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Invisible in Plain Sight

Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest


Jill E. Rowe

The Land Act of 1820 made it possible for settlers to begin to populate the West and added to the confiscation of land from Native Americans. Former landowners – a mix of Native American, African and European ancestry – migrated to the northern frontier and founded at least thirty well-defined free black communities between 1820 and 1850 in the Old Northwest, becoming an important safe haven and beacon of freedom.

Its notoriety and size grew as slaves often migrated to these locations after they were granted emancipation in the wills of slave owners who purchased land in the area for them to settle on. The newly free people found sanctuary as these communities were also rumored to shelter runaway slaves in their role as active participants in the Underground Railroad Movement.

However, the prosperity of blacks living in these villages angered some of the local whites – many of whom were migrating at the same time and were connected to local law officials and politicians. Archival documents reveal continued acts of terrorism perpetuated against blacks which heightened the importance of the strength of the communities they founded – specifically schools, churches, businesses, and intergenerational family structures – in providing a unified front that allowed them to bond and thrive in an environment that was not always conducive to their survival.

Invisible in Plain Sight: Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest provides a rare detailed examination of an often overlooked piece of the American tapestry. It is perfect reading for history classes in high school and college, as well as for history enthusiasts looking for something new.

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Chapter 14. The Goings Clan—the Genealogy


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From 1619 through 1630, an unspecified number of Atlantic Creoles boarded ships heading toward Jamestown, Virginia. Engel Sluiter concludes that these people had been removed from Portuguese slave ships in Angola, on the west coast of Africa.1 He found that during the fiscal year June 18, 1619 to June 21, 1620 six slave ships arrived at Vera Cruz, having taken their human cargoes aboard at Sao Paulo de Loanda, the capital of Portuguese Angola. Further, Ira Berlin contends that Atlantic Creoles numbered large among the “twenty Negars” from the Dutch Man O’War sold to John Rolfe at Jamestown in 1619.2 Although some of the new arrivals hailed directly from Africa, most had already spent some time in the New World, understood the languages of the Atlantic, bore Hispanic and occasionally English surnames, and possessed a familiarity with Christianity and other aspects of European culture.3

Early colonists purchased the new captives and indentured them to labor on their evolving tobacco plantations.4 As Africans arrived, so did indentures from England and Ireland. Set to work alongside each other, little but skin color distinguished the conditions of those who labored in the tobacco fields in the region. The evolving Virginia Colony viewed them all as a cheap source of labor for the developing tobacco economy, which put them on equal status. An example of shared status was that they intermarried and produced offspring. ← 49 | 50 →

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