Tour B 5. Josephine Dupee House

dupee 1

Mrs. Josephine Dupee.
Image Source: Bethel Archive

Across West Street, was the site of 1887 home of Bethel AME parishioner Josephine Dupee, who exemplifies the life on African Americans who moved to Indianapolis during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Dupee moved to Indianapolis in 1864 after her husband joined the Union army.  She joined the church, and was an active lifelong member. She died in the Colored Deaconess Home, created and funded through the AME Church, in 1934.

Josephine Dupee was born c. 1850 in Kentucky to parents from Virginia, though little else is known of her early life.[1] The records of African American marriages during the Civil War is limited, however, due to chaotic nature of Union Army camps and the changing policy of the army to “contraband,” the term given to African Americans fleeing slavery to the Union Army.[2] Enlistment Records suggests that her husband was Alexander Dupee, born c.1841 in Fayette, Kentucky, enlisted in the 8th United States Colored Troops March 1865 in Lexington, Kentucky.[3] While records are limited, it appears that he was mustered into the 41st US Col’s Infantry, serving with the Army of the Potomac. Many recruits during this period were mustered into existing regiments to fill ranks after the devastating summer of 1864 campaigns.[4] Dupee reported, in a 1929 biography printed in the “Bethel Weekly Bulletin,” that she came from Louisville to Indianapolis July 17, 1864.[5] Wives of soldiers being forced to leave the camps surrounding Louisville during this period, and controversy over the church burning confirm that there were records large Black migrations to city.[6] The timing just a week after the fire may account for her memory of the exact date of her arrival in Indianapolis, and joining the church July 26, 1864 at a revival by Rev. Dr. Willis Revels.[7]  The Church struggled to meet the needs of all newcomers, and church minute books from the 1870s show that she is listed in on a list of widows receiving support from the Church.[8] She was one of hundreds who joined the church and Sabbath schools operated by the AME Church across the city. Many blacks pointed to access to education as the most important issue in the Reconstruction period, with the church not only sponsoring schools but holding meeting to push for equal access to education.[9]

Wedding photo, unknown soldier USCT.  Image Source, Courtsey of Cowan's Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Wedding photo, unknown soldier USCT.
Image Source, Courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The story of Josephine Dupee has a much happier ending than many of the refugees in Kentucky during the war and in Union Camps across the South.  In Kentucky, many former slaves flooded into camps at Fort Nelson and Louisville, and the men were often required to enlist.  This left women and children stranded into crowded the Union Camps, with little way to support themselves and few passions.  Union officials offered limited support for these children, women and elderly people, and thousands died from disease and starvation in their first months of “freedom.” Families that traveled north to free black communities fared better, connecting with Quaker and Black Churches, extended families and the charity of the Freedman’s Aid Society. In a gruesome monument of irony, historian Jim Downs reveals in this groundbreaking volume, Sick from Freedom, the deadly consequences of self-emancipation for hundreds of thousands of freed people.[10]

This neighborhood that was torn down in the 1960s as a part of Urban Renewal has once again returned to its residentail character, though  the street patterns have changed.

This neighborhood that was torn down in the 1960s as a part of Urban Renewal has once again returned to its residential character, though the street patterns have changed.

It appears that Dupee was never able to own her own home, living in a variety of small frame houses across the city, such as the one still surviving in the Ransom Place Historic District, including in 1880 136 N. Liberty St, in 1887 175 W. North Street, and in 1911 413 W. 10th Street.[11]  In 1888, for the Annual Conference she hosted a delegate at her home 1888 218 E. Howard Street. [12] In a difficult period of discrimination based on race and gender, black women drew strength from their position in the AME Church Community.[13] As single women, her financial position may have been quite precarious forcing her to take a number of different jobs over the years, reporting that she was a Janitor in an office building in 1920.[14] Dupee was active for the rest of her life in the AME Sunday Schools and various clubs, serving an important function in offering both education and fellowship for Black women.[15] Denied education during the childhood of slavery, she proudly reported in the census that she was able to read and write. [16] In 1930, at 80 years old, she lived in “AME Colored Deaconess Home” in Indianapolis with five other women.[17]  The AME Church provided a social safety net for many congregants, when they were denied assistance by local governments.[18] She died in November 7, 1934 and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.[19]

8. Site of Josephine Dupee House- c. 1887

Forge History

Forge History

Help move a “community towards self-sufficiency” with the Flanner House.
Image Source: Bethel Archives

Image Source: Bethel Archives


[1] Age based upon report in Ancestry.com., 1920 United States Federal Census, [database on-line]. Provo, UT, Accessed April 26, 2013.

[2] Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), 157–158.

[3] Ancestry.com., U.S., Descriptive Lists of Colored Volunteer Army Soldiers, 1864, 1920 United States Federal Census, [database on-line]. Provo, UT. Accessed April 26, 2013.

[4] His fate is unknown, though there were very high casualty rates among the USCT regiments and the 1870 Census lists Josephine as a widow.“41st Regiment United States Colored Troop,” accessed April 26, 2013, http://www.pa-roots.com/pacw/usct/41stusct/41stusctorg.html. For the military experience of black soldiers, see for example John David Smith, Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2004); Richard Slotkin, No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, 1st ed (New York: Random House, 2009); Kevin M. Levin, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder (University Press of Kentucky, 2012).

[5] “Bethel Weekly Bulletin,” July 28, 1929, Bethel Archives, Indianapolis, Indiana.

[6] Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012), 16–21.

[7] “Bethel Weekly Bulletin.”

[8]  Minute Book 1871-1873, Bethel Archives, Indianapolis, Indiana.

[9] Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: a Study of a Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 320–338.

[10] Downs, Sick from Freedom.

[11] Indianapolis City Directories, IUPUI Digital Archives, accessed April 26, 2013.

[12] The Christian Recorder, April 13, 1888.

[13] There is a large literature on African American women and AME Church, for example see Julius Bailey, Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900 (University Press of Florida, 2005); Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in Black Baptist Church 1880-1920 (Harvard University Press, 1993); Jualynne E. Dodson, Engendering Church: Women, Power, and the Ame Church (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).

[14] Leslie A. Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 135–141; Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, 339–332.

[15] Earline Rae Ferguson, A Community Affair: African-American Women’s Club Work in Indianapolis, 1879-1917 (Indiana University, 1997).

[16] 1920 United States Federal Census.

The Ransom Place National REgister Distrct, historcally home to many parishioners,  sugggests the apperance of the thoulsands of workign class homes demolished as part of urban renewal, hospitol and university expansion.

The Ransom Place National Register District, historically home to many parishioners, suggests the appearance of the thousands of working class homes demolished as part of urban renewal, hospital and IUPUI university expansion.

[17] 1930 United States Federal Census.

[18] David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (Indiana University Press, 1994), “Bethel AME Church.”

[19] “Josephine A. Dupee,” Find-a-grave.com, Accessed April 26, 2013.