Lick Creek African American Settlement

lick creek cemetery

The first African American settlers came to Orange County, Indiana before 1820. Led by Jonathan Lindley, eleven families traveled with a group of sympathetic Quakers in search of a new land which forbade slavery. Jonathan Lindley settled in Orange County in 1811, five years before the County was established and Indiana became a state.

These settlers were free citizens who fled racial persecution and increasingly restrictive laws for free blacks in their previous home in North Carolina. Traveling with the Quakers offered some protection on their journey and the promise of supportive neighbors upon their arrival.

black farmer plowing

According to the census records, there were 96 blacks living in Orange County in 1820. As more blacks came into the area they purchased land from the United States of America (patented) in what we call the Lick Creek African American Settlement area. Other names that the area has been called include Little Africa, South Africa, and Paddy's Garden. The first African Americans to purchase land in the Lick Creek area were Benjamin Roberts, Peter Lindley, and Elias Roberts all in 1832. By 1855, the settlement reached its maximum size of 1,557 acres. 

By 1860, 260 blacks lived in Orange County. Almost a third of them lived in Southeast Township in the Lick Creek African American Settlement, at that time a racially integrated community.

children looking at gravestone

One of the few sources of information on the residents of Lick Creek African American Settlement comes from their freedom papers filed in the County Courthouse. When the slave trade ended, the practice of kidnapping free blacks and selling them into slavery in Kentucky became prevalent. Once kidnapped, the free blacks had little recourse. There is also a County Register of 1853 which Indiana law required of all Negroes and mulattos. A physical description, often including distinguishing marks, is listed and statements by white witnesses vouching for the registrants free status and character.

A focal point of the settlement was the church. In 1843, Thomas and Matilda Roberts sold one acre of their 120 acres to five trustees for its establishment. The deed states the trustees (Elias Roberts, Mathew Thomas, Thomas Roberts, Isaac Scott, and Samuel Chandler) were to erect or cause to erect a house or place of worship for use by the members of the African Episcopal Church (AME) of the United States of America. This church operated from 1843-1869.

This AME church was near the site of the colored Methodist Union Meeting House. The Methodist Union Meeting House was built in 1837 on land owed by Ishmael Roberts. (This is not the same Ishmael Roberts who served in the Revolutionary War in 1778 as a private in the 10th North Carolina Regiment. This soldier's grave was discovered in Chatham County, North Carolina by writer Paul Heinegg). It is unclear when the Methodist Union Meeting House was abandoned, but it was probably replaced by the new AME church.

USCT gravestone

Many volunteer efforts throughout the years have helped maintain the Thomas and Roberts family cemetery near the site of the former AME Church. There are at least 14 marked headstones. Burials occurred between 1856-1891.

The presence of professionally made stones attest to the family's wealth. The last person to be buried there was Simon Locust in 1891. He served in the Civil War in Company E of the 13th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops.

vicinity map of lick creek settlement
order form for tombstone

Shown here is an order form for the tombstone of Mathew Thomas, born October 8, 1808 and died December 10, 1870. The tombstone was to be 3 foot tall and 12 inches wide inscribed with a hand and "gone home". The fee for the tombstone was $22.50 with a $1 fee for setting the stone.

Probate  Records for Banister Chavis

Shown here is a page from the probate records of Banister Chavis. The page is a record of the estate as appraised by Hiram Lindley and William Chambers on November 20, 1855. It gives an interesting picture of what a typical Lick Creek farmer would have owned. Each item of property is listed with its appraised valuation. Included are such items as 4 split bottom chairs, 2 beds, 1 lot of cupboard ware, 1 lot of bed clothes, 1 chopping axe, 1 2-horse wagon, 1 mattock, 1 wedge, and 3 clevises, 3 weeding hoes, 1 cary plow, 1 loom, 2 wash tubs, 1 shovel plow and singletree, 1 scythe and cradle, 2 bay mares, 2 bridles, 6 head of sheep, 1 spotted sow, 1 black sow and six pigs, 6 fat hogs, 5 geese, 1 stack of oats, 1 red cow, 1 red heifer, 2 yearling calves, 1 lot of tobacco, 1 lot of shock corn, 1 field of corn, 1 note on Elias Roberts due twelve months after date for $425.

archaeologist at work

At the end of the Civil War, the population at Lick Creek began to sharply decline and by the early 1900's the African Americans were gone. In fact, many left in the year 1862. Why they left is still somewhat of a mystery. Several factors probably contributed to this decline. The war was in progress, a boom of industry occurred in nearby cities, and racial pressure was increasing with the establishment of anti-black organizations. The last resident of Lick Creek African American Settlement was William Thomas who sold his land in 1902.

After the African-American landowners left the area, the land was purchased by white neighbors who continued farming until they were unable to pay their taxes. Many lost their land in the 1930's. This area is now part of the Hoosier National Forest and is the focus of ongoing archeological research.  Angie Krieger, Hoosier NF Archaeologist is shown here screening for artifacts at one of the historic home sites.

Further sources of information

Presentation by our Forest Archaeologist on the history of the Lick Creek African American Settlement and future plans for it

Short documentary by Indiana University's 812 Magazine reporter Daion Morton as he uncovers the lost story of one of Indiana's first African American settlements.

Archaeological field work at the Lick Creek African American Settlement

Underground Railroad research program

Information on Lick Creek Hiking, Bike, and Horse trail.

Robbins, Coy 1994; Indiana Negro Registers, 1852-1865. Heritage Books.

Robbins, Coy 1994; Forgotten Hoosiers: African Heritage in Orange County, Indiana. Heritage Books. Orange County Historical Society

Robbins, Coy 1884; History of Orange County. Republished by the Orange County Genealogical Society in 1985.

Heinegg, Paul 1992; Free African Americans in North Carolina.