In Print and On the Map: Articles in the Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Database and Corresponding Historical Markers

Historical Marker 2: John Freeman, 1099 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

“By far the most exciting case under the fugitive slave law of 1850, in the state of Indiana, was that of John Freeman, which was begun on Tuesday, June 21,1853, in the court of Squire Sullivan, commissioner of the United States for Indiana, in the city of Indianapolis.”

–Charles H. Money, Historian

The Fugitive Slave Case of John Freeman, a free black man, was widely covered and heatedly criticized in Indiana newspapers at the time. For those who opposed slavery, the execution of cases similar to that of John Freeman demonstrated the failure of the fugitive slave law to protect free blacks as well as the evil of an institution that treated enslaved and runaway blacks like chattel.

The Fugitive Slave Law, which abolitionists labeled the “blood hound fugitive slave bill,” was a component of the Compromise of 1850 that was adopted as a concession to the slave states of the South who feared losing the persons their prosperity depended upon to northern states where the authority of state officials to assist reclaiming supposed runaway slaves was questioned and unreliable.

It legitimized a custom that was carried out since before the Revolutionary War, which was the practice of returning slaves and fugitives to the colony/state from which they ran away. According to the fugitive slave clause, “No person held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

The 1850 law also amended the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law through giving U.S. Commissioners the authority to determine fugitive slave cases and ultimately issue a certificate to have fugitive slaves removed out of the state they had fled to and returned to their owners. Commissioners were paid $10 for each person they returned to his/her owner ($5 if the removal of the fugitive slave was contested), and owners or claimants were only required to have an affidavit as proof that they had owned the person as a slave. Alleged fugitive slaves were not afforded a jury trial and those who tried to stop the removal could face criminal charges and jail time.

From June to August 1853, John Freeman was the center of the most notorious fugitive slave case in Indianapolis.

Originally from Georgia, Freeman moved to Indianapolis in 1844 and deposited about $600 in a local bank. He painstakingly worked as a painter and soon acquired approximately four acres of land in Lot 4 between Meridian and Pennsylvania Streets (today that location is the southeast corner of Capitol and Michigan Streets) and a restaurant on Washington Street. By 1853 the property that he owned was worth about $6,000. Freeman was also an active member of a colored Baptist church and at the time of his trial was married with three young children.

The life that he had made for himself through hard work and community service was interrupted when he was arrested by a Deputy Marshal on June 20, 1853. The federal officer had an affidavit sworn by a man named Pleasant Ellington, a slaveholder and self-professed Methodist minister from St. Louis, Missouri, who claimed to be Freeman’s old Master. According to Ellington, John Freeman was actually a fugitive slave named Sam who had run away from him seventeen years ago when he lived in Kentucky.

When Freeman’s friends learned of his arrest they persuaded Squire Sullivan, U.S. Commissioner for Indianapolis, Indiana, to allow him to have legal aid. The lawyers who formed Freeman’s defense were John L. Ketcham, Lucian Barbour, and John Coburn, all leading Indianapolis attorneys. Ellington retained the services of attorneys L. D. Walpole and J. A. Liston.

Ketcham, Barbour, and Coburn petitioned for the time to build their case and Commissioner Sullivan granted them a postponement period of nine weeks to do so. They also requested that their client be let out on bail during those nine weeks. The bail bond included a $1,600 note signed by prominent community leaders, such as Judge Blackford, and made payable to the State Bank of Indiana in sixty days, as well as a $4,000 bond also signed by leading citizens.

Freeman’s defense additionally offered to match any amount Ellington named to ensure Freeman’s appearance at the hearing after the nine-week postponement period. Commissioner Sullivan did not grant the request for Freeman’s bail though, agreeing instead with Ellington’s attorneys that the U.S. Commissioner did not have the authority to release Freeman on bail.

Consequently, Freeman was forced to pay $3 per day to a guard who was selected by John L. Robinson, U.S. Marshal and three-time representative of the third congressional district of Indiana, to make sure that Freeman did not attempt to break out of jail.

The case progressed for 68 days under the attentive scrutiny of the public and extensive newspaper coverage.

Under Freeman’s direction, Ketcham, Barbour, and Coburn located witnesses in Georgia who knew John Freeman, confirmed his status as a free man when he was a resident there from 1831 to 1844, and agreed to come to Indianapolis to testify on Freeman’s behalf. Moreover, Freeman’s counsel found Sam, or the fugitive slave who Ellington claimed Freeman was, living in Canada. By then Sam had changed his name to William McConnell. While it was too dangerous to have McConnell return to Indianapolis, witnesses who met him were prepared to testify at the trial that there was no physical resemblance between McConnell and Freeman.

Meanwhile Ellington found three witnesses to back his false claim that Freeman was the runaway slave Sam. They agreed with Ellington’s sworn statement after being allowed to examine Freeman’s naked body.

The carrying out of that examination by the Deputy Marshal was deterred once by Freeman’s legal counsel. Shortly afterwards, one of Ellington’s attorneys asked U.S. Marshal Robinson to conduct the examination, which took place regardless of protests by Freeman’s lawyers. During the “examination,” Robinson forced Freeman to strip naked in front of Ellington’s witnesses so that they could identify physical similarities between him and the man they professedly knew as Sam.

Robinson’s conduct was condemned in newspapers across the state. He was branded as “Ellington’s watch dog” among other names. Similar insults and criticisms directed at his role in Freeman’s examination dogged the “watch dog” for the duration of his career. An article in the Plymouth Banner newspaper published on March 30, 1854, even reported that there had been an attempt to burn an effigy of Robinson in Crawfordsville.

By the end of the nine-week postponement period, seven witnesses had arrived from Georgia to testify on behalf of John Freeman. They did not give their testimonies though on account of Ellington fleeing Indianapolis before the trial. In other words, Freeman’s trial was over before it even happened. Commissioner Sullivan dismissed Ellington’s claim and released Freeman from jail after nine weeks.

John Freeman Side 1 John Freeman Side 2

While a trial did not deprive Freeman of his freedom, preparation for one did cause him to lose his lifesavings. While his lawyers did not make any charges against him, Freeman was still financially responsible for paying to have witnesses transported from Georgia and Alabama to Indianapolis as well as for covering the jail guard’s fee of $204. In totality, Freeman owed $1,288 with interest.

In order to recoup his losses in proving his innocence in the face of a dishonest claim, Freeman brought civil suits against Pleasant Ellington for $10,000 and federal marshal John Robinson for $2,000. He specifically charged Robinson with assault, forcing the prisoner to strip naked, and extortion of the jail guard’s fee.

The court sided with Freeman over suing Ellington, but reduced the amount to $2,000. An article in the Indiana American newspaper published on May 19, 1854, prematurely reported that Freeman was able to “recover $2000 from Ellington.” The writer of the article also triumphantly concluded, “When he recovers about twice that amount from … Robinson, negro hunters and negro catchers will be careful how they fool with freemen in Indiana.”

In reality, Ellington, who had already fled Indianapolis, further escaped payment by selling his home in St. Louis, Missouri, and leaving without notice. The Indiana Supreme Court sided with Freeman against Robinson in December 1855, but dismissed the suit on a technicality. (Robinson lived in Rushville, Rush County, Indiana but the suit was filed in the Marion County Circuit Court.)

Ultimately, Freeman retained what he could, which comprised of his home and garden plot, with the help of donations from churches in both Indiana and Georgia. (An appeal to ministers and churches in both Indiana and Georgia was published in an issue of the Indiana American on January 20, 1854.) He also sold off most of his real estate. Still, Freeman fared better than other African-Americans who were at the center of fugitive slave cases. As Indiana historian Emma Lou Thornbrough pointed out, “No one will ever know how many anonymous Negroes were carried off into slavery without the benefit of counsel or a fair hearing simply because they were without friends or money.”

When the Civil War started, Freeman and his family left Indianapolis for Canada.

The Fugitive Slave Case of John Freeman and other such cases that laid bared the inherent injustice of the fugitive slave clause in the constitution received intense public interest. Fugitive slave cases also served to swell the general wave of disgust and horror at the slave catching system and thus escalated the rising conflict between free states and slave states over the institution of slavery.

Visit the State Historical Marker for John Freeman On The Map:

 

Follow the Fugitive Slave Case of John Freeman In Print

 

Sources:

Indiana Historical Bureau. “John Freeman.” Accessed July 22, 2014.

Money, Charles.“The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 In Indiana.” Indiana Magazine of History [Online] (1 June 1921): 180-198. Also refer to the Conclusion.

Nicholas, Stacey. “Freeman, John, Fugitive Slave Case of (1853).” In The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, ed. David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, 601-602. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. “Political Developments: The Fugitive Slave Law in Operation.” In Indiana History: A Book of Readings, edited by Ralph D. Gray, 145-148. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

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Notable Hoosier Obits: James Whitcomb Riley, died July 22, 1916

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New-York Tribune

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The Washington Times

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Richmond Times-Dispatch

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El Paso Herald

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The Seattle Star

The Seattle Star

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Today in Indiana History: Confederate Guerrilla’s Invade Indiana

On July 18, 1862, a small paramilitary force of Confederate sympathizers invaded Indiana and occupied the town of Newburgh.  The invaders obtained supplies and some ammunition before withdrawing across the Ohio River.  Read a contemporary account of the raid printed in the Indiana Daily State Sentinel at the linked image below.

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Daily State Sentinel for July 21, 1862

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In Print and On the Map: Articles in the Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Database and Corresponding Historical Markers

Historical Marker 1: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 414 West Vermont Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202

Bethel Early Image

Bethel A.M.E. Church

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Indianapolis’s oldest African-American church, has steadfastly served its community since before the Civil War. The church was founded in 1836 by a group of African-American Methodists. Members built a small church building on Georgia Street in between the Central Canal and Senate Avenue five years later. In 1857 members purchased Christ Episcopal Church and moved the building to their church’s site on Georgia Street. The role of Bethel AME Church, which was originally known as the Indianapolis Station, grew along with the black population of the city.

That black population made up approximately less than 3 percent of the total population in Indianapolis before the Civil War. Out of the total population of 1,338,710 in the state of Indiana in 1860, only 11,428 were African American. As the Civil War progressed though, the number of blacks coming to Indianapolis from the South as well as rural areas around the state only grew higher and higher.

Such an increase in the number and needs of the city’s black population, as well as its own membership, most likely prompted Bethel AME Church members to purchase a lot on West Vermont Street in 1867 for the construction of a new church building. By 1869 members had approved the name Bethel and moved to the new building on 414 West Vermont Street.

The new place of worship also became a place for social activism as well as a venue for organizing and implementing services in the black community. Those services included providing money, clothing, and temporary lodging to African-Americans immigrating to the city from the South after the Civil War.

Extending a helping hand to blacks coming to Indiana from the South was the subject of an article published in the Indianapolis Leader on January 24, 1880. (The Indianapolis Leader was the first black newspaper published in the city. You can read the blog post about the newspaper and its publishers and access digitized issues of the newspaper in the Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Database for more information.)

In the article the writer included a transcript of an interview with Reverend W. C. Trevan, who was the Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church at that time, concerning the activities of the Immigrant Relief Board since November 24, 1879, when a meeting was held to organize the committee at Bethel. Reverend Trevan was appointed as a member of the Immigrant Relief Board at that meeting along with several other pastors and community leaders including R. W. Wells, Charles Webb, E. Outland, W. H. Woods, J. S. Hinton, and L. E. Christy. Robert B. Bagby, cofounder of the Indianapolis Leader newspaper, served as board chairman.

The writer of the article explained that he met with Reverend Trevan to find out how many African Americans had traveled to Indianapolis from the South. In response to the writer’s questions Reverend Trevan first said, “I am in a position to know. To the last arrival I think it was about 438.” The writer also asked about the relocation of immigrants throughout the state. Referring to his notes, Reverend Trevan answered, “Eleven families have gone to Union City, 10 to Crawfordsville, 70 to Greencastle and 23 persons, among who were two men, to Shelbyville.” He also confirmed that several families were relocated to homes in other towns and cities in the state, like Spencer, Greenfield, and Terre Haute.

On the subject of where in the South African-Americans were emigrating from and in what numbers Reverend Trevan explained that the particulars varied. “Some 50 of the last lot came from Kentucky,” he said, “and they are coming in all the time from different points, and settling over the State. It is nothing new, [accepting] the large numbers in a lot. There has been a steady stream of colored emigration into the State for several years—particularly since the [Civil] war began and ended.”

By 1900, African Americans comprised about 10 percent (or 15,931) of the total population of the city. White realtors and segregationist groups worked to confine African Americans to heavily concentrated “colored” neighborhoods to the northwest of downtown Indianapolis as well as on the near east side and south side of the city in spite of the 1885 state civil right law that prohibited racial discrimination.

The article is followed by the Immigration Relief Board’s appeal to the public that was prepared by Robert Bagby, board chairman and cofounder of the Leader. (The issue also includes an interview with Rigdon Herring, an elder African-American man who came to Indiana from Lenoir County, North Carolina.)

Appeal Paragraph 1   Appeal Paragraph 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethel AME Church continued to be an important thread in the fabric of the black community located to the northwest of Indianapolis’s downtown area, functioning as a space of racial solidarity and fulfilling a role that was interwoven throughout civil rights struggles and community outreach services for African Americans in the city. The church also served as a venue for the organization of local associations that were instrumental in the push to achieve better housing, education, and equal rights for African Americans. Both the Indianapolis NAACP chapter and Indiana State Federation of Colored Woman’s Clubs were established at Bethel.

Members renovated the church building and adjoining parsonage in 1974 in order to make more space for outreach activities. Bethel AME Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. It is the only African-American church building in Indianapolis to receive that recognition.

Indianapolis’s oldest African-American church is still active in 2014, occupying the same site it did in 1869.

Bethel 2009 Image

Bethel A.M.E. Church in 2009

 

 

 

 

 

The state Historical Marker for Bethel AME Church, which is located across from the building on West Vermont Street, was dedicated on Saturday, June 20, 2009.

 

Marker Side 1Marker Side 2

Reverend Carey A. Grady was assigned to Bethel AME Church as the Senior Pastor by John R. Bryant, Presiding Bishop of the Indiana South District AME Church, on October 24, 2009. The church has 313 members as of July 2014. Bethel facilitates several community-centered activities, including the Back-To-School Giveaway and Adopt-A-School Program, which supplies school materials for the entire student body of Flanner House Elementary School as well as $15 gift cards to teachers, and the Homeless Program, which provides free lunches for homeless individuals every Tuesday. The church is also a member of the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCan) and has served as headquarters for IndyCan’s Mass Transit Campaign since 2013.

For a chronology of events, check out Angela Potter’s Timeline for Bethel A.M.E. Church.

 

Newspaper Article

“Colored Immigrants in Indiana: Their Character and Location.” The Indianapolis Leader, January 24, 1880. Pages 1-2. Accessed July 7, 2914. https://newspapers.library.in.gov/ 

Interviews

Brown, Emma, member of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Interview by Melissa Burlock, 18 July 2013. Audio recording, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, e-Archives, https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/6957.

Grady, Carey A., Senior Pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Phone conversation with Melissa Burlock, 14 July 2014.

Kitchen, Inez, member of Bethel A.M.E. Interview by Melissa Burlock, 19 July 2013. Audio recording, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, e-Archives, https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/6959.

McConnell, William, World War II veteran and member of Bethel A.M.E. Church. Interview by Melissa Burlock, 21 July 2013. Audio recording, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, e-Archives, https://archives.iupui.edu/handle/2450/6958.

Books

Hale, Michelle D. “Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.” In The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, ed. David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, 318-319. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Hyatt, Susan B., Benjamin J. Linder, Margaret Baurley, and others. The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis’ South Side. Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2012. http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu/cdm/ref/collection/NOS/id/2352.

Pierce, Richard B. Polite Protest: The Political Economy of Race in Indianapolis, 1920-1970. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. “African-Americans.” In The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, ed. David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, 5-14. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Warren, Stanley. “The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Traces (Summer 2007): 32–36.

Websites

“Above the Underground Railroad: Bethel AME Church.” Accessed July 8, 2014. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/in1.htm

“Bethel Cathedral.” Accessed July 8, 2014. http://www.bethelcathedral.org/

“Forged Through Fire: Bethel AME Church, Indianapolis Station AME Church, 1836-1869.” Accessed July 7, 2014. http://forgedthroughfire.wordpress.com/

Indiana Historical Bureau. “Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Accessed July 8, 2014. http://www.in.gov/history/markers/Bethel.htm 

Indiana Historical Bureau. “June 20, 2009 – Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Accessed July 8, 2014. http://www.in.gov/history/BethelDed.htm

NUVO Editors. “IndyCAN heralds mass transit bill passage.” Accessed July 14, 2014. http://www.nuvo.net/indianapolis/indycan-heralds-mass-transit-bill-passage/Content?oid=2784803#.UyJoWeddUQY 

 

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’60s African-American Newspaper To Be Digitized

The St. Joseph County Public Library and Indiana University at South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center recently received a LSTA grant from the Indiana State Library to create a digital St. Joseph County African American History Collection.

Among the items to be digitized are issues of the Reformer from 1967-71.  The Reformer documented South Bend’s African-American community at the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

You can read more about this story from the South Bend Tribune.

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Today in Indiana History: Terrible Railroad Accident near South Bend!

On June 27, 1859, heavy rains caused the collapse of a railroad bridge near South Bend.  The Night Express train plunged into the water with 150 passengers on board.  Early estimates placed the death toll at over 40 with many more injured.  Read a contemporary account at the following link: Marshall County Democrat

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Today in Indiana History: Benjamin Harrison Nominated for President

On June 25, 1888, the Republican National Convention in Chicago nominated Indiana resident Benjamin Harrison for president.  You can read a contemporary newspaper account about the convention in the Indiana State Sentinelalthough do keep in mind the Sentinel was a Democratic paper reporting on a Republican convention.

In the next couple of months, we’ll be uploading issues of the Republican Indianapolis Journal that cover the years of Harrison’s presidency.

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Vigo County Public Library Receives Grant to Digitize Terre Haute Papers

The Indiana State Library recently awarded a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to the Vigo County Public Library to digitize 80 years of Terre Haute newspapers.  The titles to digitize include the New Harmony Gazette, 1825-1826, the Terre Haute Weekly Express, 1868-1872, the Terre Haute Gazette Daily, 1870-1874, and the Terre Haute Daily News, 1880-1891, among others.  These newspapers will eventually be available via Indiana Memory.

Read the entire story online.

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Digitized Indiana Newspapers Help Solve Photo Mystery

The staff of the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville recently received a historic photograph that they had several questions about.  Thanks to the digitized newspapers available through the Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Program the museum staff were able to solve their questions.  You can read the entire blog post here.

Not only does this story show how helpful our digitized content can be for research, but it also illuminates another aspect about the newspapers we have digitized.  Even though we don’t have any Crawfordsville newspapers digitized yet, the museum staff were still able to locate an article about the event in an Indianapolis newspaper.  It is important to remember that sometimes a local event would be reported on in a newspaper not in the vicinity where the event occurred.  Keep this in mind while searching for ancestors or local history happenings in newspapers.  Sometimes you can find really good information in places that you would not expect.

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Lesen Sie Deutsch?

The final two batches of our 2011-13 newspapers recently went up on Chronicling America. Included on these batches are 14,800 pages of the German-language Indiana Tribüne from August 1900-March 1907.  The addition of the Tribüne brings the number of German-language titles in Chronicling America to 13 core titles (or 23 total because of title changes) from 9 different states (Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota).

Even if you cannot read German, these titles can still be useful for genealogical purposes.  If your ancestors were German-Americans in any of the states mentioned, there is always a chance the German-language press would carry obituaries or notices of your ancestors’ civil and social engagements.

As a reminder, the Tribüne is also accessible via the Indiana State Library’s digital newspaper site.  One bonus of using the ISL site is that you can crowd-source the German text, and even add tags to enrich other users’ searches.

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