Written and Photographed by William Bryant Rozier
Part Two: Two of the Families
According to a document found at the Mercer County Genealogical Society, a black man named George Washington Smith was born in Tennessee in 1815; the farmer eventually settled near Carthagena, Ohio in 1854.
Carthagena was the state’s largest all-black settlement; more than 600 black residents owned over 10,000 acres of land in four adjoining townships. (Carthagena today is an unincorporated community.)
Elizabeth Moreland, Smith’s wife, was also from Tennessee.
When George and Elizabeth moved from Carthagena to a neighboring township, he purchased 80 acres of land; George grabbed 40 more acres before he was finished buying.
George and Elizabeth had eight kids (three girls and five boys). At 75, Simson “Sim” Smith was their last child to go to glory.
“Sim” Smith lived in an unheated home and was found sitting in a chair by the stove. The cause of his death (on December 3, 1936) was noted as starvation, but the lack of warmth could have played a factor.
He never married, was the last of his family, and is buried in the nondescript Carthagena Black Cemetery at the intersection of U.S. 127 and State Road 274 in Carthagena, Ohio (about an hour’s drive from Fort Wayne, Indiana).
As reported in the last issue of the Fort Wayne Ink Spot, the Carthagena Black Cemetery is a remnant of approximately 70 documented black rural settlements established throughout the State of Ohio before the Civil War.
The best identifiable landmark close to the cemetery is the St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
The St. Charles Seminary, a retirement home for priests and lay persons, rests just around the corner.
Former Carthagena resident Bertha (Hurd) Epps remembered the St. Charles Seminary as a 15-story high building. She was interviewed for a story about her life while she was living in a retirement home.
The Hurds were known as a prosperous family in Carthagena. James Hurd, Bertha’s father, owned a huge farm where he bred horses and raised corn, wheat and oats; he made $1,800 from the sale of his first two stallions.
The patriarch of the family, William Henry Hurd, a blue-eyed Englishman, was born in 1785, eventually settling in Georgia where he got rich owning slaves. He would eventually marry his black housekeeper, fathering four children. The family moved to Ohio when the state of Georgia passed a law that required slaveholders to designate their children, born in a union with a slave, as slaves themselves.
Eventually, Hurd’s children (and their families) settled in Carthagena.
Bertha married Lawrence Epps when she was 16 in the African Methodist Episcopal Church formerly in Carthagena. The husband and wife team would acquire 40 acres of farmland. Bertha was still raising poultry in 1989.
Bertha (Hurd) Epps died on August 15, 1999 at the age of 107(!) at the Catalpa Health & Rehab Center in Dayton, Ohio. She was survived by five grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, 50 great-great-grandchildren, and 18 great-great-great-grandchildren.
For Part 1, click HERE.
Part 3 of The All-Black Cemetery of Mercer County, Ohio story will drop in a future issue of the FWIS.
Research for this story was pulled from the following resources: The Mercer County Genealogy Society. Big thanks for Cheryl Davis for all of the help and the interview.
I run Scrambled Egg(s) Design and Productions, based out of Northeast Indiana. In addition to producing in-house company projects, I also create advertising materials for companies and organizations, with an emphasis on interactivity.