Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Colored Settlements in Washington County

The Register-Leader, October 7, 1913

To the Editor of the Register-Leader:

Dear Sir - Being called to Cutler last year to deliver the Memorial Day address, I was deeply interested to find certain racial conditions whose like I had never seen before. Side by side with an excellent class of white citizens there were an almost equal number of self-respecting, well-dressed, intelligent colored citizens who seemed to be received on terms of social equality by the white people, at least as far as they would have been received had they possessed the same personal qualities without their dark complexion. 

Of the excellent band which furnished music for the occasion, the leader and ten of the fifteen players were negroes. An elderly colored gentleman was called upon for a brief address, which he made admirably. I found that he had been a teacher for more than a generation, now retired in good circumstances upon his farm. In conversation he was of quiet voice and thoughtful, interesting speech, and he evidently had the deep respect of all.  One or two colored people sang in the choir, and in a general conversation with a group of men at the railway station it was a negro who made off hand, the remark showing widest information. 

A tall, young colored man, Mr. Esau Harris, a highly respected teacher in that district, agreed, at my request, to furnish me some account of the origin of these interesting settlements of his people.  He has just done so, and I am sure many of your readers will be glad of this interesting and important piece of history.

Very truly yours,
Augustine S. Carman.
Cutler, O., Oct. 1, 1913.

S. Carman, Marietta, Ohio.

My Dear Sir - As you know, some time ago I promised you I would write you a short sketch concerning the history of the colored population in the west end of Washington county. I will begin by saying that the history of the different settlements is much the same. Some of the settlers were slaves that had been set free by their Virginia and West Virginia masters and emigrated to Ohio. Some were free colored persons who lived in the hills of West Virginia and came also to Ohio. It is a fact that the freeborn persons and those who had been slaves were somewhat antagonistic to each other at first. In all probability this was caused by the conditions that they had been subject to while still in West Virginia.

The free persons, by having their liberty and the freedom of their hills, had come to look down upon their less fortunate brethren who were slaves.  The free persons always pointed with pride to the fact that some of their ancestors had fought under General George Washington and that none of them or their ancestors were slaves. Now this may seem strange, nevertheless they spoke the truth, for although they were of mixed blood and undoubtedly were part negro, they were free and their slave ancestry was so far removed that the fact had been forgotten.

They had mixed with Indians and after the war of the Revolution, two or three British soldiers had settled and married among them, so as a natural consequence they had come to consider themselves as something distinct and apart from the slaves around them. And this is what caused the slow fusion of the two factions after emigrating to Ohio.

A case worthy of attention among the "Hill People" concerning the uncertainty of their ancestry was brought by one of them who presented himself at an election in West Virginia for the purpose of voting. He was refused and brought suit in court. He won his case, as the only ancestor of his whose blood could be proven was an Englishman by birth and a naturalized citizen of the United States. Always after this he voted and was "white." His brothers and sisters were "colored."  He also emigrated to Ohio and was known as colored, but a brother of his was pressed into a white regiment during the Civil War, regardless of his protests.

The colored population today that is here are descendants of former slaves and those "Hill People" that I have above mentioned. And the spirit of independence that you see manifested today is no more noticeable than that which marked the demeanor of the early pioneers. Indeed, I do not believe that the colored people here are as assertive as their ancestors were. I do not believe that they would now willingly violate a law, no difference how unjust, but all of those early settlers were active workers for the "Underground Railroad," and most of them would not have hesitated to sacrifice a slave hunter's life had they thought it necessary for their or a slave's safety.  As an example, two slave owners barely escaped being burned to death in a tobacco drying house two miles west of Cutler. While they were searching above, the entrance was fired below, and they only escaped by breaking through the roof. One of them was injured by a fall in reaching the ground. 

The colored people were aided and abetted in their violation of the fugitive slave law by most of their white neighbors. The most noted family of white people who were active in running slaves through to Canada were emigrants from Ireland. Their home was an underground railway station through which scores of slaves passed to liberty. They were the family of smith and were the ancestors of several prominent persons of that name now living in Washington county. Another prominent underground worker was one William Heald, who was daring as well as active, he having on occasions taken slaves in broad daylight.

The early pioneers were by family names as follows:  Carr, Cook, Cousins, Dalton, Dickinson, Evans, Field, Kennedy, Sawyer, Simpson, Singer, Tate, Male, Norris, Tucker, Wilkinson, Still, Harris, Ramsey, Goins.  There are possibly other names that I cannot recall at the present time. The first settlement was to the south of what is now Cutler village. The families were Cook, Dalton, Kennedy, Tucker and others.

The second settlement was west and southwest from Cutler, in fact making two settlements, although they were settled about the same time. Probably persons coming at the same time would settle at different points.

Now there was a reason for these colored persons settling here; the reason was this:  Douglas Putnam owned or controlled large tracts of land at this place and he was always a firm friend to the colored people.  He was willing to and did sell land to every colored man that applied to him. His terms were always liberal and he was just in all his dealings with them, and for two generations Douglas Putnam's name was a familiar one among the colored people of the west end of Washington county. 

The early colored pioneer were mostly farmers, although some were mechanics. The Simpson family were noted for their skill in wagon building. They were a family of carpenters, generally speaking, but building wagons was their specialty. The Carrs were also carpenters. Aside from a few blacksmiths and shoemakers, the balance of the men were farmers. If they did not own farms of their own, they either rented or worked for others (generally white people) as farm hands.

There were some champion workers among them whose ability to accomplish a large amount of work in one day has been recounted by the people up to the present day. A prominent name among them was Azariah Norman, who was noted for his great strength and his ability to cut as much wheat with a cradle in one day as two men could bind up. I was told personally by an old gentleman, James King by name, that he always bound as much wheat as any man could cut until he bound after Mr. Norman. Mr. King was the father of C. C. King, lately of this county, now of Oklahoma. In those days they put one dozen sheaves together for a shock. Mr. King said Norman could cut 160 shocks from sunrise to sunset. 

It seems that the farm hands of that day were quite willing to work a full day. Another man, Edmund Coursey, was a noted corn cutter. There was a settlement of Friends (Quakers) near, that always made it a point, if possible, to have "Ed" cut corn for them, and so great was his prowess in cutting and shocking that they were quite willing to pay him one-third more per day than anyone else, either colored or white.

Thus you see, even in this early day the white and colored people here were beginning to understand one another and to have a mutual understanding as to their relations toward each other.  When the whites hired colored men to work for them, they never objected to eating at the same table with them and worked side by side as if they had both belonged to the same race. By so doing the whites showed by their actions that they respected the colored people and in turn they were respected and loved by the colored people, and be it said to the everlasting credit of both, as two different races they have never had any trouble.  While both races have had trouble among themselves, the two races have always had peace between themselves.

While the Civil War was in progress the enlistment among the colored people was as large in proportion to numbers as among the whites. Some few colored men were enlisted in white regiments at the early stage of the war. The balance enlisted in colored regiments later in the struggle.  Edmund Coursey, whom I have before mentioned, died in the service; also Azariah Norman received wounds from which he never fully recovered, dying soon after his term of enlistment had expired after the close of the war. There were several who left for the front who never came back, among them being an uncle of mine. 

This, I believe, is as near the history of our people here as I can give. The older generations are all gone. The only one now left is Thomas Still, living near Vincent, Ohio. He is now eighty-seven years of age and a veteran of the Civil War. He could have furnished you with more of our history than I can, but I have been unable to see him in regards to it. I thank you for your kindly interest in my people very much and only wish that others of your race felt the same toward us, then I am sure we would be rid of the vexing Race Problem. Trusting this may prove satisfactory, I am as ever,

Yours truly,
Esau Harris.
Cutler, O.
 

 

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