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Vigo County

African American rural settlements documented: 3

Vigo County was formed in 1818, and had early settlement by African Americans; in the 1820 census there were 26 free blacks. The black population continued to rise: 425 in 1840, 748 in 1850, 706 in 1860 (a slight decrease) and 1,099 in 1870.  In 1850, there were 41 black landowners, whose real estate was collectively valued at $37,850.(Heller)  John Lyda’s  The Negro In The History of Indiana describes the early black settlements in Vigo County as being some of the best known.  Black pioneers whose surnames were Roberts, Stewart, Chavis, Trevan, Archer and Anderson from North Carolina purchased large tracts of federal land by the 1830s. Historic accounts indicate that as early as 1832, a cabin was erected for the purpose of worship for Methodists and Baptists. An African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church congregation was established by 1840 and a Baptist church was organized by 1850. Two of the black cemeteries remain - Roberts and Stewart Lawn.  Descendants of these black pioneers still live on the same land, some for over 150 years. Two schools were established, as well as some fraternal lodges. A historic marker at the former site of the AME Church was placed by the community in 1974 to recognize the settlement’s Underground Railroad activities.

Richard Wright’s "Negro Rural Communities in Indiana" identifies Lost Creek near Terre Haute as being a colored settlement, which extended into Nevins and Otter Creek townships. 

The Burnett Settlement in Otter Creek (Cord) was established about 1835 and was named after its founder, Stephen Grove Burnett, a white man. Local resident Dorothy Ross described Burnett as flowing into Lost Creek and like Lost Creek, Burnett’s black residents also came from North Carolina. Their surnames included Stewart, Walden, Malone, Chandler and Roberts. Otter Creek Township's population in 1850 was 80, with Nevins Township 46 and Lost Creek Township 138.

Another known settlement was Underwood in Linton Township. It was settled by John Underwood in1841; the same year the township was formed, and most likely came out of part of adjoining Honey Creek Township. John Underwood was said to have purchased large tracts of fertile land. Early residents of the settlement, like those in Lost Creek, were free blacks who emigrated from North Carolina and Virginia (Lyda). The other names associated with the Underwood settlement include Thomas, Manuel, Roberts, Harris, Russell and Bell. Their citizens provided a subscription school for their children before public schools were opened (Lyda).  By 1850, Linton Township had 50 blacks; by 1870, that number had grown to 102.  Today a cemetery is all that remains of the Underwood Settlement. 


Ancestry.com. “U.S. Federal Census 1820-1870,” accessed June 20, 2014.

Anthrop, Mary E. "The Road Less Traveled: Hoosier African Americans and Liberia," Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Winter 2007.

Beckwith, H.W. History of Vigo and Parke Counties. Chicago: H.H. Hill and N. Iddings, 1880.

Bureau of Land Management, “Federal Land Patents,” accessed June 20, 2014. 

Cord, Xenia. “Rural Settlements in Indiana before 1860,” Black History News & Notes, No. 27 (1987).

Foulkes, Arthur. "Life in Underwood Settlement." Terre Haute Tribune-Star, February 13, 2011.

Foulkes, Arthur. "Roberts Cemetery links 1800s Vigo County to today." Terre Haute Tribune Star, March 31, 2013.

Heller, Herbert Lynn. “Negro Education In Indiana From 1816 To 1860.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 1951.

"Register of Negroes and Mulattos 1853-1854 for Vigo County Indiana." Indiana State Archives, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Lu, Marlene K.  Walkin’ The Wabash: An Exploration Into The Underground Railroad in west central Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 2001.

Lost Creek Baptist Church Sesquicentennial Anniversary Booklet, 1850-2000. (June 18, 2000)

Lyda, John W. The Negro in the History of Indiana. Terre Haute: John W. Lyda,1953.

Putt-Slater, Dawne, The Genealogy Center- Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Ind. (Knowledgeable concerning Indiana African American surnames)

Robbins, Coy D., ed. Black Pioneers in Indiana. Bloomington: Indiana African American Historical and Genealogical Society, 1999.

Tandy, Kisha. "Roberts Cemetery Association Records 1873-1911," Black History News and Notes, Vol. 28, Number 1 ( 2006).

Thornbrough, Emma Lou, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Audrey C. Werle “Research Notes on Indiana African American History,” M 792, William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wright Richard R., Jr. "Negro Rural Communities In Indiana," Southern Workman Vol. 34 (March 1908).

By Dona Stokes-Lucas, August 1, 2014