Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


I ran across an article written by my friend, Hazelle Lanman, (The Keosauqua Experience, "African Americans in Keosauqua," 1989) in which she gives a black population of 211 in 1870 for the town of Keosauqua. This is one out of every four residents!

With a census population of 869 in 1870, 24% of Keosauqua’s population was "colored." This is a higher percentage than I previously found in my research. Even at 13% in 1873, Keosauqua’s black population represented the highest reached by an incorporated town or village within the state of Iowa.

Census figures give Keosauqua's Population as 869 in 1870 and 772 in 1873. The total black population of Van Buren County was 211 in 1870. If Hazelle is correct, all of the county's black people lived in Keosauqua in 1870. She goes on to say, that by 1873, the number (in Keosauqua only) had decreased to 102 out of a total population of 772, a total of 13% of the population. (Note: Records verify a sprinkling of blacks located in other villages in Van Buren County.)

Hazelle researched all of these figures as carefully as I have done in the recent past, and I accept her assessment, mainly because of an interesting development. You will note that from the census figure of 869 in 1870, the total population dropped by 97 to 772, in 1873. This sudden drop in population is consistent with, and is explained by the drop of black population from 211 to 102--a decline of 109 people. White population would have actually increased by 12 during the same three-year period.

This plainly shows how Keosauqua acted as a depot for blacks, as many lived here temporarily, then gradually fanned out to other cities and areas. It was a pleasant haven for Negro people after the Civil War, but without the railroad, the community did not have enough industry to support a rapidly expanding population.

Even so, a nucleus of black families remained in Keosauqua for decades. Their main area of concentration was regretfully labeled "Nigger Hill." Here, according to Lanman, they had 3 or 4 churches and their own school. I find mention of a Methodist and a Baptist Church. She says there was at least one more, located down along the river. According to several sources, they had their own school and their own chapter of the Masonic Lodge. As many as two hundred people once crammed themselves into a few city blocks down the steep embankment from the depot to the river.

Hazelle says, "Helen Blackburn assembled material about people of the Negro race in Keosauqua, which had been drawn upon by the author with other information gleaned from The Negro of Iowa by Leola Nelson Bergmann."

Both Hazelle and I rejected the figures given by the WPA Guide Series in 1940. They estimated that the black population at one time reached 400, which would have been 40-50% of the town’s population. However, no facts can be found to support this claim.

Good work, Hazelle!

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick