Uncovering the Legacy of Scipio Smith: Lancaster’s Hidden Legend

Efforts to Honor the Life of a Former Slave in Lancaster

In the small town of Lancaster, Ohio, the story of Scipio Smith, a former slave who broke barriers, is finally coming to light. Thanks to the tireless efforts of local historian and Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association, Michael Johnson, the life of this remarkable individual is being uncovered and celebrated. Through extensive research and a stroke of luck, Johnson has pieced together the extraordinary journey of Scipio Smith, shedding light on his contributions to the community and paving the way for future generations to honor his legacy.

A Mysterious Entry Sparks Curiosity

It all began when Michael Johnson stumbled upon a one-line entry about Scipio Smith in an old document. The description of Smith as a six-foot-four black man with one leg intrigued Johnson, and he felt compelled to delve deeper into this enigmatic figure’s story. Determined to uncover the truth, Johnson embarked on a quest to learn more about Scipio Smith and his impact on Lancaster.

Uncovering the Pieces of the Puzzle

Through local archives and historical records, Johnson gradually pieced together the narrative of Scipio Smith’s life. He discovered that Smith had founded the AME church in Lancaster, known today as Allen Chapel. Further research led Johnson to Virginia Untold at the Library of Virginia, where he unearthed Smith’s emancipation documents. This breakthrough provided crucial information about Smith’s background and journey to freedom.

Triumph Over Adversity

Scipio Smith’s story is one of resilience and triumph over adversity. Born into slavery in Virginia, he was brought to Lancaster and officially emancipated in 1821 at the age of 25. Just two years later, he founded the AME church, establishing a place of worship and community for African Americans in the town. But Smith’s accomplishments didn’t stop there. Despite facing racism and the additional challenge of a disability, he opened a tinsmith store, becoming Lancaster’s first Black business owner.

Honoring a Local Legend

In recognition of Scipio Smith’s remarkable achievements, the city of Lancaster erected honorary street signs in his name in 2023. Now, efforts are underway to raise funds for a statue to be placed downtown, near the location of Smith’s tinsmith shop. Michael Johnson, along with enthusiastic community members, has spearheaded the fundraising campaign, with 40% of the $96,000 goal already achieved. The statue will serve as a lasting tribute to Smith’s pioneering spirit and his role in paving the way for future Black entrepreneurs in Lancaster.

Inspiring Future Generations

Michael Johnson has made it his mission to share Scipio Smith’s story with the younger generation. He has visited local schools, captivating students with the tale of this unsung hero. Inspired by Smith’s legacy, some students have even started their own fundraising initiatives to support the statue project. Johnson believes that acknowledging and celebrating Lancaster’s Black history is crucial, as it has often been overlooked and underappreciated. The town’s rich heritage is filled with remarkable figures like Scipio Smith, and their stories deserve to be told and celebrated.

The story of Scipio Smith is one of perseverance, determination, and the indomitable human spirit. Through the tireless efforts of Michael Johnson and the support of the Lancaster community, Smith’s legacy is being brought to the forefront. From his founding of the AME church to his groundbreaking role as Lancaster’s first Black business owner, Scipio Smith’s contributions have left an indelible mark on the town’s history. As the fundraising for the statue continues and awareness of Smith’s story grows, Lancaster is poised to honor and recognize this hidden legend, ensuring that his inspiring journey is never forgotten.

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