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Summer 2003
A Publication of the St. Louis Public Library

Vol. 3   No. 3

Ethnic Spotlight

Germans in Ohio

Many early settlers of the area that became Ohio were Germans from Pennsylvania. They dug canals in the 1820s and 1830s, worked as farmers, or built steamboats. Counties with heavy German settlement included Auglaize, Columbiana, Fairfield, Jefferson, Mercer, Perry, Portage, and Stark. Many of these communities had street and business signs printed in English and German and many had a German language newspaper.

Starting in the 1830s, many German immigrants began to settle in Cincinnati. This city, which in 1830 was only five percent German-American, was, by 1840, 30 percent German-American. An area of Cincinnati became known as Over-the-Rhine because of the large number of Germans who lived there. German language clubs, churches, and newspapers catered to these new arrivals. The failed German revolutions of 1848-1849 also brought new arrivals from Germany to various Ohio destinations including Cincinnati.

Germans in Ohio encountered hostility from time to time, which sometimes required assistance from the police and the military. Anti-German sentiment reached its apex during World War I, however, when German street names were changed, the teaching of German was banned in the public schools, and German language publications were removed from public libraries.

African-Americans in Ohio

Ohio's black population in the 2000 census was 1,301,307 or 12 percent of the state's total population. In the 1860 federal census, there were 36,263 blacks in Ohio. Life for free blacks in early Ohio was not easy. They had to contend with what were known as "Black Laws." The first of these laws, enacted in 1804, required that every free black person moving into Ohio had to register with the County Clerk. First, he/she had to show some document from a U.S. court which declared/attested to free status. Then he/she had to enter his/her name and the names of his/her children in a record book to be maintained by the County Clerk. After payment of a small fee, the County Clerk provided the person with a proof of employability card. Employers in Ohio could be made to pay a stiff fine if they hired black laborers who did not have a card in their possession.

Black Laws also prevented free blacks in Ohio from holding public office, serving in the militia, or attending public schools. They could not serve on juries or testify against white persons. Free persons, white or black, who helped fugitive slaves escape their masters could be fined heavily.

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