From Ohio History Central
Established in Ohio during the early nineteenth century, the Poke Patch Settlement was a predominantly African-American community.
Located in Lawrence County, the Poke Patch Settlement was to the south of present-day Oak Hill. A large number of African Americans, including many former slaves, found employment as farmers or in the area's booming iron industry. Many whites refused employment in the iron foundries due to the dangerous working conditions, allowing African Americans to secure employment in this industry.
The Poke Patch Settlement remained relatively small during its history. Founded in the 1820s, the community usually boasted a population of less than one hundred people. Residents established a log church in 1819, in nearby Black Fork, and they replaced this structure in 1879, with a house of worship in Poke Patch itself. Most residents actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. According to some accounts, as many as two hundred escaped slaves passed through this community prior to the American Civil War.
The Poke Patch Settlement existed until the early 1900s. By this time, the settlement lost its identity as a separate community for African Americans. With whites increasingly showing African Americans tolerance, many African Americans began to find acceptance in traditionally white communities. Today, little exists of this community. It is now part of the Wayne National Forest.
Despite the growing opposition to slavery by some whites during the early 1800s, communities, such as the Poke Patch Settlement, illustrate the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free blacks found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities away from whites for protection.
- Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.
- LaRoche, Cheryl Janifer. "On the Edge of Freedom: Free Black Communities, Archaeology, and the Underground Railroad." Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, College Park, 2004.