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Showcasing the Weaver community

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READ: Paul Robert Villareal reads about the history of the Weaver community, a settlement formed in Liberty Township by emacipated slaves and white abolitionist John Henry Weaver.
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VETERAN: Corporal Edwin Ellsworth Pettiford was part of the Montiford Point Marines, the first African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps.
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ARTIFACT: Matthew Beck used this hammer to earn money to free himself and his family before moving to Grant County’s Weaver settlement and serving as the town blacksmith.
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EDUCATION: A display of education in the Weaver community includes a 1916-era photo of students, teaching certificates and more.

by Tim Tedeschi , ttedeschi@chronicle-tribune.com

A blacksmith’s hammer may seem like an ordinary artifact from years gone by, but it gains untold significance when you learn the story behind it.

Matthew Beck’s hammer, emancipation papers and blacksmith’s ledger are among the artifacts displayed in the “Welcome to Weaver” exhibit currently on display at the Marion Public Library (MPL) Museum.

Beck was a blacksmith and slave who worked to earn enough money to purchase freedom for himself and then his family before moving to the Grant County Weaver community.

“That was really an important item to this man,” MPL Head of Indiana History and Genealogy Rhonda Stoffer said of the hammer. “It brings a little bit more of a human perspective ... It’s the story behind it and what the people were doing.”

The Weaver community was an abolitionist settlement in Liberty Township named after settler John Henry Weaver.

Marion NAACP President Joselyn Whitticker said a group of five men, including freed men, ex-slaves and a white abolitionist, moved to Weaver in 1820 and began clearing the swampy wilderness. Families moved to Weaver beginning in the 1840s, with some of the richest farmland in the county found at Weaver, she said.

“They had a thriving town,” Stoffer said of Weaver residents. “There was a post office, a blacksmith, a store. There was a church. There was a school. There was a race track. So it was a thriving farming community.”

Whitticker said interest in digging into the history of the Weaver settlement began in 2017 after the Hills Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was vandalized with racist graffiti. Community members gathered for several meetings and set a goal of having Weaver designated as a historical landmark.

Professors Kersten Priest of Indiana Wesleyan University and Robert Priest of Taylor University received a grant to research the community over the past two summers, and Whitticker said the research team included students, library staff, community members including Weaver descendant Norma Johnson and Rev. Al Curtis Green among many other family members and friends of descendants.

“It was a labor of love because this is our history, all of our history,” Whitticker said. “Whether you’re black or white, Weaver is a part of all of us.”

The body of research was combined with MPL’s collection of Weaver artifacts to create the exhibit.

After two years of hard work and intense research, Whitticker said three areas at the location will receive historical landmark designations with corresponding plaques.

One plaque will designate the community of Weaver. A second will designate Civil War and Mexican War veterans and other Weaver residents buried at the cemetery. The third will designate Hills Chapel AME, the Masonic Lodge and the Order of the Eastern Star.

Fundraising is underway to raise $10,000 to purchase the plaques, Whitticker said.

“The people who have worked so diligently to make this project a success, that is something to be recognized,” she said. “Just think, that’s right here in Marion, Indiana, and we dont have to go some far off place to see it.”

Stoffer said researchers have gotten through Weaver’s history up to 1929 over their time studying the settlement, and she anticipates more additions to the exhibit throughout the rest of the year.

The opening of the exhibit coincided around the 100th annual family reunion for the Pettiford family, whose ancestors were early Weaver settlers. A video of interviews with three Weaver descendants is on display in the museum lobby.

Whitticker said the Pettiford reunion is one way Weaver’s legacy is felt in Grant County to this day, as the community valued strong family bonds.

“They decided that was an important endeavor and event in their lives, and they wanted to keep it,” Whitticker said of the reunion. “How many families are still doing someting of that nature?”

The exhibit includes maps that depict land ownership of residents and neighboring Quakers. There are also artifacts from Weaver’s school, church, race track and more, along with a variety of photographs. The exhibit all together provides detailed context and information about the Weaver settlers’ lives.

Stoffer said the exhibit and ongoing research is an accessible way for county residents to learn more about their shared history and maybe find inspiration to dig more into their own genealogy.

“There’s been a lot of people coming in to see the exhibit and a lot of people that come back multiple times because there’s so much information out there that they want to take time to read it and absorb it and go back. You always see something new,” she said. “It’s good for the community to see the history of this here ... It’s been a real good experience.”