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Indy's Prominent Colored Citizens, 1880, Part 3


The man who claims to be the oldest living colored citizen, in point of length of residence in Indianapolis, is John G. Brittan, who came to this city in 1835. His second wife, Chaney Lively, was brought here as early as 1816.(2)

Although Mr. Brittan is a native of a free State (Ohio) and has never felt the whip-lash of slavery, het he has borne his full share of the burdens laid upon his race by the Northern States in caste-prejudice and deprivation of privilege. Since colored men have been counted citizens in this State, he has held a controlling influence among his people, but he has never held any political office. Mr. Brittan and Augustus Turner were the first colored men to serve on a jury in the county. Mr. Brittan has long been a very active member of the Masonic fraternity and has held every office in the grand lodge. Both he and Mr. Hinton are Knights Templars. of which degree there is one colored commandery in the State. Besides Mr. Brittan there are several men of color in Indianapolis who have attained the age of three score and ten—Axum Stewart, Augustus Turner, William Franklin and Robert Jefferson, are among their oldest men. Of these Mr. Turner is ill and thought to be not far from the verge of rife.

In answer to the question whether this climate is found to be unfavorable to the longevity of his race, their physician expressed the opinion that when they once become acclimated, if their clothing and houses are equally comfortable, they are no more affected by the unfavorable influences of this climate than are the whites. And certainly an hour spent in the homes of their representative men and women shows that they have surrounded themselves with comfort and luxuries. An air of dignified refinement is perceptible, and good taste as shown by the presence of nice pictures and pretty ornaments.


1. I have found his surname spelled both ways. I will stick with Brittan, as this is how his name appears in the Journal article.

2. Lively's portrait was created by artist T.J. Reynolds in 2019 to accompany an article about the woman published on and written by Laura McPhee. According to McPhee, Lively is believed to have been the first Black resident of Indianapolis.

Up Next: "The Bagby Family: Henry and his sons, Robert B. and James D."

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