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Scott County

African American rural settlements documented: 0

Some of the earliest settlers of Scott County came from the eastern seaboard by flatboat, but most came by foot from Kentucky, Virginia, or North Carolina.  Scott evolved into somewhat of a crossroad for several counties but was too distant from all county seats for practical matters. So, residents successfully petitioned the Indiana Legislature for separate status. (Corydon was the state capitol at the time.) Augmented with portions of Clark, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, and Washington counties, Scott was established in 1820.   The census that year recorded 2,334 inhabitants. The number of black people in the county would vary little over the course of the century:

U.S. Census Estimates of African American Residents in Scott County, 1820-1900

 
Census Year
1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900
No. of Inhabitants
0 15 15 15 2 5 10 1 1

 

These figures exclude those in bondage.  Census slave schedules for this period reflect approximately 200 enslaved people in Indiana- six in Scott County. Slavery was outlawed; it was openly practiced and tolerated.   Even so, there may have been some under-reporting of numbers. Owners paid a tax for each person they owned; so, some may have chosen to downplay the numbers. Since the census is based on voluntary participation, self-report and enumerator interpretation, it is vulnerable to low compliance, underestimates and inaccurate categorizations.

The above may be an “underestimate”, but whatever the actual number, Scott and many counties had similar counts.  (A 1901 statewide voter audit confirms this and the dramatic drop from mid-century figures. Indianapolis Journal, October 26, 1901.)  Still, the data does challenge the current consensus that African Americans were “not allowed” in Scott County but reveals nothing about the terms and conditions of their habitation. For example, is “Violet Lavinia,” who served the Swope family as a slave in Kentucky, but was “freed” in Scott Co. part of the count?  What was her status as a citizen and worker from 1820 onward?

Note also that the Washington County Negro Register (1853-1865), reflects Scott County as the birthplace for four of five “Jacksons” registering. (The fifth, presumably their mother, reported Bourbon Co. KY as her birthplace.)  There is also evidence that in 1850, of the 15 African Americans Scott County residents, 5 were school-aged children and 4 were attending school. From Coy Robbins Reclaiming Our Black Heritage in Salem Indiana, pg.92: “Table 15: Colored Children in Adjoining Counties Attending Schools in 1850.” Were they attending local white schools or were arrangements made for access to the A.M.E. “day” schools in adjacent Washington County? The famed Rev. Hiram Revels, his brother and other African Methodist Episcopal members had formed at least two schools in Washington County by 1845.  

All suggest that African Americans coalesced in some ways as community here that merit further examination. Similarly, with the possible exception of Scott Co.’s first lynching, there is virtually no mention of race in historic documents or local newspapers. Since “color related” news—both the sensational and mundane--was often picked up as filler or commentary in newspapers in other locales (Indianapolis, Louisville, Salem, etc.), future researchers could find substantiation elsewhere. 

Bibliography

Bogardus, Carl R. and Langdon, Leland. The Scott County Lynching in 1898.  Reprint of this 1945 article may be read at the Austin, Indiana History website. 

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana.  Federal Population Census Schedules and Volume: Reel 0014 – 1820.  Crawford, Delaware, Dubois, Harrison, Jennings, Knox, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen, Perry, Scott, Switzerland, Vanderburgh, Vigo, Wabash, Washington. Accessed August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana.  Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 0030 – 1830. Montgomery, Clinton, Vigo, Hendricks, Monroe, Putnam, Morgan, and Scott Counties. Accessed August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana. Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 0093 – 1840. Rush, Scott, Shelby, Spencer Counties. Accessed August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana. Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 00171 – 1850.  Scott, St. Joseph Counties. Accessed August 23, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana. Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 00294 – 1860.  Rush, Scott Counties. Accessed August 23, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana. Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 00357 – 1870. Shelby and Scott Counties. Accessed August 23, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, Indiana. Federal Population Census Schedules, and Volume: Reel 00309 – 1880.  Scott County. Accessed August 23, 2014.

Gresham, John M. Biographical and Historical Souvenir for the Counties of Clark, Crawford, Harrison, Floyd, Jefferson, Jennings, Scott, and Washington, Indiana. Chicago: Chicago Printing Co. 1889.  Print.  (Scott County Library)

LaRoche, Cheryl.  Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance.  Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

Thornbrough, Emma. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority.  Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.  

State Enumeration of Voters for the Legislative Apportionment for 1903. Indianapolis Journal, Volume 51, Number 299, 26 October 1901, pg. 9.  Accessed June 22, 2014.

By Martina Nichols Kunnecke, August 2014