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Rep. Jarrells Working with State Leaders to Bring Justice to Randolph Freedpeople

On eve of Juneteenth, Rep. Jarrells hosted a news conference amplifying story of freed slaves denied inherited land in Mercer County in 1846
June 18, 2024
Dontavius L. Jarrells News

COLUMBUS — State Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) today, joined by descendants of the Randolph Freedpeople, hosted a press conference to amplify their story and discuss options to recognize the injustices faced by the descendants of the Randolph Freedpeople. 

“On August 15th, 1846, the citizens of Mercer County, Ohio gathered as a community to introduce a resolution they called, ‘the best and most suitable measures for the removal of the entire colored population from the county, and to prevent others from settling among us.’ This was in response to the news the white community had learned that nearly 400 freed slaves from a Roanoke plantation in Virginia- the Randolph Freedpeople- were traveling to Mercer County to take ownership of land that was legally left to them by their former slaveholder John Randolph,” said Rep. Jarrells

“Part of the resolution they put forward, which was sent in full to and published by several newspapers read, ‘Resolved. That we will not live among Negroes, as we have settled here first, we have fully determined that we will resist the settlement of blacks and mulattoes in this county to the full extent of our means, the bayonet not excepted.’ In 1846, Ohio failed to live up to that ideal as it turned its back on the Randolph Freedpeople. As responsible citizens and leaders, we must carry forward the dream of our Founding Fathers and push our great country and its people forward. This often requires us to acknowledge our failures, learn from them, and continue forging ahead together.”

“The story of my ancestors’ land being violently seized from them, with the aid of Ohio’s Black Laws which sanctioned this violence, has set about such a trajectory. The region where land was purchased for my people is now beautifully curated with miles of green fields, factory farms, seed companies, and beautiful homes. Luxuries that have remained far out of reach for my family and no doubt others who descended from John Randolph’s Freed People,” said Paisha Thomas, a Randolph Freedpeople descendant.

“This is not only a suppressed history, it is an absolutely unacceptable injustice which should be repaired. In a time when Ohio was being considered a ‘free’ state, legislation clearly supported inequality, upheld, and even benefited from the institution of slavery. It is time for this great state of Ohio to lean into the opportunity of being a place where justice is a core value.” 

After John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia died in 1883, he left in his will instructions to free his nearly 400 slaves, the eventual purchase of 3,200 acres of land for them to call home in Mercer County and the means for the freed people to travel there. After a drawn-out legal battle over Randolph’s will and a lengthy exodus from Virginia to Ohio, the Randolph Freedpeople finally reached Mercer County in the summer of 1864. Once they arrived by boat from Cincinnati along the Miami Erie Canal, they were quickly turned away by an angry white mob determined to deny the freedpeople their legally inherited property. Fearing for their lives, the Randolph Freedpeople headed south, eventually settling in parts of Shelby and Miami County, with many making Piqua, Ohio, their new home. For generations now, they have contributed to their community, to Ohio, and to America.              


Historical images of the Randolph Freedpeople passed down over the generations are attached to this release. Courtesy: National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center

The October 8th, 1846, edition of the Defiance Democrat, which provides in the fourth column the August 15th, 1846 resolution put forth by residents of Mercer County, Ohio to rid “the entire colored population from the county, and to prevent others from settling among us,” can be found here. Courtesy: Defiance Democrat/Public Domain

Multiple images from Tuesday's news conference can be found here. Courtesy of: Ohio House Democratic Caucus