The Little Cities Archive

Shawnee, Ohio

THE STORY OF RENDVILLE An Interracial Quest for Community in the Post Civil War Era

Posted by JRW on May 23, 2011

DO-DOC-199   by Charles H. Nelson

THE STORY OF RENDVILLE

An Interracial Quest for Community in the Post Civil War Era

                 (Originally published in the journal: Buckeye Hill Country,                                            Volume I, Spring, 1996.)

 

By  Charles H. Nelson                                                                          Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Muskingum College

It was the month of September, 1977. We sat in the kitchen area of a modest frame house in the center of town. A tear in the screen door allowed several young cats to wander in and out at will. Joseph T. Williams, ninety years of age and with lucid memory, supplied fascinating details of Rendville history for a period which exceeded his own residency of over eighty years. Disabled for most of his life, he nevertheless served as Mayor in the 1930′s and for many people, as an unofficial oral historian of this declining but still proud community.

Williams was a thoroughly literate man though he never spent a day in school. His thoughtful answers to my numerous questions continued during a late afternoon supper which a neighbor girl had brought him on a tray. Outside, rows of box-like houses radiated gradually outward and then upward along the hillside from the tiny town center. Though picturesque, there was little in the quiet scene itself which would elicit wonder.

Yet, as Williams and the historical record have revealed it, this unassuming little town was once a prosperous coal mining town with a population of over 2,000. Its main street was lined with bustling stores and in its earliest “boom town” years was alleged to have had as many as nineteen saloons.(1) Indeed, the present population of under fifty is but a fragment of its former self. Much of the south end of Main Street was razed in 1970 to widen the state highway while lamentably also a number of older buildings–some with their characteristic balconies overhanging the sidewalk–have been lost forever, due as much to the ravages of regional disinterest and a lack of resources as to time and neglect.

But the story of Rendville is a unique and instructive one in many ways. Like binoculars it magnifies the cultural details of a particular historical era. It enhances a piece of our immediate past helping us to discern who we thought we were – and are. It is the intrinsically human saga of a people who struggled to carve out a truly good life, who longed as much for a meaningful community life as for a livelihood.

Nevertheless, as we shall see, for thirty years or more there flowered a vigorous and supportive town culture with a distinguished group of leaders. Tragically, however, the entire enterprise was founded on the fortunes of a single industry and resource. What might have endured as an early beacon of hope in the integration of Black citizens into American life went the way of many another mining town. For the gradual depletion of the coal seams upon which it was founded, also brought its gradual decline.

It was the expansion in 1879 of the Atlantic and Lake Erie Railway (called shortly thereafter the Ohio Central Railroad) southeast of New Lexington, along Sunday Creek, that cleared the way for the development of the town of Rendville.(2) And it was later served by a second railroad with the construction in 1889 of the Shawnee and Muskingum River Railroad.(3)

Community development in those days was anything but a gradual process. Indeed, it was an orchestrated event. It was a calculated economic venture, proceeding all the more rapidly when there were resources to be extracted, land to be bought and sold, labor to be utilized (or exploited, whichever the case may be), and ample capital to move the project forward.

According to an April 1, 1880, article in the New Lexington Tribune, the Ohio Central Railroad had bought up over 8000 acres in the area. The original site for the town was known as “Buxton’s Mill”, an earlier grist mill settlement.

One Captain T.J. Smith in cooperation with William P. Rend bought up property within the precincts of the emerging township and began to sell lots for houses and businesses.(4) The town was incorporated on May 2, 1882; the first mayor and village clerk were, respectively John Q. Rathburn and F.N. Turner. The population at this time already exceeded 1200 persons.(5)

These were the 1870s, an era of unprecedented industrial growth which had been set in motion by the Civil War. Energy sources were in much demand. And because the Hocking River Valley with its rich coal reserves were within convenient range of the established industrial heartland, towns began to spring up confidently, almost randomly, along railroad lines and spurs in many a secluded notch or hollow throughout the region.

What was astonishing was the intentional nature of these towns, the almost instantaneous rise of every facet of community life. Mineshafts had scarcely been sunk and tipples, screens, and scales constructed before the echoing clack of hammers and the smell of fresh paint on company houses had time to disperse downwind of the settlement.(6) (Post World War II tract development had its historic precedent.) Construction of the company store and the usual rooming-house hotel(7) were followed in rapid succession by churches (which in the case of Rendville were half-subsidized by the Ohio Central Coal Company),(8) the school, and an additional wooden frame store building – the upper half of which served as living quarters for entrepreneurs attracted in by the flow and circulation of an expanding payroll.

But construction alone does not a community make. An influx of strangers may descend on a place overnight, but on the morn they will have to adapt to their fellows and make common cause with them if they hope to survive there very long.

Still, it was unadulterated self-interest; indeed an understandable survival urge in an age of rapid economic growth, immigration and massive population increases that brought people to Rendville. In fact, this was the very year, 1879, when African-Americans, but one generation out of slavery, had begun their first large-scale migration within the United States. Oppressed by the hopeless economic restraints of tenant farming in Louisiana and Mississippi, sixty thousand impoverished people had made the trek to Kansas in search of land and a new beginning.

As ever, it was the economic market which constituted the essential bedrock for community development. In the past, a community might help to shape the market and restrain it, but what was new historically from 1865 on was the increasingly trans-regional scope of the market and the seemingly abstract or mechanical processes by which it affected all human endeavor. What was also new, as we have seen, was the combustible nature of its creative powers.

But group identity, commitment and trust- and by implication social stability and control – the very things that community life both economic and social are based on, are anything but inevitable virtues. Could they then be taken for granted in a place which was “starting from scratch”, in a settlement void of all tradition, in a maelstrom of cultures, races, languages, and class interests? There was of course no way of knowing the answer to these questions. No way short of venturing forth and living life in that kind of environment.

But there was still the problem of the market itself. The market base was exclusively coal, a commodity exceedingly sensitive to the wider oscillations of the economy. Coal could activate the delicate trial and error process of communal development. But an overweening dependence on a single resource and industry could also bring untold suffering and eventual decline.

The town of Rendville was founded in 1879 as part of the growing economic interests of Colonel William P. Rend, a Chicago businessman. Born in 1840 in Country Leitrim, Ireland, and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, he rose to the rank of Colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War.(9) Thereafter, Rend went to Chicago where he expanded a freight–hauling business with a line of teams into the largest soft coal business in the West. He operated five mines in Western Pennsylvania, in two of which he owned half-interest; and five in Ohio(10)-in three of which he was half-owner. The firm owned eighteen hundred freight cars and gave work to over two thousand men.

Considered a “progressive” in the coal business because he favored arbitration(11) in his relationship with labor, he was once “locked out” of access to coal cars by Hocking Valley Railroad for taking labor’s side in a dispute.(12) He promptly petitioned the Federal Courts to enjoin the railroad to provide him with the necessary cars at the going rates.(13)

Rend leased land from the Ohio Central Coal Company, affiliated with the railroad of the same name, and among others opened No. 3 mine and operated No. 9 on Sunday Creek only one mile north of the newly created town of Corning. This was only months after the Ohio Central had itself sunk mines in the Corning area. Indeed, Mr. Rend was on hand personally to supervise construction of both the town and the mines in the early years of their existence.(14) No 3 mine, the largest in the area was under construction even before the railroad was fully ready to haul the freight. It was subsequently to become the only all Black mine in the region.(15)

The Ohio Central Coal Company and some others built well over three hundred houses in the two neighboring towns, many of which were of the small, two-room variety. But though they both had company stores, Rendville and Corning were by no means “company towns” as was the case with the neighboring town of Congo, founded in 1891.(16) It was in fact beneficial for the future of these towns that a high percentage of private houses were built and numerous small businesses were allowed to develop.

Within three years of its founding, population in the Rendville area had risen to an estimated 2,500, though census figures (1890-1970) within the incorporated precincts of Rendville never exceeded 900. This was by no means small for that day and age; statistics for the preceding decade showed that only one of four Americans lived in towns this large.

By 1883, Rendville boasted a post-office, two church buildings, a large union school, a hotel, a cooperative store based on the Rochdale system in Manchester, England,(17) and a number of other businesses, including seven saloons.(18) The first election in incorporated Rendville took place on August 10, 1882.(19) From its founding there were frequent railroad connections between Rendville, New Lexington, and Columbus.(20)

As might be expected, in its early years, Rendville’s population, according to census reports was over 66% males. Single men searching for work were freer to move to areas offering new opportunities. The New Lexington Tribune reported that many lived in “Bachelors’ Hall” or in the numerous houses that had been built to accommodate the influx of workers.(21)

Rendville from its inception had a polyglot character which was unlike most of the Hocking Valley towns.(22) According to the census, the proportion of foreign born in 1880 was 42%. Colonel Rend favored the recruitment of immigrants, assuming apparently that he could assemble a more pliant work force. The Irish were predominant, but Welshmen, Swedes, Scots, Germans, and Englishmen were all represented.(23) The German contingent remained strong for several years, but many, like the Swedes who had no mining experience or cultural predisposition to do this type of work stayed only for a brief period. Some immigrants left before salary advances covering railroad fares and board bills could by deducted from their wages.(24)

When over one hundred African-American miners, mostly from the New River region of West Virginia were recruited by Ohio Central and Colonel Rend, it precipitated what came to be called “the Corning War.” The Black workers had not been hired as strike breakers, but they did not know that their “sliding scale contract” was being strongly protested throughout the Hocking Valley.(25)

In the autumn of 1880 a band of several hundred miners from nearby towns (the exact number is uncertain) marched on Rendville either to threaten or dissuade the Black workers from continuing with their contract. Their hay wagons were said to conceal rifles, and it was only when Governor Foster finally called out the National Guard, complete with the newly developed Gatling Gun, that the would-be assailants gradually scattered. Newspaper reports stated that three or four men were wounded during a brief skirmish. (26) Tension between the races continued in Rendville on into October, 1880, when on one evening white residents patrolled the streets with guns on their shoulders for fear that the inhabitants of “Ebony Hollow” would descend on them and “clean them out.” Black miners slept peacefully through it all. No one knew who started the rumor.(27)

With an excess of single males lacking constructive recreational alternatives after work, drunkenness, fighting and disorderly conduct were not uncommon in mining towns and Rendville was no exception. Rendville and Corning had an average of one saloon for every 25 men. There were six murders and one lynching between 1880 and 1890, crime being as much a symptom of a transient work force and loose community ties as a disquieting element in and of itself.(28)

When the Murray brothers crashed a wedding party in November, 1882, Marshal Joseph Inman threw them out three times. They subsequently attacked him for it, but he beat them up with a “mace” and shot one of them in the body. The next year Marshal Inman was himself arrested for picking a pocket in a saloon owned by a Mrs. Hickey.(29) In 1886 the same Joseph Inman shot and killed Moses Hatchet, a Black man, during a barroom argument. He was “conveyed to the New Lexington jail for fear that he would be lynched by enraged citizens, both white and colored.”(30) In February 1884, Richard Hickey, a white man, was hanged by an enraged mob from a sycamore tree in the center of town for having shot and killed a young miner named Peter Clifford.(31)

The strengthening of community bonds is often impeded in mining towns by the turnover of workers. In Rendville work stoppage due to market fluctuation caused a constant out-migration of workers. The average number of workdays in Ohio from 1890-1917 was 182.5 days.(32) New workers continually showed up whenever production resumed.(33) In the late 1880s large groups of Black miners left for the coal mines of Washington territory– some of whom, according to newspaper reports, returned months later not having found steady work.(34)

Before 1882, constructive changes in the haphazard “boom town” social structure of Rendville had been mostly of a formal legal nature on the local level and without much impact. But in that very year a new state law set in motion the creaky processes that led to greater tranquility and a more stable social order. The General Assembly passed a new Sunday closing law, which required every liquor dealer to put up a heavy liability bond. The New Lexington Tribune reported that fifteen of the nineteen saloons had been wiped out by that act in Rendville because they could not raise the money. The correspondent concluded that it had made a great difference in the “public demeanor.”(35)

As the rhythm of the industrial workday pulled the diverse ethnic groups together, the web of community gradually grew stronger and tighter. Common understandings began to arise around the shifting fortunes of the coal economy. It became a focal point for public discussion and human relationships and brought workers and local businessmen together. Paradoxically the coal market which sustained the town also threatened it. In any case, it heightened a sense of communal awareness as people concerned themselves with every facet of the industry. Furthermore the absentee nature of the mine ownership unified the town against the seemingly “phantom” machinations of distant entrepreneurs and interests. At the same time, a meager managerial apparatus on the local level had not as yet brought about the cut and dried fragmentation of bureaucracy. Nor had the town size outgrown the bonding advantages of daily conversation, recognition of individuals, and the give and take of personal relationships.

The imminent dangers of a mining town were also powerful unifying factors. Not a month went by without a serious accident. A ten-year-old boy has a leg broken by falling slate.(36) A man slips under some railroad cars and has his hand severed. A mine boss is killed while crawling under some railroad cars to cross the tracks. A locomotive had bumped the cars. A five-year-old is killed by a horse kick.(37) Racial and ethnic differences tended to  dwindle in importance as neighbors supported each other in times of grief.

With the organization of the Presbyterian Church in 1884, the town had five protestant churches.(38) These became a veritable hub of community activities sponsoring services, Sunday schools, choirs, camp meetings, missionary societies, literary societies, picnics, and an almost perpetual round of revival meetings.(39)

Fraternal lodges also flourished as they did almost everywhere in America in the latter half of the nineteenth century. They offered the special sense of belonging which only semi-exclusiveness, secrecy, and mystery can engender. Something of the popularity of these associations can be seen in that the town’s Odd Fellows were allotted quarters upstairs in the town’s first brick building.(40) The town was not yet a year old, housing was still in short supply and most of the stores and all the churches had not yet been built.

Odd Fellows, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons, Knights of Pythias, Knights of the Wisemen and the Sons of St. George conferred an aura of “significance”, belonging, historic continuity, and national connections. It would appear that lodges and church activities proliferated in direct proportion to the fragility of community life in a rapidly developing country, yet they often provided basic relief and insurance protection for widows and families in a nation not yet offering social welfare benefits.(41)

In March, 1885, a remarkable change came over the town. An unusually large revival swept the town. There had recently been a mass meeting of miners at which time Colonel Rend and others explained that market prices would demand a cut in wages. Granted the workers’ anxieties, the revival had not been organized or advertised. Nevertheless, as Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. tells about it in his autobiography, Against the Tide, it was a phenomenon which had been “prayed for” and anticipated by many church people since January of that year, and which began in a quiet way to spread throughout the community.(42)

Powell characterized Rendville as “the most lawless and ungodly place I have ever seen. Every house on Main Street except the mayor’s office and the post office was used a gambling place.” Then with an abruptness which no one could explain, the barrooms and gambling dens were deserted. Saloon keepers who attended the services made bonfires out of their gambling equipment. It was as if people had determined as with one voice and at one time that they wanted to quit the vice and disorder of the town. They had purposely chosen to live and work in Rendville and many had even purchased  their own homes. They wanted, in other words, to pursue a decent life there.

In April, a crowd estimated at 1,000 witnessed the Rev. Hammond baptize some fifty converts in Sunday Creek, including Adam Clayton Powell Sr.(43) In later years, Powell went on to become pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, one of the largest in the country.

As early as 1884 it is estimated that there were as many as 250-300 Black citizens in Rendville. Community stabilization and economic opportunity attracted a group of talented Black entrepreneurs and professionals to Rendville. The founding of the United Mine Workers in 1890 also opened up opportunities for able workers to gain experience and confidence in the arts of administration and in the practice of democracy. Clergymen, businessmen, the town doctor, and not a few miners comprised a cadre of leaders who often doubled as the town’s elected officials. A hotel and barbershop were owned by Samuel Blaine Allen from 1881-1892. He was born in slavery in Virginia in 1842. He served first as councilman for nine years, but also as mayor of Rendville in 1891.(44)  And also offering extraordinary leadership were John L. (Sandy) Jones, Doctor Isaiah Tuppins, and Richard L. Davis.

John L. Jones moved to Rendville from Pomeroy, Ohio in 1881. He had hoped to obtain the school teaching position but that had already been filled by Sarah D. Broadis, a local pastor’s daughter. She later became his wife and the mother of their four children. Jones worked for two years as a “trimmer” in the mines but then acquired business experience in James Johnson’s grocery store. In 1884 a number of leading Black citizens organized the Sunday Creek Cooperative and hired John L. (Sandy) Jones as manager. At the beginning the business prospered but due to a sharp slump in the coal market in 1887, Jones was invited to buy it out. Active as church leader and conference delegate, member of the school board, and county executive committeeman in the Republican party, Jones was appointed Postmaster in 1897. Jones’s well-written family history and autobiography, now extremely rare, is a valuable historical document.(45)

In November, 1888, a mob began to form in nearby Corning, Ohio, to lynch a Black Rendville resident who was being held on suspicion of killing a white man. The mayor of Rendville immediately confronted the Corning Marshall and told him that the people of Rendville demanded justice and if this man were lynched, he could expect retribution from many of the citizens of Rendville- “who as colored people were tired of being killed without legal protection.  If the law will not protect us”, he declared, “we will protect ourselves.” (Many hundreds of Blacks had been lynched across the United States in the 1880s and 1890s.) Corning officers then escorted their prisoner to the security of the New Lexington jail.(46)

The mayor in question was Dr. Isaiah S. Tuppins, who had been a mine physician, druggist, and community doctor in Rendville since 1884. Born of free parents in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1854, Tuppins grew up in Xenia, Ohio. He taught school for several years in Tennessee. He then returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he saved enough money in the barber trade to put himself through Columbus Medical College. He was the first Black graduate of this institution. He represented Perry County in the state Republican Convention and was the first elected Black mayor in the north central United States. He was also at the time coroner of Perry County. Three times he was elected District Master of the Negro Odd Fellows organization and just prior to his untimely death in 1889, had been elected Grand Director of the Order. (47)

Leaders in the Black community in Rendville formed the Afro-American League.(48) As part of its program, the League actively advocated the repeal of the so-called “Black Laws” of Ohio, some of which including local option of school segregation, and the prohibition of racial intermarriage which remained on the books until 1887. Later they opposed pending legislation which would again allow school segregation in the state and sent a delegation to Columbus to make their position known.(49)

A great deal of social activity flourished in Rendville. Musical groups such as the Orpheus Society, an orchestra, the Allen Cornet Band, and the sixteen piece Dodson Brass Band led parades and serenaded guests on into the middle of the 1890s.(50) A new baseball park was completed in 1896.(51) Teams such as the “Colored Giants” of the 1890s and the various community celebrations brought the Black citizens of Rendville together on a regular basis.(52) Indeed, it might be said that this “coming together” had a beneficial bonding effect in giving them an awareness of who they were, where they came from, and what they stood for.

The celebration which went beyond all others in Rendville was September 22, Emancipation Day. Newspapers made mention of it as early as 1883.(53) Thereafter it became a tradition with flags, bunting, Chinese lanterns, a parade and a picnic with an ox roast. There were fireworks, a “wheel of fortune”, foot and horse racing, and orations by visiting dignitaries- including “politicians who were on hand to make friends”. Farmers came in from the countryside and the entire community both Black and white took part.

Though separate churches and lodges were maintained along with separate cooperative stores, and number 3 mine was predominantly Black, by the end of the 1880’s these divisions had become more traditional and cultural than prejudicial. Attitudes between the races had improved considerably by 1885.(54) But that they were not yet without a certain sensitivity can be seen in a droll but salty Rendville item which appeared in the Black-owned Cleveland Gazette on April 21 of that year:

“A new skating rink has been opened, and the invitations read three

nights for whites almost as good as we, we feel sorry to see them insulted,

so we will give them six nights in a week and stay home ourselves.”

Separate platforms for social dancing were set up in 1882, but housing became completely integrated.(55) Black and white-owned stores catered to both races and the school was interracial from its founding. Many whites attended the Black churches, and picnics and celebrations were held on an interracial basis.(56)

By 1896, school officials averred that there were little or no differences in progress between Black and white pupils in all grades in the Rendville school. The New Lexington newspaper story which carried the interview concluded that this was indeed remarkable given the fact that the Black parents had been born as slaves in Virginia.(57)

On August 22, 1895, a United Mine Workers mass meeting was held in nearby Corning for the miners of the Sunday Creek Valley. National UMW officers, President Philip Penna and Secretary-Treasurer W.C. Pearce along with Ohio officers Michael Ratchford (later to become the national union president) and others, were on hand to speak to the miners. The meeting had been organized by Richard L. Davis, a founding delegate of the UMW and a member of the Ohio District 6, Executive Board. Davis met the visiting union dignitaries at the Corning depot, but when they checked in at the Mercer Hotel and went to dinner, they were informed that Davis, a Black man, would have to leave because West Virginia guests would be offended by his presence. On hearing that, the state and national leaders rose with one accord and walked out.(58)

Davis later sued the innkeeper, George Mercer, for damages with Penna, Pearce, and Ratchford testifying on his behalf. The suit and subsequent appeal in Perry County Circuit Court lost, presumably because the defendant had already been fined for the action. Davis was ordered to pay the court costs for himself and the defendant.(59)

Richard Davis was born in Roanoke, Virginia, a few months before the Civil War ended in 1864. At the age of eight he went to work in a tobacco factory where he was employed for the next nine years. Dissatisfied with the low wages and poor working conditions he secured work as a coal miner, arriving in Rendville by way of West Virginia’s Kanawha and New River regions in 1882. Davis was 18 years of age at the time. He immediately became a member of the local Knights of Labor Assembly 1935 (“colored”) which was formed during that year. (The Knights of Labor allowed segregated organizations to appease the rank and file in the union which included southern workers.) Nevertheless the Knights’ goal of organizing Blacks was enthusiastically endorsed by the Rendville organization. The young Davis forwarded the following motion drafted by John L. Jones in November, 1886, to Grand Master Workman Powderly, then meeting with the General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia, that “We (L.A. 1935) will never relinquish our work until the bulk of our brethren are brought within the folds of our noble order.”(60) By 1890, when the Knights of Labor had begun to decline as a movement, Davis lost no time in joining the growing United Mine Workers Union. Though working as a “checkweighman” in Rendville, he was sent out as an organizer for the Union traveling throughout West Virginia and as far south as Birmingham, Alabama. The purpose was to try to bring as many African-Americans into the union as possible and thus frustrate the frequent mine-owner strategy of using blacks (and various other ethnic groups) as strikebreakers. To be a union organizer in that era was dangerous enough in itself, but to be a Black one in a period of increasing violence and unabashed racism could at times be nothing short of terrifying. Davis left a fascinating chronicle of his adventures both in and out of Rendville in a series of letters in the 1890’s which he wrote to the United Mine Workers Journal. In 1896 he was elected to the National Executive Board of the Union… the only Black so chosen.(61)

With the advent of the 1890′s, coal mining became even more sporadic in the Sunday Creek Valley. The number of workdays decreased and people began to move away. In 1893 the entire nation sank into a deep depression. Coal production slowed to a mere trickle. Rendville miners averaged only ninety days of work in 1894. The two previous years had not been much better. A Governor’s Commission found one third of the population living in distressed circumstances.(62)

Rendville miner William E. Clark wondered in a letter to the United Mine Workers’ Journal, “…If other worlds were inhabited? Did they have the same kind of law and government that we have? And my next wonder was, was this world of ours the hell we read about in the good book? If it is not, how can a man stand the punishment twice, and then live through eternity? Monopoly has been against the oppressed of this country… I would ask those of my race…Do you owe any political party a debt of gratitude? I claim not.” (63)

On the national scene, “Coxey’s army” marched on Washington to secure work for the unemployed. In early 1895 Mayor David Wells and John L. Jones of the Rendville Relief Committee petitioned Ohio Governor McKinley for food and clothing for some 225 families “without work or any means of support.” The stores in town were going broke as miners were in debt from $500 to $7000. They could no longer carry the miners on credit. Relief trains with donated provisions distributed food and clothing to the miners of the region. The miners reciprocated by volunteering their labor to secure coal for other destitute families.(64)

Mining improved briefly in 1899 for No. 3 mine but Davis for some unknown reason had been “blacklisted” and could not secure work. In words reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he described his situation in the United Mine Workers’ Journal of May 19, 1899:

I have as yet never boasted of what I have done                                             in the interest of organized labor, but will venture                                            to say that I have done all that I could and am proud                                that I am alive today, for I think I have had the unpleasant                            privilege of going into the most dangerous places in this                        country to organize, or in other words, to be sand bagged;                          I have been stoned; and last of all, deprived of the right                              to earn a livelihood for myself and my family.                                                           I do not care so much for myself, but it is my                                                    innocent children that I care for most, and heaven                                     knows that it makes me almost crazy to think of it.                                         I have spent sixteen years, and today I am worse                                            off than ever, for I have no money, nor no work.                                                 I will not beg, and I am not inclined to steal, nor                                                  will I unless compelled through dire necessity,                                                 which I hope the good God of the universe will spare me.                                       I can not think of my present circumstances and                                            write more, for fear I might say too much. Wishing                                   success to the miners of this country, I remain, as ever,                                     a lover of labor’s cause.”

Davis died of pneumonia thirteen months later at the age of 35. He served as township constable at the time of his death and left a wife and two children. (65)

On October 2, 1901, a fire swept through Rendville destroying sixteen buildings on Main Street including the post office, the town hall, Sandy Jones’ general store, and the Second Baptist Church. Most of the buildings, including Jones’ store, were rebuilt and life went on.(66)

Yet, with the exception of World War I, when there was a sudden upsurge in the coal market, production continued to decline in Rendville. Following the depression years of the 1930s, the town could boast only two stores, a tavern, a post office, and 120 homes. Today, (1986) only the First Baptist Church and something under fifty residents remain.

The early evening shadows grew longer as I listened to Joseph Williams those many years ago. (He died in 1982.) We wondered at the richness of community life that had flourished here. Here was a “valley haven” which though connected by rail and road with the markets and barbarities of a larger world, nurtured, nevertheless, a depth of culture and leadership exceptional for a town this size. Immigrants and Blacks, anxious to test and practice their newly acquired freedom, lived here in mutual respect and common decency. During a period when African-American freedom and dignity had been routinely abrogated throughout the country, an unpretentious community of Blacks and whites constructed an American civilization in miniature.

During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, and a decade and a half into the twentieth, more than sixty all–Black planned or intentional communities had been founded in the United States. Most were in the Southwestern part of the country, with as many as twenty in Oklahoma alone.(67) Rendville, however, was not a planned community; it was, as we have seen, a thoroughly interracial community.

Like the planned communities, however, it did offer an oasis for the testing of the American ideal of self-determination in the generations immediately following the Emancipation Proclamation. That it was able to accomplish this in an interracial setting is a point of special interest. For here, under unique social and economic circumstances, the observer is afforded a glimpse of race relations as they might have been. Race relations emerging without the usual obstructions and intimidation of Jim Crow institutions.

Of course, Rendville had the advantage of being located in Ohio hill country- a partially isolated rural area. It was also favored by a critical mass of Black citizens who had freely chosen to settle and work in this somewhat atypical setting, one which did not carry with it the full baggage of Black subordination.

Furthermore it was a completely new community in the North; it had no prior social structure. A majority of the whites who settled in the town, and this was also true of the founding mine owner, were themselves immigrants. They were of course by no means insulated from racist attitudes since such existed at this time even in their countries of origin. But it is also quite probable that they had not yet been influenced by the severity of Southern racial attitudes or by those of the larger country.

What is observable in Rendville, in the broadest sense, was what Sara M. Evans and Harry C. Boyte have called “free spaces”. These are the relatively unencumbered and spontaneous social relations within which the quest for identity, autonomy, and dignity of a group of people may be pursued.(68) Free spaces arise out of, and are nourished by, the intimate give-and-take of the small-scale organization of towns- especially the free and spontaneous face-to-face relations of family, ethnic community, church, fraternal and workers’ organizations. What is crucial is the freedom of exchange and freedom of association appropriate to changing social and economic conditions such that the individual feels empowered to enhance his or her status on one or more levels, economically, socially or culturally, insofar as the situation warrants it.

What is important here is that individuals and groups of individuals have the freedom and the motivation to engage in these activities as independent agents.

Historically, the full flower of such “free spaces” was to be found whenever self-help associations were formed and mutual encouragement was practiced, as various groups sought enfranchisement, recognition, and meaningful participation in various sectors of the local community. In fact, just this sort of empowerment with its accompanying sense of personal autonomy was often well-served in nineteenth-century America – that is , in a rapidly developing, hopeful America – before the matrix of human relationships became more centralized and congealed in either the corporate economic or the urban political sectors.

Such “free spaces” found expression in the abolitionist, labor, and civil rights movements but they also appeared with no less exhilaration in the lives of whole communities. And the town of Rendville was a case in point. For indeed there arose there, as part of its very social and economic fabric, the same spirit of hopefulness and progress which was often part of the rapidly developing communities of America in the nineteenth century.

Towns like Rendville, therefore, reflected in many ways the Zeitgeist of the period. It was true, as in the Rendville case, that its economy was tied in directly with coal production and the more irrational coal market. But if the coal market had had its ups and downs, so it seemed did the life-struggle itself. Even a particular mine owner, when he was more or less known by the community, could be perceived as the same sort of economically rational human being they observed among the smaller entrepreneurs in town.

For these reasons then, the rising Jim Crow system of oppression and segregation did not appear to penetrate Rendville with the same fury as elsewhere. Rendville became something of a haven, a free space for African-Americans, as their economic and political power gradually took root there in the 1880′s.  Tolerable, even congenial relations, between the races emerged as a practical result. The promise of racial equality therefore remained very much alive-living on in connection with the vibrant hope of economic improvement and self-determination.

The shadows have indeed lengthened over the physical town of Rendville. But neither the economic vicissitudes of coal nor the corruptions of time have been able to completely dampen the hope which rose to a crescendo here. In truth, that life-force lives on today in the generations which have scattered from this place. It lives on among those who still look back upon this town with great affection.

Notes

Abbreviations:

1. CG   Cleveland Gazette

2. N.L.H.  New Lexington Herald

3. N.L.T.  New Lexington Tribune

4. N.Lab.Trib.  National Labor Tribune

5. UMWJ   United Mine Workers’ Journal

6. OSJ   Ohio State Journal

Notes:

1. N.L.T., May 4,1882. In this interview with Joseph T. Williams, Sept; 1977, Williams claimed there were fourteen saloons and a house of ill-repute in Rendville. Which particular period he was referring to was not made clear although the context of the discussion was that of the period before 1900.

2. Colburn, Ephraim S., “History of Perry County” in A.A. Graham, History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, Ohio , Chicago, W.H. Beers and Company, 1883, p.89

3. W.P.A. Inventory of Rendville, 1940. The Shawnee and Muskingum River Railroad was later purchased by the New York Central. Service under the former name was discontinued in 1928. See also, the N.L.T., April 15, 1880.

4. N.L.T., April 15, 1880.

5. W.P.A. Inventory, op.cit.

6. N.L.T., July 1, 1880. The Ohio Central Coal Company constructed 300 Houses in Corning and Rendville by 1882. Ibid., Jan. 5, 1882.

7. Ibid., April 15, 1880; May 13, 1880: “T.J. Smith is building a hotel of 16 rooms.”

8. Ibid., Jan. 5, 1882. Originally two Black Churches were built in Rendville. The Ohio Coal Company’s interest in building churches was presumably an economic one-that of encouraging a moral and temperate life among workers in what otherwise tended to have a mining camp atmosphere devoid of other than self-destructive forms of recreation.

9. Rend lived for four years in the South and became convinced of the magnitude of the evil of slavery. Ibid., Sept. 16, 1880. See also Waterman, A.B., Historical Review of Chicago and Cook County, Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Co., 1908, vol.III, pp. 1050-1056. Also French, Charles, ed., Biographical History of the American Irish in Chicago, Chicago, American Biographical Publishing Co., 1897, pp.524-532.

10. N.Lab.Trib., May 30, 1885. This included Rendville and Jacksonville.

11. Ibid., Mar. 7, 1885

12. Rend switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, opposing the Democratic position on free trade which in his opinion would pauperize American labor. Ibid., Sept. 16, 1850.

13. Ibid., Aug. 16, 1884.

14. N.L.T., Apr. 15, 1880.

15. N.Lab.Trib., Oct. 31, 1885. N.L.T., Jan. 5, 1882.

16. W.P. Rend was the only large operator in the region without a company store. N.Lab.Trib., Feb. 26, 1884. The Ohio Central Coal Company had company stores in Corning, Buckingham, Rendville, and Hamburg. N.L.T., Jan.5,1882.

17. The Sunday Creek Cooperative Company Limited began stores in Corning and Rendville. Officers were Adam McDonald, Pres., George Lamb, V.P., George Kerr, Treas., John Fleming, Gen. Mgr. and W. Ferguson, Secy., N.L.T., June 21, 1884.

18. Ibid., Nov. 25, 1880. Corning had ten saloons.

19. Ibid., Aug. 24, 1882. Also Ibid., Apr. 22,1880. For an excellent summary of the social and economic factors which led to the incorporation of Rendville see Ivan Tribe’s doctoral dissertation, An Empire of Industry: Hocking Valley Mining Towns in the Gilded Age, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1976, pp. 137-146.

20. Ibid., June 10, 1880. The following timetable was cited:

Mail                   Local

Columbus              3:25 p.m.           6:20 a.m.

New Lexington       6:02 p.m.           11:55 a.m.

Rend’s                   6:37 p.m.           1:28 p.m.

21. Ibid., Apr. 22, 1880; July 22, 1880.  Also Jan. 5, 1882: No. 3 mine employed 140 Black miners.  No. 5 mine: 100 whites, 75 blacks. Numbers 12, 15 and 19 consist mostly of German miners, newly arrived to the U.S.

22. Tribe, op.cit., p.138.

23. N.L.T., Apr. 15, 1880; July 8, 1880.

24. Ibid., July 22, 1880.

25. Ibid., Sept. 9, 1880. See Also July 1, 1880, on some ” colored miners” from New Straitsville who rejected their contracts when they learned of the sliding scale contract.

26. Ibid., Sept. 23, 1880.

27. Ibid., Oct. 21, 1880.

28. Ibid., Nov. 25, 1880. There were seven saloons in Rendville and ten in Corning. Also, in the New Lexington Independent. See also, N.L.T., Dec. 27, 1887. Mary Whitfield shot her husband in a quarrel over chastisement of her son and his step-son. She had been indicted previously for the murder of Peter Clifford, for which her husband was lynched. Ibid.,  Aug. 30, 1888, William Nevorce, a Black man, was stabbed to death by John Memmora in a saloon in Rendville.

29. Ibid., Jan. 11, 1883. Also, New Lexington Independent, Nov. 20, 1882.

30. CG, May 22, 1886.

31. N.Lab.Trib., Feb. 9, 1884. N.L.T., Feb. 7, 1884.

32. Hinricks, A.F., The United Mine Workers of America and the Non-union Coal Fields, N.Y., Columbia University Studies, 1923, p.25.

33. N.L.T., May 18, 1882; June 1, 1883; Sept. 25,1884. In re the first date, forty black miners were transferred to Rend’s mine in Midway, Pa. One hundred forty-three followed, including six Germans.

34. Ibid., May 1, 1884.  Also, CG, Feb. 16, 1889; Jan. 25, 1890; Mar. 8, 1890; May 10, 1890. Ibid., May 4,1882.

35. Ibid., Apr. 6, 1882.

36. Ibid., June 15, 1882.

37. Ibid., July 1, 1880, May 1, 1884. Corning Weekly Times, Oct. 21, 1886.

38. The Presbyterian Church was dedicated in July with Rev. V.E. Taylor, minister. Ibid., Sept. 13, 1883; July 23, 1884.

39. See for example Corning Times Monitor, Feb. 28, 1889;  CG, May 16, 1891; June 20, 1891; July 18, 1891; Aug. 1, 1891.

40. N.L.T., Apr. 15, 1880; May 13, 1880.

41. Ibid., June 1, 1882.

42. Powell, Adam Clayton Sr., Against the Tide, N.Y., Richard R. Smith, 1938, pp.13-17.

43. N.L.T., Apr. 30, 1885.

44. Crisis, Oct. 1915, p.275. Samuel Blaine Allen built a restaurant in Corning and a hotel, the Allen House, in Middleport, Ohio, before his death in 1915. See also The Freeman, Indianapolis, March 12, 1892. Allen worked as a steamboat steward, barber and porter on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from 1863 to 1880. He was also Grand Treasurer for four years (1887-1891) of the Ohio District Lodge of Odd Fellows. He was self-educated. The Business Review of 1888 (cited in The Perry County Tribune of May 31, 1967) lists the following businesses: David Wells, general merchandise; M. Howell, practical jeweler; Henry Gottdiener, dry goods and general merchandise; E. Mathews, meat market; G.A. Emery, M.D., druggist; R.W. Hull, general merchandise, groceries; Mrs. A. Bell, millinery & dress making; Frank Kiener, groceries and provisions; Miss Mary Angler, millinery and notions; Allen House, S.B. Allen, proprietor; J.H. Kockenderfer, M.D., druggist and pharmacist; Rendville Flour and Reed Mills, S.J. Park, proprietor; J.L.Jones, groceries and provisions.

45. Jones, John R., History of the Jones Family, Greenfield Publishing Co., 1930.

46. CG,  Nov. 10,1888.

47. Ibid., Apr. 5, 1884; Aug. 15, 1885; Oct. 15, 1887; Jan. 19, 1889: Obituary.

48. Ibid., Jan. 25, 1890. The president was W.E. Clark; Vice president, E. Dandridge.

49. Ibid., Mar. 15, 1890; Mar. 22, 1890.

50. Ibid., July 5, 1884.

51. Davis, R.L., UMWJ, June 4, 1896.

52. N.L.H., July 16, 1896.

53. Ibid., Aug. 30, Sept. 13; Sept. 27, 1883.

54. Rendville was represented by Colored Assembly 1935 and Assembly 1602 for white miners. Assembly 1935 offered a free reading room for workers. N.Lab.Trib., June 2, 1883.

55. N.L.T., July 13, 1882.

56. CG, July 18, 1891.

57. N.L.T., Nov. 12, 1896. The school was completed with white and African-American teachers in 1882. Also, Nov. 2, 1882.

58. Gutman, Herbert G., “The Negro and the U.M.W.: The Career and Letters of Richard L. Davis and Something of Their Meaning, 1890-1900.” Gutman, Herbert G., Work, Culture and Society in Industrializing America, Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y., 1976, pp. 119-208.

59. Perry County Circuit Court Records, Feb. 28, Oct. 1, Nov. 12,Nov. 17,and Nov. 19, 1896.

60. CG, Nov. 13, 1886.

61. For a discussion disputing Herbert G. Gutman’s interpretation of Richard L. Davis’s leadership in, and by implication the role of African-Americans in the United Mine Workers’ Union, see Herbert Hill, “Mythmaking as Labor History: Herbert Gutman and the United Mine Workers of America.” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. v.2, number 2, Winter 1988, pp. 132-200. See also Brier, Stephen, “The Career of Richard L. Davis Reconsidered: Unpublished Correspondence from the National Labor Tribune,” Labor History, Vol. 21, No. 3, Summer 1980, pp. 420-429.

62. Tribe, op.cit., p.482.

63. Clark, W.E., UMWJ, Aug. 9, 1894.

64. J.L. Jones and David Wells to Gov. William McKinley, printed in the Columbus Evening Post-Express, Feb. 5, 1895. See also OSJ, Jan. 23, 1895.

65. N.L.T., Feb. 1, 1900; The Davis daughters lived for a long time in Cleveland, but returned to Rendville for Church homecomings as recently as the early seventies.

66. W.P.A. Inventory of Rendville, 1940. Ohio University Archives. See also John L. Jones’ rare autobiography: History of the Jones Family, The Greenfield Publishing Company, 1930, pp. 113-114.

67. Crockett, Norman L., The Black Towns, Lawrence, The Regents Press of Kansas, 1979, p.XII.

68. Evans, Sara M. and Boyte, Harry C., Free Spaces, N.Y., Harper and Row (Perennial Library), 1986, pp. 162-202.

 

 

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