Tag Archives: pinewood district

James Madison BELL – “Bard of the Maumee” – Poet and Friend to John BROWN

James Madison Bell around 1900

Listed within the 1870 Census post was James Madison BELL who after more newspaper digging, I discovered was a well known abolitionist and poet who moved to the city of Toledo in 1865.  Mr. BELL is considered one of the most well known black poets of the 19th century and primarily focused his pieces on the abolitionist cause.

In 1870, Mr. BELL was living in Ward 8 in the City of Toledo. He was called Madison BELL and was listed with his wife Louisa and his 7 children, the youngest named George BELL was born in July of 1870.

James Madison BELL was purportedly born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1826 which was the location of a large concentration of free people of color in Ohio.  However, on the 1850 Census, Mr. BELL indicated that he was born in Virginia.  A review of a previously mentioned site freeafricanamericans.com lists a free “BELL” family in Virginia and James Madison BELL may have been a descendant of this family and may have come to Ohio as a child.  As was shared in my VINEY-VIRES post many free Virginia blacks moved out of the state in the 1820s and 1830s.  BELL may also have been the child of escaped slaves.  Other than the 1850 Census every other document I located, stated that he was born in Ohio.

Mr. BELL moved from Gallipolis when he was a teenager to Cincinnati, Ohio where he trained as a “plasterer.” Plasterers created the old lathe and plaster walls that are still standing in many old Toledo homes and elsewhere across the country.   He also attended the Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night, which then was associated with Oberlin College.

James later married Louisana SANDERLIN in Cinncinnati.  In the 1850s he moved to the Chatham-Kent area of Ontario, similar to many of my own ancestors who eventually ended up in Toledo.  The emigrationist to Canada are the subject of a lot of my research of late.  There are many theories about why free blacks in the US moved to Canada but the most logical one that many historians agree upon is the fact that the 1840s and 1850s were very hostile to free black people in regards to many laws that were created that placed burdens on black families or that stripped them of their right to vote.  Another reason for the movement of many of these African Americans is that they may have been run away slaves from long before the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed.  This law required free states to assist in the capture of runaway slaves and many blacks who had run away and started new lived in “free states” feared they may be re-enslaved so went to Canada in order to be assured of their and their children’s freedom.

For those who were not runaways and whose family was either emancipated via Gradual Emancipation that took place in many northern states, or those who were descendants of indentured servants who were never enslaved, they still faced highly oppressive conditions in the US that contributed to their decision to leave this country.  Many states made free blacks pay a tax just to live in those states, yet would not allow them to sit on a jury, to file a complaint against a white man, or even own a weapon.  In some states,  educating black children was against the law as a result of these discriminatory laws even if they were free born.  States even passed laws stating that free blacks who left the state for 90 days could be legally enslaved upon re-entering the state, which caused a loud outcry from black activist during that era since many of them had family in other states and would face enslavement if they ever moved then needed to come back to visit or take care of relatives.  Many free people of color became fed up with the  discriminatory laws and instead left the states that were most hostile, including Indiana, Pennsylvania (due to the threat of kidnapping primarily), Maryland, and Delaware.  I’ve discovered that a large amount of free people of color moved to the Chatham-Kent area, called “Canada West” in order to be assured that their rights as free men would be protected.  Much of the historical research I attempt on the community of blacks in SE Ontario primarily leads me to sources that focus on escaped slaves and rarely mentions the issues that free blacks faced in the US and what drove them to resettle in Canada, but I’ve discovered that a large amount of the families in the Chatham-Kent area actually were free people prior to moving to that area and not recently escaped slaves.

James Madison BELL  and his family were amongst those who chose to leave Ohio and immigrate to SE Ontario.   During his time in Canada, he hosted John BROWN the famous abolitionist who, today is well know for his failed insurrection attempt at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859.  Prior to instigating the raid, John BROWN stayed at the home of James Madison BELL in Chatham while planning the attack on Harper’s Ferry.  Mr. BELL gave an interview to a journalist in 1889, thirty years after the failed raid occurred.  As is referenced in the article, Mr. BELL lived on Indiana Avenue, in the Pinewood District, currently called “Central City.”  Further information obtained from Census records show he lived at 559 Indiana, which is near the corner of Indiana and City Park Avenues.  He lived across the street from the site of the current Warren AME Church, of which he was a member.  A link to the entire interview is in the reference section of this post, but a snippet of the interview is below.  It was interesting to me to note that prior to beginning the interview, the journalist commented about how well Mr. BELL spoke, something that alluded to the past and continued stereotyping of black Americans via media.

 

 

JOHN BROWN’S RAID.

THE DELIBERATIONS AND PLANS LAID AT CHATHAM, ONT

An Interesting Reminiscence of the First Break Toward Freeing the American Slaves.

A correspondent of the St. Louis Globe Democrat, writing from Toledo, Ohio, says: Among the forty-five persons who attended the secret Convention, at which John Brown presented his famous Provisional Constitution and Ordinances, at Chatham. Ontario, May 8, 1859, was James Madison Bell, a colored man, and at that time a resident of Chatham. Mr. Bell was then a bright, energetic man of about 32 years, and was intimately connected with John Brown during his stay in Ontario, and, in daily intercourse with him, became quite familiar with all of his plans. Mr. Bell is now a resident of this city, and one of its most respected citizens. He resides on Indiana avenue, and conducts a large plastering business. A Globe-Democrat representative called upon Mr. Bell at his home, and found him ready and willing to tell nearly all he knew about John Brown. He is a good scholar, and an easy and interesting conversationalist, using the most correct language, of which he seems to have a perfect control

Only a few questions were needed to start Mr. Bell, and, his memory working as he went along, he seemed to take as much delight in telling as the reporter did in listening.

“I first saw Mr. Brown in the spring of 1859,” commenced Mr. Bell, leaning back in his large arm chair and closing his eves, as if to stimulate thought. “He came to my house at Chatham, Ont. — Canada West we called it then — and presented a letter from Wm. Howard Day, colored, a friend of mine, a graduate of Oberlin, and afterward for some years a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature. “The letter was dated at Toronto, a few days previous, and simply introduced the bearer as John Brown, asking me to do what I could for him during his stay in Canada.

After Brown’s raid, BELL moved to California and lived there until after the war concluded.  He then moved to Toledo and made Toledo his home for the remainder of his life.

After the Civil War, Mr. BELL was active in fighting for the Civil Rights of black Americans.  Contrary to what many people today believe, the  “Civil Rights Movement” started immediately after the Civil War, not in the 20th century.  Those who were ardent abolitionists prior to the war, became heavily active in the fight for civil rights of newly freedmen and women.  Mr. BELL was active at Warren AME Church here in Toledo.  He was the Sunday School Superintendent between 1870 and 1873.  He also traveled the country in the winter “off season” of his construction and plastering work.  He was known as a great orator and often read his poems while delivering speeches about the need for the acknowledgement of the rights of black people in America.   His wife is believed to have passed away in 1874 and Mr. BELL  was listed as a widower by the 1880 Census.  I have yet to find his wife’s death record but will continue to search.

The early pastor of Warren AME Church and subsequent Bishop – BW Arnett convinced Mr BELL  to write down his poems and publish a collection of 27 poems, which was published in 1901, titled “The Poetical Works of James Madison Bell.”  Mr. Bell died in 1902.   He was considered one of the main voices of black America during his lifetime and was one of the most well known black poets in the country.  He was called the “Bard of Maumee” due to his residence being in Toledo.

REFERENCE INFORMATION:

Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 60, Number 126, 16 Jan 1889 accessed via California Digital Newspaper Connection on January 20, 2017

Life of James Madison Bell www.encyclopedia.com accessed on January 20, 2017

The Poetical Works of James Madison Bell www.archive.org accessed on January 20, 2017

1850 Census – Household of James Bell – Cincinnati, Ohio Ward 11

 

The Story of Mrs. Hannah Davidson – Former Slave/Toledo Resident

The second formerly enslaved person interviewed by the WPA (see The Story of Mrs. Julia King) was Mrs. Hannah Davidson. Mrs. Davidson was approximately 85 years old at the time of her interview in 1937. She was interviewed by a person identified as K. Osthimer.

At the time of her interview, Mrs. Davidson lived at 533 Woodland Ave. Below is a picture of her home obtained from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s “Images in Time” collection. This collection contains many pictures of homes, businesses, and neighborhoods in Toledo from the 1800s forward. Mrs. Davidson’s home was photographed between 1937 and 1965 and the photograph was a part of a tax assessor’s records.

Hannah Davidson House

UPDATE:  I recently found a picture of Mrs. Hannah Davidson at the google news archives website.  She is pictured with another woman who is labeled as the “oldest members” of an organization.  I am thinking they were the oldest members of Third Baptist Church:

Mrs. Davidson is on the right

picture1

In the narrative, it was shared that Mrs. Davidson lived off of a $23 a month “old age pension.”  She was a boarder and rented a room in her home.  Many black Toledoans rented rooms as boarders or rented out rooms in their home for extra income during this time period.

Mrs. Davidson stated that her maiden name was Hannah Merriwether and that she had four sisters and two brothers.  Her parents names were Isaac and Nancy Merriwether.  She was born in Ballard County, Kentucky in approximately 1852.  She and her family were the slaves of Emmett and Susan Merriwether.

Mrs. Davidson’s story is dramatically different from that of Mrs. Julia King’s being that Hannah Davidson’s family did not come to the Toledo area via the Underground Rail Road as runaway slaves.

Mrs. Davidson stated that her folks were sold so many times that she “lost track” of them.  She also mentioned that she and her sister  Mary were kept over twenty years after emancipation by their slave master as slaves because the master would not let them leave.  She spoke of how she desperately wanted to learn to read and go to school but that the one black man who came to her county to teach “colored” people was beaten and run out of town by whites.  Mrs. Davidson eventually learned to read by herself with the help of WPA programs in the 1930s.

Mrs. Davidson reiterated many times about how hard she had worked her whole life.  She spoke of how one time she was so tired that she hid under a house just to take a nap and go to sleep because she was exhausted.

She also mentioned that her mother was the last slave to try to leave the plantation.  Her mother tried to take Mrs. Davidson as well but their master would not let the mother take her children.  Her mother was kicked off the plantation and Mrs. Davidson never saw her again.  Later on in life Mrs. Davidson forced her own sister Mary to leave the plantation by threatening her with a rolling pin.

Mrs. Davidson mentioned that “terrible” things happened to herself and her sister Mary.  She did not go into detail but it is well documented that female slaves were highly likely to be sexually assaulted and abused.

When she was 31, Mrs. Davidson stated that she married her husband William L. Davidson.  She stated that at the time of the interview, she only had one grandchild still living – Willa May Reynolds who was a teacher in City Grove, Tennessee.

Mrs. Davidson was a member of Third Baptist Church in Toledo.

My favorite quote from Mrs. Davidson was “I believe we should all do good to everybody.”

The idea that she maintained such positivity throughout her lifetime is a testament to the human spirit and is indicative of black American culture in regards to strength in faith and hope for the future.

I was very saddened and inspired when initially reading Mrs. Davidson’s narrative.  It is also interesting to compare the two persons interviewed in Toledo – Mrs. Julia King and Mrs. Hannah Davidson.  Mrs. King’s family escaped slavery when she was a young girl and so Mrs. King did not have to live with the trials of this horrible institution like Mrs. Davidson.  Mrs. Davidson did not get the benefit of being educated and thus could not obtain employment such as that afforded by Mrs. King’s background and subsequent work for the local government.  Mrs. King owned her home while Mrs. Davidson rented a room in  her old age.  The contrasts between the two women really do show how oppression and forced servitude and a lack of freedom can drastically reduce the opportunity afforded to one in their life.

The Story of Mrs. Hannah Davidson

GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION REGARDING MRS. HANNAH MERIWETHER DAVIDSON AND FAMILY

William DAVISON/DAVIDSON born 9/8/1865 died 3/10/1920 (familysearch.org – Ohio Deaths 1840-2001)

George DAVIDSON born 1898 in KY, lived in 1930 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) son of Hannah DAVIDSON

Wanda DAVIDSON born 1915 in OH, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) daughter of Hannah DAVIDSON

Hannah DAVIDSON born 1852 in KY, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census)

Helen DAVIDSON died 1/18/1928 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – Ohio deaths 1908-1953) wife of George Davidson

 

 

The Story of Mrs. Julia King – Former Slave/Toledo Resident

During my research and due to my interest in black history, I discovered the Federal Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) slave narrative collection about 15 years ago.

During “The Great Depression” of the 1930s, President Roosevelt created the WPA in order to put educated Americans, especially in the arts, back into the workforce due to the extreme unemployment and economic conditions faced by Americans during this era.

Luckily, the WPA took an interest in recording the lives of black Americans who were former slaves.  The year 1935 marked seventy years since the end of the Civil War.  Those persons interviewed by WPA workers were primarily in their 80s and 90s.  Some were centenarians (aged 100 or above).   Two individuals who lived in Toledo and who attended Third Baptist Church were interviewed – Julia King and Hannah Davidson.  Both of their interviews provide a wealth of information about slavery, escaping slavery, and black history in Toledo.

Mrs. Julia King was approximately 80 years old when she was interviewed in 1937.  She was the wife of Toledo’s first black police officer – Albert King picture below.

Albert King

At the time of her interview, Mrs. King lived at 731 Oakwood Ave.  A search on googlemaps shows that her house has been demolished as an empty lot is now at that address.

She spoke of how both of her biological daughters died, one as an infant and one at 13 years of age.  Black children in Toledo had high mortality rates in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  During the time of the interview, Mrs. King lived with her adopted daughter Elizabeth KING KIMBREW (KIMBROUGH).

In her interview she spoke of how she was the first black “colored juvenile officer” in the city of Toledo.  She worked in this position for 20 years.  The first 3 years she did it on a volunteer basis and was not paid for her work.

Mrs. King’s maiden name was Julia WARD.  She was born in Louisville, Kentucky to Samuel and Matilda WARD.  She had a sister named Mary WARD who was about 1.5 years older than she was.  Her parents were slaves in Kentucky.  Her father ran away via the Underground Railroad to Canada and left her mother, herself, and her sister in Kentucky.

Later, Mrs. King’s mother also decided to run away and join Samuel in freedom.  Mrs. King spoke of how her mother was happy that on the day that she planned to run away, Matilda’s mistress decided not to take Mary to the market with her.  The mistress usually had Mary accompany her to the market.  Matilda was prepared to run away and leave Mary behind, but due to the mistresses decision, she took both Julia and Mary to freedom.

They made it all the way to Detroit via boat and then went up to Windsor to meet Mrs. King’s father, who had been working there as a cook. They eventually settled in Detroit and she spent her childhood there prior to moving to Toledo.

In her narrative, Mrs. King also relates lots of information about the conditions faced by slaves on their plantation and about a song her mother sang to her.  The WPA had a specific list of questions that they were supposed to ask their interviewees and one was to ask them to sing a song from their childhood.  During the 1930s there was a large interest in black folk music for anthropological study and the interviews reflect this interest.

Mrs. King mentioned that she was a member of Third Baptist church and was drawn to the church due to them having a requirement of an “immersing baptism.”  She also mentioned that she was involved with national colored women’s clubs and had met Booker T. Washington and his wife and had heard a reading of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems in Toledo.  Dunbar lived in Toledo for about a year while he was ill with tuberculosis, an extremely common disease in the late 19th and early 20th century.  He would eventually succomb to the condition as did many of my own family members.

I loved Mrs. King’s interview.  Mostly due to the wealth information obtained from her recount of the escape from slavery, a topic which is now a heavy focus for historical research.  I also loved that she seemed to come alive to me, mostly due to my favorite quote from her interiew when she was asked about Frederick Douglass (as mentioned a man I thoroughly love)

“The only thing I had against Frederick Douglas was that he married a white woman.”  LOL!  I thought it hilarious that she exhibited the same feelings many people have about interracial marriages even today amongst older black women.

That said, Mrs. King seemed like a formidable woman.  She had been through a lot and it is amazing to me that she went to the same church that my family attended.  I had read Mrs. King’s interview prior to my step great-grandmother passing away and asked her if she knew Mrs. King and Mrs. Davidson, another former slave interviewed in Toledo.  She said she knew of them at church and had seen both but didn’t know them personally since they were older members and she was just a young woman during this time period.  It is fascinating to me that she knew actual slaves and I knew her.  She only recently died in 2008.  This goes to show that we are not as far removed from slavery as we think we are.

The Story of Mrs. Julia King – Toledo Ohio

GENEALOGICAL INFORMATION ABOUT JULIA WARD KING AND FAMILY

A review of records from www.familysearch.org showed the following in regards to Mrs. King’s listed family members from her narrative:

Mary WARD born appx 1856 in Kentucky, died in Detroit, MI in 1891 – listed parents were Samuel and Matilda WARD (Michigan Deaths 1800-1995)

Julia KING born appx 1856 in Kentucky, died in Toledo, OH in 1938 (one year after interviewed – they made it in time!) – listed parents were Samuel WARD and Matilda MACALVIN, listed spouse Albert KING (Ohio Deaths 1908-1953) buried at Forrest Cemetery

Albert McKinney KING born 1/21/1851 in Toronto, Canada, died in Toledo, OH 1934

Samuel WARD born appx 1830, died in Detroit, MI 1890 (Michigan Deaths 1867-1897)

Matilda WARD born 8/3/1844, died in Toledo, OH 1916 lived at 731 Oakwood Ave, buried at Forrest Cemetery (Ohio Deaths 1840-2001)

Marriage record of Betty(Elizabeth) KING KIMBROUGH (spelled KIMBREW in the narrative) married on 8/12/1935 to Samuel KIMBROUGH both were divorced at time of marriage and this was the second marriage for both parties

Marriage record of Elizabeth KING married on 9/14/1928 to John LYTLE.  This was the first marriage of both parties.  Elizabeth KING listed as 21 years of age at date of marriage.

Marriage record of Albert KING and Julia WARD married on 10/20/1875 in Toledo, Ohio

 

Early Black Churches in Toledo – Warren AME Church and Third Baptist

WARREN AME CHURCH

norwoodchurch

Warren AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church was the first all-black church in Toledo and Northwest Oho.

The picture at the top of this blog is actually a photo of some members of the congregation of Warren in the mid 20th century. My maternal (my mother’s family) ancestors have been members of this church for about 7 generations starting in the 1860s.

My great grandmother is in the photo on this blog. Those who are family members will recognize her. That photo, based on her appearance and my guess about her age, looks like it was taken in the mid 1930s or early 1940s. I took a picture of this photo with my cell phone at Warren in December 2014. It is hanging in one of the hallways of the church along with other historical information and photographs.

According to their website, Warren AME was first mentioned in the documents of the African Methodist Episcopal records in 1849. It began based upon the desire of early black Toledoans to have a place of worship to call their own. Local historians and church records show that the church began in 1847 in downtown Toledo. The church later moved to the location on Norwood Ave, in Toledo, which is where the photo mentioned above was taken. I loved the church on Norwood (photo of that building in within this post). As a child I saw it as a mystery and always wondered where all the steps and doors led and I enjoyed looking at all the stain glass. The church moved to its present day location at Collingwood and Indiana Avenue in the mid 1990s.

Warren was founded by free persons of color in Toledo. Blacks have been in Toledo, Ohio since the earliest beginnings of the city. My personal research and review of early microfilmed city directories show that in the first directory, black citizens were listed in various professions. They were primarily barbers, cooks, and laborers. These early residents are the persons who got together and formed Warren in the 1840s.

Due to the time period, it is evident that all were free persons of color. They may have been run away slaves or they may have been born free and just migrated to Northwest Ohio due to it being further away from slave states than southern Ohio. My earliest ancestors who came to Northwest Ohio were free persons of color from Pennsylvania.

THIRD BAPTIST CHURCH

third baptist

Third Baptist was the first all black Baptist church in Northwest Ohio. My paternal (father’s family) line attended Third Baptist and we have had members of our family attend this church for about six generations. Like Warren, I was always intrigued by Third Baptist’s building, located at the corner of Pinewood Ave and Division Street.

My step-great grandmother was a secretary of the church for many years and her family were one of the original founding families of Third Baptist. Her maiden name is on one of the stain glass windows and I always thought it was because it was her church (in my childhood mind, I thought she owned it) until I got older and discovered her family’s connection to the institution!

Third Baptist was founded in 1868. Persons who were former members of integrated First Baptist of Toledo wanted to start a “colored” Baptist church feeling they would be able to worship more freely with their own organization. Those who were members of First Baptist petitioned that church to dismiss them from membership and after a while First Baptist consented and Third Baptist was formed.

Third Baptist was founded after the end of the Civil War so was a combined effort made between former slaves and former free persons of color. My step-great grandmother’s family were free people prior to the Civil War for instance but many of those drawn to the new church were escaped slaves or formerly enslaved persons. They housed their church in the middle of what was then the “Negro Section” of Toledo.

Though Toledo in that period did not have define “colored” or “white” areas, most black people, like other ethnic groups in Toledo lived around each other. In this era, black Toledoans primarily lived in what was designated as the “Pinewood District.” That district included many streets which are no longer there due to the creation of public housing locations (Brand Whitlock, Albertuss Brown, and the Port Lawrence Homes) along with the federal highway system (interstate 75).