At Freedom's Gate: African Americans Settling in Clark County
Overlooking the Ohio River, the lands that became Clark County, Indiana were home to wetlands and forests that Natives of the Cahokia, Michigamea, Kaskaskia, and Peoria peoples used to support their communities prior to European colonization. Because the lands bordered a major river and many smaller navigable streams, migrating English speaking settlers often disembarked here and began to carve homesteads from the Native American lands. As English speakers migrated here from the American South, they forced the people they enslaved to accompany them.
From 1816 on, slavery was officially illegal in Indiana. However, due in part to the efforts of long-time Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison, enslavers often forced Blacks to agree to extremely long periods of indenture to provide the appearance of legality. By 1810, Clark County included 40 free Blacks and 81 enslaved people of color. Clark County’s Black population increased to 388 people by 1840.
In 1831, Indiana began to collect a $500 bond from any Black person living within its borders. Many Clark County residents listed in the tax registers have descendants in this region to this day. Seventy-five Black residents are listed in the Clark County, Indiana, Register of Negroes and Mulattos, 1853-1864, one of the records surviving from that period. After the Civil War (1861-1865), free Blacks continued to settle in Clark County, despite violent reactions from white residents, including numerous lynchings.