Africa : Local African Americans helped shape Twin Lakes Area's history

Discussion in 'All Things Africa' started by dustyelbow, Feb 13, 2006.

  1. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 25, 2005
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    Article published Feb 13, 2006
    Local African Americans helped shape Twin Lakes Area's history
    Bulletin Senior Writer

    In 1819, David Hall moved his family from Tennessee into the Ozarks wilderness. They were among the first pioneers to settle along the upper White River in what would become Arkansas, Marion County and, ultimately, the Twin Lakes Area.
    Like many settlers, the Halls carved a life out of a rugged frontier and established the nucleus of a community for other families during the pioneer and antebellum days of Arkansas. Only one thing distinguished them from other Ozarks pioneers.
    The Halls were free blacks.

    In fact, Marion County was home to what may have been the largest rural free black community in the South prior to the Civil War. Altogether, blacks — free and slave — made up 12 percent of Marion County's population with free blacks living in four of the county's seven townships, according to the 1850 census.

    "It really was an oddity," historian Billy D. Higgins told The Bulletin.

    By the time the Civil War began 10 years later, however, Marion County's free blacks were gone, driven from Arkansas by a law of expulsion.

    Higgins, of the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, tracked down the story of Marion County's free blacks, including frontiersman Peter Caulder, a former soldier whose adventures made him an African-American Daniel Boone.

    Higgins recounts Caulder's life and the history of Marion County's free blacks in "A Stranger and A Sojourner: Peter Caulder, Free Black Frontiersman in Antebellum Arkansas." The book won the Arkansas Historical Association's J.D. Ragsdale Award as book of the year in 2005. He also has written about them for the Arkansas Historical Quarterly.

    Ozarks African-Americans
    During Arkansas' early days, the black population of the Ozarks was larger than it is now, according to Dr. Richard Williams of the University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. In addition to the Marion County community, Williams told The Bulletin, there were a large number of blacks in the northwest part of the state, including Washington County. Most were slaves, although instead of the cotton crop of the South, crops such as wheat and livestock were that area's mainstay, according to Williams.

    After emancipation, the number of blacks in the region dropped drastically. Williams said they just didn't stay, and there's no record of why they left. There isn't a lot of recorded information available on the black population beyond census data of that time, according to Williams.

    During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, there was a larger African-American population in the central Ozarks than there is today, he said. Much of the increase was because of the railroad coming to the Ozarks.
    "A lot of black workers were involved in the construction," said Williams.

    Mining for lead and zinc also brought black workers into the region, Williams added.

    At the start of the 20th century, Harrison had an established African-American community of 115 blacks, almost 10 percent of the city's population. By 1909, one black lived in Harrison. The rest were driven out by mob violence during two incidents in 1905 and 1909, said Williams.

    Eureka Springs also had a sizable black community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike Harrison, it was financial hardships during the mid-1920s that sent most of the resort city's African-American population elsewhere looking for work, according to an Arkansas Historical Quarterly article by KUAF Public Radio reporter Jacqueline Froelich.

    Froelich also recounted the events at Harrison in an award-winning radio documentary, "Arkansas Ozarks African Americans: 1820 to 1950."

    Settling the region
    Much of Higgins' research on the Marion County free blacks involved property records, government patents, census information and tax records. He also noted Silas Claiborne Turnbo, who chronicled 19th century life in the Ozarks, wrote about "a colored man" named Dave Hall and settlers referred to as "free negroes" in the area.

    Turnbo's writings included stories from Joseph Hall, one of David Hall's sons, although there was little reference to race, according to Higgins.

    Higgins said he wasn't aware of any free blacks east of the White River in what would become Baxter County. During the Halls' times, Baxter County was part of Marion County.

    In her "History of Baxter County," Mary Ann Messick included the story of how Mountain Home — originally Rapp's Barren — received its current name from Col. Orin L. Dodd's slaves. Dodd brought them from his plantation at Augusta to work at his farm here. The story says the blacks Dodd brought here referred to the area as their "sweet mountain home."

    While Higgins said he was unaware of any free blacks east of the White River, the Halls, Caulder and others would have been familiar with the area.

    Higgins told The Bulletin the Halls would have hunted it and probably run livestock on it, especially in the Three Brothers area.
    Hall and his family settled seven miles below the mouth of the Little North Fork of the White River, an area now covered by Bull Shoals Lake. According to Higgins' work, "a principal landform extending northeasterly from David Hall's valley farm is a flattop bench designated on present-day topographical maps as Promise Land Ridge."

    Nearly 30 years after first settling there, on Feb. 25, 1848, Hall obtained a government patent, or deed, for 71 acres of land on the left (west) bank of the White River after paying $88.91 for it. On the same day, John Hall, a son or younger brother, patented 39 acres two miles upstream for $48.88. Sister Creek separated the two farms, according to Higgins' research.

    Another free black settler, John Turner, owned a 40-acre farm on the White River. During 1850 and 1855, he patented land on the west side of the river at the site of Bull Shoals Dam.

    John Hall had 129 acres in three parcels where he farmed and raised livestock. His lands were worth $2,000, which made him one of Marion County's more affluent citizens. Higgins wrote that an indication of John Hall's prominence was that he held a slave during 1848 and 1849, even though Arkansas law prohibited it. His final land purchase was 61 acres on the right bank of the White River, directly across from Bayless Island, according to Higgins.

    Not all of Marion County's free blacks settled along the White River. Higgins recorded that the 1850 census showed free blacks lived in Blythe Township, which included Pyatt, and Union Township, where Yellville is.

    Altogether, the 1850 census showed 129 free blacks and 126 slaves in Marion County. Higgins said it was the largest community of free blacks in Arkansas and, as best as he has determined, Marion County was the only county in the South where free blacks outnumbered slaves, at least in rural areas.

    Life in the Ozarks
    According to Higgins, Turnbo wrote that David Hall initially made a living selling deer hides and making whiskey "in the first still to appear in that country." Citing Turnbo's accounts, Higgins wrote:

    "(Joseph) Hall's stories reveal much about his father David and his brothers, the family's homespun clothing, deerskin moccasins, coonskin caps and encounters with wolves, panthers, bears and copperheads. ... The Halls were, in a word, frontiersmen."
    Higgins writes that African-Americans in the upper White River region came together for emotional and economic support. "Sharing work, burdens and ambitions, this community remained stable for three generations," he wrote in "The Origins and Fate of the Marion County Free Black Community" for Arkansas Historical Quarterly.

    Like other pioneer families in antebellum Arkansas, they farmed, raised livestock, hunted and made a life for themselves in the Ozarks. Some, like John Hall, were even relatively affluent. He, David Hall and David Hall Jr. "were never overlooked by the tax assessor," wrote Higgins.

    "Their holdings were substantial and constant enough to be taxed by both the county and the state each year from 1841 through 1859," he wrote. "Not only were free black farmers taxpaying citizens of antebellum Marion County and the state of Arkansas, two of them were major taxpayers."

    According to Higgins, Marion County's free black community was made up of stable, patriarchal agrarian households, which wasn't typical among free blacks of the South. But, despite their stability, and the apparent acceptance by their white neighbors — or at least their tolerance — an increasing anti-black rhetoric in the South eventually spread into Arkansas and brought an end to the community.

    In 1859, the Arkansas General Assembly enacted "An Act to Remove the Free Negroes and Mulattoes from the State." Under the law, there could be no free blacks in Arkansas after Jan. 1, 1860. The penalty for violating the statute was seizure and being sold into slavery.

    Although the law was never enforced, according to Higgins, the threat of enforcement was enough to drive out free blacks, including those in Marion County. Within a year, 120 people left their homes, "vanished from places where many of them had been born," he wrote.

    David Hall and his wife had died and were buried in Marion County before the expulsion.

    It's not known where Marion County's African-Americans went. According to Higgins, some may have returned during the Civil War years. Willoughby Hall, son of David Hall, served as a guide for Union troops raiding a Confederate saltpeter mine near the mouth of the Little North Fork. He later was killed and scalped by a rebel guerrilla, although Higgins contended his research showed it was revenge, not race, that prompted such an outrageous act.

    According to Higgins, none of the census information for adjoining counties in Missouri showed that anyone with the surnames of Marion County free blacks had settled there. Although Joseph Hall wasn't listed in the 1860 and 1870 censuses, according to Turnbo, he lived at Pontiac, Mo., until his death in 1900.

    Higgins notes that local histories did not mention anything about the free blacks of Marion County despite their part in settling the Ozarks.

    As a result, a vital part of Ozarks history almost was lost.
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  2. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 25, 2005
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    Remeber this is Clinton country as known today. He should be the one telling you this, not me.