Bexley History

Locating African Americans in Early Records

by Local History Librarian David

During Bexley Public Library’s March program, “Stories of African Americans in 19th Century Bexley,” I learned how different records identify African Americans. Then, while digging deeper into the life of Thomas Payton, discovered some of those records.

Thomas Payton was a 19th century farmer in what became the Bullitt Park development and later part of Bexley, Ohio. After service in the Civil War, Payton, born into slavery in Virginia, relocated to Franklin County and purchased 19.5 acres. Today, that property runs along Drexel Avenue.

After selling his farm land in 1889 to Logan M Bullitt, the developer of Bullitt Park, Thomas and his three daughters, Katie, Henrietta, and Leatha, moved to what is now South Bexley on 2.5 acres. The address, 850 College Avenue, was the family’s home until the mid-1920s.

When locating Payton and his family in historical records, certain abbreviations appear that indicate not only his race as African American, but also the segregation of the times.

In the Columbus city directories, Thomas first appears in the 1908 edition. Though not included in earlier editions, it is the 1910 directory that first places a “c” in parentheses after his name. Indicating “colored,” the designation serves only to separate and label an individual as different from the whole of the community.

In Greenlawn Cemetery records, the three letters “COL” are used in burial records for Payton’s brothers and sisters, all buried in single grave plots rather than a family plot. The designation is not necessary on Thomas’ burial record. When he died in 1915, he was buried in section 27, a segregated section for Blacks only.

After their father’s death, at least one of his daughters lived in the College Avenue home until 1925, after which two were listed on North Monroe Avenue in homes advertised in the Columbus Dispatch as “For Colored.”

When the Paytons first arrived east of Alum Creek, they found a farming community sparsely settled. When they moved away from the Village of Bexley, the area had transformed into a rapidly growing exclusive suburb. One of their neighbors on College Avenue would later attribute the Paytons’ leaving to a desire among the new arrivals for segregation. 

For resources related to local history and genealogy visit BPL’s website at: There you will have access to databases, including African-American Heritage and others for researching genealogy. Need assistance? Email me at