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James Overall

Location: Along N. West St. between Indiana Ave. and Michigan St. Near 524 N. West St., Indianapolis (Marion County) 46202

Installed 2016 Indiana Historical Bureau and the Society of Indiana Pioneers

ID#: 49.2016.1


Side One

Overall, a free African American, sold his properties in Corydon, moved with his family to Indianapolis by 1830, and bought land near here 1832. He became a leader in small black community and played active role in growth of AME Church. Overall’s aid to enslaved persons in 1835 is documented in the escape narrative of black New York abolitionist Jermain Wesley Loguen.

Side Two

In March 1836, Overall shot a white gang member while defending his home and family from attack; white allies came to his aid. Despite an 1831 Indiana law that barred black testimony against whites in court, he sought legal protection from further attack. Though blacks had few legal rights, a judge affirmed Overall’s “natural” right to defend his family and property.

Annotated Text

Side One

Overall, a free African American, sold his properties in Corydon,[1] moved with his family to Indianapolis by 1830,[2] and bought land near here 1832.[3] He became a leader in small black community[4] and played active role in growth of AME Church.[5] Overall’s aid to enslaved persons in 1835 is documented in the escape narrative of black New York abolitionist Jermain Wesley Loguen.[6]

Side Two

In March 1836, Overall shot a white gang member while defending his home and family from attack;[7] white allies came to his aid.[8] Despite an 1831 Indiana law that barred black testimony against whites in court,[9] he sought legal protection from further attack.[10] Though blacks had few legal rights,[11] a judge affirmed Overall’s “natural” right to defend his family and property.[12]

[1] General Index of Deeds, Harrison County, Indiana, Grantee, 1809-1843, “James Overall,” Indiana State Library, microfilm; General Index of Deeds, Harrison County, Indiana, Grantor, 1809-1843, “James Overall,” Indiana State Library, microfilm; Janet C. Cowen, comp., Jeffersonville Land Entries 1808-1818 (1984), p. 177; Account of Forfeiture to the U.S., January 1-January 31, 1818, “James Overall,” Jeffersonville Land Office Records, Indiana State Archives, photocopy; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fourth Census (1820), Population, Harrison County, Indiana, p. 73, NARA Roll M33_14, p. 73, Image 89 accessed; Names Index (card file index of names listed in State records), “James Overall,” Indiana State Archives, transcription and photocopies; “Indiana,” County Level Results, 1820, University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser accessed .

By March 1817, James Overall was living in Indiana. At that time, the Harrison County Index of Deeds by Grantee records James Overall’s purchase of a Corydon town lot. In 1817, Overall also bought 160 acres of public land located northwest of Corydon; but by January 1818, he had forfeited this purchase. By July 1828, he had purchased four more Corydon properties. According to historian Stephen Vincent, African American land ownership provided an important protection against some “oppression and discrimination.”

The 1820 U.S. Census records James Overall as head of household under the category “Free People of Color;” his family included two adults, male and female over the age of forty-five, and two female and two male children under the age of fourteen. The 1820 Census also recorded sixty-nine free African Americans in Harrison County; a total of 1,230 free African Americans lived in Indiana; 190 slaves were counted also. A total of 145,758 white persons were residents of the state.

The “Indiana State Archives Names Index” listed James Overall on three dates, 1823-1824, as receiving state payments for unidentified tasks. In May 1824, the [Corydon] Indiana Gazette listed “James Overall” among addressees for letters to be picked up at the local post office. Finally, the Harrison County Grantor Index of Deeds records the sale of three of Overall’s Corydon properties in the first four months of 1830.

[2] U.S. Bureau of the Census, Fifth Census (1830), Schedule of Population, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, M19, Roll 28,  pp. 181-82,accessed at; “Names of Persons Enumerated in Marion County Indiana at the Fifth Census,” Indiana Historical Society Publications 4, no. 5 (Indianapolis, 1909): 370; “Small Pox,” Indianapolis Journal, May 21, 1831; “Indiana,” County Level Results, 1830, University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser accessed .

Sometime before the 1830 U.S. Census was taken at Indianapolis, Overall and family moved to the new capital city. His household in Indianapolis also was counted with six family members. According to the “Names of Persons Enumerated,” James Overall was recorded among twenty-four Indianapolis families headed by African Americans; a total of seventy-three African Americans lived in Marion County with a population of 3,629 African Americans in the entire state.

[3] Certificate Nos. 942, 943, 944, E. Sharpe to James Overall, June 20, 1832, “Indianapolis Donation Lands,” Indiana State Archives, photocopy; James M. Ray to James Overall, July 5, 1832, Deed Book C, Marion County, p. 532, Indiana State Library, microfilm; James and Amy Overall to Charles Grover and Cary H. Boatwright, April 1, 1836, Book G, Marion County Deed Records, p. 279-80, Indiana State Library, microfilm; John G. Brown Agent to Robert Duncan [assignee of James Overall], November 25, 1835, Marion County Deed Book G, 42; Eliza Browning, “Lockerbie’s Assessment List of Indianapolis, 1835,” Indiana Historical Society Publications, 4, No. 7 (Indianapolis, 1909): 421; Morris Morris on behalf of heirs. . . to James Overall, Deed Book J, Marion County Deed Records, 193-94, Indiana State Library, microfilm; “George Hardin to Jas Overall,” Index of Deeds, Books H-M, 1840-1850, Hamilton County, Indiana, Indiana State Library, microfilm; James and Eviline Overhall [sic] to Samuel West, November 21, 1842, Deed Book I, Hamilton County, Indiana, 221, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Indianapolis Remembered: Christian Schrader’s Sketches of Early Indianapolis (Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 112; Donald F. Carmony, Indiana: 1816 – 1850, the Pioneer Era (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society, 1998), 109-10.

The town of Indianapolis was platted during 1821 and the initial sale of lots began October 8, 1821. The “Indianapolis Donation Land Records” held at the Indiana State Archives show that James Overall began purchasing Indianapolis city lots from the original plat as early as June 1832. On July 5, 1832, Overall bought the land near where the marker is installed—the Southwest half of Square No. 10, Indianapolis—from James M. Ray for $55. Not quite four years later, April 1836, Overall and his wife, Amy, sold this property for $800.

On January 9, 1837, at a public sale, James Overall was the highest bidder for a parcel of Indianapolis land described as the “West two equal thirds of Lot 3 in Square 69.” Overall paid $1,530 for the parcel located on West Washington Street, southwest of the State Capitol building—today near the Westin Hotel. A pencil drawing of the Overall home on West Washington St. was published on page 112, Indianapolis Remembered: Christian Schrader’s Sketches of Early Indianapolis.

On October 17, 1838, James Overall purchased 164.97 acres in Hamilton County—the NW quarter, Section 31, Township 19N, Range 3E—from George Harden for $700. In November 1842, James and his wife, Eviline Overhall [sic] sold the East ½ of this quarter-section for $200.

The illustration above shows Indianapolis artist Christian Schrader’s drawing of West Washington Street just across from the State House, circa late-1840s. Notice the “Overhall” home in the upper right corner. Source: Indianapolis Remembered: Christian Schrader’s Sketches of Early Indianapolis (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 112.

[4] Indenture, Isaac Coe to Trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Church, February 12, 1840, Marion County Deed Records, Book M, pp. 74-75, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Indenture, Trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Church to Isaac Coe,  Marion County Deed Records, Book BB, 201-2, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Jermain Wesley Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman (Syracuse, NY: J. G. K. Truair & Co., 1859), 323 accessed Documenting the American South;  Max R. Hyman, ed., Hyman’s Hand Book of Indianapolis (Indianapolis: 1897), 47; Jacob Piatt Dunn, Greater Indianapolis: the History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes Vol. 1 (Indianapolis: 1910), 116; Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana (Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957), 145.

Overall’s status in Indianapolis’ small black community can best be demonstrated by his election as a trustee of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in this city in the 1840s. Historian Emma Lou Thornbrough states that Overall was also active in Indiana’s black convention movement in the early 1840s to obtain more rights for African Americans.

James Overall helped Jermain Wesley Loguen and a friend escape from slavery through Indianapolis in 1835. In the published narrative of Loguen’s escape, he describes Overall as “an educated man, and had a large character and acquaintance among colored people; and was much respected by white ones, for his probity, industry and good sense.” Dunn’s History of Greater Indianapolis describes Overall as “a quiet but resolute man with a number of white friends.” Max Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis states: “The leader of the negroes was an old man by the name of Overall.”

[5] “Notice,” [Indianapolis] Indiana Journal, March 17, 1838, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Certificate of Election,  March 24, 1838, Marion County Deed Record Book I, 186, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Indenture, Isaac Coe to Trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Church, February 12, 1840, Marion County Deed Records, Book M, 74-75, Indiana State Library, microfilm; “A Black Storm Brewing,” [Indianapolis] Indiana State Sentinel, March 1, 1842, 4; Indenture, Trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Church to Isaac Coe, February 8, 1845, Marion County Deed Records, Book BB, 201-2, Indiana State Library, microfilm; Thornbrough, Negro in Indiana, 151.

The first black church organized in Indianapolis was the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Established circa 1836, the trustees, by 1840, purchased two city lots owned by Isaac Coe for $800— “Lots numbered ten and Eleven in Square seventy-two in the Town plat of Indianapolis.” These lots were located on Georgia Street where the Indiana Convention Center sits today. Those seven trustees included James Overall, Aaron Locklear, John Brown, Willis Brown, Simon Rush, David Rush, and Augustus Turner. The indenture stated that the trustees “shall erect and build or cause to be erected and built thereon a house or place of worship for the use of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

The earliest record located referring to the church building comes from the March 1, 1842 issue of the [Indiana] State Sentinel which reported that a meeting was held in “the African M.E. Church in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana on the 17th of January, 1842, to take into consideration the propriety of getting up a State convention.” By 1845, the trustees of African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) sold the two lots back to Coe except for forty feet along the east side of Lot 11 where the church building was likely located.

Historian Thornbrough notes that the AME church served the black community as “a potent force not only in the religious life but also in education and in the development of race pride and unity.”

[6] Jermain Wesley Loguen, The Rev. J. W. Loguen, as a Slave and as a Freeman (Syracuse, NY: J. G. K. Truair & Co., 1859), 274-75, 308-09, 323, 447-48, accessed Documenting the American South; Sol Yewell, “Underground Road, To Freedom and God’s Land,” Indianapolis News, September 8, 1888, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

As mentioned in footnote 4, in 1835, James Overall aided the escape of the enslaved Jermain Wesley Loguen and John Farney. Loguen later became famous for his underground railroad activities in New York and his service as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Jermain Loguen was born into slavery in Tennessee. During the Christmas holiday in 1834, he and Farney left, seeking freedom in the north. After traveling for days and escaping recapture at least a couple of times, the two men crossed the Ohio River into Indiana south of Corydon in Harrison County. According to Loguen’s narrative, an African American man living in Corydon recommended that they seek a “Mr. Overrals of Indianapolis.”

Over three weeks later, Loguen and Farney found James Overall in Indianapolis. “He received and befriended the fugitives [Loguen and friend], as was his custom with all others who came to him.” Journalist Sol Yewell authored an article in the September 8, 1888 Indianapolis News that reported James Overall as one of a few Indianapolis blacks to aid enslaved persons seeking freedom.

[7] State of Indiana vs. David Leach for Surity of the Peace towards James Overall, Filed April 21, 1836, R. B. Duncan, Clerk, Marion County Circuit Court, Marion County Loft, Box 31, Folder 22, Indiana State Archives, photocopy; Gayle Thornbrough, ed., The Diary of Calvin Fletcher, vol. 1 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1972), 322-25; Ignatius Brown, Logan’s History of Indianapolis from 1818 (Indianapolis: Logan & Co., 1868), 35; W. R. Holloway, Indianapolis, a Historical and Statistical Sketch of the Railroad City (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Print, 1870), 53; Dunn, 115-16.

The events of the night of March 18, 1836 can be pieced together from James Overall’s affidavit and from Calvin Fletcher’s (prominent Indianapolis attorney and businessman) diary. Overall’s affidavit about the events of that night is part of the Marion County Circuit Court case files for May 1836.

On March 21, 1836, Overall appeared before Justice of the Peace Samuel Jenison and swore an oath to the following: at a late hour on March 18, 1836, David Leach and others came to Overall’s door carrying arms and fence rails and tried to break into Overall’s home. Leach threatened to kill Overall and his family then and again on March 20. Overall believed Leach would eventually kill him.

Calvin Fletcher corroborated Overall’s testimony. In his diary on March 18, 1836, Fletcher wrote “Mr. Blake in great trouble with Burkhart. Negro Overhall [sic] called on me for aid to prevent the lawless aggressions of Burkhart and party.”On the next day, Fletcher wrote “About light in the morning 1 of Overhauls’ sons (a colored man) came and informed me that his father had shot a man who with Burkhart was trying to break into his house.” James Overall asked Fletcher to come out to his home.

Violence was not unusual in the new state capital. Early Indianapolis historian Ignatius Brown described the growing town and David Burkhart and friends in Indianapolis in the 1830s: “The work on the National road . . . had attracted many men of bad character and habits to this point. These, banded together under a leader of great size and strength, were long known as ‘the chain gang,’ and kept the town in a half subjugated state. Assaults were often committed, citizens threatened and insulted, and petty outrages perpetrated. . . . “

W. R. Holloway (Indianapolis lawyer, businessman and owner of the Indianapolis Journal) added: “A feud between them [the chain gang] and the colored residents was a matter of course. . . . They frequently sacked negro houses and abused their inmates, and kept the northwestern corner of the town in a perpetual turmoil. The feud culminated in a collision with ‘Old man Overall,’ a negro of rather a plucky disposition.” According to J. P. Dunn, by February 1836, town officials had requested and received a charter from the Indiana General Assembly that gave more authority to the town government to adopt laws necessary for “police and good government of the town.” Dunn described David Leach as “one of the worst of the gang.”

[8] “Town Meeting,” [Indianapolis] Indiana Journal, March 26, 1836; Dunn, 115-16; Gayle Thornbrough, ed., The Diary of Calvin Fletcher, vol. 1. (Indianapolis, 1972): 323-25.

Fletcher continued to write of the March 19 activities related to the assault on Overall. Fletcher retrieved his rifle and got Andrew Smith, the constable, to go with him to Washington St. “He took one side & I the other & every man we met was ready on relation of the acts of the outrageous mob headed by Burkhart to turn out & see that the law should be executed.”

A sizeable group of men gathered but before starting for Overall’s house, a doctor appeared to say that he had treated the wounded man who would likely survive. Isaac Coe, a well-respected doctor volunteered to visit Burkhart on behalf of the citizens and demand that he remove from the town; the citizens offered to pay Burkhart for his property.

When Overall’s son returned to report his father’s “great fear of another mob,” Fletcher advised Overall to turn himself in. “He soon came in & gave himself up.” However, the assault caused such excitement that a public meeting was called that same day at four o’clock at the court house. “A very large number of the citizens of the town met.”

The Indiana Journal reported on the town meeting, the purpose of which was a public discussion about how to improve “the Peace and Safety of the Town.” The gathering adopted a resolution to “nominate ten suitable persons . . . whose duty it shall be to assist the civil officers in bringing to justice all offenders against the laws.” They also resolved to work to elect a board of trustees who “will command the respect and confidence of the citizens of our town, and who shall appoint such town-officers as will do their duty without favor or affection.” More than 100 attendees pledged their support.

[9] The Revised Laws of Indiana, 1831, Chapter 78, Section 37, 407; Thornbrough, Negro in Indiana, 119-25, 232-35; Alfred Avins, “The Right to be a Witness and the Fourteenth Amendment,” Missouri Law Review 31: 4 (Fall 1966): 471-504; Stephen Middleton, The Black Laws in the Old Northwest, A Documentary History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), 245-50; James H. Madison, “Race, Law, and the Burdens of Indiana History,” in The History of Indiana Law, edited by David J. Bodenhamer and Hon. Randall T. Shepard (Athens, OH: 2006), 37-46; “14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Primary Documents in American History,” Web Guides, accessed Library of Congress.

In 1807, the Indiana Territorial Assembly enacted a law, copied from the laws of slave states, that prohibited African Americans or Indians from being witnesses in cases involving white persons. Soon after statehood in 1816, the Indiana General Assembly passed a similar law; that law was amended in 1831. In The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, Emma Lou Thornbrough describes some of the legal disabilities applied to African Americans by the Indiana General Assembly stating that “the provisions limiting the right of Negroes to give evidence in courts of justice were probably the most notorious.”

Thornbrough goes on to say that “the use of the law was limited somewhat by judicial interpretation” and she references James Overall’s case as an example. However in 1853, the Indiana General Assembly further expanded the restrictions on testimony by people of color when they redefined “mulatto” to include persons of one-eighth or more “Negro blood.” Even after the Civil War, in a Special Session of the General Assembly called in November 1865, legislators only amended the law to allow testimony of African Americans legally residing in Indiana; blacks living illegally in Indiana (according to Article XIII, 1851 Indiana Constitution) still could not testify against white persons.

According to historian James Madison, Indiana was the last northern state to repeal the ban against testimony by African Americans. The witness laws of several other states also variously interpreted the status and legal abilities accorded to African American freedmen and free men after the Civil War. After much debate, the U.S. Congress passed the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S.; it also forbids states to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

[10] Indiana Laws, 407; Petition of Leach for Habeas corpus, March 24, 1836, Marion County Circuit Court, Marion County Loft, Box 28, Folder 12 Indiana State Archives, photocopy; Indiana on the relation of Overall vs. David Leach, Recognisance, Filed March 26th, 1836, Robert B. Duncan, Clerk, Marion County Circuit Court, Marion County Loft, Box 31, Folder 22, Indiana State Archives, photocopy; Gayle Thornbrough, ed., The Diary of Calvin Fletcher, vol. 1. (Indianapolis, 1972): 323-25.

Calvin Fletcher wrote on March 21, 1836 that “Leech [sic] the leader of B’s party is arrested.”

Case records filed March 26, 1836, with Robert Duncan, Clerk of Marion County Circuit Court include an affidavit that Overall submitted March 23, 1836 to Justice of the Peace Henry Bradley. Constable Andrew Smith also appeared and attested to “the threats of said Leach and the fears of said Overall.” Bradley immediately issued an order for David Leach to be brought to trial. After testimony of witnesses, Leach was “held to bail in the penalty of two hundred dollars to keep the peace towards said James Overall or that he stand committed—and upon the refusal of said Leach to enter into recognizance as required a mittimus [warrant] was issued to the jailer of said county which was returned by said Smith constable with the jailer’s receipt for the said prisoner—cost $2.05.” Despite the Indiana prohibition against African American witnesses, David Leach, a white man, was confined to jail based upon the testimony of a black man. On March 23, 1836, Fletcher wrote about “preparations for the trial of Leech, one of Burkhart’s men.”

On March 24, 1836, Leach petitioned the president judge of the Marion County Circuit Court, William W. Wick for a writ of habeas corpus stating that he was “illegally and unjustly detained and confined in the common jail . . . upon the oath [of] one Overhall [sic], a Negro man.” Judge Wick ordered Leach to be brought to the court house immediately.

Judge Wick’s ruling on Leach’s March 24, 1836 habeas corpus trial sent Leach back to jail until he complied with Justice Bradley’s order. On March 29, 1836, David J. Leach, Charles P. Sheaff, and David Burkhart appeared before Judge Wick and agreed to be bound to the State for $200 each if Leach failed to appear at the Marion County Circuit Court on the first day of the May term to answer “on the complaint of James Overall for sureties of the peace.” Judge William Wick demanded that Leach “keep the peace towards all the good citizens of said state and especially towards the said James Overall.”

The testimony of an African American man against a white defendant would be heard in a court of law in May 1836. See footnote twelve.

[11] Madison, “Race, Law, and the Burdens of Indiana History,” 37-59; Thornbrough, Negro in Indiana, 119-128, 232-36.

Though Indiana’s 1816 Constitution sought to prohibit slavery and indentured servitude, it did not in any way provide equality or legal protections for African Americans. It restricted militia participation to white males; it prohibited blacks from voting. In 1818, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation continuing to prohibit black testimony and barring marriage between blacks and whites. In 1831, the Indiana legislature attempted to restrict black migration into Indiana by requiring blacks to post a $500 bond as insurance against poverty or criminal activities. This law was not uniformly enforced at the local level but the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the statute on three occasions in the 1830s. These so-called “black laws” and others remained in effect until after the Civil War.

The 1851 Indiana Constitution included Article XIII that prohibited further migration of African Americans into Indiana. This Article was not uniformly enforced but it was not declared unconstitutional by the Indiana Supreme Court until 1866. African Americans continued to contend with and resist racism and discrimination. Madison declares: “Indiana has never been color-blind. For a long time, the state’s constitution, laws, courts, and majority white voice placed black Hoosiers in a separate and unequal place. . . . Twists and turns brought some legal modifications by the centennial year of 1916, but separation and discrimination, whether legal or extra-legal, were the patterns of public life for African Americans.”

[12] State of Indiana on the Complaint of James Overal vs David J. Leach for Recognizance to keep the Peace, Marion County Circuit Court Order Book 3, 200, Indiana State Archives, photocopy; “Opinion of Judge Wick, In the matter of David J. Leach, on Habeas Corpus,” Indiana Journal, May 7, 1836, pp. 1-2, Indiana State Library, microfilm; telephone conversation, Alan January, March 9, 2016, Indiana State Archives.

On May 2, 1836, in Marion County Circuit Court, James Overall appeared before President Judge William W. Wick and stated that he did not want to “further prosecute his complaint” against David Leach. Judge Wick then ordered Leach to pay to the court the “costs and charges” of the complaint.

Five days later, on May 7, 1836, the [Indianapolis] Indiana Journal published the “Opinion of Judge Wick, In the matter of David J. Leach, on Habeas Corpus” on its front page. Judge Wick provided a lengthy and detailed explanation for his decision to send Leach back to jail “unless and until he complies with the order of the justice requiring sureties for the peace.” This appears to be Judge Wick’s decision in Leach’s March 24, 1836 habeas corpus trial. According to Alan January, Indiana State Archives, the original document was not found within the Leach’s Marion County Circuit case file located at the Archives.

However, Wick felt the necessity to more fully explain his reasoning for sending Leach back to jail.  “It is the duty of the judiciary, as far as . . . their duties may permit them, to seek to allay inordinate public excitements—not by the matter of their decisions, but by the manner of making them.” Judge Wick acknowledged “that much excitement has been produced by this matter, and the circumstances connected with it.”

Wick countered David J. Leach’s main argument that the 1831 law “directs that, except in certain enumerated cases, no Negro, Mulatto, or Indian can be a witness” by defining a “witness” as “one called by a party to sustain his own allegations, or to controvert those of his adversary, on the trial of a cause.” Wick continued: “The affidavit of Overall, as well as all others taken in like manner, is not used on the trial. It is necessary to the institution of the proceeding. He [Overall] is not therefore a witness, within either the technical, or ordinary meaning of the word.”

In addition to the above interpretation, Judge Wick wrote lengthy answers to two troublesome questions for Indiana courts before the Civil War: (1.) Can a black man pursue a surety of peace bond against a white man; (2.) How far do the Indiana Constitution and Indiana laws go to protect a black man?

To the first question, Wick asserted that the answer “is controlled by the same principles in slave states as in Indiana. There is, in truth, very slight shades of distinction between the colored man in this state, and his position in a slave state, if he be free.” Even Leach’s attorney agreed that the laws in slave states allowed a “negro to make any oath necessary to sustain any plea, or answer, or an affidavit to continue a cause, or to institute an action of replevin or attachment.”

To the second question, Judge Wick stated that the Indiana Constitution excludes blacks from “participation in all rights available to the citizen.” However, the first clause of that same constitution declared “certain natural, inherent and unalienable ‘rights’ to be common to all men.” The constitution defined these natural rights as: defense of life and liberty; acquisition, possession, and protection of property; and the pursuit and obtention of happiness and safety.”

And so, any law “abridging any man of full and ample means, to avail himself of the remedies prescribed by law . . . to secure ‘natural rights’ is void—unless the man is not legally within the state.”

However, as stated in footnote nine, Judge Wick’s interpretation of an Indiana law in 1836 did not affect any change in the actual law. African Americans in Indiana continued to be without legal recourse in causes where only black testimony was available against a white party. Further research on this topic is beyond the scope of this project.


African American, Underground Railroad, Law & Court Case, Religion