Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

News

February 14, 2013

Decatur County plays part in national history

Greensburg — In celebration of Black History Month, local historian and author, William O. Smith, shared Decatur County’s participation in the Underground Railroad with the Daily News.

Smith explained that the overall consensus of Decatur County was abysmally anti-black in the 19th century.

Indiana settlers were immigrating from “breeder states” such as Kentucky and Virginia, where the “overstock children” of slaves on small farms were still being sold — these were the same slave owners moving to Indiana and Decatur County.

Indiana also passed several laws which made the message clear that free blacks were not welcome in the Hoosier State.

Article Thirteen in the Indiana constitution, 1851, outlined that employers of blacks would be fined, and that free blacks were to leave the state. The article persisted for nearly 30 years.

Even the “Decatur County” Anti-slavery Society would have been more accurately the “Kingston” Anti-Slavery Society, according to William O. Smith. The abolitionists were primarily centralized in Kingston. Smith said that Greensburg had no role in helping fugitive escapees because a major trade road, “old Michigan road,” was active at night (The Anti-slavery Society should not be confused with the Colonization Society of 1850, said Smith, which wanted to fund sending blacks “back to Africa”.).

That isn’t to say there weren’t dedicated abolitionists.

The 1838 minutes of the Anti-Slavery Society described the death of Reverend P. Lovejoy, who was murdered in Alton for speaking and printing against slavery.

Quakers were also not the leaders in the Indiana underground, said Smith, but Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians.

The prominent Decatur County Snelling settlement would also play its important role in helping fugitives escape to Canada.

Despite Indiana not being a slave state during the time of Snelling’s prominence, whites were still obligated to return the escaped “property” or else face prosecution for assisting an escaped slave.

Fugitives also faced the threat of slave hunters, which became a lucrative business of bounty-hunting for freemen and fugitives alike. Fugitives were not truly free until they crossed into Canada.

Regardless of the odds, the Snelling settlement, Miles Meadows, and the Donnell, Hamilton, McCoy and other white families would assist between 125 to 320 or more slaves escape persecution.

The estimation of 320, said Smith, would have taken place over a 30-year period. Against the 100,010 slaves who fled to Canada, 320 is an incredibly small number.

The Snelling settlement was a unique entity until Article Thirteen was passed.

Smith said Indiana historians have dismissed the Snelling settlement as a community of escaped refugees. Smith’s research into Decatur County archives presents a different story.

In 1823 a black pioneer settler, Joseph Snelling, traveled from Kentucky and was among the first Decatur County settlers. He purchased 58 acres of land from the United States government and settled with seven or eight children (but no apparent wife) in Fugit Township, east of Clarksburg.

By 1850, the settlement would grow to 270 residents, crossing the Decatur-Franklin County line to Buena Vista. Eight black people would be listed as property owners, and of the 170 residents on the Decatur County side in the Snelling settlment, 65 were born in Decatur County.

Those who were not land owners would pay property taxes on wagons, cattle, and horses.

A colony of refugees would not be listed as land owners and tax payers, said Smith.

Another fact Smith uncovered was that in 1845, a black woman named Jane Speed owned 80 acres of land — a remarkable achievement considering not only her race but also her gender.

The Snelling settlement would disintegrate after Article Thirteen came into being. The article demanded that black residents evacuate the state, so the settlement honored the new constitutional law.

Black history in Decatur County is invariably centered on white abolitionists. There are not many black first-hand accounts of the Decatur County Underground Railroad, according to Smith, and the vast majority of Smith’s discoveries come from records manned by wealthy white land owners.

If any readers would like to express their thoughts on Black History Month, feel free to write a letter to the editor, at brent.brown@greensburgdailynews.com, or 135 S. Franklin Street.

Contact: Tess Rowing 812-663-3111 x7004

 

1
Text Only
News
  • Decatur County Events Calendar Local clubs, service groups, fraternal organizations and others are encouraged to send their Coming Events information to the Daily News at news@greensburgdailynews.com or Daily News, PO Box 106, Greensburg, IN 47240. April 22 1 to 3 p.m. - Euchre at

    April 19, 2014

  • Hoosiers need to move over for workers GREENSBURG - Hoosiers need to slow down and move over to allow a cushion of space for vehicles stopped on the road's shoulder, particularly on the interstates. National Work Zone Awareness Week was last week and the 17th anniversary of Indiana State

    April 19, 2014

  • Lunch Menus April 21 – April 25 Good Shepherd Christian Academy Monday - Pizza, grape tomatoes, strawberries and cake, milk Tuesday - Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, salad, ice cream, milk Wednesday - Chicken nuggets, tater tots, green beans, casserole, applesauce, milk Thu

    April 19, 2014

  • Graduation rates high GREENSBURG -- Greensburg and South Decatur High schools had among the best graduation rates in the state last year. North Decatur High School ranked near the middle, but still above the state average. Greensburg reported a graduation rate of 99.3 per

    April 19, 2014

  • nws-gb041914-pig virus photo Pig virus taking toll GREENSBURG -- When Decatur County farmer Jeff Smiley ducked into the nursery barn, about two dozen piglets rushed into a corner of their pen, their pinkish hides bouncing into one another like a porcine version of bumper cars. The piglet's round nose

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • nws-gb041914-santee fire station - pic1 (please place on pg1) Clarksburg Vol. Fire Department breaks ground on Station 2 CLARKSBURG -- In 2012, members of the Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) Board of Directors proposed building a new Firehouse to service the Lake Santee Community. CVFD Board President Wayne Geiss recalls that construction of a separate Fire

    April 19, 2014 3 Photos

  • A pedicure that cured all my pet peeves Since I was a young person, I always had some pets around. Most of these have been dogs, hunting dogs in particular. And I loved my pets. In getting older, I discovered that having a pet dog around is a lot of work. More work than I care to do in lig

    April 19, 2014

  • Church Briefs Liberty Baptist Church Sunday, April 20 - Resurrection Sunday Liberty Baptist Church will have Sunrise Service at 7 a.m. in the Sanctuary, with the women doing the program. Following the Sunrise service the men of the congregation will serve Easter B

    April 19, 2014

  • Cards RHP Kelly on DL WASHINGTON -- St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly has been put on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring. The Cardinals also optioned righty reliever Keith Butler to Triple-A Memphis and recalled rookie right-handers Eric Forn

    April 18, 2014

  • nws-gb041814-ymca flat rock - pic2 Local retreat mostly unknown around Decatur County ST. PAUL -- Out in the northwest corner of Decatur County lies a place that's largely unknown within the county itself. Oddly enough, this hideaway of natural splendor is anything but secret to the rest of the world. From Spain and Hong Kong they com

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos