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

Blog post by Randi Richardson

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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.”

 

Remembrances of Drs. David Hervey and James D. Maxwell

The clipping noted below, written by Agnes McCulloch Hanna, was published in an undated, unsourced Bloomington newspaper under a column called “Looking Back.”  It was found in a scrapbook compiled by a man named Fred Lockwood.  The scrapbook is held by the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.  The item below was abbreviated from the original, as noted by the ellipsis, and excludes much of the information pertaining to the home built by Joshua Owen Howe later the property of David H. Maxwell.

According to information from the Rose Hill Cemetery Index, David H. Maxwell was born September 17, 1786, and died May 24, 1854.  His burial was in Rose Hill.

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…Dr. David Hervey Maxwell had written the constitution of our state with his own hand, and it may be seen to this day in our archives.  In 1838 his son, Dr. James D. Maxwell was elected to the Board of Trustees of Indiana University and held this office with the exception of a short period until his death in 1892.  In the discharge of his duties as secretary and trustee, he was noted for his fidelity and abiding faith in the ultimate success of the institution.

He helped his college through trial by fire and political controversy and was steadfast to it.  He saw it develop to the new and enlarged institution on its new campus.  Maxwell Hall is named in honor of David Hervey and James Darwin Maxwell.  His service rendered with no financial reward.  Miss Juliette Maxwell, youngest of his daughters, offers an annual prize to women students of the university, the James Darwin Maxwell medal, for excellence in scholarship and principals.

In a spacious house [on S. College Avenue, described at length in an earlier MCHC library blog] he and Mrs. Maxwell entertained twice each year the trustees and members of the faculty and their wives at dinner parties.  Dr. James Darwin Maxwell was born in 1815 near Hanover, Ind.  Of his ten children, three daughters are living—Mrs. Allan B. Philputt of Indianapolis, Miss Juliette Maxwell who resigned recently from the department of physical training at the university, and Miss Fannie Bell Maxwell, formerly an instructor at Ferry Hall, Lake Forest, Ill.  Mrs. Grace Philputt Young, his granddaughter, is a member of the Department of Romance Languages of which her husband is the head at Indiana.

This is a family which is tied intimately to our state and its university.  The house, which was for many years connected with the town and college, still holds its place as it is now the home of the Burton-Woolery post of the American Legion, many of whose members were graduated from the university, some of whom are attached to the university and all of whom see and take part in its activities.  A long life and a happy one, the Howe-Maxwell house has had in Bloomington.  Few can belong more closely to the community.  –Indianapolis Star

Blog post by Randi Richardson

 

A Descriptive History of the Howe/Maxwell House

The clipping noted below, written Agnes McCulloch Hanna, was published in an undated, unsourced Bloomington newspaper under a column called “Looking Back.”  It was found in a scrapbook compiled by a man named Fred Lockwood.  The scrapbook is held by the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.  The item below was abbreviated from the original, as noted by the ellipsis, and excludes information pertaining the Maxwells’ involvement with the authorship of Indiana’s constitution and Indiana University.

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The Howe/Maxwell house on South College near Second Street has been home to many businesses including Planned Parenthood and the American Legion.  From the front, the building doesn’t look its age, but from the view from the back, as noted above, is more telling.  

The bricks for the old Joshua Owen Howe home in Bloomington were brought from Louisville, Ky., although stone lay just under the grass of the building site.  The pioneers of Monroe County knew nothing of the wonderful material within their reach, and when they were ready to replace the early log structures, they sent for brick that as baked in distance kilns.  These in this simple, dignified house on South College Avenue were among those brought from Kentucky.

Joshua Owen Howe came to Indiana and the village of Bloomington in 1819 and became a leading merchant.  His people had come to Ellicots Mills in Maryland before the revolutionary war and were manufacturers there.  In Bloomington he built his first cabin and store on the public square and cleared away great trees and underbrush that the townspeople might have easy access to his store.  He lived there some 15 years.  Then, having made a success of his ventures, he decided to build a new and larger home near the college.  He bought a plot of ground and built the house which stands today much as he built it, although it is possible that the bay windows were later additions.

The house is three stories high.  The woodwork is painted white with the exception of the doors which are cherry.  The treatment of the massive window casings is unusual.  All the carving and grooving is handwork.  In the ceiling the plaster is indented to correspond, a means of decoration not seen before.  The inside, folding shutters belong to the period.

Ten great fireplaces were in the house in the early days.  They were replaced by stoves later and then by radiators.  Three fireplaces are still in the house.  Mrs. Allan B. Philputt of Indianapolis, one of the granddaughters of the Howe family, says that the fireplace in the south room had a very high mantel piece which was so tall that it was difficult to reach for dusting.  In that sunny room Louisa “Dovie” Howe, Mrs. James Darwin Maxwell, could be found most of the hours of her busy life.  The sun poured in there through the bay windows and the fire gave wonderful warmth to the babies who were rocked in the little, old rocking chair and to the older children who brought to her their troubles and joys.  There she sat to mend for her children and to wait for her busy, physician husband who was riding horseback through the country on his long calls or was busy with the affairs of the new state college for which he was resident trustee.  The college was a near neighbor to the Maxwell house.

The center halls of the house are wide and high.  The circular staircase is the most interesting feature with easy ash treads, and the handmade bannister.  The lower hall leads from the recessed front door with its silver luster bell pull to the series of rooms built at the rear, the kitchen, pantry, wash and wood houses.  A brick pavement outside the last rooms had in it two cisterns called the “summer” and the “winter.”  Even in those early days the infrequent rainfall was carefully conserved in Bloomington.  The [American] Legion post which now owns the house has thrown two rooms together and uses the pantry as kitchen.

In 1843, Dr. James Darwin Maxwell, son of Dr. David Hervey Maxwell and Mary Dunn, married Louisa “Dovie” Howe in this house.  The only bridesmaid was Jane Nowland, youngest daughter of Matthias R. Nowland of Indianapolis.  Miss Nowland made her home with the Howe family while she attended the female seminary.

Ten children were born to the James Maxwell, and in spite of the fact that the grounds about the house were large and that through them ran a brook, Mrs. Maxwell said that when each of her four boys brought a companion to play and the six little girls wanted space for their games, she felt the need of a farm at the very least.  So the family went to the country where there was room and to spare.  The house they occupied a few miles from town has been made over into two large houses.

When the children were grown they came back to this house.  Here Dr. David Hervey Maxwell came to spend his last years.  He had been much interested in the development of the railroads, and as a man of vision had hoped to see one come to Bloomington.  From whispers and hushed sentences about him, he was convinced that the first train was about to enter the town, and he was ill!  When he was left alone on that day in 1854, he got up from his bed, dressed himself and ran across the fields between his home and the tracks and was present at the momentous entrance of the Monon train…

Blog Post by Randi Richardson