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.

Guinea Bottom

You are standing on the grounds of Falls of the Ohio State Park’s George Rogers Clark Homesite in Clarksville, Indiana. This is likely near Guinea Bottom, an early Black settlement established for the convenience of the wealthy, powerful, White Clark…

York

You are standing next to the Lewis and Clark Handshake statue by sculptor Carol Grende. The sculpture and the annual Handshake Festival at Falls of the Ohio State Park celebrate the moment when Lewis and Clark began their famous expedition in the…

Obediah Buckner

The Jeffersonville Township Public Library occupies the space that was once Jeffersonville’s train railroad switch yard. In 1854, Obediah Buckner visited the ticket office of the Jeffersonville Railroad, once located near here, expecting to purchase…

Lynchings in Clark County

You are standing at the entrance of the Charlestown Cemetery, where the mutilated bodies of 3 lynched men rest. One dark Saturday in November of 1871, interlopers murdered the family of Cyrus Park, a white farmer situated near Henryville, Indiana.…

The Dinnings

You are standing before the site of one of the homes inhabited by George and Mollie Dinning and their children. One winter night, a mob forced Mollie Dinning and her children to abandon their farm in Simpson County, Kentucky, ill-clad and robbed of…

Taylor High School

You are standing near an old red brick building. This is what remains of Taylor High School, a remnant of the age of racial segregation in Clark County. According to the paper “Taylor High: A History Lost but Not Forgotten” in 1872, Jeffersonville,…

African American Churches in Jeffersonville, Indiana

Before you, stands one of Clark County’s historic African American churches, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal. In the 19th Century, numerous African American churches were established to serve the spiritual needs of people fleeing the South in…