On this dayJan 21, 1831

Portsmouth, Ohio, Banishes Black Residents

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On January 21, 1831, the Portsmouth Courier newspaper published a notice to all black residents of the community, explaining that 100-200 white residents of the town had pledged not to employ any black people who had not complied with discriminatory state laws designed to discourage black settlement in Ohio. As a result, eighty black people were expelled from town.

The banishment of black residents from Portsmouth took place after town authorities agreed to enforce Ohio’s “Black Laws.” Passed in 1804, these discriminatory statutes prohibited any black person from living in the state of Ohio unless they had a certificate from the clerk of court declaring that they were free and not enslaved.

A subsequent law, passed in 1807, barred black people from testifying in court against white people, and stated that black people had to provide a $500 bond “for good behavior and against becoming a township charge” in order to reside in Ohio. If they did not pay this sum, they were to be expelled by force. White people were also subject to punishment under these laws if they tried to help black people subvert them; anyone found to be concealing a black person who had not paid the $500 bond would be fined $100, with the profits to be split between the State of Ohio and the person who reported the violation of law. This law also prohibited black people from being witnesses against white people.

Despite the injustice imposed upon them, the black people forced out of Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1831 persevered. They ultimately established the black community of Huston Hollow, which Dr. Andrew Feight notes “proved to be a critical link” in the Underground Railroad.

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