Births Deaths Marriages, Paternal Kin

Family cemeteries, no. 18: Bassett cemetery, near Kokomo, Indiana.

BASSETT CEMETERY sometimes known as “Bassett Colored Baptist” or “Lower* Settlement Cemetery” is at south edge of SECTION 9 of T. 24-2-E and is in north central ERVIN TOWNSHIP of northwestern HOWARD COUNTY of northcentral Indiana. About midway between hamlets of Poplar Grove and Kappa, it is on north side of road formerly popularly known as “Nigger Pike” and in a farming-area formerly inhabited by numerous Negro families and then able to boast of having a colored Baptist Church and a school for colored children, as well as a blacksmith shop, store, etc. Like the Rush, or Upper Settlement farther east, this settlement is understood to have formed here before the Civil War, and under the sympathetic encouragement of the many Quakers who had settled nearby.

*The term [Lower] alludes to west-flowing Deer Creek’s south fork, which passes more than a mile to the north of cemetery.

This record of genealogically and historically important tombstone-information and a supplement thereto, were prepared for INDIANA HISTORICAL SOCIETY and the STATE LIBRARY by the Pioneer Cemetery Committee of the L’Anguille Valley Historical & Memorial Association, Logansport, Indiana, which is in the adjoining county of Cass, of which committee Mrs. Audna M. Johnson of Logansport is chairman, Fieldwork (18 miles from that city) was done MARCH 29, 1948, the day after Easter Sunday, by committee-members Robert B. Whitsett, 500 Front St., Logansport, and Wm. R. Coder, also of Logansport. Work was done in honor and memory of these early settlers of African descent (who lie buried here in marked graves) and of their many contemporaries who likewise lie buried here but in unmarked graves, and to their numerous descendants and citizens of Logansport, Kokomo, and other communities. Information in Supplement was largely derived from Mr. Ernest Griggs (colored), aged 71, of 1208 West Wabash Avenue, Logansport, but partly from Mrs. Dock Simmons (col.) and Mr. George A. Harness (white) and Mrs. Harriet Shideler (white) and sister, all of Logansport.

SUPPLEMENT: Miscellaneous bits of hearsay information:

“Among person buried in the doubtless dozens of unmarked graves in the Bassett cemetery are Ernest W. Griggs [of Logansport’s] late nonagenarian father [the settlement’s widely known blacksmith] Reuben Griggs, from Tennessee, a former slave, who died about 1917, and who had maintained that he was 94 years of age; and Reuben’s wife Sarah Griggs (Ernest’s mother) who was a daughter of Thomas Artis and who died in about 1887 when Ernest [now — 1948 — 71] was about 10 or 11 years of age, and when she was only about 29; and Dock Simmons [of Logansport]’s late parents: Montraville Simmons, a Negro farmer from North Carolina; and wife Anna [or Annie] Simmons and one son of theirs [Dock’s brother] Montraville Simmons Jr.” … “Daniel Bassett married Dock Simmon’s sister Muncie Simmons.” …

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The original founders of the Bassett settlement were free families of color from eastern North Carolina by way of Parke County, Indiana. The family who gave its name to the community was headed by Britton Bassett, who was born about 1784, probably in Greene County, North Carolina. (He appears there in the 1830 census.) The plat map below, drawn in 1877, shows the locations of Bassett community school and church and parcels owned by the African-American Bassett, Artis, Ellis, Griggs and Jones families.

Bassett cem

Montraville and Anna Simmons and their children immigrated to Howard County from Canada in the late 1880s. (I don’t know why, of all likely locations, they chose this one.) The Bassett community church had just closed, but they likely joined its successor, Second Baptist, led by Rev. Richard Bassett in Kokomo. Two of their daughters married Bassett brothers.

In 1900, Montraville, Anna and their unmarried children moved twenty or so miles north to Cass County. When Anna died near Logansport in 1906, Kroeger & Strain (still in business as Kroeger Funeral Home) handled her burial. The top half of Kroeger’s “particulars” sheet contains much of the same personal misinformation as Anna’s death certificate and is filled out in the same hand. It’s the rest that’s interesting. Anna was buried at 11:00 on a Tuesday morning at Free Union Baptist Church cemetery. (That name is largely forgotten, but it was the Bassett community congregation.) Her body was transported to Howard County by a team of horses, and the family reserved a carriage. According to the super-helpful lady at Kroeger, “blk. cl. oct. casket” indicated a black octagonal casket. (The “cl.” is a mystery.) The family provided Anna’s clothing, but purchased slippers for her feet. All in all, it seems no expense was spared.

A Simmons Kroeger

Bassett cemetery today contains less than two dozen marked graves. Small swales between stones, however, reveal many more. The Mrs. Dock Simmons who contributed to the L’Anguille Valley Historical & Memorial Association’s cemetery survey, above, was Fannie Gibson Simmons, who’d been married just five years when her mother-in-law Anna died. Ernest Griggs was the stepfather of Anna’s grandson Harold Simmons, son of Montraville Simmons Jr.

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Bassett cemetery today.

[Sidenote: Indiana county plat books, updated every year, are a genealogist’s dream. Land ownership can be identified at a glance, and every parcel is a nice subset of a square. Here’s the 2015 map of Ervin township, Howard County, showing roughly the same section as above, including the location of Bassett cemetery.]

IMG_9576 (1)

[Another sidenote, on “Nigger Pike”: There were two 19th-century African-American settlements in Kokomo. The road now known as West 400 North would take you to both of them. The Bassett Cemetery report, written in 1948, refers to the formerly popular name of the pike, indicating that general usage had died out by then. (But not otherwise commenting.) The United States has a long history of offensive or derogatory place names.]

Copies of L’Anguille Valley Historical & Memorial Association’s Bassett Cemetery report, Bassett-Ellis plat map, and 2015 plat map courtesy of the well-stocked and -staffed Genealogy & Local History Department, Kokomo-Howard County Public Library; copy of funeral receipt courtesy of Kroeger Funeral Home, Logansport; photograph of Bassett cemetery by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2016.

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Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, Migration, Paternal Kin

Indiana Chronicles, no. 2: To pay respects.

Ten A.M. After some nervous indecision, I’d parked in the driveway of a nearby farmhouse and was hustling up the road toward a tiny cemetery. The odor of cow dung was large. The crack of thunder at the horizon was larger. I arrived in Kokomo three days after catastrophic F3 tornadoes had ripped through, and I was not anxious to get caught out in the new storms racing across central Indiana. But I’d come 600 miles for this, and I wasn’t leaving before I got what I came for.

With his wife dead and nothing to hold them in Onslow County, North Carolina, James Henderson gathered up his children and pushed 60 miles northwest to Sampson County. There, James married Eliza Armwood and, about 1852, their first child was born. It does not take a great leap of imagination to picture my great-great-great-grandfather Lewis, oldest of James’ first bunch, cradling his baby sister Anna Jane in his arms or hoisting her to his shoulders in the years before his own children were born. Nor is it hard to conjecture his sense of loss when Anna left with her new husband Montraville Simmons to join his family in impossibly faraway Canada. She was the only one of James’ children to leave North Carolina, and she did so in a big way. The Simmonses eventually quit Ontario for Indiana, but, practically speaking, the Midwest was no closer to home. It’s not clear when Anna last saw any of her people, but it’s a sure bet that none ever visited Cass County, and not a one has ever visited her grave.

Thus, I found myself navigating the grid of backroads between Logansport and Kokomo, one eye on the western sky as bands of rain lashed my windshield. Properly speaking, I was not headed to Anna’s actual grave, for it is unmarked. But to stand in Bassett cemetery would be close enough.

 

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