Copyright 1998. Henry Robert Burke "Window to the Past" (8-29-98)
Since August 1945, and the third Sunday of every August since, a group of African-Americans have been meeting at a park formerly known as "The Campground", located on Ohio-SR 145 just north of Stafford, in Franklin Twp., at the extreme south end of Monroe county.
Monroe county borders northern Washington county; both counties extend along the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio. Those attending this event are descended from a group of "Free Blacks" most of whom came to Stafford around 1849 from Virginia before the American Civil War.
Stafford has sometimes been erroneously referred to as a "colored settlement", but in fact the village was incorporated around 1839 by a white abolitionists named William Steel. At first called Bethel, the name was changed to Stafford, because another community in Ohio already had a Post Office under the name of Bethel. Stafford had a sizable number of abolitionists in the vicinity, from around 1840, until the beginning of the American Civil War. William Steel, Benjamin Hughes, James Oschel, Liberty Curtis, Rev. Joseph Markey and many other "white" abolitionists, along with virtually all the "free black" population of, were active with the Stafford Underground Railroad Station.
In 1820, the first year that a U.S. Census Report was issued for Monroe county, there are 11 "free people of color" listed. Both the 1830 and 1840 U.S. Census Reports listed 13 " free people of color", but there is no indication exactly where in Monroe county they resided. However the1850 U.S. Census listed 69 "free colored people" in Monroe county and most of these people were in or around Stafford. In 1851, Noble county was formed from parts of other southeastern Ohio counties, and some of the "free colored" population then lived across the county line in Noble county, but they still belonged to the community of Stafford.
In 1849, Ohio had repealed the Law requiring free blacks entering this state, to post a $500.00 security bond. The black population of Ohio greatly increased during the decade of the1850s. In late1849, the Armstrong and Curtis families arrived at Stafford, from Rockingham county, Virginia. All through the 1850s, free people of color were attracted to Stafford. By 1860, the black community around Stafford was home to the Armstrong, Burke, Curtis, Freeman, Marlborough, Singer, Solomon, Woods and Wooten families.
During the American Civil War, Harrison Armstrong, Nimrod Burke, Charles Burke, Jacob Curtis, John Curtis, Albert Freeman, Issac Solomon and David Woods, of Stafford, served with the Union Army. After the Civil War from around 1870, an exodus of black families from the Stafford area began and continued through the 1960s. For over 100 years, Stafford was home to a small population of African-Americans. Today that number has dwindled to one African- American family that still maintains a residence in Stafford. Never-the-less, for well over 50 years, a group of African-Americans has continued the tradition of attending the Stafford Campground Reunion each year in August.
Among my many relatives buried at the Stafford Cemetery, is my great-great-grandfather, John Curtis, Underground Railroad Conductor and American Civil War Veteran; served with (Company C, 3rd Regiment, United States Colored Infantry)!
Nearly everyone in this photograph is a direct descendant of Joseph and Hannah Burke. (To be posted later.)
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