Despite its status as a free state in the federal union, Indiana maintained a complicated relationship with the institution of slavery. The Northwest Territory, incorporated in 1787, banned slavery under Article VI of the Articles of Compact. Nevertheless, enslaved people were allowed in the region well after lawmakers organized the Indiana Territory in 1800. As historians John D. Barnhart and Dorothy L. Riker noted, there were an estimated 15 people enslaved in and around Vincennes in 1800. This number only represented a fraction of the 135 slaves enumerated in the 1800 census. When Indiana joined the Union as a free state in 1816, pockets of slave-holding citizens remained well into the 1830s.
Making matters more complicated, Indiana ratified a new constitution in 1851 that included Article XIII, which prohibited new settlement of African Americans into the state. Article XIII also encouraged colonization of African Americans already living in the state. The Indiana General Assembly even passed legislation creating a fund for the implementation of colonization in 1852. It stayed on the books until 1865. This, along with a litany of “black codes,” limited the civil rights of free African Americans and harsher penalties for African Americans seeking freedom. As historian Emma Lou Thornbrough observed, Indiana’s policies exhibited an “intense racial prejudice” and a fear of free, African American labor. One window into understanding complex history of fugitive slaves is by analyzing newspapers. Ads for runaways, fugitive slave narratives, and court case proceedings permeate Indiana’s historic newspapers. This blog will unearth some of the stories in Indiana newspapers that document the long and uneasy history of African American freedom seekers in the Hoosier state.
Runaway advertisements predominantly chronicled fugitive slavery in Indiana newspapers during the antebellum period. These ads would provide the slave’s name, age, a physical description, their last known whereabouts, and a reward from their owner. One of the earliest ads comes from the September 18, 1804 issue of the Indiana Gazette, while Indiana was still a territory. It described two slaves, Sam and Rebeccah, who had run away from their owner in New Bourbon, Louisiana. Sam was in his late twenties and apparently had burns on his feet. Rebeccah was a decade younger than Sam and “was born black, but has since turned white, except a few black spots.” This might have been a case of vitiligo, a skin pigment disorder. In any event, their owner offered a fifty dollar reward for “any person who will apprehend and bring back said negroes, or lodge them in any jail so that the owner may get them.”
On December 9, 1807, the Western Sun ran a similar ad with a small, etched illustration of a runaway slave. Slaveholder John Taylor offered thirty dollars for the capture and return of three slaves (two men and one woman) who had taken two horses and some extra clothes. “Whoever secures the above negroes,” Taylor said, “shall have the above reward, and all reasonable charges if taken within the state; or ninety dollars, if out of the state . . . .”
These ads escalated after Indiana’s statehood in 1816, leading to expansions of the role of local officials. As Emma Lou Thornbrough noted, African Americans “were sometimes arrested and jailed on the suspicion that they were fugitives enough though no one had advertised them.” For example, the Western Sun & General Advertiser published a runaway ad on June 27, 1818 asking for the return of Archibald Murphey, a fugitive from Tennessee who had been captured in Posey County. Sheriff James Robb, and not Murphey’s supposed owner, took it upon himself to run an ad for the runaway’s return. “The owner is requested to come forward [,] pay charges, and take him away,” the ad demanded.
Owners understood the precarious nature of retrieving their slaves, so some resorted to long ad campaigns in multiple newspapers. A slave named Brister fled Barren County, Kentucky in 1822, likely carrying free papers and traveling north to Ohio. His owner offered a $100 reward for his return for at least three months in the Western Sun & General Advertiser. He had also advertised in the Cincinnati Inquisitor, Vincennes Inquirer, Brookville Enquirer, Vandalia Intelligencer, and Edwardsville Spectator.
Other ads provided physical descriptions that indicated the toll of slavery on a human being. Two runaways, named Ben and Reuben, suffered from multiple ailments. Ben had his ears clipped “for robbing a boat on the Ohio river” while Reuben lived with a missing finger and a strained hip. Lewis, a fugitive from Limestone County, Alabama, had a “cut across one of his hands” that caused “one finger to be a little stiff.” They could also be rather graphic. The Leavenworth Arena posted an ad in its July 9, 1840 issue requesting the return of a slave named Smallwood, who scarred his ankles from a mishap with a riding horse; reportedly a “trace chain” wrapped around his legs, “tearing off the flesh.” The pain these men, among many others, endured from the years of their bondage was sadly treated as mere details in these advertisements.
While ads represented a substantial portion of newspaper coverage, articles and court proceedings also provided detail about the calamitous lives of fugitive slaves. First, court cases provide essential insight into the legal procedures regarding fugitive slaves before the Civil War. The Western Sun & General Advertiserpublished the court proceedings of one such case in its November 21, 1818 issue. John L. Chastian, a Kentucky slaveholder, claimed a woman named Susan as his slave and issued a warrant for her return. Corydon judge Benjamin Parke ruled in favor of Chastian on the grounds that Susan had not sufficiently demonstrated her claim to freedom and the motion for a continuance on this question was overruled. Even if Susan had been a free person, the legal system provided substantial benefits to the slaveholders, and since she could not demonstrate her freedom, she was therefore obligated to the claimant.
As for abolitionists, they faced court challenges as well. In 1843, Quaker Jonathan Swain stood before a grand jury in Union Circuit Court, “to testify in regard to harboring fugitive slaves, and assisting in their flight to Canada.” When asked to testify, Swain refused on grounds of conscience. The judge in the case granted him two days to reconsider his choice. When Swain returned, “he duly presented himself before the Judge, Bible under his arm, and declared his readiness to abide the decision and sentence of the Court.” The judge cited Swain in contempt and jailed him, “there to remain until he would affirm, or should be otherwise discharged.” This episode was one of many that demonstrated the intense religious and moral convictions of Quakers and their resistance to slavery.
By contrast, many of those who sought slaves faced little challenge. The Evansville Tri-Weekly Journal reported that Thomas Hardy and John Smith, on trial in the Circuit Court of Gibson County for kidnapping, were acquitted of all charges. The judge’s ruling hinged only on a fugitive slave notice. This notice provided “sufficient authority for any person to arrest such fugitive and take him to his master.” As with the case involving Susan, the alleged slaves procured in this case received less legal protection than the two vigilantes that captured them. These trends continued well into the 1850s through the end of the Civil War.
Second, numerous articles and narratives concerning fugitive slaves and free persons claimed as fugitives were published during the antebellum period. The passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, of which Indiana kept its obligation to enforce, exacerbated coverage. Some articles were merely short notices, explaining that a certain number of alleged fugitive slaves were passing through a town or getting to a particular destination. The Evansville Daily Journalran a brief description in 1859 about two men “who had the appearance of escaped slaves, came upon the Evansville road, last night, and passed on to Indianapolis.” It was also reported that they “had a white adviser with them on the cars,” supposedly a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. In another piece, the Journal wrote uncharitably about a “stampede of slaves” that:
. . . left their master’s roofs, escaped to the Licking river where they lashed together several canoes, and in disguise they rowed down the Licking river to the Ohio and crossed, where they disembarked and made a circuitous route to the northern part of Cincinnati.
After their travel to Cincinnati, the twenty-three fugitives began their route to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Conductors of the Underground Railroad also faced arrest for the aid of fugitive slaves. Another article from the Evansville Journal chronicled the arrest of a man known simply as “Brown” who aided four female slaves to an Underground Railroad stop at Petersburgh, Indiana. A US Marshal and a local Sheriff “charge[d] on the ‘worthy conductor,’ and he surrendered.” The officers returned Brown to the Henderson jail for processing. It was later discovered that he received $200 from a free African American for his last job. The Journal described Brown as a “notorious abolitionist, and if guilty of the thieving philanthropy with which he is charged, deserved punishment.” Indiana’s free state status did not lessen the prejudice against African Americans and abolitionists; it only obscured it.
One of the more elaborate, yet challenging methods fugitive slaves used to seek freedom involved shipping boxes. The Evansville Daily Journalreported of a fugitive slave captured aboard the steamer Portsmouth, a shipping vessel traveling from Nashville to Cincinnati. He was in the box, “doubled up like a jack-knife,” for five days before authorities discovered him and took the appropriate actions. The ship docked at Covington, Kentucky and they “placed the negro in jail to await the requisition of his owner.” It was learned later that the fugitive slave had an agreement with a widow to move to Ohio on condition that he work for her for a year. “He had fulfilled his part of the contract,” the Journal wrote, “and she was performing her stipulations, and would have enabled him to escape had it not been for the unlucky accident.” This story was also covered in the Terre Haute Daily Union and similar stories ran in later issues of the Journal, the Nashville Daily Patriot, and the Richmond Palladium.
Sadly, the ultimate risk for a fugitive slave was death, and Indiana newspapers chronicled these events as well. The Crawfordsville Weekly Journal published an article on August 16, 1855 detailing the death of a fugitive slave by drowning. It appeared to the authorities that the fugitive, resting near Sugar Creek in Crawfordsville, was discovered by a group of men and questioned about his status. Under pressure, the fugitive leaped into the water and tried to flee, which spurred one man to shoot off his gun in an attempt to stop him. As the Journal wrote, “this alarmed the negro, and he plunged beneath the waters, and continued to rise and then dive, until exhausted, and he sank to rise no more until life was extinct.” His body was discovered a few days later. While some deemed his death a mere drowning, others thought it more “suspicious.” The Journal continued:
Putting the most favorable construction on the circumstances, there was a reckless trifling with human life which nothing can justify. He was doubtless a fugitive, but they knew it not, and had no right to arrest him or threaten his life. They knew of no crime of which he had been guilty, and only suspected him of an earnest longing after that freedom for which the human heart ever pants; and because he acted upon this feeling, so natural and so strong, they threaten to tie and imprison, and when struggling with overwhelming waters, he is threatened with being shot if he does not return ; and then when strength and life were fast failing, stretched not forth a helping hand to save him from immediate death.
If the facts as stated be true, (of which we have no doubt,) there is high criminality, of which the laws of our country should take cognizance; and when the news of the negroe’s [sic] death shall have reached his owner, he will doubtless prosecute those men; it may be for murder in the second degree, or at least for the value of the slave.
The Journal eloquently elucidated why the application of fugitive slave laws, especially by vigilante citizens, harmed the civil rights and lives of both free people and those still in servitude (of which there were a mere few).
Free African Americans additionally faced threats to their lives and livelihood from the enforcement of fugitive slave laws. A well-known instance in Indiana regarded the arrest and release of John Freeman. Arrested and jailed on June 21, 1853, Freeman faced a charge from Pleasant Ellington of Missouri that he was one of his slaves. Freeman hired a legal team and after a lengthy trial that testified to his status as a free-born African American, he was released on August 27, 1853. It turned out that Ellington misidentified Freeman as a slave named Sam, who fled from servitude in Greenup County, Kentucky and likely escaped to Canada. Due to the diminution of his character, Freeman sued Ellington in civil court for 10,000; it was later ruled in favor of Freeman and he received $2,000 and additional unnamed damages. What Freeman experienced is but a snapshot into how fugitive slave laws harmed the rights of free people as well as slaves.
After the Civil War began, fugitive slaves continued to elicit concern, and coverage, in Indiana newspapers. In the spring of 1861, the Sentinel reprinted a piece from the Jeffersonville Democrat about the rise of fugitive slaves traveling through the Ohio River region: “the number of fugitive slaves caught on the Indiana side of the river, and returned to Kentucky within the past three months, is greater than that of any like period during the past ten years.” Kentucky’s government still offered a reward of $150 for each returned slave. That summer, the Indiana State Guardpublished President Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts on the issue. Lincoln, in a manner characteristic of his own political calculus, declared that Union soldiers were not “obliged to leave their legitimate military business to pursue and return fugitive slaves” but also cautioned that “the army is under no obligation to protect them, and will not encourage nor interfere with them in their flight.” The new President offered a nuanced position that possibly placated the Border States while satisfying the abolitionist wing of his own party. Realistically, it was a long way away from the Emancipation Proclamation.
The end of the Civil War brought the end of slavery as a federally-protected policy, and thus eliminated the need for fugitive slave laws. Their end brought a larger fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence’s commitment to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” Yet, the history of fugitive slaves often fell into tales of folklore and hyperbole. Looking at a primary source like newspapers helps to dispel many of the myths and provides nuance to the controversial subject of human enslavement in the United States. These stories represent a small fraction of the larger narrative about American slavery. To learn more, visit the Library of Congress’ page about fugitive slave ads in historical newspapers: https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/fugitiveAds.html. You can also search Hoosier State Chronicles for more fugitive slave ads and articles.
Montgomery County, Indiana has a rich, colorful history of newspapers, both in their coverage and the personalities that ran them. In this post, we will share some highlights of this heritage and emphasize some of the papers that are available in Hoosier State Chronicles (HSC).
The earliest paper from Montgomery County in HSC is the Crawfordsville Record. Editor Isaac F. Wade and printer Charles S. Bryant published its first issue on October 18, 1831. As Herman Fred Shermer noted in an article about Montgomery County publishing, the “type and presses for the Record plant were brought by freight wagons from Cincinnati, Ohio” and the cost of the publishing the first issue was approximately $400. While Wade and Bryant intended for the Record’s first issue to arrive in September, they were delayed a month because the printer required a capital “D” for typesetting. Wade, as a good Whig, believed that having that capital “D” was essential, as the paper would regularly refer to “Democrats and the Devil.” The paper ran until 1838, after the death of subsequent publisher William Harrison Holmes. A brief revival of the paper in 1839-40, led by William H. Webb and Henry S. Lane, never regained the paper’s subscription base and it ceased altogether.
The Journal’s Jeremiah Keeney and the Review’s Charles H. Bowen (Stover sold out to Bowen six months after their acquisition) maintained a years-long feud in their respective papers. As a recent article in the Crawfordsville Journal-Review noted, Keeney and Bowen exchanged pointed barbs at each other in the press. Here’s a few additional examples we found in Hoosier State Chronicles. In the June 7, 1855 issue of the Journal, Keeney wrote an editorial called “Clean Streets,” where he commended the public workers who swept the streets but then derided Bowen’s supposed quibble with cleanup. “Count Bowen and his clique are probably the only men in town, who will object to cleanliness, and the protection of shade trees,” Keeney declared. Keeney preferred name for the Review’s editor was “Count Bowen,” likely a jab at his purported leadership status in the town.
Bowen didn’t take insults lightly and routinely shot back at Keeney in the Review. In its October 7, 1865 issue, Bowen slammed Kenney for his comments on Democratic leaders in the county and threw his own rhetorical venom at the Journal’s publisher. Bowen wrote that Keeney’s targets should:
[P]ay no attention to the filthy slang of this poor miserable creature, half idiotic and totally irresponsible, he should be passed by with total indifference and regarded only as a canker, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle upon the body of a corrupt and depraved humanity which purity should shun as a pestilence.
Bowen certainly elucidated his point, in the most elaborate way possible. Imagine if these two men were alive today, trading jabs on Twitter or in Facebook comments. Some things don’t change, after all.
Bayless Hanna was seen to-day walking down Main street with his music box, following a one-armed soldier who had a hand-organ in a little boy’s express wagon. The soldier would occasionally stop in front of a business house and play a tune, while Bayless and Rodgers would stare with mouth wide open, at the wonderful machine.
As for Lew Wallace, a post about Montgomery County and newspapers wouldn’t be complete without a quick discussion of its most famous son. Wallace’s tenure during the Civil War received differing perspectives from the Crawfordsville newspapers. This stemmed from Wallace’s own political evolution; he started the war as a Democrat and ended it a Republican. This changed his relationship with the Crawfordsville Review, who held it against him in editorials. For example, a short piece in their May 19, 1866 issue took umbrage with his military assignment during the second French intervention in Mexico.The Review wrote:
Lew Wallace, who has been rusticating in our city for several weeks past, left suddenly for New York a few days since. Rumor has it that he is about to join a filibustering expedition against Mexico. Should he be so unlucky as to suffer capture by the French mercenaries of Maximillian, we trust he may be granted a fair trial before a drum-head court martial. We should regret very much to hear of his being arraigned before a civil tribunal.
Much like with Keeney and Bowen’s feud, the Review‘s strongly-worded opprobrium against Wallace emanated from intense political partisanship.
Outside of the county seat, one of the more interesting Montgomery County papers available in Hoosier State Chronicles is the New Richmond Record. It ran from 1896 until 1924 under the sole ownership and editorship of Edgar Walts. Here’s an account of its publication from the A. W. Bowen’s History of Montgomery County (1913):
It is a six-column, six-page paper, run on a gasoline propelled power press. It is independent in politics, and makes a specialty of as much local news as is possible to furnish its readers with. It circulates in Montgomery, Tippecanoe and adjoining counties. It meets the requirements of the town and with it is connected a good job department.
During its run, the Record often praised its subscribers for continuing to patronize the paper, in a segment called the “Record’s Honor Roll.” The “honor roll” listed all the “new subscribers and renewals to THE RECORD during the past week” from Montgomery County, Indiana, and across the country. His “honor roll” likely helped circulation; by 1920, the Record had a circulation of 500 (for a town whose population was 496, but whose readership likely extended into rural Coal Creek Township and the rest of the county).
In all, Montgomery County’s newspapers often displayed the rough-and-tumble political winds of the nineteenth century, an era whose partisanship and vitriol mirrors our own. It wasn’t, however, the only part of their story. Montgomery County also facilitated forward-thinking pioneers like Mary Hannah Krout, Samuel Coffman, and Edgar Walts. Like much of history, Montgomery County’s heritage of newspapers exemplifies a nuanced, intriguing legacy.
This month, the Indiana Historical Bureau is focusing on the history and culture of Allen County, Indiana. Here at Chronicles, we thought it would be an apt time to share some of Allen County’s newspaper history.
Fort Wayne, Allen County’s central city and the second-largest city in Indiana, produced most of the county’s newspapers. Thomas Tigar and Samuel V. B. Noel founded the Fort Wayne Sentinel, publishing its first issue on July 6, 1833. The Sentinel’s two publishers came from completely opposite political backgrounds. Tigar’s views aligned with the Democratic Party while Noel identified as a Whig. So, in an effort to avoid political conflicts, the paper initially started as an independent publication. Over the decades, the Sentinel changed hands and political affiliations routinely. For example, when Noel sold his stake to Tigar, it became a Democratic paper; when Gordon W. Wood owned it in the late 1830s, it switched to a Whig perspective. After decades of mergers, name changes (it was called the Times-Sentinel for a while), and multiple owners, the Sentinel merged with the daily News in 1918 and became the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, the name it is still published under today.
As for the News, William P. Page and Charles E. Taylor founded the Republican-leaning daily in 1874. Page made a 28-year career at the News, overseeing the development of weekly and daily editions. In 1902, he sold the paper to a partnership of entrepreneurs incorporated under the aegis of the News Publishing Company. This ownership maintained the paper until 1918, when it merged with the aforementioned Sentinel. Other notable Fort Wayne papers include the dailies Gazette (1863–1899), Journal (1881–1899), and Times (1855–1865).
Alongside all of its newspapers, Fort Wayne produced two of the twentieth century’s most prominent publishers. William Rockhill Nelson, born in Fort Wayne on March 7, 1841. Nelson studied at Notre Dame (he did not graduate) and earned admittance to the bar in 1862, before he decided to enter the newspaper business. He and his business partner Samuel E. Morss purchased the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel in 1879 and published it for around nine months. From there, Nelson followed the old maxim “go west young man,” and he and Morss moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Nelson and Morss founded the Kansas City Evening Star in 1880. By 1885, the newly-renamed Kansas City Star became one of the Missouri’s most widely-read papers in the state. By the time of his death in 1915, Nelson’s estate totaled $6 million and his family ensured that his wealth supported the creation of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, which opened to the public in 1933.
As for Morss, he sold his stake of the Star to Nelson within a year and a half. After traveling in Europe, he returned to the US and spent a few years as an editor at the Chicago Times. He came back to Indianapolis in 1888, to purchase and run the Indiana State Sentinel. He maintained his position with the Sentinel, with the exception of serving as Consul-General of the United States to France under President Grover Cleveland, until his death in 1903. Unexpectedly, he died after a fall from the third-story window of his Sentinel office, likely the result of a heart attack.
George Jean Nathan, another native of Fort Wayne, played a key role in the literary life of Americans during the 1920s and 30s. Born in 1882, Nathan spent his early years in Fort Wayne before he moved east, to study at Cornell University (he graduated in 1904). Nathan’s most enduring legacy stemmed from his relationship with noted journalist and provocateur H. L. Mencken. Nathan served as the co-editor with Mencken of the Smart Set from 1914-1923. They then founded the American Mercury, a magazine of literature, political commentary, and satire, in 1924. Nathan contributed drama criticism, particularly his views on playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, Henrik Ibsen, and George Bernard Shaw, for the Mercury as well as his own publication, Theatre Book of the Year. He died in 1958.
The Indianapolis Times began publication as the Sun in 1888, described by the Ayer’s newspaper directory as the “only one-cent paper in Indiana.” Fred L. Purdy served as its first editor and owned a minority stake in its publishing; J. S. Sweeney owned the majority stake. It ran daily under this title until 1899 and its circulation grew to 12,823 by 1898. In 1899, it was renamed the Indianapolis Sun and continued its daily publication. During this time, it also maintained a professional partnership with the Scripps-McRae wire service out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1922, Scripps-Howard publishing purchased the Times and it was renamed the Indianapolis Times, the title it kept until it ceased publication in 1965. Roy W. Howard served as the president of Scripps-Howard publishing from 1922-1964, overseeing not only the Times but the United Press International worldwide wire service. Alongside in-house journalism by Times staff, many articles published during this period came from the Scripps-Howard wire service, Newspaper Enterprise Association.
During the 1930s, the Times advocated for children’s needs, raising money for charities that supplied coats and other clothing items to children hit hard by the Great Depression. In the recession of 1961-62, the Times helped 4,000 Indiana residents find jobs through its publishing of free employment ads. Alongside its Klan coverage, the Times also covered multiple scandals, from corruption in the state’s highway fund and voter fraud in congressional districts to exposing falsely reported Indianapolis crime statistics. It even published coverage during the 1960s that advocated for better lunches in public schools, through the use of the federal school surplus program.
Despite its successful journalism and philanthropy, the Times lacked the resources and circulation to compete with Indianapolis’s rival dailies, the News and the Star. On October 11, 1965, the Indianapolis Times ran its final issue and suspended publication. Its final daily circulation totaled 89,374, with a Sunday circulation of 101,000.
While the Indianapolis Times ceased publication over 50 years ago, it maintains a legacy of good journalism and civic integrity. Due to its immense impact on the community, the Indiana Historical Bureau shared the newspaper’s history with future generations of Hoosiers via a historical marker originally placed in 1979, and replaced in 2013.