Early African Americans in Monroe County as Noted by Martha (Maxwell) Howard

Blog post by Randi Richardson

howard
A photo of Martha (Maxwell) Howard shared by Phil Schlee at FindaGrave.

On Reel 18 of the Local History Microfilm Collection at the Monroe County Public Library is a paper titled “An Early Sketch of Bloomington and the Family of David H. Maxwell” written by Martha (Maxwell) Howard, a resident of Terre Haute, Indiana, in July 1907.  According to that paper, Martha is the daughter of Dr. David H. Maxwell and his unnamed wife who is noted in other records as Mary (Dunn) Maxwell.   Martha died on April 27, 1909, at the age of 90.  The transcription, with punctuation added where needed, is eight pages in length.  The paragraphs noted below are excerpts from that paper.  The words in brackets have been added by me.

…[My mother] was fortunate in having for help a colored woman[, Maria,] whom she had brought from her Kentucky home.  But the laws of Indiana made Maria a free woman after she had been in the state a year and, although she remained with my mother several years, she finally decided to go south where she would be among colored people.  Then it was that my mother faced all the hardships of the situation.

It was a Herculean task for two hands to do all the work for a large family, cooking, sweeping, sewing, taking care of the baby and the little children, and a thousand other things that go to make up housekeeping.  Reared in a Southern state, she knew nothing of housework, other than sewing, until she was married.  She became an excellent cook, but when the time came that she had no help, and had for a time to do her own washing, this was the climax of her hardships.  Attempting it, every knuckle on her fingers would be skinned and bleeding, but she learned that there was a way to wash without the skinning process.

In the first settlement of the town there were two colored women by the same name, the one my mother brought from Kentucky, the other one having been brought from Maryland by Mr. Rawlins.  As one was large and the other small, one was always designated as “big Maria” and the other as “little Maria.”  Dr. Maxwell, my father, also brought with him from Kentucky a colored boy, almost grown, a slave in his father’s family, by the name of Richard Moor (sic).  These two colored people from Kentucky were the first of the race in Bloomington.

Dick, as they called the boy, was remarkably bright and smart, so much so that Dr. Maxwell taught him to read and write.  As he was an office boy, whenever he could get any of my father’s writing he would copy and recopy it until it was such a perfect imitation it took the closest scrutiny to tell the copy from the original writing.  After he became a man, he corresponded with several of the noted abolitionists of that day—William Loid Garrison, Thadeus Stevenson and Wendal [sic] Phillips…

The first barber in the town was a colored man by the name of  Notly Baker.  He was owned in Kentucky by Mr. Joshua Howe who brought him from Kentucky.  There were two other old colored persons who were early settlers.  “Old Andy” and his wife, “Aunt Jinney.”  Another old colored woman was “Aunt Hannah.”

 

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