• Sharleen Wurm

Tom was born into slavery; he escaped with the help of friends by the underground

Thomas Wells


The history of any community may be likened to a patchwork quilt, made up of bits and pieces of bright and somber hues. One of the brighter pieces is the story of Tom Wells and his wife, Mandy.

Tom was born into slavery; he escaped with the help of friends by the underground. During the war between the states, he joined Company E 55th Massachusetts Infantry. When the war had ended he came to Decatur County and took up a homestead in the Vallonia neighborhood. Upon his arrival he was uncertain of his welcome in a white community. Also fearful that he would be robbed of the few hundred dollars, his entire worldly goods, which he carried in his pocket. He was allowed to sleep in the barn of a settler and they noticed that he could scarcely keep his eyes open and upon questioning him, they found, due to his fears, that he had been doing without sleep for several nights and they assured him that he was safe with them.

After establishing his homestead rights he returned to the South where he took himself a wife, his first wife, mother of his sons, having died. He was a good farmer and grew prosperous, but when the day came he could receive his soldier's pension, he gave up farming and bought a small home in Oberlin. At first there were a few complaints about living next door to a colored couple but as time went by, they were accepted and became two of the town's best loved citizens. When other colored people came through and expressed a desire to locale in Oberlin, Tom was most emphatic in assuring them that it was a white man's town and that they might have to leave at any time, under the cover of darkness. While his place in the community was no assured, he feared that if more of his race moved in, they might also become unwelcome.

Tom had a decided green thumb and he was pressed from all sides to do yard work. His reply was "No Sir! I’s retired."

Mandy was of a shy, retiring nature, seldom appearing in public. There are still residents who remember her cookies, of which she was most generous. There were two occasions when she did make an appearance and those were Decoration Day and the Fourth of July, always wearing the same changeable taffeta dress, with many starched petticoats beneath.

While still living on the homestead, Mandy like most pioneer wives, set the table with her butter and egg money. On this occasion, Mandy had just brought in her weekly supply of butter when one of the uppity ladies of the town came in, demanding the best butter in the store. The store-keeper assured her there was no sweeter, better butter on the market than that made by Mandy. Scornfully the lady informed him that indeed, she would not eat butter made by dirty, black hands. Mandy, being the true lady that she was, calmly replied that perhaps her hands were black but her soul was as white as anyone’s and with that remark, made a dignified exit.

Thomas Wells was born in 1840 and died in 1916; Mandy Wells was born in 1867 and died in 1921. Little did Tom ever dream that the day would come when an oil painting of him, done in 1913 by Rena Fox Reeder, would hang in the Decatur County Last Indian Raid Museum in Oberlin. They were both buried in the Oberlin Cemetery. ---Taken from the files of the Decatur County Museum

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