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Switzerland County

African American Settlements Documented:  0           

In the early 1800s settlers began arriving via flatboats in what would become Switzerland County (1814).  It was a popular destination for people of modest means and of Swiss ancestry. The latter named the county after their native land and introduced vineyards and winemaking in the region. Mentions of African Americans in Switzerland’s historic records are scant and infrequent; however, records suggest blacks and mulattoes were present in the county as early as 1820.   By the 1850s there was a small but measurable presence in almost all townships.  Since 100% compliance with the census or registry laws was rare, especially in comparatively remote areas such as Switzerland County, it is likely the figures below underestimate actual numbers. The definition and recording of “free blacks” varied according to enumerator and census; so it is not always a reliable indicator. It also sometimes included or excluded “mulattoes” of which there were fairly sizable groups in Switzerland County.  

African American Residents in Switzerland County, 1820-1900 

Census Year
1820 1830
 1840
1850
1860 1870 1880 1890 1900
No. of "Free Blacks"
9 13 42 66 42 121 214 135 81

 

Documented references to local blacks (e.g., “Polk’s negro”) suggest some working relationship with white settlers. Slavery was tacitly accepted and indentured servitude common in Indiana. Further research could clarify the labor patterns in the largely agrarian Switzerland Co. 

Whether indentured, enslaved, or free, African Americans played a role in the county’s early settlement, river and farming enterprises.  Census records reveal that black farmers, laborers, river workers and household workers lived in both towns and rural settings. However, it most was rural dwellers living with families.  For example, the 1850 U.S. Census reflects numerous multi-member households in almost all townships where 4 members or more are working. The Dicksons family in Cotton Township is just one of numerous examples (i.e., Family #314: Benoni, Eva, Frederick, Elihu, Loyd, Israel, Nancy, William, Margaret, Jonathan and George).  

Despite their relatively small numbers, concern about the future of “colored” people was evident in the newspapers of the day.  Colonization programs and articles pertaining to “negro” migration appeared regularly in Vevay newspapers. In an 1883 piece, a prominent resident of Vevay, Levin J Wollen, indicated that the Republican Party was actively encouraging African Americans to move to Vevay to bolster the vote.  Also, he expressed consternation that African American children were attending the white schools in Vevay.  Further research might identify where people of color attended schools and churches and the location of cemeteries in the county.  It could also clarify how isolated clusters of African Americans in Switzerland Co. met those needs.

Bibliography

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, 4th Census.  Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 0014 – 1820.  Crawford, Delaware, Dubois, Harrison, Jennings, Knox, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen, Perry, Scott, Switzerland, Vanderburgh, Vigo, Wabash, Washington.. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, 5th Census.  Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 0032 – 1830 Ripley, Switzerland, Parke, Fountain, Warren, Vanderburgh, Union, and Clay Counties. Accessed on August 22, 2014.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Aggregate Amount of Each Description of Persons within District of Indiana,” 1: 352. Sixth Census of the United States, 1840. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1841.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III State of Indiana,” 1:124 Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1852.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III State of Indiana,” 1:124 Eighth Census of the United States, 1860.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Office, 1862

U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Population of Civil Divisions Less Than Counties; Table III—State of Indiana,” 1: 124. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1872.

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, 10th Census.  Indiana Federal Population Census Schedules, Volume: Reel 00313 – 1880 Sullivan, Switzerland, Tippecanoe Counties. Accessed on August 23, 2014.

History of Switzerland County, Indiana from Their Earliest Settlement: Containing a History of the Cities, Townships, Towns, Villages, Schools, and Churches Reminiscences, Extracts, Etc. Local Statistics Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men. Mt. Vernon, In: Windmill Publications, 1993.) 

Switzerland County, Indiana Register of Negroes and Mulattoes (1853-1865).  Accessed during June and July 2014.

Wollen, I. J.   Editorial. “The Republicans Must Go!”, Vevay Democrat, October 25, 1883, p. 4. 

Weakley, Harraman & Co. History of Dearborn, Ohio and Switzerland Counties, Indiana: From Their Earliest Settlement, Containing a History of the Counties, Their Cities, Townships, Towns, Villages, Schools, and Churches ... Biographies ... History of the North-West Territory, the State of Indiana, and the Indians. Chicago: Weakley, Harraman Co, 1885. 

By Martina Nichols Kunnecke,  August 1, 2014