History of the Lost Creek Settlement

By the time Indiana was granted statehood in 1816, slavery had been banned in the state constitution. There were blacks in Vigo County prior to 1820, but they were unnamed in the 1820 census, and listed as "servants", in the households in which they served.

In 1820, a Supreme Court of Indiana ruling in Polly v. Lasselle freed all the remaining slaves in the state. One of those freed was Armstead Stewart. Armstead Stewart was born in 1783 in Dinwiddie, Virginia. He was a "free man of color" who was head of a Dinwiddie County household of 5 "other free" in 1810, and was taxable in Dinwiddie County, VA on 3 slaves in 1811, 2 in 1812 and his estate was taxable on 2 slaves and 3 horses in 1813. Armstead went missing and was presumed dead. He had been kidnapped by slave trader Daniel Durham, who transported him to Vigo County, and set him free by 1822.

Vigo County was formed in 1818, and in 1819, it began forming townships within the county. Nevins and Otter Creek townships were both formed by 1822, and the Lost Creek Township was formed in 1831. Linton Township, home of the Underwood Settlement, was formed in 1841.

The Lost Creek Settlement was an area of approximately 20 sq. miles, or 12,800 acres. It was located in the bordering areas of Lost Creek, Otter Creek, and Nevins Townships in Vigo County, Indiana. The migration of "Free Peoples of Color" to Lost Creek began in the mid 1820's and continued until 1860. The pioneers who came to the Lost Creek Settlement were farmers when they were in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, and they continued to be farmers in the Lost Creek Settlement. They bought land, which was basically woodland and marshy area, then cleared and drained the land by hand, to make it tillable, and able to sustain the needs of their families.

Origins of the Lost Creek Pioneers

The settlers of Lost Creek descended from a combination of the first people of America, the Native Americans, the first slaves of America, the Scots and Irish, and from African slaves.

The term mulatto was used to define a person of mixed race heritage, either white-black, or white-Indian. The first recorded mulatto born in the colonies was Thomas Rolfe, born 30 Jan 1615, in Jamestown, Virginia, to John Rolfe and Pocahontas. After the death of Pocahontas, and that of her father, the new Powhaten Chief ordered attacks against the British settlers, and one particular British child was taken hostage. His name was John Bass. John later married the daughter of the Nansemond Tribal leader, and their offspring became the ancestors of the Lost Creek Bass families.

By the law of partitus sequitur ventrem, a child born of a free mother was always free, no matter what its color or the status of its father, and many free colored people were of female Indian ancestry.

After the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745, many of the captured Scottish rebel families were transported from England, and sold into slavery in the colonies. The colonists even began to breed Scottish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new mulatto slaves brought a higher price than Scottish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce. Even if a Scottish woman obtained her freedom, her kids would remain the slaves of her master. Thus, Scottish moms, even after being emancipated, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude. The children born to a mother after she had been freed, were born free.

It is important to remember that enslavement in the early colonies was not a life sentence, but was generally for a term of 7 years, per Biblical interpretation. The colonial slaves could actually bring suit against their masters if they felt mistreated, even though free blacks and mulattos had no statutory guarantees for their rights and liberties. As the number of white slaves decreased, laws were passed to stop the mixing of the races. Indians, and mixed-race people, were all considered to be, and to be treated as if they were black. These new laws prompted many of the free blacks and mulattos to migrate to states that had not passed these types of laws.


In colonial Maryland there were a large number of free blacks and mulattos. Maryland was a state bordering Pennsylvania, which was a free state. The laws in Maryland required the free blacks to register with the court to prove they were free, and to provide their freedom document upon demand, by any white man. Many of the free blacks chose to move to Pennsylvania to avoid this type of harassment. Slave catchers became common after years of free blacks and fugitive slaves escaping to Pennsylvania. Many slave catchers would kidnap free blacks whether they were fugitive slaves or not, and take them back to Maryland.

Benjamin Bushnell was born in 1803, in Maryland. He was in Vigo County, Indiana before 1830. Robert Foster, born in 1778, in Maryland, migrated across Pennsylvania, and Ohio, before settling in Vigo County. Edward Cooper was born about 1785 in Maryland, and had migrated to Lost Creek before 1831. Edward helped to change Indiana Law when he brought suit against the State of Indiana for a law requiring blacks entering the state to post a $500 bond. Edward won the suit, paving the way for the Anderson, Roberts, and Stewart families to settle in Vigo County in 1832.

Colonial Virginia

Relations between free blacks, mulattos and whites in colonial Virginia were very flexible at first. Free blacks, mulattos and whites often lived near one another, worked together, and socialized together. Blacks had access to the justice system and appeared to be treated equally by the courts. Some free blacks and mulattos even owned slaves and indentured servants themselves. The Bass, Chavis, Evans, Stewart, and Walden families were all slave owners in colonial Virginia. This may have been for financial reasons, or to assure their white neighbors that they were not going to assist neighboring slaves to either escape, or to rebel. At the same time, many enslaved Africans were allowed to earn money, keep livestock, and raise crops for themselves, and they sometimes took advantage of these economic privileges to purchase their freedom.

December 1662 - In a newly passed law designed to clarify conditions by which people are enslaved or free, the General Assembly declares that all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.
1681 - Legislation was passed forbidding the practice of mating Scottish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale. In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.
April 1691 - The General Assembly passes An act for suppressing outlying slaves, creating penalties for unlawfully absent slaves, outlawing interracial marriage, and requiring all newly freed slaves to leave the colony.
May 1723 - As part of a long act devoted to the better government of Negros, Mulattos, and Indians, bond or free, the General Assembly declares That no free negro, mullatto, or indian whatsoever, hereafter have any vote at the election of burgesses, or any other election whatsoever. The law also restricts a master's ability to free his slaves.

The Lost Creek Settlement pioneers who originated in colonial Virginia were from the families of: Alexander, Anderson, Artis, Bass, Chavis, Cole, Estell, Evans, Goins, Harrison, Hill, Hucle, Manuel, Mitchell, Powell, Roberts, Stewart, Walden, and Waugh.

The Anderson family was freed by manumission in 1712. They were the mulatto descendants of an European slave master, and one of his slaves

North Carolina

The Virginia free people relocated to North Carolina prior to the 1820’s, purchased land, and established households. In the earlier history of the state, the civil status of the inhabitants was largely regulated by condition rather than by color. To be a freeman meant to enjoy many of the fundamental rights of citizenship. Free men of color in North Carolina exercised the right to vote until 1835, when the constitution was amended to restrict this privilege to white men. The right of marriage between whites and free persons of color was not restricted by law until the year 1830, though social prejudice had always discouraged it. Another source of free colored people in certain counties was the remnant of the Cherokee and Tuscarora Indians, who, mingling with the Negroes and poor whites, left more or less of their blood among the colored people of the state.

The Lost Creek Settlement pioneers who originated in North Carolina were from the families of: Batton, Beacham, Boone, Jackson, Jasper, Larter, Malone, Norton, Patterson, Pettiford, Poston, Russell, and Tyler. The Allen, Bell, Hathecock, Manuel, Russell, and Underwood families settled in the Underwood Settlement.

NC Counties

By 1820, many of the families had moved near the Lumbee Tribal land base, which was sort of a sanctuary for Indians fleeing expansion by the European settlers. The Lumbee Tribe was an amalgamated tribe made up of refugees from various southeastern tribes. The Lumbee’s have bio’s on most of those families, which include the Allen, Anderson, Bass, Bell, Chavis, Cheatham, Cole, Cooper, Evans, Goins, Malone, Manuel, Norton, Poston, Powell, Roberts, Russell, Stewart, and Tyler families.

The one premise that the Free People of Color had learned, was quite simple, If you don't work...You don't eat. America had not become a welfare state at that time. If you became a financial burden upon your family, or the community, then you could be legally bound out, i.e. indentured, enslaved. The price of freedom was personal responsibility.

The Exodus to Indiana

For a variety of reasons, including the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and retaliation for an insurrection led by Nat Turner in 1831, some of the Lumbee land base families decided to move North. Family members from all of the above mentioned Lumbee families migrated North to Indiana. The Lost Creek and Underwood settlements would become the new sanctuary areas.

To get to Indiana from North Carolina, the migrants had to travel thru the Appalachian Mountains. Daniel Boone had carved out a trail thru the mountains from North Carolina thru Kentucky, which became known as the Wilderness Road.

With few exceptions, the majority of Lost Creek's pioneer settlers were from families that had been free since the colonial period in America.

Free ancestors of the Lost Creek Settlement[1]
Family Ancestor Date of Birth Place of Birth Freedom Source Lost Creek Patriarch
Anderson Kate 1670 Norfolk, Virginia Freed African Female George Anderson b.1770
Bass William 29 March 1654 Norfolk, Virginia Native American female Jethro Bass b. 1787
Bell Elizabeth 1684 Lancaster, Virginia Free white female John Bell b.1777
Evans Eleanor 1660 Virginia Free white female Evans Family
Manuel Ephraim 1725 Virginia Freed Parents Wyatt Manuel
Norton Chesley 1805 North Carolina Freed Parents Chesley Norton
Pettiford Archibald 1781 North Carolina Free Mulatto female Isaac Pettiford
Roberts Mary 1664 Virginia Free Mulatto female Ishmael Roberts
Russell George 1808 Orange, North Carolina Free White female Lost Creek Russells
Russell George 1752 Brunswich, Virginia Free White female James Russell
Shepherd John 1792 Kentucky Free White Thomas Franklin Shepard
Stewart Elizabeth 1695 Virginia Free White female Otter Creek Stewarts
Stewart Rebecca 1717 Virginia Free Mulatto female Lost Creek Stewarts
Underwood Christopher 1723 Virginia Free white female Mary Underwood
Walden William 1670 Virginia Free white female Walden Family

It is said that as many as 110 families traveled together in a caravan from North Carolina to Indiana. Not all of the migrants came to Vigo County, and those who did, did not all come at the same time. The Society of Indiana Pioneers states that "An Indiana pioneer is one who lived within the present boundary of an Indiana county on or before December 31, 1840".

Boin Roberts (pronounced Bowen), was one of the first to arrive into Indiana. Land records show him buying several plots of land in Owen County, near the city of Spencer, as early as 1825. Probate Court records show that he returned to Chatham County, NC in February 1830, to settle property claims with his family, after the death of his father, Ishmael Roberts. He is said to have convinced some of his family members to return to Indiana with him. The 1830 US Census for Indiana shows Bowen living in Owen County. Many of his family were still living in Orange County, Indiana as late as 1870.

According to the 1830 census, the first of these pioneers to arrive in Vigo County were the families of Joseph Artis, Jethro Bass, Isaac Baty, Charles Baty, Celia Baty, Benjamin Bushnell, Benjamin Cole, Joseph Patterson, Armstead Stewart, and Mathew Stuart.

Dixon Stewart and family had settled in Monroe County, Indiana in 1827, and migrated from there to Lost Creek in 1832. The Anderson and Roberts families migrated from Orange County, Indiana to Lost Creek in around 1832 as well. By 1840, Anderson family members, Able, David, Jordan, Jeremiah, and Lewis, and Kinchen Roberts' family, along with his brothers-in-law Moses Archer, and Henry Trevan, had settled in Vigo County. In addition, the families of Daniel Alexander, Isaac and William Chandler, James Chavis, Edward Cooper, George Evans, Williamson Harris, Alexander Jasper, Samuel Malone, Chesley Norton, Adam Riley, Dixon and Tazewell Stewart, and Wiley Walden, had settled in Vigo County.

The Lost Creek Community built and supported it's own schools and churches. The first school in the Lost Creek Settlement was built in 1835, on an acre of ground donated by Kinchen Roberts at the intersection of Ft. Harrison and Hunt roads. The first teachers were Abel Anderson and Aaron Smith.

AME Church

Jethro Bass helped to establish the Lost Creek A. M. E. Church, located on Hunt Road, in 1839, where he served as one of its pastors. That land was donated by Sam Malone.

In 1850, Indiana started enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law, which treated run-away slaves as if they were wanted criminals. This meant that bounty hunters could track run-aways into Indiana and return them to their owners in slave states.

Abolitionists devised a network of safe houses, and tunnels, to ferry the runaways north, across Indiana, into Michigan and Canada. In Vigo County, Markle’s Mill and the A.M.E. Church in Lost Creek were both used as part of Indiana’s leg of the Underground Railroad.

The church was destroyed by a fire in 1949, and was never rebuilt. A monument commemorating the church’s roll in the Underground Railroad, now stands in the SW corner of the church property.

Kinchen Roberts owned 280 acres at the intersection of Hunt Road and Fort Harrison Road. In 1832, Kinchen’s son Banister, was the first to die in Lost Creek, and was buried on Kinchen’s property. In 1835, Kinchen set aside an acre of land for the 1st school to be built in Lost Creek. In 1870, Kinchen’s son Reden, set aside 1˝ acres of land, where Banister and others were buried, to officially be known as the Lost Creek Cemetery. After the death of Alvira Bonds Roberts, the widow of Reden Roberts, access to the cemetery was limited by the new property owners. Death certificates written after her death, list this cemetery as the Shepard Cemetery, most likely because access to the cemetery was across property owned by Thomas F. Shepard, which was adjacent to Reden Roberts. After closure of the cemetery, local elders agreed that the cemetery should be known as the Roberts Cemetery, in commemoration of Reden Roberts.

During the 1850’s, Wiley Walden and son Milton, owned about 1,100 acres, in Otter Creek Township, between the Wabash River and the Wabash and Erie Canal. There was a saw mill located on Milton’s property, next to the canal, where harvested trees were sawed into lumber, and sold across the state. The canal was used to transport material from Toledo, Ohio, on Lake Erie, to Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River.

The Lost Creek Missionary Baptist Church was built in 1850. A fire destroyed the church in 1868, and it was rebuilt in 1869. The church is located on Creel Road in eastern Vigo County. Rev. Lewis Artis served as pastor from 1850 to 1872. He was followed by Rev. William H. Anderson from 1872 to 1874, and Rev. George Anderson from 1874 to 1879, followed by Malachi Anderson, shown in the inset.

The church had a sizable membership from the Burnett community. Burnett was a coal mining community, north of Lost Creek, in Otter Creek Township. Post Civil War emancipated slaves, came to Burnett, and other surrounding communities, to find work. The church helped to bring the two communities together, by the mid 1900's.

Following the dedication of the new District No. 3 School building on December 2, 1945, the young people in attendance met and organized the Lost Creek Community Club for the purpose of providing wholesome recreation for the area. Officers elected included: Cleta Harris, President; Felix Shepard, Vice-President; Nola Shepard, Treasurer; Dorothy Ross, secretary; Walter Edwards and Bert Ross, Trustees. On April 5, 1946, the officers and trustees met with Nathaniel Tootle concerning the purchase of “The Hamilton Grove.” On June 9, 1946 a meeting was held at the home of Walter and Beulah Ross Edwards to decide upon the name of the newly acquired property. It was renamed the “Lost Creek Community Grove.” The original owner of the property was Sam Malone, whose daughter Elizabeth married Elisha Stewart, who in turn gave the land to their daughter, Mary A. Stewart on March 2, 1901. The six and one-half acre plot of land was purchased from Nathaniel Tootle, the widower of Mary A. Stewart Hamilton Tootle on November 16, 1946, for $500. The Warranty Deed lists Walter Edwards, Verdell Hathecock and Maynard Shepard as Trustees.

Only 6 relics remain today to serve as memorials to the Lost Creek Settlement. They are the Lost Creek Community Grove, the Lost Creek Missionary Baptist Church, the A.M.E. Church Memorial, the Russell Cemetery, the Roberts Cemetery, and the Stewart Cemetery in Otter Creek Twp.

The Lost Creek Missionary Baptist Church now has a congregation of 8 to 10 members.. It is still used for funeral services, and as a meeting place for family memorials. The Lost Creek Community Grove is used for family re-unions and other community events. The Roberts Cemetery and the Stewart Cemetery are inactive. The Russell Cemetery is used for Russell family member only.

Today, there are only 7 households in the Lost Creek Settlement, that are occupied by descendants of the original settlers.


1. Paul Heinegg: http://www.freeafricanamericans.com/Virginia_NC.htm