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.

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Nov 06

From Indentured Servant to Slave Owner

Posted on November 6, 2015 at 12:51 PM by Elise Kelly

 Recently here at the Archives we have learned about a remarkable story that concerns servitude, slavery and freedom. The story begins in England during the early part of the eighteenth century.

A boy named Samuel Gist has recently lost his parents and with no where else to go, he spends most of his childhood at the Bristol Hospital in Bristol, England.
James Millerd's 1671 Map of Bristol (section of town). Could this be the hospital Samuel Gist stayed? Image via Wikimedia Commons

Entering adulthood, Gist is determined to strike out on his own and secure financial stability. He decides to venture to America as an indentured servant. Many young people - particularly British youths, became indentured servants so they could come to the New World. Their passage was paid for through working for an employer for a certain amount of time.

A Map of Virginia (1612) via Wikimedia Commons
 Making his way to the colony of Virginia, Gist becomes the indentured servant of John Smith, a tobacco farmer in Hanover County, Virginia. For about eight years, Gist, a farmhand, works in the tobacco fields.

However, in 1747, John Smith dies and Samuel Gist marries Smith's widow, Sarah (also registered as Mary).
So here we ironically have a poor indentured servant now acquiring a tremendous amount of wealth which includes hundreds of slaves and extensive landholdings.

 As the years pass, American colonists throughout Virginia and the other colonies, begin to become disgruntled with the British Government- "No Taxation Without Representation!" Talk of a revolution intensifies and by 1776, the American colonists declare independence from Great Britain. Gist's allegiance is with the motherland and he returns to England. Living in London, Gist drafts his last will and testament in 1808.

Image to the left: "The Spirit of '76" via Wikimedia Commons

In the will, he orders that all of his slaves in Virginia (274 at that time - up to 500 at the time of his death in 1815), be freed upon his death. According to the will's statutes, the slaves were welcomed to live on Gist's land in Virginia and were to be provided with schooling and Protestant religious instruction. Below is an 1897 Xenia Daily Gazette article that indicates Gist's orders were not carried out (See Below).

                  Xenia Daily Gazette, Aug. 21, 1897

It is important to note here, that Gist decided after 1808, to amend his will. He gives the will's executors the authority to revoke the original promise of giving his slaves freedom. In the end, the executors do emancipate several slaves and 150 of them end up living on the Gist property.

Perhaps the author of the article above (most likely an attorney), was not aware that Gist amended his will or perhaps some of the orders in the will were not carried out properly.The article was written as an announcement - calling for all of the descendants of Gist's slaves (that were living in Ohio) to gather in Cincinnati in 1896 to appropriate what they believed was owed to them.

 There were as many as 300 former slaves previously belonging to Gist that migrated and settled in Ohio.

They established communities in Adams, Brown and Highland counties and named them Gist Settlements. Many of them were farmers.

Gist Family Descendants from Brown County via Cincinnati Herald

Two of Gist's former slaves settled in Greene County - Solomon and Abraham Gist (See Solomon's Emancipation Record Below).


Greene County was home to the descendants of Solomon and Abraham. What their ancestors' encountered and experienced with this enigmatic man (Samuel Gist) must be a truly remarkable story!

Until Next Time!
This Week's Trivia Question: Who coined the phrase, "No taxation without representation"?
Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question: Name some of the communities that were part of the Union Circuit? - Dayton, Xenia, Lebanon, Middletown and Franklin.


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