GIST Settlement Project


GIST Settlement Project

The Gist Settlement

The Gist Settlement, while still occupied today, is a historical and archaeological gem--a chronicle of one small African American community's struggle to adapt to living as free Americans in Ohio before and after the Civil War. However, as the living Gist Settlement community passes on and moves away, this record of the past is coming under threat of being erased, taking with it a story that has yet to be told in its entirety.

The 2007-2008 Gist Settlement Archaeological Project is an important first step in the process of archaeologically documenting the lives of those who lived in the settlement in the 19th century--the first and second generation of Gist Settlement families. Precious little historical documentation is available for understanding the daily lives of the earliest Gist residents. As such one of the Project's primary goals is the recovery of objects and features (like wells, cisterns, cellars, and privies) that can be used to study the day-to-day struggle to make ends meet in the 19th century Gist Settlement. The Gist Settlement Archaeological Project is a collaboration between Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc. and Paul LaRue and his Research History class students at Washington Senior High. To date, project funds have been provided by Paul LaRue and a History Channel grant/award he received in 2007.

-Archaeologist Jarrod Burks, Ph.D

History of the Gist Settlement

Samuel Gist lived in Britain and owned approximately 1200 slaves on land in Amherst, Goochland, and Hanover counties, Virginia. When Gist died in 1815, he still owned over 500 slaves.

In Gist's will, however, he freed his slaves and requested they be removed to free land. Of the more than 500 slaves thatGist still owned, 350 of them were freed and placed on settlements throughout Ohio. In 1819, Gist Settlement agents purchased over 2000 acres of land in Eagle and Scott townships, Brown County and Adams County. Then in 1831 and 1835 the Gist estate purchased 207 acres of land in Fairfield (now Penn) Township, and Highland County. A total of 2506 acres of land were purchased to serve as a home for the newly freed slaves and their descendents. Not only did Gist will the freedom of his slaves to private land, but also that his American estates be sold and the profits put in a trust for the slaves and their families forever.

The last of the original Gist Settlement lands in descendants' hands is located in Highland County. It happens to be the last established settlement and the smallest. The Highland County settlement was inhabited by 18 families totaling 105 persons in 1840. Between 1840 and 1930 an average of 16 families, or 75 persons occupied the Gist Settlement (based on US Census Data, 1840-1930). The settlement had established an active church and school. The Gist settlement cemetery is a living document of the past. Although not all headstones are marked, the cemetery holds precious links to the history of the settlement. The Highland County settlement is a mere 200 acres of land today, and faces an uncertain future. (Editor’s note: There are ongoing questions about the title to the land and the status of property taxes, lending some degree of uncertainty over the ownership and disposition of the land in the future.)

-Laura Richards

Research History Student 2006-07


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