African Ancestry in Arkansas
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  • HISTORY & BACKGROUND

    The first known documented evidence of the presence of African ancestored people in the land now know as Arkansas, comes from the 18th century, where a few settlers accompanied by a handful of slaves settled in an area referred to often as Arkansas Post. This was in the early 1700s. However, there are not any names of who the first blacks were who occupied this region alongside their white slave owners. This land later became incorporated in a more defined region when it was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, bringing more traffic from outside the region into its forests and plains.

    In the early 19th century, many settlers came into the region, some staying, some moving westward. Among those settlers were whites and blacks, who would make Arkansas their home. There were other blacks to see the region, but only as travelers. The 1800's were a time of dramatic change for the Native Indians who lived there, and many from the southeast came through Arkansas as they migrated under force to their new homes in Indian Territory. Africans were part of this migration also, some as free people, but others as slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes. Through Arkansas many of them travelled on foot, and wagon to their new home in the the new Territory.

    In western Arkansas a settlement developed alongside the Arkansas River. No slaves were there right away, but in less than 10 years more settlers did arrive with slaves. By the early 1820, there were less than 2000 slaves in the land known as Arkansas. By 1860 there were approximately, 111,000. Of this population, only 144 were free. Clearly, the 19th century agricultural economy that would become a part of the state, required slaves to work the land, thus the dramatic increase in the black population. Therefore, working plantations of rice, peanuts, soybeans and cotton, the black population grew.

    In 1836, Arkansas was admitted to the Union. It is important to note that there were some free blacks who also lived in this region. But a mere 30 years later, they would be forced to leave the state when the Arkansas Assembly passed a resolution requiring the removal of free blacks. The concern over the free population having influence over the enslaved population encouraged this passage of the bill. Remaining in 1860 were only 144 blacks whose names appeared on the Federal Census. However, in 5 short years, the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, would eventually bring an end to the period of bondage in Arkansas, as well as throughout the United States. In neighboring Indian Territory, a full 18 months would pass before the Treaty of 1866 signed in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, would grant freedom to the Indian Territory slaves.

    The Civil War that preceded the adoption of the 13th Amendment did provide a period of dramatic transformation of the black population. Several thousand slaves, had the courage to defy their masters, walk away from bondage and to fight for their own freedom would bring eventual freedom to all 111,000 of the citizens. Among the Civil War units organized were:

    • Battery H
    • 1st Arkansas Battery African Descent
    • 2nd Arkansas Infantry African Descent
    • 3rd Arkansas Regiment Infantry African Descent
    • 4th Arkansas Regiment Infantry African Descent
    • 5th Arkansas Regiment Infantry African Descent
    • 6th Arkansas Regiment Infantry African Descent
    • 11th U.S. Colored. Infantry
    • 46th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 54th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 56th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 57th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 69th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 112th U.S. Colored Infantry
    • 113th U.S. Colored Infantry (old)
    • 113th U.S. Colored Infantry (new)
    These men who fought nobly with the Union Army, some of whom are buried in the Ft. Smith National Cemetery, led the black population to freedom. Though they and their descendants were to still endure many decades of legislated Jim Crow, segregated schools, and to undergo one of the most celebrated cases of public school integration, the black Arkansas population has made great strides since the early days of hardship. Black colleges, accomplished educators, world acclaimed writers and journalists have emerged from Arkansas. The people continue to thrive in this state, and continue to make a mark of distinction in the Arkansas region, and in the American culture.



    STATE & LOCAL RESOURCES

    Arkansas African American Genealogy Links

    Freedmen of the Frontier

    Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Marriages

    Slave Owners of Western Arkansas

    1870 Sebastian County Population

    First Black Marriages - Fort Smith, Arkansas

    Arkansas/Oklahoma Funeral Program-Obituary Collection

    Labor Contracts- Arkansas Freedman's Bureau Mississippi County

    Pike County Arkansas Slave Data

    Biographies of some Arkansas Black Civil War soldiers

    General Arkansas Genealogy Links



    Arkansas African American History Links

    Blacks in Arkansas in the Civil War

    Black Civil War Regiments from Arkansas

    Arkansas Black Civil War Burials

    Black Civil War Battle Song of Arkansas

    Ft. Smith Arkansas, Early Black History

    Free Persons of Color of Western Arkansas

    Black US Deputy Marshals-Western Court of Arkansas

    Civil Rights Era-The Little Rock Nine

    Arkansas Black History Links




    QUERIES, SURNAMES & LOOKUPS

    Queries of Arkansas Room  coming!

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    Placed online: 9 September 1999 | Updated: 24 February 2002
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