Underground Railroad research reveals early reference to the people of Howard County, Indiana04/03/2023
KOKOMO, Indiana – The earliest published description so far found about what would become Howard County, Indiana, is from a fugitive enslaved Black man.
This remarkable discovery is explored in “Freedom, Removal & The Underground Railroad in Howard County, Indiana,” presented by the Howard County Historical Society in the February 2023 issue of Footprints, the society’s quarterly publication.
The article was researched and prepared by Gil Porter, a member of the HCHS Publications Committee. Porter’s principal source is “The Rev. J.W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman. A Narrative of Real Life,” a slave narrative published in 1859 by the Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen of Syracuse, New York.
Amazingly, Porter found that within Rev. Loguen’s text were about 1,000 words detailing his journey north from Tennessee in early 1835 through the Great Miami Reserve in northcentral Indiana (today part of eight counties and all of Howard County lie within the reservation).
“Rev. Loguen’s book is a stirring story of enslavement, resistance and self-liberation during a horrendous time in American history,” said Anne Shaw, executive director of the Historical Society. “Porter’s research and writing provides a compelling new view of state and local history. It reflects the commitment the Society has to finding new information and sharing our unique story as Indiana’s last-named county.”
Porter said that the Rev. Loguen’s 1835 description of the Myaamia homelands is some 10 years before Richardville (Howard) County was created in January 1844.
“This history is heartbreaking because the Miami and Potawatomi families who helped provide safe passage here would very soon have their land and their freedoms taken away,” Porter said. That side of the story is crucial, and part of the material in Footprints describes what was happening in the state of Indiana in 1835, with documented details about the difficult treaty negotiations between the U.S. government and the Miami tribe.
Porter explained that the Rev. Loguen was interacting with Indian families in the reserve barely three months after the Miami were pressured to give away part of this land at the October 1834 treaty in Huntington, Indiana. “So,” Porter said, “the overall story has this unique dimension of one person seeking his freedom, while the people who helped him were losing theirs.”
Also, part of local history here includes memories of the Underground Railroad. Porter noted that the third part of the Footprints material highlights the several references to area people and activities found in the comprehensive 1898 book “Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom,” by the historian Wilbur H. Siebert of the Ohio State University.
“This was a special issue of our publication,” Shaw said. “We’re honored to represent Howard County’s residents and share their great history through Footprints.”
Footprints is available at howardcountymuseum.org/explore/publications-archive