Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

From fur trading to farming, African Americans came to Wisconsin for the same reasons white settlers traveled here, evidenced in those familiar symbols on our state flag. African Americans also were brought as slaves to the lead-mining region of southwestern Wisconsin. 

James Hibbard, archivist at the UW-Platteville, discussed 19th-century slavery last fall during a series presented by The Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums. His first two lectures described the lives of slaves and their owners, and the final lecture presented the career of William Maxwell, a Black lead miner who established his own diggings in Platteville, where he employed four other miners. Links to the presentations can be found at https://mining.jamison.museum/virtual-programs.

As for farming, one Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum exhibit described Cheyenne Valley, near Hillsboro. In Wisconsin’s largest 19th-century rural Black settlement, many settlers became landowners, and with neighboring European immigrants, created integrated schools, churches and sports teams. State Historic Marker 383 provides details (www.wisconsinhistoricalmarkers.com/2013/07/marker-383-african-american-settlers-of.html).

Farther south, freed slaves in 1848 founded Pleasant Ridge, a Grant County farming community that provided a refuge.

Like many of their neighbors, several hundred Black soldiers represented Wisconsin in the Civil War. Jeff Kannel reports on their service in his 2020 Wisconsin Historical Society Press book “Make Way for Liberty.” While the number of Black soldiers on the Wisconsin rolls was small, they represented a significant number in five regiments of the United States Colored Infantry. After the war, they often encountered discrimination.

Today, genealogists have increased understanding of Black family and community contributions. 

Sharon Leslie Morgan founded Our Black Ancestry (https://ourblackancestry.com/) to provide resources, preserve materials and help to heal slavery’s wounds. Morgan received the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society’s (www.aahgs.org) highest award in 2019. You can hear her keynote this month at the online RootsTech conference Feb. 25-27. Register free at www.rootstech.org/?lang=eng.

Tony Burroughs, (www.tonyburroughs.com/) founder of the Center for Black Genealogy, led a recent Wisconsin Historical Society workshop and spoke at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. His website offers valuable research tips.

For an overview of Black history in Wisconsin, see this Wisconsin Historical Society essay: www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS502#fur.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels” co-authored Greg Brick. Contact http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon or your bookstore.