African American rural settlements documented: 0
Vermillion County was formed in 1824 and its 1830 census recorded the presence of 19 free blacks. This small population continued in successive years, with 23 in the 1840 census, 18 in the 1850 census, 30 in the 1860 census and 48 in the 1870 census. Most of these residents lived in the town of Clinton. The surnames of families recorded in the 1850 census included Davis, Musgrave, Richards and Thomas. Their birthplaces included Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. Surnames of families recorded in the 1870 census included Adams, Banks, Cooper and Taylor from Virginia and Maryland. The first (and perhaps only) African American church was the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was established in 1876 with six members. One of its pastors, Rev. W.R. Hutchison, was a resident of Lost Creek in Vigo County.
Among the early residents was James Taylor, who lived in Perrysville (in the northern part of the county). He was born into slavery in 1820 in Virginia. Taylor would later escape and join the Union Army during the Civil War, eventually accompanying a white soldier to Indiana. Taylor's personal story of his life in slavery, travels to Indiana and the obstacles he encountered is told in a book that he dictated to his daughter in 1867. This rare and obscure book could help provide insights to the challenges faced by African Americans living in a post-Civil War community in Indiana.
Ancestry.com. “U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870,” accessed June 22, 2014
Clinton Public Library. Vertical file provided by Sue Vinyard, July 28, 2014.
Lu, Marlene K. Walkin’ the Wabash: An Exploration into the Underground Railroad in West Central Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 2001.
Taylor, Andrew M. Uncle Jimmie: The True Story Of A Slave Life, As Dictated To His Ten-Year Old Daughter Two Years After The Civil War. Nashville, Tennessee: AME Publishing House, 1909. (Recounts the life story of James Taylor, who "expresses the thought of a slave, and will serve to illustrate the longing of every human heart for freedom of body, mind and soul." "Uncle Jimmie said in one place, "I would rather die a free man and starve to death than to die in slavery with plenty to eat." The original of this work was started in 1867 and completed in 1909.)
Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M0792. William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.
By Dona Stokes-Lucas, August 1, 2014