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Indy's Prominent Colored Citizens, 1880, Part 2

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

James Sidney Hinton

"A man of great influence among his own people, and occupying a prominent place in Indiana politics as well, is James Hinton. Born of free parents in North Carolina, at the age of thirteen years young Hinton emigrated to this state in 1846 and settled in Terra Haute. There he took his first lessons in the A B C’s of the English language, studying at night and in the intervals of his daily labor, for he had become a barber. (Photo courtesy of FindAGrave.)

In his sixteenth year he went to Hartford, south of Terra Haute, to attend a Friends’ school, where he remained four years. With this, his school education ended, but it is evident from his conversation that while he has learned largely from contact with men and the world outside, he has not been a stranger to the knowledge to be gained from books, also. He points with pride to his well-selected library of about 300 volumes.

Mr. Hinton is an enthusiastic member of the Masonic fraternity, and is very proud of his record in that order. On coming to reside in Indianapolis in 1856, he, together with John G. Brittan, who was Grand Master, formed the first colored grand lodge in Indiana. Up to that time the five lodges of colored men in the state had owed allegiance to the Grand Lodge of Ohio. Mr. Hinton has since held the office of grand master eight years.

He early espoused the cause of the political elevation of his race and, in 1867, when negroes were enfranchised in Tennessee, went to that State and canvassed for Governor Brownlow in the campaign of that year. While there, his fearless speeches put him in danger, not only from guerrilla bands, but, at one time, he narrowly escaped mobbing at the hands of some of his own race. These negroes had been emancipated by their master previous to the proclamation of emancipation, and, from gratitude to him, they advocated the election of their former master to Congress, he being the Democratic candidate. Mr. Hinton’s speech for the Republican candidate having produced the effect of changing the intentions of some voters, about 150 of them, suddenly appeared before his boarding-house and, with an oath, demanded that Republican negro speech-maker. Mr. Hinton, who was sitting on the piazza, turned about and, facing them, said, “If I must die, I’ll die game.” After consultation they decided to leave him until night, but meanwhile he, thinking that “discretion is the better part of valor,” walked fifteen miles to a railway station and escaped.

From 1868 to 1872 Mr. Hinton had an intelligence and real estate office in this city. In 1872 he was elected with Robert McCary as delegate-at-large to the Republican national convention which nominated General Grant. In 1873 he was elected canal commissioner, the first colored man elected to office by an Indiana legislature. He held this office for four years. Mr. Hinton takes all honest pride in possessing the confidence of the white citizens of Indianapolis, as attested by their signing the bond for $25,000 which he was obliged to give as canal commissioner. A further evidence of the estimation in which he was held by his associates is evidenced by this fact. Col. Thomas Dowling, who was custodian of the canal funds, dying before the expiration of his term of office, requested that Mr. Hinton should take charge of the funds. Bu order of the court, these funds, to the amount of $48,823, were paid to Mr. Hinton and disbursed by him with fidelity to the trust. When he gave them up to other hands, he received a quietus from the hands of the Democratic Auditor of State, certifying to the honesty with which the funds had been managed.

Mr. Hinton has cavassed the State in the interests of the Republican party in every campaign since 1870, and is well acquainted with the wishes and intentions of his people. In answer to a question, he said that the colored voters are divided in their choice of the next presidential candidate; that, while the majority favor Grant they have fears as to his availability. Personally he is for Grant if he can be elected. Blaine is his next choice.

Of 900 colored voters in the city only about fifty are counted Democratic. Mr. Hinton says that they are learning to be Yankees—in trickery I suppose he means; for while they can drink whisky in the company of agents for Democracy, and take their proffered money, when they go to the polls the exercise their right of choice. Upon one election day a disappointed Democratic leader said to a colored man, “Didn’t you drink with us at such a place on such a night, and promise to vote our ticket?” “Yes, boss, but ’twas talk then—this means business.”

Background Research

Hinton was born on Christmas Day in 1834 in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, to Samuel Hinton and Barbara Gunn Hinton. A barber by trade, he also was a politician and died while stumping at a meeting of Republicans in Brazil, Clay County, Indiana, on 6 Nov 1892. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. He and his wife Eliza (nee Indacutt, perhaps) had at least one child, a daughter named Mary B. Hinton born in about 1852.

Here's a tribute to Hinton written by John Gregg, a former state Speaker of the House and one-time candidate for Governor of Indiana:

Up Next: John G. Brittan

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