Several years ago, while scrolling through the old newspapers on microfilm, I saw a notice in an 1880 Noblesville Ledger that “John Hoard, the colored man” had been elected constable of Noblesville by a “handsome majority.”

That intrigued me because at the time I knew of only one African American who’d ever held an elected position in Hamilton County and that was the late Murphy White.

Unfortunately, there weren’t enough details about Hoard in that small item to make a column, and in those days, trying to find biographical information on someone in the old newspapers was like hunting the needle in the haystack.

All that changed when Noblesville’s newspapers became available through Newspapers.com.

Thanks to a little online digging, I’ve been able to learn that John Hoard (or Hord or Horde) was a Civil War veteran, a charter member of the Lookout Post of the Grand Army of the Republic and the 3rd Sgt. of the Porter Escort Guards, an African American unit formed to “promote the success of the Republican party.”

In addition to serving as a constable, he did janitorial and maintenance work around the courthouse. In 1882 he was appointed to the position of court bailiff.

During that research, I discovered Hoard wasn’t the only African American to participate in 19th century Hamilton County politics.

In 1878, A. H. Evans ran for the Republican nomination for Hamilton County Recorder. (I’ve seen six different versions of his given name — Alias, Allas, Ales, Aloes, Alicons, and even Elias. I’m not sure which, if any of those, is actually correct.)

Evans lived northwest of Noblesville and taught Noblesville’s “colored school” in the 1870s when it was located on Cicero Creek.

The Noblesville Independent described his character as “second to none of his opponents,” and proclaimed his qualifications “equal to the best,” but he didn’t win the nomination.

Two years later, Jackson Township farmer Eli N. Roberts announced his candidacy for that same office.

Roberts, whom the Independent described as a “man of the highest attainments, a college graduate, and a most exemplary citizen,” came in second in the Republican primary. Following his defeat, he graciously asked that his votes be given to the winner so the nomination would be unanimous.

He ran again for Recorder in 1882 and 1886, but was unsuccessful both times.

In 1880, Reverend C. A. Roberts, the pastor of Noblesville’s First Baptist Church, sought the Republican nomination for State Representative. (His first name was Charles, but he seems to have gone by Abner, so I’d say it’s a safe bet that’s what the “A” stood for.)

In addition to his ministerial duties, Reverend Roberts ran a barber shop. He was a Civil War veteran, a Deputy Grand Master of Indiana’s Grand Lodge of “colored” Masons, one of the organizers of the Porter Escort Guards, and he was active in the local Temperance movement.

Although the Noblesville Republican expressed the opinion that Reverend Roberts would make a “safe and prudent” member of the House, he also failed to win the nomination.

The only African American voted into office in the 19th century besides John Hoard appears to have been barber John M. Porter, who was elected trustee of Westfield’s third ward in 1881. Porter was the grandson of Jane Porter, one of Westfield’s first black residents.

In reporting Porter’s victory, Noblesville’s Republican-Ledger noted that the election results had some of Westfield’s black residents “chuckling in their sleeves.”

To my knowledge, no other African American held an elected office in this county, or even ran for one, after that until Murphy White was elected to Noblesville’s city council in 1967. 

Thanks to Nicole Kobrowski and Nancy Massey for additional research.

- Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com