Monday, August 23, 2021

Grave Spotlight of the Month - August 2021 - Mattie Jacobs Fuller

Martha "Mattie" Susan Pierce was born in April 10, 1856 in Kentucky to slave parents and was the "next-to-the-youngest of eight children".  In an article published in the Bloomington Daily-Telephone after her death, it is said that she told her interviewer that her parents were "Andy Pierce" who "lived with a Shouse family in Boston, KY" and her mother was "Cassie Young" who "lived with the Billy Grier family at Simpsonville, KY".  She said that she came to Indiana from Kentucky on a barge, crossing the Ohio River and that her love of music came from a woman who played a "great, big harp" while on the barge", though another interview states it was a banjo that was being played.  Mattie was six years old when she crossed the river into Indiana.

They settled in the Woodyard neighborhood northwest of Bloomington.  The Woodyard Road area is close to Ellettsville, so I am not sure if this is where they settled or in an area closer to town that no longer bears that name.  Regardless, she and her parents and her siblings made a home for themselves, but not long afterward, her mother died of a heart attack.  It was at this time that Mattie was sent to live with General Morton Hunter and his wife on North Walnut Street.  Was this because her father could not support all of the children after his wife passed away?  We may never know, but it was not an uncommon thing for children to be sent away to live with another, even if they were very young.  

Her home with the Morton's, however, was not a permanent one.  The City of Bloomington's Historic Tour Guide No. 14 talks briefly about her, stating that "following the Civil War, Mattie Jacobs Fuller was indentured to an Indiana physician". She was 12 years old when she was bound to Doctor John J. Durand and his wife.  The Perry Township Trustee, William H. Turner, demanded that she was to be taught "to read, to do sums of math if possible, and to provided with a home, food, and clothing".  Not only were they responsible for her care, they also sent her Louisville to be trained as a beautician and "gave her music lessons from the best music teachers in Bloomington".

The article goes on to say that she was "released when she was 14 years old".  She married a man named Henry Clay Jacobs on December 3, 1873.  He was a woodcutter by trade.

Unfortunately, the ages listed and her birthdate don't line up.  If she was 14 in 1873 when she married Henry Jacobs, then she was probably born in 1859 not 1856.  It's hard to tell what the exact date of her birth was, but it is listed on her headstone as being 1856.

Her husband died on February 17, 1894 and is buried next to her in the Old Spencer Addition in Rose Hill Cemetery.  Their five children preceded her in death. 

I am not sure how long she trained to be a beautician, but after she had completed her training, she sold cosmetics for a while before being able to open her own salon, which may have been out of the front room of her home.  Later, it was located in what is now known as the Allen Building and is located at 108 East Kirkwood Avenue.  The National Historic Register of Places lists it as having opened in 1909 and it was believed to be the first in town.  Now, I know that there were salons that were strictly dedicated to the beauty and care of African American women.  I am not sure if her salon was one of these or if she was just happy to have a salon and catered to all women.  

Image courtesy of IU Mathers Museum

But her salon, was not her claim to fame.  She was a devoted member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church and due to her unwavering desire to help her church, she was able to raise $13,000 to assist in the paying of the mortgage.  She did this by playing her portable organ at fairs and fundraisers for 7 years.  In this photo from the IU Mathers Museum, Mattie plays her portable organ to raise money.  The trophy that sits on top was to hold money she was given for her singing and playing.  She was also listed as having been a suffragist, though I couldn't find anything pertaining to her work in anything other than the church.

She was married a second time in 1906 to Levi Fuller, a cook on a Monon dining car, but their marriage was not a happy one.  They separated and he died in 1931.

In 1937, she was interviewed by WPA (Works Progress Administration) worked named Estrella Dodson.  She noted in her project that everyone knew Mrs. Fuller, but there were few records of her early life.  It is thought that they were lost by the county.  Ms. Dodson accidentally listed her named as Hattie Fuller, but it was later corrected.  The two women discussed "her early childhood as a slave, her visit with her former mistress and her current life in Bloomington".  She lived at 906 W. Kirkwood Avenue at this time.  

She was 82 years old when her story was record by the Federal Writer's Project.  She passed away here in Bloomington, Indiana, at the age of 84 on 23 August 1940.   She is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in the Old Spencer Addition.

The city of Bloomington have her name on a list for renaming a street in town after.  Her story was told in an exhibit called Breaking the Color Barrier at the Monroe County History Center that ran from June 1 - October 12 2018.

Mattie Fuller's name doesn't come up often in research, but she was a very important member of our community.  Not only did she 'escape' slavery, but she made a life for herself as an entrepreneur and a leading member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church.  She was a strong, independent woman show should not be forgotten.

Mattie Pierce Jacobs Fuller - you are not forgotten.



A Walk Through Bloomington's African American History - City of Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington, IU to rename Jordan Avenue after prominent residents who escaped slavery - The Herald-Times

Monroe County Timeline - Monroe County Library

Homeless, Friendless, and Penniless: The WPA Interviews with Former Slaves - Google Books

Monday, August 16, 2021

Grave Spotlight of the Month - September 2021 - Thomas Lewis

 Welcome to our first Grave Spotlight of the Month.  For August 2021 we visit our regular stomping ground at Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana.  Today we are looking for a nondescript grave marker for a man named Thomas Lewis.  He is listed as being buried in Lot L in Rose Hill, which is on the edge of the cemetery on the Kirkwood Avenue side.  It took a while of walking around, but finally my daughter shouted out, "Found him!" and threw her hands in the air.

Thomas Lewis was born on December 25, 1851 in Spencer County, Kentucky.  Some records show that his father was Elijah Lewis and his mother was Sina (probably Tina as stated in later records) Drake Lewis Ditto, while other records list his father as unknown and his mother simply as Drake.  Someone has also said that his mother remarried a man named George Ditto.  It is hard to tell what their names were since records were sometimes scarce and rarely kept in poorer communities or in this case as the focus of our spotlight this month was born a slave.  

According to the "Slave Narrative from the Federal Writers' Project - 1936-1938 - Indiana" (available to view from the Library of Congress (and here), his father "was killed in the Northern Army".  It is possible that he served in the Civil War or maybe was killed in the Civil War.  I haven't been able to track down the name Elijah Lewis in any of the pension records.  

Thomas continues in his narrative that "a gang of white men went to my grandmother's place and ordered the colored people out to work."  He also noted that his grandfather had been set free.  His narrative makes it a little confusing to determine if his grandmother and his family were still slaves as the white men came to order them to work.  But, regardless, his grandmother did not like this and they would refuse to work, so his mother reported one of the men from the gangs to the soldiers in Louisville.  "All were fined and none allowed to leave until all the fines were paid".  He also remembered that when he was little and his mother and her white owner were plowing the field, getting it ready for planting of wheat, when "some Yankee soldiers on horses came along".  They wanted to know where "Jim Downs' still house" was, but when she started to answer, her owner told her not to.  The soldiers yelled at him, basically wanting him to keep his mouth shut so that she could answer.  When she did, they went on their way.  The reasoning behind this, besides, likely because this man considered her nothing more than property and didn't want her to have a voice, was also because the white man that owned her had "Rebel friends" hiding there.  Thanks to her knowledge, these men were captured.

Thomas also remembered that he didn't have a cap when he encountered some soldiers.  They queried as to why he didn't have a cap. When Thomas told them he didn't have one, they replied with "You tell your mistress I said to buy you a cap or I'll come back and kill the whole family."  The soldier's words had an effect on them and Thomas became the proud owner of his first cap.

His family finally left the area because they did not want to work like that and be treated that way.  Young Thomas had been working for a family, possibly somewhere nearby, because he states that he was "anxious to see Louisville, and thought it was very wonderful".  At this time, he was probably about twelve years old, since it is noted in his narrative that his "mother, step-father and my mother's four living children came to Indiana when I was twelve years old".  Here is a point to mention.  Thomas noted that his mother and step-father made it to Indiana, so could this have been a reference to the man that his mother remarried to?  A man named George Ditto?  Once again, I haven't found any record of a man named George Ditto that matches up with this time frame.

After they left Louisville, they made their way across the Ohio River on a ferry and stayed the night in New Albany.  From here they took a train to Bloomington.  Thomas lived out the remainder of his live here.  

He stated in his narrative that he met a family named Dorsett who had come from Jefferson County, Kentucky.  Their two daughters had been sold before the war, but afterward they were able to be reunited.  So far, I haven't been able to find any reference for a Dorsett family in town that fits Thomas' description.  But, keep in mind that records were many times very vague, especially when connected to the families of slaves.

On June 30, 1885, Thomas Lewis married Mary Gill.  They had at least two children, Howard and Ethel.  Howard's name listed above Thomas' on the headstone in Rose Hill.  He was likely born in Bloomington, but his death date is unknown.  He passed away in 1978.  He was married, thought I haven't any record of his wife's name.  However, he was listed as having a daughter named Esther.  Her name is listed on the headstone below, underneath Ethel Lewis.  Now, there is a bit of confusion concerning Ethel.  Find-A-Grave shows Ethel as having been Esther's mother, therefore Howard's wife.  Dates of death show 1921 for both Ethel and Esther.  This could have been a case where Ethel died in childbirth along with Esther.  However, Thomas had a daughter named Ethel.  Could it have been a coincidence that he had a daughter and a daughter-in-law named Ethel?  Or is it just a misconnection made on the website.  Without further records, it's hard to tell.  What I do know is that the headstones are right next to it each in Lot L and Howard's says FATHER, Ethel's says MOTHER and Esther's says DAUGHTER.  It definitely looks like a family, leaving Thomas as GRANDFATHER.

Thomas was married again after the death, presumably, of Mary.  This time he was joined to Geneva Johnson on January 27, 1923 here in Monroe County.  The Marriage Records for 1906-1960 list her parents as Tom and Lizzy Johnson.  Her birthdate was recorded as November 2, 1900.  Thomas does indeed have his parents listed as Elijah and Tina Drake and his birthdate as December 25, 1857.  

To their union were born four children: Anna, James, George, and Raymond.  James served in World War II and is buried in Washington Park Cemetery, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana.  You can see his listing on Find-A-Grave here.  George is buried in New Crown Cemetery and Mausoleum in Indianapolis, Indiana.  According to his Find-A-Grave listing he was in prison in Michigan City, where he died just a few months before the mass protests broke out in 1970.  You can see his listing here.  His listing talks about his grandparents and their involvement in the Civil War.  This is also alluded to in Thomas' narrative.  I haven't found any information about Anna or Raymond.

Thomas spent the rest of his life in Monroe County, working odd jobs around town.  He was limited by his prospects as he education had been minimal, having only completed up to third grade.  Near the end of his life, he went to live in the Monroe County Home, also known as the poor house.  This was located in what is now Karst Farm Park, next door to the Monroe County Fairground.  Normally, those that die in the poor house were buried on the property, but these records are hard to find.  In this case, Thomas may have been removed by his children to be buried in Rose Hill, or possibly he was buried in the poor house cemetery and moved later to Rose Hill.  It is hard to know as there is no actual cemetery located here.  

Indiana isn't a state normally associated with slavery.  It is sometimes hard to imagine your home as being a place that slaves came to start a new life.  But in this case, it was.  Thomas and his family were freed and needed a new home.  Somehow they found out about Bloomington, possibly because the Covenanters were abolitionists and involved in the freeing of slaves.  Or maybe they heard from someone that this was a good place to come.  Whatever the reason, Thomas and his family made their way by wagon, ferry and train from Spencer County, Kentucky to the safety of Bloomington, Indiana.  And here he married, raised a family and spent the remainder of his days.

Mr. Thomas Lewis, born a slave, lived a free man, will not be forgotten.

Biosketch of Thomas Lewis - Monroe County History Center 
Monroe County Marriage Index - Monroe County History Center 
The Old Poor Farm or Poor Asylum in Karst Park - Bloomington Then and Now

Powered by Blogger.