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Union County

African American Settlements Documented: 0           

Consuming less than 170 square miles on the Indiana/Ohio border, Union has been a fork in the road for many who eventually ventured elsewhere. Established in 1821, its initial permanent white settlers were first generation South Carolinians of Irish descent, who acquired their land through the Cincinnati Land Office. The earliest federal census for the area (1830) confirms a preponderance of family farms, large family groups living near one another and no slave labor. 

Of the roughly 7000 Union County residents during its first census, about 77 “free colored persons” were listed among the general population.  A few were by white farmers and living on their property—as a single or as a small group.   A larger number owned and farmed a small property, where they lived with their families.  Like many of their white counterparts, most reported their occupations as farmers, “keeping house,” and raising cattle, etc.   Some families (e.g., the “colored” Orrs and the Churchmans would retain their property through several decades.)

Union’s population would hover around 7-8, 000 throughout the 19th century and the number of African American population would remain fairly low:

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

Census Year
1820 1830 1840 1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900
No. of Inhabitants
0 77 61 38 40 112 144 161 128


In the early 1840s, Hiram Revels (later the first African American to serve in the United State Senate) attended a Quaker Seminary near Liberty, Indiana. Revels used funds he had earned while working as a young barber’s apprentice to one of his brothers in their native North Carolina.  When this sibling died suddenly, Hiram received a small inheritance.  With these funds, he explored educational opportunities in the North, later attending the Union Literary Institute in Randolph County, Indiana. He and brothers, William and Willis, would eventually receive their credentials as A.M. E. ministers, while living in the Indiana/Ohio area.  Hiram resided for nearly 20 years in Washington County, Indiana.  

No black settlement was identified or confirmed in Union County.  It is likely that the families of color reached out to one another in some manner as community; but, this research did not discover the typical manifestations (e.g., church, school, etc.)    Like many of their white counterparts and the Revels brothers, some African Americans used Union County as a segue to a future elsewhere. Others appeared to have lived fairly independently with their cultural focus being their farm and family.           


Biographical and Genealogical History of Wayne, Fayette, Franklin and Union Counties.  Volumes I and II.  Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1899.  

Bureau of the United States Census, National Archives & Records, 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.

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

Robbins, Coy R.  Reclaiming African Heritage at Salem, Indiana. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1995.

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

By Martina Nichols Kunnecke, September 5, 2014