The Abraham Depp Story
Historical Background of Depp family – Powhatan County, Virginia
*from The Genealogist (volume 17 No. 1, Spring 2003)
In 1801, a deed of emancipation was filed by John Depp (a white tobacco plantation owner) in Powhatan County, Virginia which granted freedom to the children of Lucinda (Lucy) Depp (black) upon the death of John and his wife Elizabeth. His will stated that “as he had long had the benefit of their labor, justice and good conscience require that I make provision for them.” The children named in the deed (and birth dates) were Lucinda (1788), Abraham (1791), Salsbury (1793), Stephen (1795), Esther (1797) and Delila (1800).
John Depp’s will gave specific tracts of his land in Powhatan County to Abram, Salsbury, Stephen, and Miles (Esther was his wife) totaling over 540 acres.
John Depp died and his will was proved in 1831. A provision in his will freed Abram immediately. The children Lucinda and Delila were evidently deceased by this time. The rest of the family would not receive their freedom until the death of widow Elizabeth in 1835.
As a free man, Abram Depp traveled to the Ohio lands in 1834 and worked as a blacksmith (his trade) in Columbus. It was during this time that he located land for sale north of Columbus in Delaware County. Upon the death of widow Elizabeth in 1835, he returned to Powhatan County to settle the family affairs and bring his family to Ohio. He set out with his wife Mary (Goode) and children Evelina, Matilda, and Aurelius. Mary died during the trip. Other members of the Depp family arrived in 1836.
Abram Depp purchased 300 acres of land from Joseph Sullivant on June 3, 1835 and 90 acres from Abram Smith on July 1, 1835. This land was in southern Delaware County (Concord Township) west of the Scioto River. In 1844 he added 50 acres more secured from Augustus Case.
Ohio county records show other land purchases by the Depp family mother (old) Lucy, brother Stephen, sister Esther and her husband Miles Depp, and children of Esther (Lavinia, Lucy Ann, Pocahantas, Walker, Mike, and Simon Depp).
These land purchases were adjacent to each other in Delaware County (Concord Township), Union County (Jerome Township), and Franklin County (Washington Township) and totaled almost 1500 acres.
In 1838, Abram married his second wife China (Ellis) and they had six children together: John (1839), Parthena (1841), Susan (1842), Lucy (1844), Rachel (1845), and Keziah (1848).
Some history of the how the Depp family came to Ohio from Virginia, written by genealogist Harold Henderson.
The black Depps were freed under an 1801 deed of emancipation (effective on the death of the grantor and wife), and John Depp’s 1829 will, probated in 1831. Allen writes:
The most startling fact in the settlement of Depp’s estate was the extreme expedition with which it was accomplished on the heels of the death of his widow, Elizabeth. Her will, made on 7 January 1835, was proved on 2 February 1835 in Powhatan County. In just two weeks from the probate of her will, all the land left to the freed slave family was sold and all the slaves not freed by the will of John Depp were sold on 16 and 17 February 1835. That has to be a record! … Quite obviously the four projected grantees under the will had decided [ahead of time] … that they would not take title, but, rather, sell their interest through the executor of the will and take the cash to start a new life elsewhere.
About the time I read this I had just finished Gordon S. Wood’s magisterial (and to me very informative) Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. One of his major themes is how the high-minded cosmopolitan visions of the Founders generation morphed into the bumptious, militantly provincial, and rather raw democratic enthusiasm of the next generation. (Just compare the characters of George Washington and Andrew Jackson.)
A tragic part of that story is that in the 1790s there were some good reasons to think that slavery was on the way out, in part because it grossly contradicted the ideals of liberty that had animated the American Revolution. Virginia slaveholders were less willing to break up families; Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other southerners deplored the institution’s injustice; new evangelical Baptist and Methodist denominations stood against slavery; the College of William and Mary conferred an honorary degree on the British abolitionist Granville Sharp.
It was a false dawn. A combination of technological changes, fear that the black revolution in Haiti might spread, and a few actual slave conspiracies turned things ugly. The evangelicals backed off; in 1806 a new Virginia law required freed slaves to leave the state; and the ideology of racism was reborn to justify the repression.
In this context it comes as no surprise that the white Depps’ estate was probated in record time and that the black Depps had already planned to leave their home for free soil. Virginia’s loss was Ohio’s gain. History can illuminate genealogy.
Excerpt from article “In Bondage and Freedom – Antebellum Life In Richmond, Virginia”
Powhatan County bondsman Abraham Depp managed his owner’s blacksmith shop. He served customers, arranged for payments, advanced credit, and traveled to Richmond to purchase iron, steel, leather, and other supplies. Diligent, hardworking, and astute, “whenever it happened that the day did not allow sufficient time to accomplish the work before him,” the wife of his owner observed of Depp, “the night supplied the deficiency.” After a number of years (and following his master’s death), Depp gained his freedom and secured legal title to the enterprise he had managed so successfully as a slave.
Establishment of the Depp Settlement (1835)
In 1795, Lucas Sullivant was sent by the Commonwealth of Virginia to survey the territory in the Ohio wilderness set aside as the Virginia Military Lands. The land was to be used as payment to veterans of the Revolutionary War. He acquired a total of about 6000 acres of this land (part of which would become Columbus). Lucas Sullivant died in 1823 and eventually his son Joseph sold a tract in southern Delaware County west of the Scioto River to Abram Depp in 1835.
Establishment of the Depp Settlement (1835)
(the following exceprt is from History of Delaware County, 1880)
Abram Depp, another colored man, came to the township in 1834, and bought 400 acres of land. He is dead, and his wife, a very old woman, lives still upon the land where her husband first settled. John Day came long before Depp, but did not identify himself with the township as did Depp, who was a man exerting a large influence in his neighorhood. Upon his land was built the old colored Baptist Church, which is said by some to be the oldest church in Concord Township. ‘Depp’s church,’ as it was called, was built of logs, and the cracks stopped with clay-mortar. However, the congregation growing smaller year by year, left the church nearly empty, and it was finally abandoned and torn down.
(the following excerpt is from heritagepursuit.com, 1998)
Abraham Depp came from Virginia in 1835 and bought 400 acres in what is now Shawnee Hills. It was the first African-American owned farm in the county. He also started a Baptist Church here, and in addition to farming, was a blacksmith. He provided safe haven as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Depp property stayed in the family, more land was acquired and the community grew to be known as Lucy Depp Park. Eventually in the 1920s, the area became a summer resort for black families from Columbus. It has been noted that boxer Joe Louis even stayed here.
Depp’s son, Aurelius, attended Oberlin College and returned to Concord Township as a farmer and stock raiser. He also served in the Civil War and was at Camp Chase in Delaware. In the History of Medicine & Physicians of Delaware County, Ohio, Silas Fowler says that the Rev. Depp invited Dr. Samuel Whyte, Jr. to come to Concord Township to provide medical care to the community.
Excerpt from the Journal of Negro History (p. 484) 1916
The Depp Station on the Underground Railroad
Upon settling on his land, Abram Depp established an Underground Railroad Station, using limestone caves along the nearby Scioto River (since flooded by the waters of the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir) to house the runaways. Mr. Etheldred (Dred) Weaver and others operated between the Freedom Street Station in Columbus and the Depp Station. It was said that no slave having reached the Depp Station was ever returned to bondage.
“The cave which housed the fugitive slaves is sealed and obscured from view by the waters of the O’Shaughnessy Dam and Reservoir in the new order of things. The crumbled walls of the once beautiful stone house and residence of Abram Depp with a cottonwood tree standing in the front yard for more than eighty years spreads its branches majestically over the ruins today. Around the house to the east, down the hill slope at the roots of a tree is a spring, hidden by the growth of calomel and grass. It was here they quaffed the sparkling water from a cup or gourd to quench their thirst. These things are but mute reminders of the past.”
(excerpted from Lucy Depp Park promotional brochure (circa 1940))
This article is from Shanachie, a magazine of Dublin culture and history, V. 1, #1, Spring 1984
The Depp Station was a waypoint on a major route of slaves seeking freedom in Canada. Although Ohio was a free state, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 allowed pursuers to capture and return runaways to the South and had strict penalties for persons harboring the runaways.
Ad appearing in a Columbus, Ohio newspaper seeking return of a runaway from Kentucky
The Lucy Depp bell (circa 1850’s)
The bell at Lucy Depp Park was cast at the Fredericktown Bell Company in Fredericktown, Ohio around 1850.
It is said that the bell was used as an all-clear signal to runaway slaves making their way along the Scioto River from Columbus to the Depp Station on the underground railroad.
In later years, it was used to call guests to meals at community gatherings.
The bell still stands today, visible in the front of the Lucy Depp Barn.
Photo of cast iron bells outside Fredericktown Bell Company (1850’s)
On Labor Day, 2016, the Friends of Freedom Society, Inc. debuted an original Readers’ Theater program at the Lucy Depp Settlement community picnic. It was part of the dedication ceremony for their Underground Railroad site marker.
Depp Family, the Depp Cemetery and Neighbors of the Depps
(excerpt from History of Delaware County, 1880)
AURELIUS DEPP, farmer and stock-raiser; P. O. Jerome, Union Co. His father, Abraham Depp, was a native of Virginia, and a blacksmith by trade, having worked for forty years in one shop, commencing when 9 years old; inn 1834, he came to Ohio, stopped in Columbus, where he worked some at his trade, being the second smith to work in that place. In that year, he purchased the present homestead, at that time containing 400 acres. Having returned to Virginia for his family, he started with them for Ohio, in 1835; before reaching their destination his wife died. About three years after settling here, he married Chaney Ellis. At his death, his property was valued at $30,000; this, excepting 100 acres of land on which his widow lives and holds during her natural life, was divided among his children. Aurelius Depp was born near Richmond, Va., Oct. 20, 1831; his boyhood days were divided between work on the farm and attending school; at the age of 22 years, he entered Oberlin College, which he attended for two years; his father being in ill health, he was compelled to return home and take charge of affairs.
Sept. 9, 1858, he was married to Catharine Letchford, daughter of Pleasant Letchford, an early settler of Columbus, who was the owner of 226 acres of land within a mile of the city, and was a prominent colored man of the county of Franklin; at his death his property was valued at about $25,000. After Mr. Depp’s marriage, he moved on to his present place, which contains, he moved on to his present place, which contains sixty-acres; he also owns seventy-seven acres within a mile of the city of Columbus; nine children are the fruit of their marriage. Ardemian, Mary E., Abraham L., Freeman W., Catherine and Queen Victoria are still living; Martha E., Aurelius and Victor Emanuel are dead; the latter and Queen Victoria were twins. In September, 1864, Mr. Depp enlisted in the 12th U. S. C. I.; he was in the two days’ battle of Nashville, also at Franklin, Tenn., and Decatur, Ala.; since the war, he has been a successful farmer and stock-raiser; he has filled some of the township offices, and is an active man in his neighborhood.
Roster of 27th USCT showing enlistment of Aurelius and John Depp in 1864.
Etching of Aurelius Depp tombstone,found in the Depp Cemetery located near Twin Lakes. Aurelius served in the Civil War with the Ohio 27th Colored Troops.
Neighbors – The Whyte family
(the following is an excerpt from heritagepursuit.com, 1998)
Dr. Samuel Whyte Jr. settled half a mile south of Home Road in the mid-1830s. Although he was born a slave in Virginia, Whyte’s master wanted him to have an education and sent him to school. His father, Samuel Whyte, Sr., bought him and his mother Amy for $800 from their master, then bought his own freedom for $1220. Whyte later continued his education and became a respected physician and surgeon. Fowler writes, “He was well informed and an extensive reader, and many came from long distances to consult him.” In 1880, he was one of only three African-American doctors in Ohio.
(the following is an excerpt from History of Delaware County, 1880)
THOMAS A. WHYTE, farmer and black smith ; P. 0. Jerome, Union Co.; is a son of Dr. Samuel W. Whyte Jr., and was born April 19, 1845 in Concord Township, where he remained with his father, working at blacksmithing and attending school until 22 years of age. After leaving home, he attended school in Delaware two terms, and from that time until in the year 1873, he traveled and worked at his trade in the following places : Columbus, Grove City, Indianapolis and Richmond, Ind.; Springfield and Bates, Ill.; Marys- ville, Springfield, Xenia and Flint Station, Ohio. June 5, 1873, he was married to Miss Lucinda Depp, daughter of Abraham Depp, who, at his death, was the wealthiest colored man in the county. They have three children — John Q. A., Erena K., Rilla L. After his marriage, Mr. Whyte located in Jerome, Union Co., and opened a blacksmith shop, where he has a good business ; in addition to this, he owns a good farm in Concord Township of 112 acres.
The Depp Cemetery
Depp Cemetery is located on private property outside Shawnee Hills, Ohio (Concord Township, Delaware County).
Depp Cemetery is very small, and it is no longer active. It was an early African American cemetery that was started in the 1800’s. In the 1930’s, most of the gravestones were removed by the township for repair and cleaning. They were never placed back in the cemetery though, and now they are lost. Only one gravestone is still standing; the gravestone of Aurilus Depp, who was a Civil War veteran.
According to The Genealogist (Spring 2003), a WPA map indicates 14 graves on the 0.12 acre site.
Efforts are being made by the Lucy Depp Civic Association and others to restore and maintain the cemetery.
For copies of this information, use the “contact us” button at the top of the page and we would be happy to send you a .pdf of this info.
For more information on the Depp Genealogy, click here for a copy of The Genealogist from 2001. It is a 52 page document outlining the Depp family in-depth.
Many thanks to all of those involved in the research, including but not limited to Michael Hamilton & Gary and Gwyn Stetler.