Hmm …while in Orange County Indiana, if only I had driven another mile or so down Hwy 150 before taking Greasy Gravy Road south? My perspective on the Lick Creek Quaker Meeting would have certainly changed in learning of another place now called the Lick Creek African Settlement. But maybe it wouldn’t have been a big deal back then as at that time I was totally unaware of the people who had lived there in Paddy’s Garden and of their connection to my own extended family in Chatham County NC. It’s amazing that I had travelled so very far to find a family who I now know not to be mine and yet drove so close to families whose story really was.
Lick Creek Settlement is the historic home of free people of color who had removed from North Carolina in the early 1800’s. As the winds of slavery grew increasingly brutal, changes in law and culture made it impossible for free blacks and people of mixed race to remain in the state. From their settlement near the Lick Creek in Chatham County, North Carolina, these folks sought a better life in a new land along a creek of same name in Indiana.
Supported communally on both ends of their journey by the Quakers, an African American settlement was created in Indiana within two miles of the Quaker’s Lick Creek Meeting House. Both blacks and whites had made the trip from North Carolina. It was no different than were the actions Quakers had taken during the Revolutionary War. However, because the blacks settled among the Quakers in Orange County Indiana, it seems that contemporary belief has them as also living near each other in North Carolina. But, that’s not completely so. It’s my belief the free people of color removed from another location not far away along the Moore/County lines where they had lived peaceably. And equally important, I think it in error to refer to this migration of free people as being just black, colored, or African American. Beyond being black, records in North Carolina clearly trace the families as multi-racial, being rooted in peoples known as Saponi, Tuscarora, and Lumbee. We are all defined through our pride as people and for those who moved to Indiana, their heritage as part-Indian or indigenous people should not be underestimated. And, in degrees not fully recognized, these free people of color certainly mixed with the local white population.
Deep in the Hoosier National Forest along Indiana’s border with Kentucky, archeological evidence shows that life in the Lick Creek Settlement went well for a short period of time. That is, until the wrongs of the expanding slave taking society once again knocked at their back door. Starting in the 1820’s, the new state of Indiana forbid slavery and any prejudicial treatment of people based on race and belief. But by 1840, things were changing even in Indiana. No longer was it advertised as a safe haven, a refuge for African Americans escaping the southern culture.
There were raids across the Kentucky border along with accusations of criminal behavior. The wooded land in southern Indiana did not support the agrarian way of life. Once more, starting in the 1840’s, the people defined as colored or black began another move in search of better lands and a better way of life.
Today, there’s little to remind us of the community of people who once lived along the Lick Creek in Indiana. There are the remains of an old cemetery once referred by some as Little African. However, that location is also fondly known to be Patty’s Garden by those whose ancestors lived upon the land. Today the cemetery is formally identified as being the Roberts and Thomas cemetery in honor of the community’s earliest leaders. Elias Roberts had once lived in North Carolina on lands his father Ishmael purchased of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County. In Indiana, Elias gave land for the early AME church and cemetery. The cemetery is also named in honor of Matthew Thomas who‘s recognized as the first settler at the Lick Creek Settlement.
My quest in this series of posts is to outline the journeys made by the Roberts family in hopes of shedding light on Matthew Thomas. I’m also in search of community and what life was like along the areas surrounding Lick Creek in Chatham County. Was Elias Roberts friends with my racially white Thomas family? Was Matthew Thomas named for or somehow related to the family of Joseph Thomas in Chatham County, North Carolina? Was he named for or somehow related to that other family …the Quaker family of Lewis Thomas who had made the trip from Piney Grove Meeting in southern North Carolina?
Much has been studied, written and televised on the migration north of the Roberts Family. The family was large and it quickly spread beyond one particular area of Indiana. So, before making connections to family records here in North Carolina, let’s look at the Roberts Family, where they lived and what’s out there linking them to my person of interest …Matthew Thomas.