Through the efforts of an Eagle Scout, the Indiana Historical Bureau will dedicate Boone County’s eighth state historical marker, remembering one of the earliest black communities at the site of the "colored cemetery" at 5 p.m. Aug. 10. Afterwards, attendees are invited to Sugar Creek Historical Society’s annual ice cream social at the Thorntown Heritage Museum at 124 W. Main St.
Around the Civil War, newly-freed, African American slaves began seeking a new place to live. According to research written by author Shannon Hudson, two Boone County communities attracted many emancipated slaves due to a large Quaker presence. Members of the Friends Church opposed slavery and had a reputation for helping slaves escape before and during the war.
The Sugar Creek Community was one of the communities in Boone County established in Thorntown. It was a thriving community of blacks. The community had an African Methodist Episcopal or AME church, a school on the northwest corner of Vine and Franklin streets, and a black Masonic Lodge.
There was also a “colored cemetery” on County Road 825 West, just a half mile north of Indiana 47.
Reece Thompson of Lebanon was looking for an Eagle Scout project in 2016 and landed on restoring this cemetery after reading a 2013 article written by Rod Rose for Boone Magazine, produced by The Lebanon Reporter. He started a Colored Cemetery Committee to preserve the cemetery and history of the settlement. He even enlisted the help of Ball State University to bring out ground penetrating radar to seek headstones that may have sunk.
The GPR from Ball State illuminated objects like stones or an old barb-wire fence, but it couldn’t tell what most of the objects were. Thompson got a Department of Natural Resources permit and probed and dug for possible headstones.
“I found sea shells because African Americans would lay sea shells where they’re buried,” Thompson said. “Also pieces of plates. It was just piles of gravel. We ended up not finding any headstones.”
Research shows 47 to 49 people are buried in the cemetery. Obituaries just mentioned a burial in Thorntown. The cemetery was never officially named. It was always called the colored cemetery. Thompson’s Eagle Scout project was focused on restoring the cemetery. He raised $19,500 to do the radar, replace the stones he could find and erect a black ornamental fence appropriate for a cemetery.
Thompson earned his Eagle Scout badge in 2017 long before the fence or the large donations. He now studies public safety at IUPUI and wants to be a police officer.
According to the wording on the marker, the community was established around 1850, according to census data. By 1870, the Sugar Creek Community had more than 170 residents. Most became farmers and some owned property, despite Indiana’s constitutional prohibition of a black settlement.
The colored cemetery was established because blacks and mulatto residents were not allowed to be buried in other Thorntown cemeteries. Records are not clear, but researchers believe the earliest burial was in 1878. The last burial was in 1935. At the dedication, Thompson said descendants of the people buried in the cemetery are expected to be special guests.
“Most people in Thorntown had no clue,” Thompson said of the colored cemetery. “They knew it was here, they don’t know anything about it though. Having that sign will commemorate what was here.”
For more information about the Indiana Historical Bureau marker, visit the website at www.in.gov/history/markers/3819.htm#boone. To learn more about Thompson’s Eagle Scout project and the restoration of the colored cemetery, visit the website at http://eagleproject.homestead.com.