Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mitchems of Harrison County, Indiana

You might recognize Harrison County as the home of Indiana's first state capital, Corydon. But did you know it was also home to a group of emancipated black slaves even before statehood? In the spring issue of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, descendant Maxine F. Brown sketches out the story of Paul and Susannah Mitchem of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and finally Indiana. They freed dozens of slaves, and many of the emancipation papers are in early Harrison County deed records. Many of these people took the Mitchem name, so it could be a severe genealogical challenge to sort these folks out. Associated surnames Brown mentions include Meachum, Vincent/Vinsett, Carter, Cousin, Finley, and Powell.

PERSI tells me that Kentucky Ancestors did a several-part series on this story back in the 1990s; I don't know if anyone has dug into it from a genealogical as well as a historical point of view. Another starting place would be the 54 prominent signatories (not named in this article) to a letter to the then territorial governor, complaining that free black people were being "lry loose among us." The Northwest Territory was free by law, but that didn't mean the white people there were particularly enlightened.

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