FORGOTTEN: Africa, Ingham County – Settled by Abolitionists, 1860
Yep, at one time, there was a settlement in Michigan called 'Africa' (sometimes called 'Little Africa'). It was located around the junction of Sherwood and North Branch roads in Ingham County's Williamston (then 'Williamstown') Township.
Michigan Place Names says that back around the time of the Civil War, a group of settlers set up homes on the land that surrounds the old one-room Branch Schoolhouse not far from the north bank of the Red Cedar River. One of the more prominent families were the Webbs: Charles, brothers George, James, John, William, and their sister Susanna Winslow. The Webbs had been residing in Washtenaw County but crossed the line into Ingham, hoping to find a permanent home.
The Webbs were abolitionists and very vocal about their feelings about slavery. Other nearby residents who lived in this area during the Civil War shared the same feelings as the Webbs; therefore, they all decided they should name this little district “Africa” to show their support.
Africa never became a hamlet, burg, village, town, or city. It was a community, sort of a small colony, and it never, ever appeared on any maps or atlases. Even though they adopted the name 'Africa' for their community, it was never made official and never recorded. It was more of a school district than anything else.
As for the Webbs, you can easily see their names listed on the atlases below. John Webb was a charter member of the Williamston Lodge when it formed in 1864. James Webb was elected treasurer of the township in 1879.
The Webbs were followed by two other brothers who decided not to live close to the others; rather, they went to Dansville and began practicing medicine. They remained in medicine for a good number of years and also made a prosperous living as farmers.
The one-room schoolhouse still stands, on the corner of Sherwood and North Branch roads. West of the schoolhouse is Foote (Branch) Cemetery, where most of the early settlers are buried, including James and John Webb.
The schoolhouse and graveyard are the only two reminders of a place once called 'Africa, Michigan'.
Take a look at the photos below.
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