to 228). Some of the increase in 1850 may be attributed to a local resident who had inherited some 50 enslaved people after the death of a relative in Alabama. The people were subsequently given their freedom and transported from Alabama to Parke County (Hackett). Also in 1850, there were four black landowners with real estate valued at $2800 (Heller). In the ensuing years, the black population dropped (to 196 by1860, and to 152 by 1870). Most of these African Americans were in and around the town of Rockville, as well as Adams Township and Penn Township. During 1850-1870, Raccoon Township also saw an increase, while Washington Township saw its population decrease.
Some of the early residents were free Africans Americans from North Carolina and Virginia, whose surnames included Artis, Bass/Bassett, Ellis, Hall, and Hartwood. They would move from Parke County to Howard County in the late 1850s (Hackett) and may have had ties with the Lost Creek settlement in Vigo County. Other surnames included Tyler and Harper.
Evidence was uncovered of a rural settlement /community in Parke County called Leatherwood. Additional research is needed to discover who these people were, their dates of entry and their migratory patterns within the county and state. There seems to be discrepancies in the local histories, which dates the arrival of blacks in the county as being after the Civil War, while the census and other data indicate otherwise. Recent research also found that there were free African Americans living within a group prior to the war (Hackett). Among the vertical files at the Rockville Public Library are John Hartwood's freedom papers, filed at the Parke County courthouse in 1829, as well as an 1848 deed record where Lewis Artis and others acquired a parcel of land for religious and school purposes for the colored population living in Leatherwood (Penn Township). Audrey Werle's research suggests that there were settlements in Adams Township, Penn Township and Raccoon Township.
Ancestry.com. “U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870,” accessed June 20, 2014.
Beckwith, H.W. History of Vigo and Parke Counties. Chicago: H.H. Hill and N. Iddings, 1880.
Hackett, Brian L. "Harboring Negroes: Race, Religion, and Politics in North Carolina and Indiana." PhD diss., Middle Tennessee State University, 2009.
Hackett, Brian L. "Hoosier Freemen Harboring Negroes in Antebellum Parke County, Indiana." Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Summer 2009.
Heller, Herbert Lynn. “Negro Education in Indiana from 1816 To 1860.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1951.
Lee, Dale Lynn and Ruth Ann, compilers. Burials of African Americans in the Rockville Cemetery Vols. 1-111. Parke County Public Library, Rockville, IN.
Lu, Marlene K. Walkin’ The Wabash: An Exploration Into The Underground Railroad In West Central Indiana. Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 2001.
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, August 1, 2014