When I was 13 years old I had my first experience at an historical archives. I was looking for research to write a National History Day paper, and my quest brought me to the Oberlin College Archives, located a short drive from my house. I was facing the turmoil of moving from childhood to adolescence, along with trying to figure out who I am, and what my passions were. I remember the first time walking in and finding a quiet room lined with books and filled with friendly people ready to help me. From that point on, my thirst for knowledge grew and this year marks my third year entering the National History Day competition. Tying local history into the national theme is a great motivator to continue searching the amazing resources at the Oberlin College Archives.
I love going to the archives looking for more and more information on my town and the people who lived here before me. This year, my research brought me to find Mary Church Terrell. Terrell was a prominent African American woman whose life spanned from the year of the emancipation proclamation to just after the Brown vs. Board of education decision. The archives provided file after file of information on her, and as I read, the more I became immersed in her truly fascinating life. She was active in every major movement involving race or gender of the 1900’s. Terrell lived to be 90 years old and her accomplishments equal those of famous activists of her time.
My fondest memory during my research at the archives was exploring documents hand written by Terrell and realizing that these words were 100 years old. They have survived, and still stand strong even though they have existed through countless wars and conflicts. This is what history is to me something that can never be forgotten, something that is so strong and important that even the tiniest handwritten letters can inspire a young woman like myself to make a difference in my world.
I think that my experiences delving into the world of archives has not only given me a new interest in my town, and its rich diverse history, but has also really allowed me to blossom as a person and find the kind of people and work that I feel kindred too. History has become a part of me, and archives have become a second home.
Against the Tide
The document was hard to read: the page was dark with age and the cursive letters were from a bygone era. In the Greene County Emancipation Record of Free Blacks, 1805-1845, located at the Greene County Archives, I found that my ancestor Frederick Bonner left Virginia for Ohio because of a, “clear conviction of the injustice and criminality of depriving my fellow creatures of their natural right.” Frederick Bonner was a devout Methodist from Tidewater, Virginia. He freed his slaves and moved to Ohio because of his religious conviction of the immorality of slavery.
“Many of Frederick Bonner’s likeminded friends and neighbors in Virginia came and settled in Xenia, forming a community that has been distinctly Methodist in religion for more than one hundred years” (History of Greene County Ohio). The church initially met in Frederick Bonner’s home and was called the Bonner Society. After a short time, a 30’ by 30’ log church was erected and later replaced with a brick structure. The Union Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest in Ohio, has served the Union Neighborhood continuously since 1809.
The conviction of that group of anti-slavery Virginians influenced events that occurred nearly a half century later when Elias Drake built a hotel and resort a short distance north of Xenia. Mr. Drake’s resort was a health spa for water treatment called Tawawa Springs. “[T]he resort was popular among southern planters who arrived with their entourages of slaves and hunting dogs…. Many of the neighboring farmers were United Presbyterian Seceders, Methodists, or Quakers, all antislavery in sentiment, and ill will toward the resort naturally arose” (Taking the Waters).
The Methodist Episcopal Church purchased the Xenia Springs Resort from Mr. Drake in 1855 to establish a university of higher education for “youth of color,” and that was the origin of Wilberforce University. Wilberforce University became a destination on the underground railroad for blacks seeking freedom and “an intellectual mecca from slavery’s first rule: ignorance” (History of Wilberforce University).
What an astonishing discovery. My great-great-great grandfather had a, “clear conviction of the injustice and immorality,” of slavery and the courage to act upon it. His moral convictions along with those of his like-minded Virginians contributed to the establishment of the first African-American University in the United States. The action taken by that abolitionist community stands as a testament that, “God can use evil for good.” (Genesis, 50:20).
Greene County Archives
Experience researching the Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center
I have always been interested in early Clark County History. I joined the New Carlisle Historical Society a few years ago to learn more about the area’s history. In the past, I have used the Heritage Center Archives as a resource to track down old pictures of New Carlisle. The staff at the archives is very helpful and knowledgeable about the county and the collections within the archives. Recently, I have had an interest in the early years of the county and the people of who helped settled the county. In particularly, a man named John Paul, who has been referred to as the “Adam of Clark County”. I soon realized other members of the New Carlisle Historical Society had the same interest and desire to know more about the first settler. We formed a small group of researchers that wanted to set the record straight about John Paul and if the stories where true. Eventually, curator Natalie Fritz from the archives developed an interest in the research and joined us in the research. The group of Hugh Schiller, Tom Spittler, Natalie Fritz, and myself would like to write a book about are our findings and share them with other researchers.
We begin our research at the Heritage Center archives and found many sources that provided a good base to work from in my research. The Center has a wealth of information, which includes newspapers dating back to the 1820’s and microfilm from 1860’s to date. In addition, the Heritage Center has hundreds of collections that people have donated through the years at their disposal. In the past year, I have become a fixture in the building. During this time, I have located information that was unique to only the Heritage Center that gave me a better perspective on the subject I was researching. The Heritage Center has answered many of my questions I was seeking, it also has led me to ask new questions and access other outlets for information.
The Clark County Historical Society at the Heritage Center is great resource that in my eyes is often underutilized. We have a resource in the Heritage Center Archives that is better than many of the larger cities in the United States.
Clark County Historical Society