An early resident of what is now Cottage Home neighborhood was an elderly black woman named Louisa Magruder (ca. 1808-1900), whose home stood at 564 N. Highland Avenue just south of Pogue’s Run. Born into slavery, Louisa served as a nanny for Governor Noble’s family for three generations and was given this small house and parcel of land by Noble’s granddaughter after the Civil War.
Louisa’s father, Tom Magruder, was believed by many Indianapolis residents to be the inspiration for the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tom and his wife Sarah had been slaves owned by Dr. Thomas Noble in Virginia and later Kentucky, where the family moved in 1794. At Dr. Noble’s death in 1817, he willed his slaves to daughter Mrs. Arthur (Lavenia) St. Clair. Louisa, and presumably her parents, moved to work for the St. Clairs in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Slavery was banned in Indiana’s 1816 constitution and a Supreme Court case freed all of the remaining slaves in the state, but the Magruder family continued as servants for the Noble family for several more decades. In the 1820s Dr. Noble’s son Noah moved to Indianapolis and started buying property on the east side of Indianapolis. His land extended east between College Avenue (then named Noble Street) and Arsenal Avenue, and bounded by St. Clair and Washington Streets. He was elected Indiana’s fifth governor in 1831. Noble brought the elderly Tom and Sarah to Indianapolis in 1831 and built a log cabin for them at the northeast corner of E. Market Street and N. College Avenue. Louisa and her brother Moses eventually came to Indianapolis to care for their aged parents and work for the family of Governor Noble.
Although author Harriet Beecher Stowe stated that Uncle Tom was a composite character partly inspired by the 1849 slave narrative of Josiah Henson, Indianapolis newspaper accounts as early as 1857 reported that Stowe had visited the Thomas Magruder cabin with her brother Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher, a popular Indianapolis Presbyterian minister and friend of the Noble family, lived just two blocks away from Uncle Tom’s cabin and was a frequent visitor. Reverend Beecher even referred to Tom’s virtues in a Sunday sermon. Many of the names used in the book correspond to Magruder family members and Tom Magruder’s home was known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” long before Harriet Beecher Stowe published her book in 1852. [As a frustrating photographic sidenote, a late 1850s newspaper article states that the cabin was daguerreotyped before its removal and four images given to members of the Beecher family. The Harriet Beecher Stowe home in Hartford, Connecticut has no record of the photographs but I hope that they will someday surface.]
In the 1870s, Mrs. George Frank Miller, a granddaughter of Governor Noah Noble, built a small shotgun house on a lot on Noble’s former eastside farm and gave it to Louisa Magruder. This section of his farm reportedly had been the family orchard and was platted in 1865 as Davidson’s Heirs’ Addition. Now in her 60s, Louisa had raised over three generations of Noble family members and the gift of this house likely reflects the fondness that the family had for their nanny. Louisa, who had been married, lived in the house with her daughter Martha, also known as Topsy (another name mentioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The above snapshot of Louisa and Martha in front of the house was included in Jacob Piatt Dunn’s 1910 book Greater Indianapolis: The History, the Industries, the Institutions, and the People of a City of Homes. Unfortunately the book incorrectly recorded the address as 454 N. Highland Avenue which has created confusion about the home’s location, but Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show the current address would be about 564 N. Highland Avenue. As early as the 1870s, several other African-American families, including the Oglesby and Carter families, lived nearby and remained in the area until the 1940s.
Louisa’s small frame cottage was apparently demolished sometime after her death in 1900 and prior to 1915. Today the triangular-shaped parcel is a parking lot for the Masson M. Ross Company located across the street. The concrete bridge spanning Pogue’s Run is seen to the right.
Louisa’s request to be “buried with her folks” in the Noble-Davidson Crown Hill Cemetery plot was honored and her tombstone reads “Louisa Magruder – Daughter of Uncle Tom.”
Are you descended from the Magruder family? We would like to hear from you! You might also want to contribute to the Magruder Project, which seeks DNA and stories from Magruders of all colors.