Samuel Patterson settled north of Westerville in 1824, in a small village named East Orange. The community had a general store, a blacksmith shop, a boot and shoe store and eight homes. Patterson built a double log cabin and got married in 1827. In 1841, he built a lovely home of brick fired on the property and black walnut wood from the surrounding forest. Because he was a farmer, he also built several barns to house his animals and store the food and grain he harvested.
These barns were very important for another reason. They were where Samuel Patterson hid special secret visitors to his farm. Samuel was part of the Underground Railroad. He and his neighbors all agreed that slavery was a bad thing and that they would do whatever they could to help freedom seeking slaves. There were log cabins in the woods that also served as a hiding place for the fleeing slaves who came through the village near Alum Creek.
In 1859, a group of slaves began an amazing journey from slavery in North Carolina to freedom in East Orange, Ohio. Their story is very unusual and needs to be told and remembered. The slaves lived on a plantation owned by Oroon Alston. Oroon was part of a family who owned slaves and at the age of 9 he inherited from his father a plantation in Chatham County and slaves. Time passed and he grew older, married his wife Miriam, and increased the number of slaves he owned until his death in 1851. Miriam and he did not have children so she inherited the farm and the slaves on it. For some reason which we do not know, Miriam chose to provide a different life for the slaves. Upon her death in September 1855, she left her slaves to her lawyer and agent with the understanding that he find a way to provide for their freedom in a free state. Miriam left $300 to help pay for their trip north. It took four years for the lawyer and his son to make plans for the journey. Finally in May of 1859, the journey began for the 28 slaves. Three of the group were children who had been born after Miriam’s death. The youngest was Maggie who was born the year before the journey north.
This group of slaves ended up in East Orange. We do not know why they came to that community. We do not know how hard the journey was that they made. What we do know is that the residents welcomed them, housed them, hired them to work on their farms and made them part of the community. The freed Alston slaves became landowners, musicians and artists and also participated in hiding runaway slaves who travelled to the village. Their descendants served in the military and became educators. After the Alston freed slaves arrival in East Orange, a neighbor travelling through the village noticed the darker faces among the long-time residents and declared that East Orange looked like Africa. That name was embraced by the residents – black and white. East Orange became known as Africa. Today Alum Creek Reservoir covers much of the original village but some homes still stand and there is a road linking Westerville to the former town called Africa Road which reminds us of the people who made their homes there and worked for the cause of freedom for all.
Last updated: 2/15/2018
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