African American rural settlements documented: 0
While no black settlements were found in White County, there were African Americans in the county during the antebellum period. The federal decennial censuses recorded the following blacks: 2 in 1840; 9 in 1850; 21 in 1860; and 3 in 1870. In The History of White County, author W.H. Hamelle reports that in 1833 “only two residents were able to escape the onslaught of chills and fevers that griped the lowlands of Big Creek Township— Calvin C. Spencer and ‘a small, tough negro boy.’ Another account of an early appearance of African Americans in the county is in a February 1923 Monticello Herald story, where Mrs. Bell Tilton recalls that her parents and infant son with a colored maid came from Virginia in 1837. She also notes that her aunt and uncle, “with two adult Negroes had preceded my parents and they, too, were domiciled [into] the log house of and with Mr. George Spencer.”
The census also reveals that there were black families that had a long history in the county. The family of Dennis Bell and their six children, along with a white farmer, first appear in the 1850 census. This family continues to grow, and by the 1860 census, Dennis’s daughter Harriet married a white man named Peter Thomas, and the families were next door neighbors. In 1870, Dennis and his family appear again, this time listed as white. Martin, Dennis’s son, also appears in the 1880 census as a farmer. The family lived as farmers in White County for at least thirty consecutive years.
Samuel Cooper was another African American with a long and well documented history in the county. He was a barber who established a shop in Monticello sometime before 1857. Hamelle’s history of the county has two interesting stories about Cooper’s integrity; newspaper articles regarded him as “honest and true.” Cooper lived in the county until his death in 1917.
There are also accounts of two men from White County who joined the 28th United States Colored Troops as recruits in August 1864. Isaac Francher and Abraham Wilson are listed as from White County, although no other documentation has been found about their lives in the county.
The largest storehouse of information on African Americans in White County is located at the White County Historical Society, Museum and Genealogy Research Library.
Hamelle, W. H. A Standard History of White County, Indiana: An Authentic Narrative of the Past, with an Extended Survey of Modern Developments in the Progress of Town and Country. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co, 1971.
“Local History.” The Monticello Herald, February 1, 1923.
“Samuel Cooper.” The Monticello Spectator, October 5, 1859.
Terrell, William Henry Harrison. Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana. Indianapolis: A.H. Connor State Printer, 1865.
U.S. Census, 1840: Population Schedules of the Sixth Census of the United States. Accessed July 16, 2014.
U.S. Census, 1850: Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States. Accessed July 16, 2014.
U.S. Census, 1860: Population Schedules of the Eighth Census of the United States. Accessed July 16, 2014.
U.S. Census, 1870: Population Schedules of the Ninth Census of the United States. Accessed July 16, 2014.
By Andrea Sowle, July 18, 2014