Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest
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.
Chapter 19. The Village of Middle Creek
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THE VILLAGE OF MIDDLE CREEK
The free black community of Middle Creek in Paulding County, Washington Township is reported to have begun in 1852 with the arrival of the William Booker family. Sidney Booker—described as a mulatto from Kentucky in the census—is listed as a resident in Middle Creek in the 1860 census. It is also the location of another manumission scheme by a slave owner named Bibb who emancipated his enslaved people and purchased land for them on which they settled in Washington Township. Bibb went a step further than previous manumission schemes by providing provisions for them and making yearly trips to see how they were coping in their new home.
Similar to Rumley, Carthagena and Wren, in Middle Creek, local whites spread rumors of its activities in the Underground Railroad. Further, they claimed that all of these towns were havens for runaway enslaved people. The following oral history example describes the journey to Middle Creek by a descendant of one such runaway, John Williams—an early resident in the Village of Middle Creek—that has been handed down to his descendants.
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