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Wayne County

African American rural settlements documented: 0

The settlement patterns of African Americans in Wayne County are considered to be somewhat unique in that there were no separate and distinct settlements.  Emma Lou Thornbrough notes: “The first Negroes in Wayne County were found in Wayne Township, along the Whitewater River, but in later years they were found scattered throughout the county” (p 49).

Thornbrough found the pattern of settlement “striking” because of the “tendency to settle near communities of Quakers” (p 48). She observed that in 1850 Wayne County had the largest number of African Americans in the state and also had the largest number of Friends churches (p 48). Thornbrough also found that although the black population was the largest of any county, the number of independent farmers was small (p 136). However there were examples of prosperous black farmers like Seth Thomas with property valued at $4000 in Clay Township and Douglas White with property valued at $6000 in Franklin Township (p 136).

African Americans had a presence in Wayne County from the beginning.  As early as July 1813, Spencer, a free man of color, registered for a quarter section of land (Thornbrough, p 133).

In many ways the story of Wayne County is the story of the abolitionists in Indiana. New Garden Township was organized in 1817. Its earliest settlers were Quakers from Guilford County, North Carolina, who named the township for their original meeting house. Newport was widely known for Underground Railroad activity. The Wayne County Interim Report considers it “one of the greatest centers in Indiana for abolitionist principles and ideas.” (p 13) In addition to the large Quaker presence, the Wesleyan Methodists in Newport/Fountain City involved in one of the foremost  antislavery organizations in the country. Levi Coffin settled there in 1826. His home in present day Fountain City is an official State Historic Site. Sometimes dubbed “the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad,” it stands as a monument to people who fled slavery. The Wayne County Interim Report describes Newport as a place where African Americans “found a refuge” and were “allowed to engae in business pursuits on an equal basis” (p 14).

Two major thoroughfares ran through Richmond, Wayne County’s largest city: the Quaker Trace which extended north to Fort Wayne (and beyond) and the National Road which connected the county to the rest of the state to the west. By 1870 Richmond’s African American population stood at 470 people. Bishop Paul Quinn founded Bethel AME Church in the city in 1836. The church was a center of education as well as a center for the Underground Railroad in eastern Indiana. The 1857 building located on South 6th Street in Richmond is one of the oldest AME congregations in the Midwest. A district focused on South 7th, 8th and 9th Streets was known as “Little Africa.”

Black settlers with names such as Artis, Bush, Clark, Edwards, Freeman, Jones, Mitchel, Nixon, Outland, Roberts, Shoecraft, Taylor, Thomas, Wadkins/Watkins, White, Wilson, and Woods made their homes in Wayne County. A majority of black residents were born in North Carolina and came to Indiana with Quakers.  Many of the black residents were also born in Indiana, with a smaller number originating from Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee. There is evidence that a number of Wayne County residents move d on to other Indiana counties, Randolph County in particular.

Bibliography 

“Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richmond, Indiana, (1836-    )” BlackPast. Accessed July 31, 2014. 

Charles, C.E. “The Economy-Cabin Creek Short Branch and Some of Its Operatives: A Description of One Section,” 1971. Indiana Historical Society,  William Henry Smith Library, Indianapolis (Photocopy).

Coffin, Levi. Reminiscences of Levi Coffin. Cincinnati: Western Tract Society, 1876.

History of Northeastern Wayne County. Evansville, Indiana: Unigraphic, 1976.

History of Wayne County, Indiana. Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Company, 1884

“Indiana’s African American Settlements.” Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center. Accessed July 10, 2014.

Lafever, Carolyn. A Pictorial History of Wayne County, Indiana. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Donning Company, 1998.

“Levin Coffin House.” US National Park Service. Accessed July 31, 2014.

“Levi Coffin House.” Waynet. Accessed July 31, 2014.

A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana. 1908. Reprint, Evansville, Indiana: Whippoorwill Publications, 1983. (Reprint of 1908 edition.)

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana before 1900: a Study of a Minority. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870. Washington, D.C.: U.S. 

Government Printing Office, 1872.

Young, Andrew. History of Wayne County, Indiana. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Company, 1872.

By Georgia Cravey, July 29, 2014