African American rural settlements documented: 0
The 19th century African American population in Wells County was minimal. In 1840 the census shows a total of twelve free people of color residing in the county (The enumeration for Wells County is not available by township for 1840). Of these individuals, all but one was in the Robert Green household.
By 1850, there is more information available about the Green household. Robert, age 63, was born in Virginia; his wife, Malinda Green, age 49, was also from Virgina. It appears they had nine children, Nancy, Susannah, Silkey, Abigal, Patience, Matilda, Heskiah, Benjamin and Mathew. Plat maps, deed books and tax records show various land transactions during the decades but by 1860 the Green household is gone from the Wells County census. The census for 1860 has only a single African American enumerated living in Harrison Township (and that entry appears to be in error).
By 1860 the Green household apparently relocates to neighboring Grant County. In a family with so many female members, the parents may have decided to move to find eligible mates for their children in Weaver, a thriving black settlement. An index to Grant County marriages shows Matilda Green marrying John W. Winslow 15 December 1869; Nancy E. Green marrying George W Trout 18 September 1861; Patience Green marrying Osborn Mitchell 23 April 1869, and Silka and Sitka Green (may be Silkey) marrying Robert Fleming on 17 March1855 and William Gulliford on 27 November 1862, respectively.
County histories note the prevalence of racial prejudice. Copperhead Democrats were a force especially in Bluffton. Secret societies on both sides of the issue paraded in the streets and Lincoln was burned in effigy. Emma Lou Thornbrough states that “…no Negroes settled [in Wells County] for twenty years after the Civil War” (p 227). By 1880, three African Americans (two barbers and a cook), were residing in Bluffton, the county seat. Thornbrough reports that each received written notice that they must leave. The sheriff and the hotel owner that employed the cook also received warnings to “get rid of the Negroes.” The county historian also characterized Wells County as a “sundown” area. A helpful librarian at the Wells County Public Library explained that modern day Bluffton is making efforts to overcome its past. She suggested that visitors notice city signage that welcomes people to Bluffton as an “inclusive town.”
A curious artifact stands in Liberty Township: “Africa” School constructed ca. 1910. The Wells County Library has a photocopy of a news article reproducing a class photograph of the school. Although it would be difficult to say absolutely, all the students appear to be white. I was unable to learn anything about the origin of the school’s name.
Grant County, Indiana, Marriage Records, 1831-1882. Ruth Slevin, comp. 1974.
“Houch Got Contract.” Bluffton Chronicle, March 2, 1930. p. 4, col. 5.
Rose, Dorothy. History of Wells County, Indiana, 1776-1976. Bluffton, Indiana: Wells County Bicentennial Historical Publication Committee, 1975.
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.
Wells County, Indiana, Deed Books A-N, 1837-1868. Bluffton, Indiana: Wells County Genealogical Society, 2011.
Wells County Interim Report. Fort Wayne, Indiana: ARCH, 2010.
Wells County: Towns and Townships: A Pictorial History. Virginia Beach, Virginia: Donning Company, 1999.
By Georgia Cravey, July18, 2014