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David Hall was an African-American pioneer who was part of a free black community that existed in Marion County prior to the Civil War.
David Hall left no diaries or letters, but a document trail of tax records, censuses, and folk stories reveal details about his life. He was born in North Carolina in 1783, and sometime prior to 1805, he married a woman named Sarah (called Sallie), a free woman of Tennessee. Hall arrived at Bull Shoals (Marion County) in 1819 from Bedford County in central Tennessee. He and his wife settled on the White River with the two sons they already had, Absalom and David. They would later have five more children: Willoughby, Joseph, James, Margaret, and Eliza.
Hall gradually cleared a large field of its timber in the rich bottom soil on the bank of the White River, and he had corn under cultivation by 1828 to feed his livestock and to make whiskey. Hall had the first still to appear in Marion County, and selling whiskey and deer hides allowed him to provide for his family. As his daughters married, Hall, his sons, and his sons-in-law cleared trees, planted crops, and raised herds of livestock. The extended Hall family purchased farmland from the land office in Batesville (Independence County).
Although ostensibly barred from the state by law, mulattoes, mostly from Tennessee and Illinois, were attracted to Marion County and came to farm independently, some to marry and raise their families. In the remote Marion County, free black settlers could, and did, live harmoniously and side by side with white yeomen residents. This was perhaps due to a benevolent or practical-minded sheriff in the county, one who did not enforce laws barring African Americans from possessing firearms, recognizing that their livelihoods depended upon being able to hunt game and the like. Also, land ownership was one of the few legally recognized rights of African Americans in slave societies such as Arkansas, and settlers were afforded the first rights to buy land on which they had made improvements. By 1850, at least 129 mulattoes resided in nineteen households in the county, which created the largest residential group of free blacks in Arkansas. The Marion County free black population was rural, self sufficient, agricultural, and vital. The population included a number of young adult males as heads of households. Kinship and close friendships unified the community, which embarked on additional land purchases, improvements to farms, material advancement, and education. Marion County was the only county in Arkansas, a slave state, in which free blacks outnumbered slaves.
Hall sold his land to John D. Noe, a white man, in 1851 or 1852. It is assumed that Hall, Sr. died soon after and was buried in a small cemetery on land that he had farmed near the White River.
Growth and prosperity in the mulatto community of Marion County halted after 1852. A murder trial involving, James Hall, a free African American, and a white man began the community’s downturn, and the expulsion law of 1859, formally known as “An Act to Remove the Free Negroes and Mulattoes from the State,” which went into effect on January 1, 1860, drove David Hall’s family from Marion County and from the state.
For additional information:Higgins, Billy D. “Origins and Fate of the Marion County Free Black Community.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 54 (Winter 1995): 427–443.
———. A Stranger and a Sojourner: Peter Caulder, Free Black Frontiersman in Antebellum Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2004.
Billy D. HigginsUniversity of Arkansas at Fort Smith
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated 5/3/2012
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