Pictured are members of the Lincoln School Class of 1910. (Photos courtesy of the Highland County Historical Society)
Pictured are members of the Lincoln School Class of 1910. (Photos courtesy of the Highland County Historical Society)
The following is an excerpt of a Black history project currently underway by Highland County Historical Society members Kati Burwinkel, Myra Phillips and John Glaze.

Black History of Highland County

Highland County was first settled in the New Market area around 1803. Prior to that, this area was home to various Native American tribes, including the Shawnee. It wasn’t long before early settlers brought along their slaves and Highland County’s Black population began. The first known permanent Black resident was Thomas Trimble.

James Trimble, who was a captain in the military during the Revolution, and his wife, Jane Clark, had 12 children. Thomas Trimble was born in 1787 in Woodford, Ky. His actual parentage is not proven, as the reality of slave ownership was that the owner of the slaves sometimes fathered children with female slaves.

From two unions are born several children. The family says that Thomas was an emancipated slave of Captain James Trimble. The story goes that Captain James Trimble decided to free his slaves, come to Ohio and buy land to move here.

In 1802, he purchased land in the Fallsville area, then returned to Kentucky. In 1804, he returned to Ohio, planted an orchard and built a cabin, then went back to Kentucky to continue his plans to move the family to Ohio. Captain Trimble became sick and died; however, his widow completed his dream, moving the family here. This included Tom Trimble.

Her oldest son was 21-year-old Allen Trimble, who would become one of Ohio’s governors. In 1808, Allen built a blacksmith shop close to the town, on the site where St. Mary’s Episcopal Church now stands. Tom Trimble, who worked there as an apprentice, was the first black permanent resident of Highland County.

Settlements

There were a number of Black settlements in Highland County. Most of these settlements had nicknames such as “Smoky Row,” “Black Rock” and “Africa.” One of the earliest settlements, still existing today, is the Gist Settlement.

Once known as “Darktown,” Gist was settled in the early 1800s by a group of freed slaves. The Carthagenia Baptist Church was first built there in 1810. The Gist Settlement of Highland County had 18 families totaling 105 people in 1840, according to Laura Richards, a research history student. Other Gist settlements were in Adams and Brown counties as well.

The Hansborough Settlement in Liberty Township began about 1840. Like the Gist Settlement, a group of freed slaves came to Ohio for a better life. (Much of this story was presented in the Sept./Oct./Nov. 2020 issue of Museum Muses.) The members of Hansborough built log homes, a school and Clear Creek Colored Baptist Church, which began in 1842. Hansborough students and their teacher came to Lincoln School when it opened in 1870. All that remains of Hansborough today is the remnants of the cemetery.

Churches

The Sanborn map of Hillsboro, 1893, shows a Baptist Church at the end of Railroad Street in Hillsboro. Methodist AME church stood. Youngville Black community was near the intersection of Route 50 and Fenner Road. Hightop, located near Samantha, was also a thriving community and the early home of activist, Imogene Curtis. Leesburg also had a school near Fairfield Church.

Many Black churches have been started in Highland County. Shortly after the Carthagenian Baptist Church began at Gist in 1810, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church started in 1830 as Black Rock on property purchase for $5. located on East Walnut St. This became known as The Wayman Chapel when the church constructed a new building on West Pleasant St around 1835. Greenfield’s Shorter Chapel AME opened in 1843 and the Shiloh Baptist Church in 1866.

Hillsboro’s New Hope Baptist Church was in several locations before the current church was built in 1908. Wesleyan Methodist had been on North East Street since 1874. Elder Rita Lee was a longtime pastor and great supporter of the Lincoln School march.

Military Service

Black individuals in Highland County have always served proudly in the military back to the Civil War.

Moses Trimball, son of Tom Trimble, at 28 years, enlisted Feb. 28, 1865, for one year of service. He was sent off to serve with Company H, 3rd Regiment of the United Stated Colored Heavy Artillery. The 3rd Regiment had been organized from the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery, African Descent and served as garrison at Fort Pickering and in Defenses of Memphis, Tenn. and in District of West Tennessee.

Moses’ story is only one of many. There are reported to be over 100 Black Union Army soldiers buried in Hillsboro Cemetery alone, let alone those buried in other cemeteries such as Gist, Leesburg, Fairfield Township and Greenfield.

Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad passed through Highland County. A number of homes in the area played a big role in the safe transportation of slaves as they moved north toward freedom.

Underground Road, located in northern Highland County, had homes who helped the runaway slaves on their way north. By its very nature, information about the system was extremely secretive, but through diligent searching family records and stories, much information has surfaced.

Escape trails started at the Ohio River and wended their ways north to Canada, northern Ohio or safe places in between, some being African American Settlements such as Gist.

Women Changing History

Highland County has a proud history of women making change through peaceful, civil disobedience. Just as Mother Thompson marched in Hillsboro for temperance, so did 19 mothers who marched for integration of Hillsboro elementary schools in 1954.

This became the first northern test case following the landmark Brown vs. Education decision and the Hillsboro case made civil rights history. In 2017, all marchers were inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

This story is told at Highland House in the Lincoln School Exhibit opened in June 2017. A documentary was also produced, and a team has traveled over the state of Ohio showing the film and sharing the story.

The event is also chronicled at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., which is located at the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination.

Lincoln School

Land was purchased for the all-black Lincoln School in 1869, and the school opened about one year later. A second story was added in later years.

The school had four classrooms where grades were combined and went to the eighth grade. A bathroom, furnace, and a kitchen were added later as well.

The school was set on fire July 5, 1954 during the fight for integration but reopened with two redecorated classrooms. After schools were integrated, the Lincoln building sold and was later torn down by the new owner.

AAARC

The African American Awareness Research Council was founded in 1994. Highland County District Library’s Hillsboro manager, Laura Waln, organized this group that celebrates Black History and honors a citizen each year at their annual meeting.

The founding members were Laura Waln, Elsie Steward Young, Edna Raney, Clara Goodrich, Eleanor Cumberland and Robert Lee Smith.

Summary

This book project is still in creation and will include much more information than shared here. Watch for availability.