One of the earliest found commercial establishment of Toledo’s black community was a restaurant/saloon established by John B. TILTON who was mentioned as a restaurateur in the city directory in 1868. Mr. TILTON had been a resident of Northwest Ohio since at least 1860 and prior to opening his own restaurant, he was listed as a farmer in Swanton. John TILTON seemingly moved to Toledo after 1860 as in the 1864 Toledo directory, there was a “cold” John TILTON listed as a Porter employed by the Oliver House.
TILTON was labeled as associated with the restaurant business on the 1870 Census. Occupations of “restaurant” or “restaurant keeper” were shown on the document. TILTON had real estate valued between $4000 and $12000 and a personal estate of between $1000 and $3000. Based on real and personal estate figures, he was one of the wealthiest black men in Toledo in 1870 and the only black saloon/restaurant keeper in the city at the time.
Per the 1860 census and every census afterwards John B TILTON was born in the state of Delaware in approximately 1820. In 1860 he was a farmer in Swanton and in his household was Sarah TILTON, presumably his wife and two black residents named John INGRAHAM and Woodson DERINGER. Both were labeled as black farm laborers.
The TILTON restaurant was also labeled in the city directory as a “distiller” and a saloon, basically a club and drinking establishment. Due to there being so few black/colored residents in 1868, TILTON was required to serve a diverse crowd in his establishment. It can be assumed that John TILTON took advantage of the many economic advantages of a diverse, integrated society that Toledo was in the mid 1800s. His restaurant/saloon was located near the corner of Monroe and St. Clair Street near the present day “Hensville” outdoor venue arena, Fifth/Third Field, and the SeaGate Convention Center. It was a part of a community of establishments that took advantage of what was then known as Toledo’s “Times Square” in the 19th century. St. Clair Street was the location of a variety of theaters and commercial establishments for many years, and luckily the area is seeing a resurgence in being the center of similar activities today.
John TILTON’s business was called the Opera House Restaurant in the 1878 Toledo directory ad that was placed for the establishment. It was across the street from the Wheeler Opera House, which was one of the most popular entertainment venues in Toledo at the time. Per the ad below he was “Open at all Hours” and even had a separate area for women’s entertainment with a “Ladies Dining Hall, Up Stairs.” Associating his business with the opera house and being so near it would encourage crowds going to or leaving shows to also visit his establishment for drinks and food in association with the shows and visitors to the Wheeler. The ad also showed that diners would be treated to all sorts of “game” that was always in season
1878 City of Toledo Director – Opera House Restaurant – John. B. TILTON proprietor
Many today, due to seeing depictions of saloons in old Western movies, associate them with prostitution. Though it is true that many of them did provide venues of “vice” it should be noted that a majority of saloons were not houses of prostitution. Most served as restaurants and nightclubs. Many, per the source linked below regarding Toledo’s saloon culture, also served as hotels, especially those ran by women who rented out rooms as a way to make a living after being widowed. On the 1880 Census half of the persons enumerated at TILTON’s establishment were labeled as “borders” meaning they were renting rooms at his saloon.
I found no evidence that the TILTON establishment was involved in any illegal activities after a review of Toledo newspapers. In 1880 the Census takers seemingly counted all the workers who were employed by TILTON. All of them were black community members of Toledo. His employees included Joseph GARRETT who was mentioned as being the father in law of Toledo’s first black photographer George FIELDS. Both men were also listed as some of the early trustees of Warren AME Church. The occupations listed for TILTON’s employees ranged from “cook” to “porter” to “dishwasher.” All of his workers in 1880 were labeled as black or mullato while all the borders were white, showing that he primarily hired black workers yet served a majority white customer base. He and other black business owners assisted the small black community due to their hiring trends based on the fact that in the City of Toledo, employment opportunities for black/colored Americans in the 19th century were severely limited due to the prevalence of race prejudiced against all people with any known negro ancestry.
A further review of the history of Warren AME Chruch showed that John B. Tilton was also listed as one of the trustees of the church who bought the first church home for the young congregation. The deed information shown below, listed as Trustees various persons who I am currently researching in early Toledo’s black community as are shown in bold:
Know all men be these present that we Calvin Barker and Mary Barker, his wife, in consideration of dollars to us paid by Joseph Garrett, David Gatsel, William Mills, John B. Tilton, David Philips, Simon Roady and George Field, Trustees of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of Toledo, State of Ohio, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby grant, bargain, sell and convey to said Trustees and their successors for the uses and purposes of said African Methodist Episcopal Church their successors and assigns forever all the piece or parcel of land known and described as follows:
I could not find out much about TILTON’s life prior to him moving to Northwest Ohio. Due to him consistently being labeled as being born in the state of Delaware, I did a search of Delawareans with the surname TILTON. I did find a free black family with the surname TILTON on the 1850 Census in Kent County, Delaware, but no one named John TILTON. I also discovered a white TILTON family who were slave owners in Delaware. One of the members of this family – Dr. James TILTON moved to Madison, Indiana in the late 1820s. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and when in Dupont, Indiana, it was noted in the work “Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master” that Dr. TILTON apprenticed a young black boy named John SMITH to train as a farmer soon after moving to Indiana in 1827-1828. The age of this young John SMITH does approximately match that of John TILTON but there is no solid evidence that John TILTON was associated with the white TILTON family from Delaware. If additional information shows up, this post will be updated in the future.
I also have been unable to locate a death record for either John TILTON or his wife Sarah. John was labeled as a “widower” on the 1880 census so it can be assumed that his wife Sarah passed away by that year. TILTON was consistently listed in the city directory until 1883 when he no longer had an entry showing. Unfortunately many of my own relatives who died in Toledo between 1880 and 1900 have spotty and some, non-existent death records and it seems that TILTON may have also fell into this category of poor death record keeping for those decades. However, I did locate some index entries for Ohio Death records between 1890 and 1900 where there were 2 John TILTON’s listed has having died in the City of Toledo. I will review information at the TLCPL and/or the county vital statistics office to see if there are any additional entries for those deaths since only a name and date of death was provided online.
Hawkins, Arnette. “Raising our Glass: Saloon Culture in Toledo, Ohio” 2010
History Footnotes – Warren AME Church History
US Census 1880 – Household of John B TILTON (restaurant)
City of Toledo Directory 1864-1883 – accessed 4/24/2017-6/25/2017 ancestry.com