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Whitley County

African American rural settlements documented: 1

Smith Township of Whitley County was home to a settlement referred to by various local historians as the “Jefferies Settlement” or “Jeffries,” titling it after the cemetery that now exists on the land. The first settlers to what became the Jeffries Settlement in Whitley County were Wyatt Jeffries and his wife, Eliza, who were from Virginia. Other early families to settle around the Jeffries were the Joneses and the Pompeys, also from Virginia. While the numbers were never as large as the Huggart Settlement in St. Joseph County, they did come close, with 98 members at the peak of the settlement. The population drastically changed from 0 recorded in 1840 to 88 in 1850, 90 in 1860 and 94 in 1870. 

The settlers of some 400 acres that made up this settlement were of various ethnicities including Native American, French, African American, and others.  From 1850-1870, white, black, and mulatto residents were documented within the settlement. Angela Quinn notes in her work on the Underground Railroad, “No evidence of Quaker assistance in organizing this settlement exists, although there is evidence of family ties connecting this settlement to the Weaver Settlement; scattered Free Black farmers in Eel River and Washington townships in Allen County, and to the urban community at Fort Wayne." From an 1889 plat map, it appears that the Jefferies settlement was located near the Eel River, and the route carved out as “the Goshen Road” which ran, through the Jefferies Settlement, Ligonier, and Goshen, and northwards to Cass County, Michigan. Land Records and census data indicate that it was possible that the Jefferies settlement crossed at the  Eel River and Washington Townships in Allen County, which would explan the appearance of otherwise seemingly outliers of African Americans in Allen County census records.

Nancy Bruner, a descendent of Mortimer Jeffries, recalled a story of how her ancestor fought and won a court case in Noble county after he had attempted to vote in 1864 and the defendants “with knowledge of all the facts concerning the plaintiff’s pedigree and blood, willfully refused to receive his vote on account of his color.” The case went to the Supreme Court, but eventually was able to prove French and Native American heritage, winning his ability to vote. Brunner believes that he was a strident supporter of Lincoln and that poll workers wanted to restrict him from casting his vote. In another account from Kaler and Marling, the Jeffries and other families were visited by the Smith Township Overseer of the Poor in 1840, “to show cause why they don’t comply with an act concerning free Negroes and mulattoes, servants, and slaves…” 

The Jeffries family name is also significant in the Beech (Rush County) and Roberts (Hamilton County) settlements in central Indiana. In Stephen A. Vincent’s work he makes several notes about the fairness of the Jeffries skin, in one case stating that, “A person like Macklin Jeffries, for example, might ‘go for white’ when traveling to towns and cities beyond the immediate Beech vicinity as a means of gaining access to meals, a place to stay, or travel accommodations that would otherwise have been prohibited.” A future researcher may want to confirm connections between the Jeffries family located in the Beech and Roberts settlements and those in Whitley County. 

There are certainly an abundance of resources out there to explore regarding this settlement. Many resources will be found in the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Library. 


1889 Plat Map Index and Images, Whitley County, Indiana. Accessed June 12, 2014.

Andreas, A T. Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Indiana. Chicago: Baskin, Forster, 1876.

Cox, Jim and Penny L. Baughman North. “Jeffries Cemetery, Whitley County, Indiana.” Indiana Resources. Accessed June 12, 2014.

Goodspeed, Weston A, and Charles Blanchard. 1882 History of Noble County, Indiana, Historical and Biographical. Knightstown, Indiana: The Bookmark, 1979.

Gradeless, Donald E. and Nellie R. Raber. Index and Surname Cross-Reference to Nellie Riley Raber's Whitley County Obituaries, 1858-1910. S.l.: Gradeless, 1979.

Gradeless, Donald E., S. H. Wunderlich, and Winston B. Sparling. Index to Landowners of Whitley County, Indiana, 1862. Racine, Wisconsin: D.E. Gradeless, 1973.

Harter, Stuart and Karen Harter. Original Land Entries of Whitley County, Indiana. Churubusco, Ind. (R.R. 2, Churubusco 46723): S. Harter, 1981.

Harter, Stuart. Whitley County, Indiana Bibliography of Genealogical and Historical References. Churubusco, Indiana: S. A. Harter, 1983.

Heinegg, Paul and Henry B. Hoff. “Free African Americans in Colonial America.” Common Place. Accessed June 12, 2014.

“Horrible Case of Miscegenation.” Plymouth Weekly Democrat, October 15, 1868 (vol.14). 

Kaler, Samuel P. and R. H. Maring. History of Whitley County, Indiana. S.l.: B.F. Bowen & Co, 1907.

Quinn, Angela M. The Antebellum History of African Americans in Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne, Ind.: ARCH, Inc., 2001. 

Quinn, Angela M.  [Bound—unpublished notes—in UGRR notebook-Angela Quinn—Allen County Public Library]

Quinn, Angela M. The Underground Railroad and the Antislavery Movement in Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana. Fort Wayne, Ind.: ARCH, Inc., 2001.

U.S. Census, 1850: Population Schedules of the Seventh Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1860: Population Schedules of the Eighth Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

U.S. Census, 1870: Population Schedules of the Ninth Census of the United States. Accessed June 11, 2014.

Vincent, Stephen A. Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Whitley County and Its Families, 1835-1995. Paducah, Ky.: Turner Pub. Co., 1995.  

By Andrea Sowle, June 18, 2014