Carthagena Union Cemetery

6038 State Route 271
Carthagena, Ohio 45822

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A Free Black Community and Its Union Cemetery

Carthagena was once a thriving community of African Americans. Prior to the Civil War, approximately 70 black and rural settlements were established in Ohio by free black and mulatto families; the cemetery at Carthagena is all that remains of the more than 600 individuals who made a life in Carthagena.

Augustus Wattles, a Quaker abolitionist, purchased 189 acres here and led 15 black families north from Cincinnati to establish the village of Carthagena. Carthagena was platted in 1840 by Charles Moore, a free man who moved north with the Wattles group. Land was set aside for a cemetery. By 1860 nearly 100 black and mixed race families owned more than 10,000 acres in adjacent townships. In addition to their farms, these families built three schools and four Protestant churches. Tradesmen in the village practiced carpentry, brick-making, and blacksmithing. African American veterans of the War of 1812 and the Civil War were laid to reset in Union Cemetery.

Wattles not only purchased farmland for these families, he established the Emlen Institute to provide education and trade skills for their children. However, the school was short-lived; its buildings and lands were purchased by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood who wanted to establish a seminary near their parishes. If you look across the cemeteries, you’ll see St. Charles Seminary rising above the fields.

Although for a time Carthagena thrived as a black settlement, neighboring white communities were not welcoming of black or mixed-race immigrants. Carthagena became the center of racial strife in 1846. Virginia plantation owner John Randolph left a will that upon his death freed his slaves and provided them with land in the vicinity of Carthagena. When the former slaves tried to make their way to the community, white vigilantes confronted them and drove them away. The former slaves were forced to scatter and they settled in a number of nearby communities, including Piqua, Sidney, and Xenia.

As more German Catholic immigrants arrived in the region, the land around Carthagena was sold off and African American farmers moved away. The last burial in Union Cemetery took place in 1957; the last African American family moved away in 1960. The Carthagena Union Cemetery is all that remains of this once-vibrant free black community.

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Additional Resources

The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality, Anna-Lisa Cox, 2018

The African-American Community and the Emlen Institute of Mercer County, Edward G. Wallen, 2006