February is Black History Month, so I will share stories of some of the better-known African Americans who either were born in Greene County or called this their home.
Some of the stories you have heard before, others might be new, but each of these individuals has an interesting story.
Godfrey Brown was born into slavery in 1768. Although he worked on his master’s farm, he was allowed to work for other farmers as well, being paid for his labor. In 1820, he had saved enough to purchase his own freedom and that of his wife and children. Wanting to begin a new life, he purchased 254 acres of land in Caesarscreek Township. He and his sons cleared the land and built log houses for their families.
The area became known as Brown’s Settlement. After their homes were constructed, they began work on a building which was used for worship services. Godfrey was quite a good preacher and with the new church building in place, he began to preach in 1822 in what he called the Middle Run Baptist Church, so named because the church was located between two branches of a stream.
This was the first Baptist church established in the State of Ohio by people of African-American descent. His preaching ability was well-known and he was invited to speak in several churches in the area, telling his favorite Bible stories to persons of all races. The church he established eventually relocated into the City of Xenia.
Godfrey’s children and grandchildren followed his example of trying to make a better life for themselves and for others.
Lincoln Fremont Brown was born in 1866 in the Brown settlement, the grandson of Godfrey. He attended school at the Brown settlement, graduating at the age of 15. Following graduation, he moved to San Francisco where he obtained work as a carpenter. He decided to return to his native Greene County in 1844 where he continued to work as a skilled carpenter. However, he was better remembered as an inventor. He obtained a patent on his “Bridle Bite,” a device which was placed in the horse’s mouth for riders to better control the horse.
Thomas A. Brown, not related to the other Brown family, was born into slavery in 1814 in Maryland, one of five children. He married in 1840 to a lady from West Virginia and together they had six children. The family lived in Canada from 1861 to 1870 and then came to Ohio in 1871 for the purpose of securing a good education for the children. This proved to be a successful move because two of the children became teachers.
Thomas was described as being a self-made man who at one time owned real estate worth nearly $1 million. He had previously bought his freedom, along with two brothers and a sister. In 1881, Dill’s History of Greene County states that he “owns a very fine property at Wilberforce and also a fine farm in Canada. He is now making his home at Wilberforce and has the esteem and confidence of all who know him.”
Thomas’s daughter who became a teacher was none other than the well-known Miss Hallie Quinn Brown who was born in 1845.
Miss Brown was firm but loving with her students. She insisted on perfect diction and proper English.
She was internationally known as an elocutionist and was often sought for speaking on a wide variety of topics. She was very interested in Temperance and was an active member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was well-traveled, including at least one trip to England where she was invited to speak on several different occasions. She was pleased to have been invited to have tea with Queen Victoria.
Miss Brown taught for several years at her Alma matter, Wilberforce University, and received an honorary doctorate of laws in 1936 from that school.
In addition to her public speaking, she authored several books including “First Lessons in Public Speaking.” She died in 1949 in her home in Wilberforce. The library at Central State University is named in her honor.
William Scarborough was born in Macon, Ga. in 1852, the son of slaves. Though it was against the law for a slave to learn to read and write, a friendly man taught him to read at the age of six. He was an apt pupil and with assistance from others, learned quickly. He was educated at Atlanta University and received his degree from Oberlin in 1871.
He first taught in Macon but moved to Greene County where he served as professor of Latin and Greek at Wilberforce University. He wrote his own textbook “First Lessons in Greek,” which was used in several different colleges. He became President of Wilberforce University in 1908, serving that position until 1920. He died in 1926 in Wilberforce.
Another well-respected educator was Louise Troy who was born in 1860. The family came to Xenia sometime between 1860 and 1870. She received her early education from her uncle, principal of East High School, and began to teach at age 16. She furthered her education at the Xenia City Teacher’s Summer Normal School and Wilberforce University Summer School.
She began teaching in the Dayton schools in 1878, remaining with the system until her retirement in 1920. She was such a wonderful influence on her students that she was honored by having The Louise Troy School in Dayton named in her honor.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.
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