Gist’s Promised Land: The Little-known Story of the Largest Relocation of Freed Slaves in U. S. History




Book: Gist’s Promised Land: The Little-known Story of the Largest Relocation of Freed Slaves in U. S. History

Author: Paula Kitty Wright

Publisher: Sugar Tree Ridge Publishing, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0615886480

ISBN-10: 0615886485

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Teens and adults

Rating: ***** Five stars (EXCELLENT)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Wright, Paula Kitty.  Gist’s Promised Land: The Little-known Story of the Largest Relocation of Freed Slaves in U. S. History (published in 2013 by Sugar Tree Ridge Publishing, 7190 Pondlick Rd., Seaman, OH  45679).  As I was growing up in Highland County, OH, I recall hearing the old timers talk about “Gist Settlement” and even remembered seeing road signs pointing to it as we travelled in that area from time to time.  The Gist Settlements were African-American communities that former slaves of Samuel Gist established in Ohio during the early nineteenth century. Samuel Gist (c.1723-1815) lived in Gloucester County, England, during the early 1800s. Gist was a very wealthy man, owning an expanse of land in England and in the Southern United States.  In 1808, Gist drafted his final will. He ordered that all of his slaves in Virginia were to gain their freedom upon his death, be resettled, and be provided with schooling and Protestant religious instruction, and that all of his possessions in the United States be sold to form a large trust to care for these freed men and women.  After Gist’s death in 1815, the executors freed Gist’s slaves.  The exact number of people that the executors freed remains unclear, but a reasonable estimate appears to be five hundred. The executors began to send letters north to find land on which these freed slaves could settle. Multiple plots of land were found in Ohio, and the former slaves moved to Ohio, where they established several communities.

These communities were commonly known as Gist Settlements. The first of these settlements was located in Erie County. The first Gist slaves may have arrived here in the late 1820s or early 1830s. After several years, they abandoned this settlement, probably due to the poor quality of land. The executors eventually purchased approximately two thousand acres of land in Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties.  Thus, a portion of the newly freed slaves were sent to Penn Township in Highland County, to the future Gist Settlement. The Gist Settlements in these three counties survived into the twentieth century, but the ones in Brown and Adams Counties were eventually sold off. However, at the start of the twenty-first century, descendents of the former Gist slaves still occupied part of the land in Highland County, the last to be purchased and settled (1831 and 1835).  Trustees were appointed in each new settlement to handle the funds allotted from Gist’s trust. The trustees set about building cabins, a school house, and a cemetery to get the new settlement started. One of their first acts in the Highland County settlement was to build a church known as Carthagenia Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, by 1850, it is likely that the trust funding the Gist Settlement was being mismanaged.  Thus in the 1850s, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law declaring that the Highland County Court of Common Pleas was to have jurisdiction over the trust fund. What became of the freed slaves of Samuel Gist who settled in Highland County, OH?  And what happened to their descendants?  This book, which I purchased at the Highland House Museum of the Highland County Historical Society in Hillsboro, OH, when we visited there last year, tells the story of these several hundred slaves that were given their freedom in 1815. Author Paula Kitty Wright lives in Highland County, and her passion for researching local history and genealogy led her to write her first book about Gist Settlement. The book very likely would have an extremely limited appeal that would include primarily those who have some connection to Highland County or have a special interest in the plight of freed slaves in this country.  However, it is a well written account of a fascinating but long-overlooked little slice of American history.

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