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St. Joseph County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

The Huggart Settlement is regarded as the first rural African American settlement in northern Indiana. Settled by brothers Samuel and Andrew Huggart in late 1834, it was a small, rural hamlet east of Potato Creek State Park. The settlement grew steadily until the early 1890s, when the death of Andrew Huggart and the growth of the nearby city of South Bend led to the decline of this unique community. Family surnames of the settlement included: Huggart (born in Virginia before migrating to Ohio), Bass (born in Guilford County, North Carolina, before migrating to Terre Haute, Indiana), Powell (from South Carolina), Manual (from North Carolina), and Boone (from North Carolina). In 1850, both Huggart brothers and their families appear on the census, and the settlement is comprised of 7 people. In 1860, the number rises to 8, and in 1870, it increases to 18, reaching its peak in 1880 when 28 mulattos are recorded. 

The extensive research of Frederick Karst, which included oral histories of community members who personally remembered the settlement, his publication, “A Rural Black Settlement in St. Joseph County, Indiana, before 1900” provides a good overview of the community.  Karst notes that the Huggart Settlement was typical for the pioneer period in Indiana, referencing Thornbrough’s research that early black settlements were, “…rural and that it apparently preceded permanent urban settlement in the county…” (Karst, 266). With as many as 28 residents in the settlement, the families likely shared the work of threshing, butchering, and other farm work. Local resident Charles Bowers remembers that the Huggart farms included two apple orchards amongst the typical raising of livestock and general crop farming. Karst also found evidence that Andrew Huggart was the first black person to seek public office in St. Joseph County, although his extensive research has failed to determine what the office was (Karst, 256). Huggart was also selected as superintendent of a Union Township Sunday School at Olive Branch—a position he held for many years (Karst, 257). Karst argues that these major milestones reflect the esteem their neighbors held for the families of the Huggart Settlement. Bowers remembered that, “… when the last of the Huggarts left Union Township, their friends and neighbors held a sad but festive farewell gathering in their honor, in character with the life they had shared as pioneers” (Karst, 266).

Today, two historic markers solidify the significance of this settlement: one on the former grounds of the Huggart Settlement and one at the Porter (Rea) Cemetery at Potato Creek State Park. While the settlement would have had several buildings, including log homes, barns, a school, and even a sawmill owned by neighboring abolitionist Solomon W. Palmer, today only one of the Huggart houses and one Manual house remains. The nearby cemetery, Porter (Rea), in Liberty Township is the final resting place for many neighboring families, both black and white. 

After the Civil War, the number of African Americans living in St. Joseph County surged, with the population living within the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka and otherwise scattered throughout the county. 

Bibliography

An Illustrated Historical Atlas of St. Joseph Co., Indiana. Compiled, drawn & published from personal examinations & surveys. Chicago: Higgins, Belden & Co., 1875.

Center for History. “Local African American History.” Local History South Bend.  Accessed June 8, 2014. 

Deed, September 6, 1854, Deed Record 72, p. 625, St. Joseph County Land Records. 

History of St. Joseph County, Indiana. Chicago: C. C. Chapman & Co., 1880.

“Huggart Settlement, ID No.: 71.1998.1”. (1998). Indiana Historical Bureau. Historical marker, NW corner at junction of SR 4 and Mulberry Road east of Potato Creek State Park, Union Township, St. Joseph County, Indiana.

Karst, Frederick A. “A Rural Black Settlement in St. Joseph County, Indiana, before 1900.” Indiana Magazine of History, September 1978: 252-68. 

“Porter (Rea) Cemetery, ID No.: 71.2003.1”. (2003). Indiana Historical Bureau. Historical marker, Cemetery located in Potato Creek State Park, North Liberty, St. Joseph County, Indiana.

“Indiana African American Survey of Historic Sites and Structures,” Library Collection, Indiana Landmarks State Headquarters, Indianapolis

U.S. Census, 1850: Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1860: Population Schedules of the Eighth Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1870: Population Schedules of the Ninth Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1880: Population Schedules of the Tenth Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

By Andrea Sowle, July 6, 2014