Madison County Historical Society

 
 

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 Pictured here is William "Bill" Walker, actor, director, and movie maker, born and raised in Pendleton, Indiana.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Researching Black History

 
 

Researching your African-American roots can be and is, in most cases, a daunting and frustrating task.  Often researchers hit a brick wall and take a long time to recover that "research zeal" again.

All, however, is not lost.  Since the internet, research and study of Genealogy has progressed by leaps and bounds.  From sparse postings, forums, and elementary software, genealogy research on the internet has become the place to be.  Digital sites now have search engines that can be readily accessed.  Stories, photographs, chat forums, videos, and interviews can be studied and/or downloaded.

Two ProQuest resources are introduced and discussed here.  It should be noted for the reader that ProQuest is a subscription source and, to fully have access, you need to be a member.

 The Black Studies Center can be found here.  Topics and studies available are several.

  • Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience
  • The International Index to Black Periodicals
  • The Marshall Index -- a guide to black periodicals, 1940-46
  • Chicago Defender newspaper from 1910-75
  • The Black Literature Index - 70,000 bibliographic citations
  • A collection of multimedia

An additional module from ProQuest is the HistoryMakers.  An element included here is 100 interview videos of contemporary African-Americans who have broken barriers or accomplished significant achievements.

Also included here is a collection of important writings, speeches, and correspondences between 1830-65 from black abolitionists who were active in the anti-slavery movement prior and during the Civil War.

 African-American Heritage is a collection created in partnership with leading African-American genealogists and recognized leaders to develop a comprehensive mix of resources, records, and tools specifically pertaining to African-Americans.  With this, you can  search the collection, visit the AfrigeneasTM Community, Explore Black Genesis, A State-by-State Resource Guide, and consult References and How To's.

Railroad to Freedom

 An important route was in southern Indiana

     "Ho!  the car Emancipation

     Moves majestic thro' our Nation

     Bearing on its train the story

     Liberty!  a nation's Glory."


Thus, exclaimed the opening verse of a hymn to a very unusual institution that existed in Indiana from the 1820s to the 1860s.  The verse is from the "Hymn to the U.G.R.R.," known as the secret organization called the Underground Railroad.

The U.G.R.R. movement became established as early as 1825 in Indiana.  It gained importance after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, which required the northern states to return any escaped slaves to their masters.  Local law enforcement officials where forced to help federal marshals arrest and bring to trial violators of the law.

Levi Coffin, a merchant in Newport (Fountain City) in Wayne County, became the leader of the anti-slavery group in Indiana.  It is estimated that he and his wife, Catherine, sheltered and transported more than 2,000 escaped slaves to freedom.  Further, it is thought that the Coffins were the inspiration for the characters of Simeon and Rachel Halliday, the couple who gained fame in the famous "Uncle Tom's Cabin." 

There were three major routes in Indiana.  The western route began at the crossing sites near Rockport and Evansville, where Judge A. L. Robinson was the lead agent.  Stations along the route were at Petersburg where Dr. John W. P0sey was "station master". 

At Princeton, Rev. T. B. McCormick of the Presbyterian Church took charge of many escaped slaves.  Rev. McCormick became a wanted man and finally fled to Canada.  The route continued northward through Vincennes, Terre Haute, Lafayette, and finally South Bend.

The central route began at the Ohio River crossings located all the way from Leavenworth to Madison, Indiana.  At Morvins Landing, Horace and David Bell helped Negroes cross from Brandenburg, Kentucky.  The Bells were eventually jailed for their activities.

Samuel Gordon had a "depot" three miles south of Bloomington while Rev. J. B. Faris of the Reformed Presbyterian Church conducted the station within the city.  It then passed through Mooresville and into Marion County, where Hiram Bacon's large farm house in Washington Township was a principal station.  Continuing north, the route went through Westfield and Levi Pennington's depot, then to the Fall Creek Meeting House station near Pendleton, to Logansport or Wabash to South Bend into Niles, Michigan.  The most important U.G.R.R. route was in eastern Indiana that began in Madison, Lawrenceburg, and Cincinnati.

At Eagle Hollow, three miles north of Madison, Rev. Chapman Harris, a Negro preacher and blacksmith, signaled the waiting slaves on the Kentucky shore by the hammer strokes on his anvil.  Jim Hackney, a half-breed Indian and Negro at Hanover, conducted the crossings at that location on the river.

Some of the important stations on the route was Neels Creek run by Rev. James Nelson, a Baptist;  Hicklin settlement in Jennings County;  John Thomas' house at Azalia and Luther Donnell's depot at Greensburg.  It was reported that there were 13 stations in Jennings County with most of them in Vernon Township.

The route continued through Cabin Creek, a Negro community north of Newport.  It continued on its northern swing through Richmond, Decatur, Fort Wayne,  and Auburn before crossing into Michigan on the way to Kalamazoo.

Along the three routes, the stations were usually about 20 miles apart and located on isolated farms or homes where the escapees could be sheltered, fed, and moved secretly at night by wagon on to the next "agent" or "depot."

A very important role was played by the free Negroes at their various stations.  Helping Chapman Harris at Madison were George DeBaptiste, who had been a servant of James Lanier;  Elijah Anderson, Griffith Booth.  Also there were Ben Swain of Rockport;  Jim Hart of Carthage;  Reuben Lawhorn of Parke County; "Aunty" Myers of Bloomington; William Hawking of Daviess County, and Miles Meadow of Clarksburg.  

Source:  Tales Of Our Hoosier Heritage  by Arville L. Funk, 1965.  Adams Press, Chicago, IL. 

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net