This is the first of a four-part Black History Month series briefly examining the history of African Americans in Indiana. Before I begin, however, I believe it is worth pointing out several realities about the study of history in general.
First, it is impossible to understand history without taking into account the overall cultural context, i.e., human conditions, of the period under consideration. That means, from time to time, in order to understand what was happening with Indiana’s first black settlers, I may briefly veer into larger national and even international realities of the time. For the most part, though, I’ll try to stay on track.
Second, it seems that underneath every pebble of historical fact that are winding catacombs — manmade burial grounds — of human tragedy and triumph; and third, for both these reasons, anecdotal accounts of human history are by definition misleading.
Accordingly, in my view, the proper study of history forever raises challenging new questions of who, what, when, how — and of greatest importance — why.
With these thoughts in mind, through rudimentary research, I found that there was a smattering of free blacks in Indiana territory in the early part of the 18th century. The greatest influx did not begin until much later, around 1750. As a non-slaveholding state, Indiana was particularly attractive to blacks from Kentucky. Larger numbers of slaves escaping from North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi soon found their way into the state.
According to a study conducted by the Indiana Humanities Council, “This Far By Faith: Black Hoosier Heritage,” “They came in search of better economic fortunes and to escape the threat[s] of slavery. ... “To protect their precarious status, black pioneers often settled near groups of Quakers. Opposed to slavery, the Friends as a whole were more accepting of black settlers than almost any other group of whites; and, as such, they served as an important buffer.”