Jacksonian Miscellanies, #93 
July 17, 2000

1834: A Black Farm Community in Indiana

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Hopatcong, NJ 2000.
Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies.
If you do want to make multiple copies, please contact me.

Jacksonian Miscellanies is a biweekly email newsletter presenting roughly chapter length documents from the United States' Jacksonian Era.
It is free: send a message with

as the subject line to hal@panix.com.
To make a comment or query, send a separate message to the same address.
Back issues of Jacksonian Miscellanies are at http://www.EarlyRepublic.net/jmisc.

The following is from Chapter 23 of Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834. by Edward S. Abdy (London: Murray, 1835).
Most of it is concerned with his visit to a small farming community of African Americans near Madison, IN.


ON the 30th I left Louisville, at eleven A.M., by the steam-boat that carries the mail, and arrived at Madison, in Indiana, (fifty miles,) between four and five in the evening.

While the passengers were at dinner, I was lying down in one of the berths, as the coolest place I could find. Here I had an opportunity of observing what passed, and how. The first act was performed in dumb show and quick action, as usual, by the passengers; the second in the same manner, mutatis mutandis, by the crew; and the last by the colored people, who took their time, and cracked their jokes, while they were feasting on the good things. Seeing they employed the tongue as well as the teeth, and enjoyed a pun as well as the pudding, I asked one of them, who seemed to be full of fun, why the whites always ate their dinner in solemn silence. They were all much amused with the question. He replied, that he could not tell the reason. "It was all habit. In Europe people were sociable at meals, and eating was not merely an affair of the appetite." While I was meditating on the various ways in which gregarious animals take their food, new light seemed to burst upon my mind, and I discovered the impassable and eternal barrier that it has pleased Nature to place between the two races that inhabit the new world. All animals of the "Simia tribe" chatter while they eat: --man (par excellence-meliore luto, --genus American) is a "silent feeder." -------------------------------------------------------------- This sounds awful if you read it carefully, and realize that "simia" is Latin for ape, but note that he would, if he meant it, be calling Europeans apes as well, and he clearly thinks what he is describing is an improvement over the "silent feeding" of "white" Americans. He is so careful about racial language as to prefer the phrase "Africo-American", apparently of his own invention. --------------------------------------------------------------

The Ohio divides the slave-States from the free States: --a distinction without a difference, unless it be more criminal to steal than to acknowledge a right of theft; and less brutal to cry "mad dog!" than to knock him on the head. The North holds the muzzle, while the South rivets the chain.

I had intended, when I landed at Madison, to go on to Indianapolis, and from thence to Cincinnati; having been told by one of the passengers in the boat, that there was a stage next day at ten, a good hotel to sleep at, and an excellent road. I found, however, on inquiry, that the road was the very worst in the Union; and that, as for sleeping, I might sleep, if I could, in the stage, as it travelled all night.

The man had purposely deceived me, --why, I know not. He was standing near me, and smiled when I was told the truth at the hotel. The disappointment, as is generally the case if we would but "wait a wee", was productive of good, as it led to an interesting adventure. While trying to find some kind of conveyance, I went into a barber's shop; the master of which, in the course of conversation, told me there was a settlement of his people (he was one of the Pariah caste) within four miles of the place. I immediately resolved to visit it the following day. A white neighbor soon after came in, and asked him whether it was true, that he was about to leave the town. He replied, that he had no intention of the kind, though several persons were trying to get his house. "I am very glad to hear it," said the man "I was afraid you were going to quit us." Chancellor Walworth would have been utterly astonished at the white man's want of dignity; and still more so if he had staid, after such a shock to his feelings, and witnessed the civility with which every one who came into the shop treated the "degraded" barber.

I had, by this time, seen as much of one race as of the other; and I declare, as an honest man, that if there was really any superiority in either, it had been placed on the wrong side. At Louisville, a German, whose shop I went into to get some refreshment, assured me that the young men in his establishment, who were all free blacks or mulattoes, were well-behaved and trustworthy; and that one of them, with whom I had a good deal of conversation, was well informed, and "beloved by all who knew him." The next day I set off, on foot, for the colony --the existence of which I had never before heard of. On arriving at the first house, which belonged to a man of the name of Crosby, I was received with civility, but some little coldness by his wife, till I informed her that I was an Englishman, and that I was anxious to see, as well as to hear, how the settlers were going on. Her countenance then brightened up, and she begged me to sit down. They had come from Kentucky, she said, about thirteen years before; and, at first, had been well received and well treated; but for the last three or four years, they had "met with so much scorn and disdain," that she began to regret she had ever left her native place, though she had been exposed there to the risk of losing her children, many in the neighborhood having been carried off to the south by kidnappers. She and her husband had lately been so much pestered and plagued by the whites with offers, and all sorts of inducement, to give up their farm, and go to Liberia, that they were almost tired out, and the poor man could not sleep of a night for thinking of his family, and what was to become of them. These importunate, solicitations, too, were doubly galling, as they came chiefly from the teachers of a Sunday school, which had been established by some whites, who thus took advantage of the opportunity they had, while instructing the children, to urge upon the parents the necessity of emigrating to the promised land. I discovered afterwards, that the whole settlement was in a state of agitation upon this question. I overheard the settlers repeating the arguments they had used against a scheme, which, they said, had nothing to recommend it, but the hope it held out of lessening their numbers, and perpetuating their degradation. A white boy of ten or twelve years of age; had, a few days before, let out the whole secret. "You must go to Africa," said he to Crosby, "there are so many of you; and you increase so much faster than we do, that you'll eat us out soon." The fact is, the situation these people have chosen is one of the most eligible in the State. The land is good; --the river, where they ship their produce, about a mile and a half off; and Madison, from which they are distant but four miles, will, when the projected rail-road to the metropolis is completed, be one of the most thriving towns in the western country. While they were clearing their farms of the timber, they were unmolested; but now that they have got the land into a good state of cultivation, and are rising in the world, the avarice of the white man casts a greedy eye on their luxuriant crops; and his pride is offended at the decent appearance of their sons and daughters.

The settlers are from Virginia and Kentucky. Some are liberated slaves --others have bought their own freedom, and the rest were originally freemen. Their number amounts to 129, making eleven families, which are rapidly increasing. The colony extends a mile and a half in length, and half a mile in breadth. They grow wheat, and rye, and hemp, and a little tobacco. Crosby has two farms, consisting of 137 acres, about one-fourth of which is under cultivation. He had raised, the year before, 300 bushels of oats and 140 of wheat. His stock was composed of six milch cows, four horses, and other animals, making in all fifteen head. There were eight or ten hives of bees near the house. He had eight children.

While I was conversing with Mrs. Crosby, a colored man rode up, and having dismounted, presented himself at the door. After he had taken the seat that was offered, he said: --"It is so long since you saw me, and I am so altered by a swelled face, and a severe cold, that I am not surprised you do not know me." Having kept her curiosity in suspense a few minutes, he told her who he was. He was from her native place. Nothing could exceed the good woman's delight at the recognition. He had come into Indiana for the purpose of buying land, and was anxious to join the colony, if the whites, who were making every effort to prevent its extension, would permit him to settle there. I stepped out, that I might not be a restraint upon their conversation. Soon after, the farmer made his appearance: --a man with an honest open countenance, and a manner as devoid of suspicion as of guile.

It was now their dinner hour, and I proposed to sit down to table with them; though they told me they had but scanty fare, as it was a fast day. They had eggs and bacon, and coffee; and as they gave me a hearty welcome, I was as well pleased as if I had been sitting with nobles at the most costly banquet.

As soon as we had partaken of the humble repast, we adjourned to the school-room, a few paces off, where several of the neighbors had assembled for religious service. I remained talking with them for some time on various subjects, and found the elder part intelligent and communicative, and the younger attentive and well behaved. One of them, who appeared to be "the head of the clan", I took for a white man, as it required a more practised eye than mine to detect the "mark of the beast upon him." This man, whose name was Fountain Thurman, I accompanied to his house, which was close by. His history was somewhat singular, and explained the process by which a slave obtains his freedom through the interest of his master. He possessed an intellect as shrewd and as sharp as any I ever met with. His owner, finding him an excellent workman at the different trades he had acquired, as mason, well-digger, rock-blaster, &c., agreed to sell him his freedom by "instalments." It was agreed he should pay him 100 dollars every year for seven years; and as he could earn 200, in addition to board and lodging, he not only paid down the purchase-money at the stipulated times, but bought a farm, and, by good management, was enabled to redeem his wife and his children. He then crossed the Ohio from Kentucky, and invested what remained in the eighty acres he had in his possession when I saw him. His land was in excellent order; and his mode of cultivation considered so judicious, that his white neighbors often employed him to instruct and assist them. He had a numerous family of children; and as of the three who were alone old enough to be useful, two were married, and settled elsewhere, and the other in bad health, --he had all the work of the farm to do by himself, and was obliged to decline many jobs that were offered him.

There is another colony of the same kind at the distance of two miles. It consists of two families, the heads of which are renters, and have been on their farms ten or twelve years, --quite sufficient time for the owner of the soil to ascertain whether it were worth while to let his land to these "idle vagabonds." I did not visit them; but I should imagine they are less likely to be molested than the others: for few men like to be tenants where all wish to be landowners.

My host had been into eleven States, and knew more about the physical and political condition of the country than almost any person I met in it.

Our conversation was interrupted by a man whom I had observed to fix his eyes very steadily on me, while I was in the school-room. Entering the house rather abruptly, he whispered something to the owner, and they went out together immediately. On his return, Thurman informed me that he had just heard, for the first time, that there was a female slave in the village, who had escaped from a trader, and had been concealed there a week. I begged I might see her; and, as the log hut where she had found an asylum was nearly a mile off, I mounted one of the farmer's horses, and he rode with me on another. We passed through the woods; and having crossed two or three creeks, came to a narrow lane, which skirted some enclosures, and led to the cottage of one of the settlers, --an old man, whom I had seen at the meeting. Within were two other men, and three or four women.

I soon obtained from the object of my search the story of her misfortunes and her escape. She was by right a free woman; her parents, who had been taken from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, having, by the emancipation law of the former, ceased to be slaves at the expiration of the apprenticeship it created. Unfortunately, they were ignorant and careless; and their children, unable to establish their claims to freedom, were sold into slavery, and dispersed over the country. My guide, who had declared, on our entering the cabin, that he was sure he had seen her somewhere, asked her what part of Kentucky she came from. Her answer converted indistinct recollection into complete recognition; and he found, not only that he was well acquainted with her friends, but that her master's wife was his master's niece, --a circumstance which recalled to his mind the unhappy fate of the latter. She was shot by her husband, while he was laboring under an illness from which he thought he should never recover. She was a most beautiful woman; and he destroyed her lest she should marry again after his death. The brute was sentenced to be hanged for the murder; but he was saved from execution by a mysterious death. No one could tell what had become of him but it was generally believed that what was called his death was his removal to some other part of the country.

The poor woman's account of herself was, that she had been carried by land, with forty or fifty others, about 400 miles from Lexington: when she contrived to escape, and got back to her home, in the depth of winter, and through unheard-of difficulties; having travelled the whole way on foot, with the exception of fifty miles, when she rode on horseback behind a man, who refused to accept any remuneration. Her husband had given her some money at parting. By the time she got back, she had spent what she had received from him, and was dreadfully frost-bitten. She remained at home five weeks; when she was retaken; and having been put into prison for a week, was again carried off towards the South; and again, after four days' travel, eluded the vigilance of her keeper. She wandered about for three months, suffering from fatigue and hunger, and worn down by anxiety of mind for her infant children, whom she had left at the mercy of a cruel master. She at last found her way to Madison, having just money enough left to pay her fare by a stage part of the way. It was at the log hut, where I found her, that the man, I spoke of as having whispered to my guide, first saw her, on a visit from Madison, where he lived, to the woman of the house, who washed for him. He felt so much interested for her, that he determined to assist her to the utmost of his power; and as he had lately lost his wife, and was dissatisfied with the country, he intended to accompany her to Canada, and let her have his wife's papers as a passport. She had informed her husband of her second flight; and she was in hopes he would be able to join her with as many of her children as he could escape with.

It was agreed that a subscription should be raised among the settlers for the fugitive. Her benevolent friend told me he had ten dollars of his own for the purpose, and he hoped to get twenty more from his acquaintance. The gratitude of the poor creature herself for the little assistance I was enabled to render, and the generous sympathy expressed in her behalf by all present --less in words than in looks --cannot be described. "Many a time," she said, as she grasped my hand, while the tears were rolling down her cheeks, --"many a time have I prayed to God that some one would come from England, and redeem us from our cruel bondage."

I should observe, that when I was first informed of the slave's concealment in the settlement, I was requested to assist her escape, by writing false papers of freedom for her. Some documents of the kind, properly drawn up and authenticated, were put into my hands; but I refused to copy them, not only from a repugnance to do what was illegal, but from a conviction that they might perhaps lead to her detection by giving her a false security. No hint was given to me that she wanted money: nor have I reason to think that any was expected from me.

I know not how the law stands in Indiana. In Ohio I should have incurred a penalty of 1000 dollars --one half to the informer, and the other half to the State --for this act of common humanity. In North Carolina I might have been "hanged without benefit of clergy." To rescue a fugitive from justice is punishable, by Act of Congress, with a fine of 500 dollars. Our sympathy with the person robbed is thus thought to be half what it is with the robber; and it is twice as penal at Columbus to succor the distressed, as it is at Washington to obstruct justice.

But what right has an Englishman to throw blame or odium on any country, while his own has sent out to her colonies such instructions as I am about to quote from an Antigua paper?

The colonial secretary, with the view of promoting some legislative enactment, suggests to the colonial governments, that "the intrusion into a British colony of foreign fugitive slaves, should be made punishable, as a misdemeanor, by imprisonment with hard labor. The sympathy we may feel for the individual ought not to render us insensible to the dangerous tendency of his conduct." Who is to know that they are slaves? (It is an insult to the English, to talk now of foreign slaves; --there ought to be no other any where.) Are men to be convicted on exparte evidence, or upon no evidence, of an imaginary offence?

The second suggestion is, that as "the mere punishment of the offence is not all that the case requires, provision should also be made for the removal of the offender. As an alien, he has no right to fix his abode in the king's dominions: he must therefore be warned to depart; and if unable or unwilling to obey, he must be forcibly placed on board the first vessel which may be sailing to any foreign country where slavery does not prevail." That is, he is to be refused an asylum, as a convicted felon*,

------------------------------------------------------- * A boy, fifteen years of age, was condemned to death at Martinique, in 1815, for this offence; while his mother, who had concealed and fed him, was compelled to witness his execution. British subjects, it seems, are to escape the punishment as well as the guilt of the parent. The sentence of the court was thus worded: --"La Cour condamne Elysée (agé de 15 ans) à être pendu, et etranglé jusqu'à ce que mort s'ensuive, et son corps jeté à la voirie, pour avoir voulu ravir à son mâitre le prix de sa valeur; et Agnes, sa mere, à assister à l'execution, pour avoir recelé son fils, en lui procurant un asile, sous pretexte de pitié, et en fournissant à sa nourriture et entretien." -------------------------------------------------------

and transmitted, with successive precedents for cruelty,

" From realm to realm, with cross or crescent crown'd, Where'er mankind and misery are found,"

till not a spot of earth remains for the sole of his foot to rest on.

This abominable measure is the legitimate child of compromise; and the hand that signed the death-warrant of the slave-alien is red with the blood of the apprentice-slave.

The secretary observes, (thirdly,) with a spirit of disinterestedness worthy of the occasion and the object, that if we were to transfer these fugitives to any English possession, we should subject ourselves "to the imputation of being governed by selfish motives, and of seeking to recruit the defective population of our colonies at the expense of our neighbours;" --specifying Sierra Leone, --the very place where we are doing what he deprecates. The only difference is, that, in that case, "our neighbors" are on shipboard, and, in the one supposed, on land. We are to hold, it seems, as a treaty-making power, for the "suppression of the slave-trade", that the fountain is pure, while the waters are polluted; that slavery is lawful, and the slave-trade piracy; and that man may have property in man at Martinique, but none on the Atlantic.

The circular virtually recommends that a new class of offences should be created, distinguishing common aliens from aliens who are slaves de facto or de jure, and making color a presumption of guilt, as if it were sought to perpetuate those prejudices which emancipation would destroy. "The fugitive", says the secretary, "may deny that he was a slave," &c. "To obtain his conviction of an unlawful intrusion, it would be necessary that this allegation should be disproved, which (meaning the conviction, not the allegation) would be impracticable," &c.; still "such persons should, when so suspected, be removed as aliens," and procure "securities for their departure and intermediate good conduct; in default of which (meaning the securities) they should be committed to close custody," &c. He had just before stated, that slaves driven on our shores by accident or shipwreck, are not to be considered "criminal." "There is no motive for removing such persons as aliens" Then there is a motive for removing others. The same exemption is to be applied to the victims of the slavetrade. "They would have an irresistible claim to hospitality." The black has rights in Africa, but none in Guadaloupe. The secretary says, that where the fugitives had been held as slaves unlawfully, "there would be no crime to punish." The crime therefore consists, not in coming to the colony, but in coming as a slave, --a composite species of offence, never known before, --a cumulative or constructive delinquency, in which are mixed up "conduct" that is "unlawful" yet natural in a foreign country, while it is innocent, yet dangerous, in our own; and "an act" that alien laws, the most odious to British ears, can alone make penal. There are other passages in this official paper equally objectionable. The whole ends with this significant hint: "You will communicate this despatch to the legislature, conveying to them the desire of his Majesty's Government, that to whatever extent the law at present there may be inadequate to give effect to these views, such further provision may be made by law as may be necessary for the purpose." --Dated, Downingstreet, 4th November,1834.

As the day was closing in, my guide offered to conduct me to Madison in the same way we had gone to the log-hut. We set off accordingly in the cool of the evening, and arrived there before dark. As we were riding together, he told me he had given three dollars an acre for the eighty he held, and had lately been offered 700 dollars for his bargain. A great deal of hostility had recently been exhibited against him for his supposed interference with his neighbors whom he was accused of having dissuaded from going to Liberia: not that his white neighbors wished him to emigrate, as they found him too useful to be spared; but they had threatened him for giving advice to others. Most of them, however, stood in need of no advice; for they saw through the whole plan in a moment, and often put such questions to the proposers as they were unable to answer.

We met several whites on the road, some of them very well dressed, as they were returning from a prayer-meeting at Madison. Most of them spoke familiarly to my companion, or nodded to him as they passed. He was a short man, with a clear piercing eye, and an iron frame. His bearing was frank and manly, but respectful; and his whole appearance bespoke great activity and resolution. A slight touch of the braggart about him was not ill-suited to the wildness of the scenery and the romantic nature of the adventure; and might fairly be set down to that giddiness of mind which self-elevation from the most abject state is apt to produce in the strongest heads. I learnt from him that there were kidnappers at Madison, whom he knew well by sight. The vicinity of the slave-States offers such facilities and inducements to this nefarious calling, that it ought not to be matter of surprise to find men base and cruel enough to yield to the temptation, when neither Boston nor New York is free from them. You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks