234. Aliff Henley

Were the original pioneers in Howard County all white men?

You may be in for a surprise.

In 1844, among those hardy pioneers buying land in Richardville (Howard) County was an African American woman, Mrs. Aliff Henley. Mrs. Henley bought 80 acres to farm for $280 in cash, making her the first of several African Americans who were early landowners here.

Mrs. Henley was born in Virginia around 1765. In 1801, she was released from enslavement in North Carolina. She and her family joined the migration of free Blacks moving away from increasing racial tension in Virginia and North Carolina and headed to the Northwest Territory. What is impressive without a doubt is that she shows up in the 1840 census in Indianapolis and, four short years later, walks through the door of the Delphi land office with cash in hand.

Her legacy includes deeding land for the first African Methodist Episcopal Church to be built in the county. Mrs. Henley was buried in its cemetery when she died in 1861.

How does Aliff Henley’s story change the picture in your head of a pioneer?