The Neil's Creek Anti-Slavery Society and Baptist Church
The Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Society was formed on Jan. 5, 1839, with the signatures of 50 men and 32 women living in and around the then-bustling town of Lancaster, Indiana –– located about 10 miles northwest of Madison, the seat of Jefferson County. Most members had moved to the area from the Northeastern United States: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; several had moved here from the slave-holding states of Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina.
The name “Eleutherian” is derived from the greek word “eleutheros,” meaning liberty or freedom. The NCASS used the term to illustrate their belief that true freedom, particularly for blacks, whether born free or escaping bondage, could only be achieved through education: at least through primary education, but, if they chose, secondary education, and college, as well.
After the society dissolved in 1845, many of its members regrouped to form the Neil’s Creek Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. About that time, the congregation invited a guest preacher to give Sunday sermons. The Rev. Thomas Craven of Oxford, Ohio, had been challenging Baptist congregations he visited to help enslaved people who were freed or had escaped to the north in search of freedom by providing them with an education.
The Neil’s Creek congregation took up the challenge and, in 1848, founded the Eleutherian Institute, with the mission to educate not just black boys and girls, but also white boys and girls living in the Lancaster area. It was renamed Eleutherian College in the mid-1850s, when it enjoyed an annual enrollment of about 100 students. That lasted through the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Many of the school’s male students and teachers enlisted in Indiana volunteer companies. Additionally, funding for the college dried up as money was needed for the war effort.
Attempts were made to reinvent the college as a “normal school,” or teachers college, through the 1870s and 1880s, but because of its remote location, it could not compete with Franklin College near Indianapolis, which also was a teachers college funded by the Baptist Church.
The building was sold to Lancaster Township officials, who established a township school in 1888. That school thrived until 1939, when Jefferson County began consolidating its schools.
The building then stood empty, used mostly for storage by a local farmer who owned the property until 1991, when it was sold at auction and became the property of Historic Eleutherian College Inc. Since then, it has undergone repairs, structural stabilization and some interior restoration. The building today is open by appointment to anyone who wishes a tour.