historic marker side 1

Mary Bateman Clark was born a slave in Kentucky in about 1795 and brought to Knox County, Indiana n 1815 by Benjamin J. Harrison, believed to be a relative of William Henry Harrison, the first governor of the Indiana Territory and the 9th president of the United States.

The following year, she was emancipated only to be immediately indentured to Benjamin J. Harrison. Slaveholders emancipated then indentured their slaves to get around the territorial laws banning slavery. 

In 1816 her indenture was sold for $350 to General Washington Johnston (Benjamin J. Harrison’s uncle) who was an official and founder of masonry in Knox County. He was also a lawyer, judge, representative and speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives and he was from a Kentucky slave-holding family.

In the following years Mary married Samuel Clark, a hostler for William Henry Harrison, had children and became one of the founding members of Bethel AME Church at Vincennes. The couple had at least 12 children.

Whether or not under her own volition or by being chosen by anti-slavery forces, Mary filed legal action which led to her emancipation. Her attorney, Amory Kinney, was so harassed for taking the case that he moved to Terre Haute. Both he and Mary were assaulted for their roles in this and other freedom cases.

In June 2009, Mary’s ancestors, city and state officials and others dedicated a marker in Mary’s honor at the Knox County Court House.