The roots of Arkansas’ largest free colored community.

by Lisa Y. Henderson

DAVID HALL (1782?-1859?), described as a “colored” and “exceedingly stout man,” settled along the White River bottoms some seven miles below the mouth of the Little North Fork in 1819, the year that Congress created Arkansas Territory. The North Carolina-born Hall and his light-skinned wife Sarah, a Tennessean, built a cabin, raised corn, horses and cows, made whiskey in one of the first stills to be seen on the upper White River, and, not least of all, tended to their growing family. An 1840 surveyor’s map shows the Hall farm, which was located twenty miles west of today’s city of Mountain Home, with forty acres under cultivation, a larger operation that any other in his township. Hall paid county and state taxes for thirty years, and these records document his relative prosperity. … [His] sons Willoghby, Joe, and James, and his daughters Margaret Hall Turner and Eliza Hall Caulder established families that expanded the free black population in Marion County. These pioneer families lived in semi-isolation and in harmony with whites, a situation that attracted other free mulattoes who settled in the vicinity, forming antebellum Arkansas’s largest free black community.

Hall and his son-in-law Peter Caulder, despite state laws to the contrary, kept hounds and firearms essential to their frontier life. … Travelign about by any conveyance was legal in the territory and after statehood, but risky for free blacks since they were under the jurisdiction of any white man who cared to exercise that authority. Despite the risk, the Halls and their neighbor John Turner occasionally traveled outside the county by horse and by boat to attend tot heir business affairs.

Land ownership was one of the few legally recognized rights of Negros in slave states such as Arkansas. During the winter of 1849, David Hall and John Hall (possibly a brother) traveled one hundrted miles to the United States government land office at Batesville to pay cash for and later receive patents on their White River valley acreage. …

The settlement lasted until the Arkansas General Assembly passed a law in February 859 entitled, “An Act to Remove the Free Negroes and Mulattos from the State.” Penalties included seizure and sale into slavery, emancipation having already been made illegal in Arkansas. The enormity of the threat was enough to overcome the tenaciousness of folks in the free Negro community. More than one hundred of them abandoned good farms and departed Marion County and the state of Arkansas, a gut-wrenching turn of events, without doubt.

Today the land patented by David Hall lies beneath Bull Shoals Lake. With the exception of weathered and nameless wooden markers placed atop a stone wall alongside the Promised Land Cemetery by the Corps of Engineers before the valley was flooded, no physical trace remains of the free black community that thrived along the banks of the White River near the Missouri border. Hall disappeared from the tax and census records in 1859 when he would have been seventy-six years old. … [by] Billy D. Higgins

Adapted from Nancy A. Williams and Jeannie M. Whayne, eds., Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives (2000).

In the 1850 census of Marion County, Arkansas: David Hall, 67, born NC, wife Sarah, 55, born Tennessee, and Mary, 18, Joseph, 12, and Henry Hall, 20, all born in Arkansas. Sons James and Jospeh are listed with theri families nearby.