Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

View All Posts

Feb 27

Finding Freedom in Greene County

Posted on February 27, 2020 at 8:19 AM by Elise Kelly

To commemorate Black History Month, the Greene County Archives hosted a program entitled, “Finding Freedom in Greene County” (See Fig. 1). Members from the community had the opportunity to learn about the interesting lives of a slave family who were emancipated and brought to Greene County (See Fig. 2).

Fig. 1 Finding Freedom (JPG)
Fig. 1 Part of the Archives’ “Finding Freedom in Greene County” Presentation (Greene County Archives)

Fig. 2 Crowd (JPG)
Fig. 2 Photo taken during the program (Greene County Archives)

In order to tell this unique story, we wove together many primary resources. A census record and a slave schedule were examined as well as a deed, survey map, will record, and death register. The slave schedule was a method to account for the number of slaves a slave owner had during the time of the census. In 1860, Philip Piper was a slave owner in Catahoula Parish (See Fig. 3). Piper owned sixteen slaves, the youngest was two months old and the oldest was fifty-two years old. Notice that in the slave schedule, the names of the slaves are not notated.

Fig. 3 Slave Schedule (JPG)
Fig. 3 1860 Slave Schedule, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana (

These unnamed individuals were Philip Piper’s “property.” We do know that one of Philip’s slaves was named Nellie. She bore several children who were fathered by Philip. In 1859, Philip emancipated Nellie and her children. Their freedom papers are found in one of the Greene County Deed Record books (See Fig. 4). According to their freedom papers, the family is settling in Greene County and are paying $1,000 for their freedom.

Fig. 4 Deed Record (JPG)
Fig. 4 Nellie and her children’s freedom papers recorded in Greene County Deed Book (Greene County Archives)

Even though Ohio’s Constitution made slavery illegal that did not mean slaves or freed black people were treated as equals. In 1804, Ohio passed a series of laws called “The Black Laws” (See Fig. 5). These required that all blacks and mulattoes (using historical context) had to furnish certificates of freedom from a court in the United States before one could settle in Ohio.

All black residents had to register and provide the names of their children. In addition, they had to pay a fee per person. In 1807, the laws were made even stricter. Now they had to find at least two people who would guarantee a surety of $500 for the person’s good behavior. Blacks were also limited on their ability to marry whites and own guns.

Fig. 5 Black Laws (JPG)
Fig. 5 The Spirit of Democracy (Woodsfield, Ohio), August 29, 1846 (

Nellie and her children settled in Greene County, near Wilberforce. This was an area that had a strong abolitionist community with cheap, fertile, farmland. Freed blacks were welcomed by these communities and many of the freed slaves were able to purchase their own land. Their children could also attend Wilberforce University, which was established as an institution for freed blacks (See Fig. 6).

Fig. 6 1874 Greene County Map (JPG)
Fig. 6 1874 Greene County Atlas, Xenia Township (Greene County Archives)

What is most surprising about this story is that Philip Piper abandoned his life as a slave owner in Louisiana and settled with Nellie and their children in Greene County. Since it was illegal for a biracial couple to marry in Ohio, Philip and Nellie had to travel to Pennsylvania to get married. For eighteen years, Philip and Nellie lived as husband and wife in Greene County.

In 1879, Philip died. Philip Piper is listed in the Greene County Death Register book (See Fig. 7). Notice that Philip is listed as “colored.” How ironic, Philip Piper was a white, former slave owner, whose children were previously his slaves. Philip Piper's children inherited their father’s entire estate. Nellie lived a long life in Greene County and is buried with Philip at Massies Creek Cemetery in Cedarville, Ohio (See Fig. 8).

Fig. 7 Death Record (JPG)
Fig. 7 Greene County Register of Deaths, Pg. 116 (Greene County Archives)

Fig. 8 Images of Gravemarkers (JPG)
Fig. 8 Philip and Nellie Piper’s grave markers in Massies Creek Cemetery (Greene County Archives)

On behalf of the Greene County Archives, we would like to thank all who came to hear this incredible story.

Until Next Time!

Greene County Archives


You must log in before leaving your comment