The Times photo by Betsy ReasonNoblesville’s Bryan Glover, a descendant of the Roberts Settlement in Hamilton County, at Logan Street Sanctuary in Noblesville.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason

Noblesville’s Bryan Glover, a descendant of the Roberts Settlement in Hamilton County, at Logan Street Sanctuary in Noblesville.

Fittingly, as Indiana this year celebrates its bicentennial, a Noblesville play is being staged this weekend at Logan Street Sanctuary that brings attention to an early pioneer settlement in Hamilton County.

The play brings "more light" about "wrong and cruelties suffered by the black man." These words were used by Frederick Douglass upon his return to Indiana in 1880 after, as an escaped slave, he was beaten into silence on his prior visit in 1843.

The play about Douglass' visit to Noblesville in 1880, "More Light: Douglass Returns," will be staged Friday through Sunday.

"It's really about Douglass, but in it, you will get the Roberts' story from the dialogue that takes place," said Noblesville's Bryan Glover, a 1975 Noblesville High School graduate, descendant of Roberts Settlement and nephew of late City Councilman Murphy White.

At one time, Roberts Settlement was a thriving community that in the late 1800s had more than 250 residents over four square miles. A chapel and a cemetery - on 276th Street just east of U.S. 31 - are the remains of the African-American pioneer farm settlement founded in 1835 by free blacks of mixed racial heritage who migrated from North Carolina and Virginia. Most of the pioneers had the Roberts surname, but there were also Waldens, Winburns, Rices and Gilliams who made the migration.

A Milton Roberts was on the organizing committee bringing Douglass to Noblesville in 1880. "It intrigued me," said Glover, the project's co-producer who spearheaded getting a grant to stage the play. Glover will play the role of Young Douglass one night during the play's run, taking the place of his nephew, Austin Davis.

"We think it's a good story," said Glover, 59, who is both a Roberts and a Gilliam. His mother, Maizie Glover, 87, is the oldest living descendant in this area and remembers going to Roberts Settlement as early as age 3. "I'm just so very proud to be a part of Roberts Settlement," she said in a 22-minute historical video that can be watched at www.robertssettlement.org/.

Bryan Glover expects Roberts Settlement descendants to attend the play, which features 10 actors, including Darnell Cunningham as Frederick Douglass and Donovan Whitney as William Penn Roberts, who meet and converse on a train. Eight more actors, as young as 10, portray roles in flashback scenes.

County historian David Heighway and native Stephen Vincent, a retired professor on the video, helped make sure the fictional story was historically accurate.

Playwright is Celeste Williams, a journalist, who had written about Douglass in the Polk Street Review of Noblesville writers. She had never written a play but was eager to take on the local project after some playwriting classes. Being that the play is very dense and "meaty" in terms of dialogue, the outcome is more of a reading than a play. The play is produced by Main Street Productions in Westfield, with Cheryl Fesmire directing and John Sampson creating the set, in association with Roberts Settlement.

The sanctuary, at 1274 Logan St., is an old-church turned entertainment venue. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. The show is best suited for ages 13 and older. Tickets are available at Mr. G's Liquors, online and at the door.

-Contact Betsy Reason at Betsy@thetimes24-7.com.