In 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Bloomington was estimated at 84,067; in 1850, the total population for all of Monroe County was only 11,357.  Of that number 27, less than 1%, were people of color.  According to the population census, of that number here were 23 blacks and 4 mulattos.  About half of the people of color, 15, were adults age 20 or older:  Nolley, Murria and Sarah Baker; Abner and Mary Cramsen; Andrew and Jane Ferguson; Patience Locket; Linden Meads; Henry McCaw; William and Jenetta/Jinetta McClerkin; Hannah Sheppard; Dililia Walker; and Hark Wilson.

Of the adults, there were 7 men.  Three of the men were farmers (Linden Meads, Henry McCaw and William McClerkin); 1 was a barber (Nolley Baker); and no occupation was noted for 3 men (Abner Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson and Hark Wilson, a resident of the poor farm).

Most of the people of color lived in or near Bloomington in Bloomington and Perry townships (21).  There were also people of color in Indian Creek (1); Bean Blossom (1); Richland (1); and Clear Creek (3).

Surprisingly, nearly a third of the people of color (10) were natives of Indiana all of whom were age 20 and older.  The remainder was born in Kentucky (4); Virginia (3); South Carolina (7); Maryland (1); North Carolina (1); and Africa (1).

Seven of the adults were heads of household:  Nolley Baker; Mary Cramsen; Andrew Ferguson, Patience Locket; Henry McCaw; William McClerkin; and Hanna Sheppard.  Some of the households consisted of a single individual.  Seven of the people of color, regardless of age, were in homes where the head of household was white:  William Bird was in the household of William Crum; Linden Meads was in the household of William Jones; Dililia Walker was in the household of Gideon Walker; Hark Wilson at the Poor Farm; Moses Bush in the household of Benjamin Mather; and Columbus, Duerad and Bonaparte Moss were in the household of Josiah Hovel.

Andrew Ferguson was the oldest person of color in Monroe County in 1850.  He reportedly was born in Virginia 1755-1765, and was a private in the Revolutionary War for four or five years according to his self-report.  Sometime between 1820-1830 he relocated to Indiana.  He applied for a military pension in 1838 from Monroe County which was granted to him in 1839.  In 1851, at the age of 96, he applied for military bounty land.  Because he did not receive a favorable response, he resubmitted his application in 1855 but died before his request was acted upon.  Although he never received any bounty land, he did own property in 1850 valued at $150 and was the only person of color that year to own any real estate.  It is said that he was buried in an unmarked grave at Rose Hill Cemetery.  In 1984 the Daughters of the American Revolution remedied that oversight.

Look for a database of Monroe County people of color 1850-1870 at the Indiana Genealogical Society (IGS) website.  It is available to members only and includes:  name, date of birth, place of birth, place of residence, color and census year for each individual.  Because the database was only recently submitted to the IGS website, it may not be posted until September.

Blog post by Randi Richardson


  2. 1850 Monroe County, Indiana, federal population census.
  3. Transcription of the military pension application at


John Foster Touted as a Hero For His Role in Bloomington’s PCB Cleanup

John Foster, an alumni of Bloomington’s University School, is the son of a former IU professor.  Throughout his career he has held many different jobs most of which were unrelated to his pursuit of a degree in art.

Steven Higgs, an IU graduate and long-time, Bloomington-based environmental reporter, considers John to be an environmental hero, so much so that John was the focus of one of the nine chapters in Higgs’ book, Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana, published by the IU Press in 1995.

John was just a freshman in 1957 when Westinghouse Electric opened a manufacturing plant on Bloomington’s west side to produce electrical capacitors.  PCBs were used inside the capacitors as an insulating oil.  It was not until 1975 that Bloomington became aware of a PCB problem.  The problem was due to waste from the manufacturing process being disposed of in local landfills and city sewage lines.

According to Higgs, in 1982 John was working for a contractor to remediate a landfill where PCB-contaminated electrical capacitors from Westinghouse had been dumped years before.[1], [2]  When John became aware that what he was being asked to do did not really remove the hazards of the dump, he notified EPA.  They took no action.

A few months later, John’s employer received a new contract for the remedial cleanup of another PCB dump site in Bloomington.   John believed the cleanup was a farce and in 1984 contacted Mayor Tomi Allison with his concerns.  Allison took no action.

When John came across a letter from the State Board of Health stating that no one working at PCB landfills should be there without respirators and full-body covering, he became angry.  This was the beginning of his environmental activism and dedicated opposition to the proposed PCB cleanup agreement.

In 1987, John began leading guided tours of Bloomington’s contaminated sites.  The tours wound up at the farm of Dale and Connie Conard who lived next to one of the contaminated landfills.  Hundreds of deformed pigs were born on the Conard farm.  Some of the dead and deformed pigs were frozen in order to made them publically available at a later time and illustrate the problems associated with PCB contamination.

Throughout the chapter, Higgs outlined the many efforts of John to rid Bloomington of PCBs in a responsible, non-hazardous manner.  Those living in Bloomington since 1957 truly owe John a debt of gratitude.[3], [4]

Blog post written by library volunteer, Randi Richardson.

[1] Legislation in the 1970s prompted a halt to PCB disposal practices of Westinghouse and made them liable for cleanup of polluted areas, and in 1977, Westinghouse halted production of the capacitors using PCBs.  For more information see a case study by Tim Feddersen, 1998, titled “Westinghouse and PCBs in Bloomington, Indiana, available online.

[2] Kate Golden, “Toxic Tourism ( Our Favorite Kind):  Bloomington, Indiana, March 12, 2011, available online at

[3] Steven Higgs, “Killing an Incineration Experiment,” Eternal Vigilance:  Nine Tales of Environmental Heroism in Indiana (Bloomington IN:  IU Press, 1995), pp. 138-159.   Available at the Research Library, Monroe County History Center.

[4] On January 27, 2006, the Bloomington Herald Times announced that the former Westinghouse/ABB Plant on Curry Pike was scheduled to close by late summer.