Ida and the Colored Freedom Settlement immortalized

When I was researching information about the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County, Indiana, I stumbled across several poems about Ida, her ancestors, and the Colored Freedom Settlement.

The poems, written by Jasper, Indiana native and Indiana Poet Laureate Nobert Krapf, reflect a familiarity with Ida, her father, and the Colored Freedom Settlement. Krapf grew up geographically near to the settlement, but was born a few years after the last settlement inhabitant died.

Contemporary American Voices: a journal of poetry

  • Last Sunset: Ida’s Father Ben Hagan, Jr. Is Buried in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Last Sunset describes the funeral of Ida’s father in 1939 and the death of the Colored Freedom Settlement. Note: Krapf uses Hagan rather than Hagen. I have seen the family name spelled both ways.
  • Ida and a Gemini Twin
    Krapf addresses Ida directly in this poem about a famous blues singer who shares her May 24 birthday. The blues singer? Bob Dylan.
  • Hearing the Blues in the Pinkston Cemetery
    Kraft reflects on being in the cemetery of the Colored Freedom Settlement, hearing Jimmie Duck Holmes play the blues, and offering to listen with Ida.

Flying Island

  • Whose Eyes Are These?
    Krapf speaks of Ida and her ancestry.

Ida and family may have been the subject of other poems by Krapf. These are the few that I have found online by this Pulitzer Prize nominee.

The Colored Freedom Settlement

In contrast to other black communities like the Roberts Settlement, Lyles Station, or the Beech Settlement, I can find precious little about the Colored Freedom Settlement.

I first encountered this settlement when I stumbled across Ida Hagen  and Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann on a trip to Ferdinand, Indiana. I saw an image of Ida Hagen associated with the Colored Freedom Settlement in the Dubois County Historical Museum. I read about Hagen’s work with Dr. Wollenmann. As I researched Hagen, I found tantalizing tidbits about the settlement. Will-o’-the-wisps really. The settlement is mentioned in passing but seems to have disappeared over time.

In 1840, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr., a freed slave from Georgia, founded the settlement. According to an 1850 census, Emmanuel lived there with his wife and six children. He bought land numerous times: 1857, 1870, and 1871. In 1875, he set aside land in the settlement for a church and a school.

The settlement was home to many different families, including a Ben Hagen, the father of Ida Hagen. Ben lived on a farm next to Emmanuel’s at least as early as 1874. Hagen grew tobacco and watermelon, and was a minister at the Missionary Baptist Church. In 1939, he passed away. His funeral is immortalized in a poem by Nobert Krapf.

Following Ben’s death, it seems that the settlement itself was not long for this world. Larkin Pinkston, the last remaining member of the settlement, died in 1940.

The Huntingburg Conservation Club is now located where the settlement once stood. The Pinkston-Hagen cemetery must still exist. I found a 2013 article that spoke of Uebelhor family members locating graves and preserving the cemetery. But where exactly it exists is a mystery to me.

Ida Hagen, first African-American postmistress in Indiana

I ran across Ida Hagen two places: in a news clipping in the Dubois Country Historical Museum and in information about Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann. I knew this was a woman I needed to learn about.

As I have researched Hagen more, I have been increasingly impressed. Hagen became a clerk in the post office that Dr. Wollenmann ran in Ferdinand, Indiana in 1904. In fact, other opportunities arose from her contact with Dr. Wollenman.

But I am getting ahead of myself. From my vantage point in time, Hagen looked like she was on the road to great things from a young age. Dr. Wollenmann just helped her along.

Ida Hagen was born into a family that started the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County. By the time she was born (1888), her great grandfather (or great great grandfather…sources differ) who founded the settlement, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr, had been deceased for three years.

She attended Gehlhausen Country School, where she received county honors in 1901. She was the first African American to graduate from a common (grade) school in Dubois County.

In 1903, she began to help Dr. Wollenmann with cleaning, cooking, and raising his two sons after his wife died. The following year, in 1904, she finished high school after only one year and then, at age 16, became a clerk at the post office where Dr. Wollenmann was the postmaster.

In her spare time, Ida studied German, the language spoken by many in the community, and then studied pharmacy under Dr. Wollenmann and assisted him in his doctor’s office and on house calls.

To my delight, I located some early announcements about her formal pharmaceutical training certification. In May 1906, she graduated with a degree in pharmacy. In January 1909, she received a certificate from the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.

Upon Dr. Wollenmann’s death in 1912, she took over as assistant postmaster, but left Ferdinand that same year.

I have found little about her life after she left Ferdinand. She practiced pharmacy in Indianapolis, and then moved to Gary and continued to practice pharmacy there. By 1955, she was living in Detroit with her husband Sidney Whitaker. And there her trail starts to go cold. She died in 1978 and is buried in Detroit.