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.”

 

MONROE COUNTY PEOPLE OF COLOR: 1850

 

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

Sources:

  1. http://www.indianahistory.org/our-collections/reference/early-black-settlements/monroe-county#.WY3fi8mCSZE
  2. 1850 Monroe County, Indiana, federal population census.
  3. Transcription of the military pension application at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~aagriots/SC/Ferguson.htm
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomington,_Indiana