Excerpts are from our May 2011 Newsletter. An article written by one of our former volunteers, Sabine Kretschmar, highlights the history of African Americans in Rockport Township which would become Lakewood in 1889.
“The First African-American in Cuyahoga County, George Peake, settled in Rockport in 1811. By 1820, blacks accounted for twenty percent of the overall population of 157, a very high percentage for a township in the Western Reserve at the time.
“Rockport was primarily a farming community and not surprisingly, most of the residents, including the black population, were farmers or farm hands. Mentions of blacks in local histories are very infrequent and usually refer to them by first name only, such as ‘Henry’ or ‘Elijah’ or by their labors. For example, the book titled the Early Days of Lakewood, reported that Adam Wagar employed, ‘twenty Negroes cutting wood on his property; they lived in temporary shacks south of the present Madison Avenue at Morrison Avenue.’
“The laws in Rockport, as in all of Ohio, were not colorblind. Ohio was a ‘free state’ as confirmed in the state constitution in 1803. However, that does not mean it was without racial discrimination.
“Ohio passed several ‘black laws’ in 1804 and 1807 designed to prevent African-Americans from migrating to the state. In order to be a citizen of Ohio, b lacks would need at least two people to put up a $500 bond for their good behavior and they would have to produce a certificate of free status. In addition, laws prohibited blacks from marrying whites, voting, testifying in court against whites, holding office, or serving in the state militia. State tax dollars would not support schools with black students. By the late 1840s, abolitionists were successful in repealing some of these laws.
“In spite of this, northern Ohio-especially the Western Reserve-was relatively more sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans than the southern part of the state. New Englanders and New Yorkers, who settled in this part of the state in large numbers, brought their dislike of slavery with them.” (…)
This is Part 1 of our series throughout the month of February to highlight the history of African Americans in Lakewood. Stay tuned for our second installment, Early Abolitionists in Lakewood.