Residents of Lincoln Avenue, 1870-1880: Where did they come from?

We have seen that in 1870 the Black majority and the white residents on what would become Lincoln Avenue had comparable real estate investments. These groups had something else in common: most families had migrated to Cincinnati. More than 50% of the white families had at least one foreign-born adult. There was a diversity of immigrants: 7 households included Volk whose native language would have been German, though most counted themselves as children of localities like Hanover or Bavaria. There are three who hailed from German who didn’t know which local jurisdiction – they had little stories in the nativity box like “She don’t know, in Germany, her parents died when she was young.” Another dozen whom we would now identify as denizens of the UK; they counted themselves as English or Scottish or Irish or Welsh. The sculptor Louis Rebisso was the sole Italian. In only two households had both parents been born in Ohio while four others came from other states in the North: Cincinnati was still growing like Topsy.

Among the Black residents of Lincoln Avenue, migration was even higher, and more recent. In 1870, 28 of 29 households (97%) had at least one adult born in the South. Only 2 of 62 adults (3%) had been born in Ohio. One was a twenty-eight-year-old man in a household with two older relatives born in Kentucky; it may well be that his relatives had arrived in Ohio well before the Civil War. The other was an Ohio woman who married a William Sanders from South Carolina; the couple had a child in Ohio in 1866, so it is possible William arrived prior to the war. There were also 6 other adults born in Free states (Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Jersey). The remaining 54 adults came from the South: 23 had crossed the River from Kentucky, another dozen from Virginia (perhaps what became West Virginia), and the rest from seven other slave states.

The 1870 demographics of whites in Ward 22, essentially all of Walnut Hills, looked only a little different from Lincoln Avenue. The 318 adults born in Ohio represented about 30% of the white population. About 42% of the whites in the ward were foreign-born, a little lower than the statistic for Lincoln Avenue but still a substantial part of the population. Other northern states contributed 22% of the white population, while only 7% came from the South. The Black population in the Ward also looked very much like the residents of Lincoln Avenue. Of 265 adults enumerated in 1870, only 18 (7%) were born in Ohio. Thirteen more (5%) hailed from other free states. The South was the birthplace of 233 Black adults (88%). Lincoln Avenue stood out only because it had a majority African American population (121 of 206 individuals – or 59%) while only 464 of 2361 individuals in the larger neighborhood (20%) were Black.

Change over time is harder to analyze: in 1880, the enumeration district for the census did not correspond very well with the boundaries of Ward 22, so comparisons do not represent changes of comparable things. For Lincoln Avenue in particular, we can clearly identify all residents in 1880, while our estimate for 1870 is a rough approximation of a consecutive listing of households from the census sheets – it is clear the estimate is not perfect. In the more precise 1880 data for Lincoln Avenue, the fraction of white adults born in Ohio (21 of 48, or 44%) was up a bit, and only a quarter (12) were immigrants. Migrants from northern states (18%) still outpaced those from the South (again at 7%). Black adults were again overwhelmingly born in the South (111 of 119, 93%) with only 4 each born in Ohio and Ohio or other northern states. The migration from the South continued: of 58 families, 14 (24%) seem to have arrived since the 1870 census, with children born in the South during the seventies.

It is especially striking that the inflow of Black migrants during the 1870s that saw the height, and then the failure, of reconstruction continued the strong pattern of Southern migration to the North evident during the 1860s.

– Geoff Sutton