Gist Settlement School
Gist Settlement Road
New Vienna, OH 45159
The Gist Settlements were African-American communities that former slaves of Samuel Gist established in Ohio during the early nineteenth century. Samuel Gist (c.1723-1815) lived in Gloucester County, England, during the early 1800s. Gist was a very wealthy man, owning an expanse of land in England and in the Southern United States. In 1808, Gist drafted his final will. He ordered that all of his slaves in Virginia were to gain their freedom upon his death, be resettled, and be provided with schooling and Protestant religious instruction, and that all of his possessions in the United States be sold to form a large trust to care for these freed men and women. After Gist’s death in 1815, the executors freed Gist’s slaves. The exact number of people that the executors freed remains unclear, but a reasonable estimate appears to be five hundred. The executors began to send letters north to find land on which these freed slaves could settle. Multiple plots of land were found in Ohio, and the former slaves moved to Ohio, where they established several communities.
These communities are commonly known as Gist Settlements. The first of these settlements was located in Erie County. The first Gist slaves may have arrived here in the late 1820s or early 1830s. After several years, they abandoned this settlement, probably due to the poor quality of land. The executors eventually purchased approximately two thousand acres of land in Adams, Brown, and Highland Counties. Thus, a portion of the newly freed slaves were sent to Penn Township in Highland County, to the future Gist Settlement. The Gist Settlements in these three counties survived into the twentieth century, but the ones in Brown and Adams Counties were eventually sold off. However, at the start of the twenty-first century, descendents of the former Gist slaves still occupied part of the land in Highland County, the last to be purchased and settled (1831 and 1835).
Trustees were appointed in each new settlement to handle the funds allotted from Gist’s trust. The trustees set about building cabins, a school house, and a cemetery to get the new settlement started. One of their first acts in the Highland County settlement was to build a church known as Carthagenia Baptist Church. Unfortunately, by 1850, it is likely that the trust funding the Gist Settlement was being mismanaged. Thus in 1850, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law declaring that the Highland County Court of Common Pleas was to have jurisdiction over the trust fund. The Gist Settlement still exists today and descendants of the freed Gist slaves still inhabit part of the original settlement; however its population dwindled greatly during the mid to late 1900s.
The original plat set aside one lot for the Board of Education to build a school. Before it was erected, Clara Belle Rollins Turner, the oldest living descendant in the Gist Settlement in 1985, remembered the Carthagenia Church being used as a schoolhouse during the week. About 1907, the original log church was replaced by a frame structure, which was destroyed by a storm in the 1950s, with the present church constructed in 1959. It is still standing, though it is abandoned and no services are held there now. The school was built in 1870, but it no longer exists. During the 1920s, the Gist Settlement’s school shut down and the Gist Settlement children joined other nearby students in New Vienna for their lessons.