Settling Rossville

Settling Rossville

One of the most successful communities of freedpeople was established in Rossville, just outside Piqua.  Others found Rumley in Shelby County, Hanktown near West Milton, and Marshalltown near Troy.  A few even stayed in Sydney despite the threats of violence.  Eventually, the Randolphs had acquired enough capital to buy a lot of land. On February 18th, 1857, William Rial, who was once enslaved, purchased lot #13 in Rossville from a white landowner named W.W. McFarland.  Here the Randolph Settlement was founded.  This would also become the site of the Jackson Cemetery, dedicated to the final interment of these freedpeople.

deed for lot #13 in Rossville, purchased by William Rial from W. McFarland

Ultimately, the freedpeople of the Randolph plantation in Roanoke, Virginia never received a penny of their inheritance.  While enslaved, they worked to make another man wealthy.  When freed, they encountered white hostility and aggression and were robbed at gunpoint.  However, their story does not end in tragedy.  Many rose to national and local fame.  Bud Shang, known also as Shadrach Meschach Abed-nego White, was beloved by the Sidney community.   Sidney’s first black mayor, James Humphrey, was a descendant of Carter and Phebe Lee, original Randolph Freedpeople.  He worked to preserve his family’s heritage and educate his constituents on their history.  Goodrich Giles, whose parents were enslaved on the Roanoke Plantation, was the first Black citizen to run for Piqua City Council in 1885, and again in 1886 and 1887.  He lost narrowly, but went on to become an influential businessman and the first black stockholder of a local bank.  He garnered attention from Booker T. Washington, and is mentioned in his book, The Story of the Negro: The Rise of the Race from Slavery, Volume 1.  In 1927, Giles partnered with Carl P. Anderson to build the Classic Theatre at 815 W. Fifth Street in Downtown Dayton.  This building would be one of the few theatres maintained for and by the Black community.   In the 1909 issue of Colored American Magazine, W.E.B. Dubois credits the Randolphs as inspiration for his search to find Black folk in Ohio. 


Other freedpeople altered the social fabric in subtler ways.  Fountain Randolph became a paper boy.  His mother worked as a laundress in town.  Some of their descendants played on the Piqua baseball team.  Rossville had a successful school and the Randolph Ex-Slaves Association organized family reunions each year starting in 1900.  At least 11 men joined various war efforts and fought for the rights that had been denied to them in different ways.  The stories of these community members were preserved by a Randolph herself, Helen Gilmore, who descended from William and York Rial.  She founded the Springcreek Historical Society, ran the Rossville Historic House Museum, and collected the photos of Randolph descendants until her death.  Since then, the collection has found a new home at the National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce.  The photographs have been digitized and are available to researchers.  

Posted March 14, 2017

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