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The Tyree Family Story

October 2, 2020

At the Indiana Historical Society (IHS), we recently added some new items from the Frances O. Patterson Papers (M0470) to the African American History Digital Collection. This collection of family papers and photographs was originally donated to the Indiana Historical Society during the Black Women in the Middle West project in the 1980s. It records the history of the Tyree family, who moved to Indianapolis around 1875. This family’s rich collection of materials helps tell their story and sheds light on the African American experience in Indianapolis in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

Family patriarch Charles Tyree was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1845. He enlisted in the 14th U.S. Colored Infantry in Gallatin, Tennessee in December 1863. His enlistment papers reside at the National Archives and provided much of Mr. Tyree’s back story. In the Patterson Papers collection at IHS, a rare tin type photo of Charles in his sergeant’s uniform during the Civil War survives as the oldest item in the family collection.

Sgt. Charles Tyree, 14th US Colored Infantry, ca. 1865; Indiana Historical Society

Charles Tyree married Lucy Jane Mace in Nashville, Tennessee in 1872, according to the family’s printed record book. By 1875 they had moved to Indianapolis with Charles working as a janitor at Indianapolis Public School No. 9. By 1889, the family was residing at 421 Hiawatha Street in a beautiful Victorian-style cottage. The family’s residence, along with their entire neighborhood, was later acquired to make way for development of the IUPUI campus in the 1960s. This 1890s map from the IHS collection shows the Tyrees’ neighborhood and the original streets that inhabited the area that is now IUPUI’s campus.

Indianapolis map, 1890s; Indiana Historical Society

Charles and Lucy Tyree had 11 children, five of whom died in infancy or youth. Some of the Tyree children and their descendants remained in the Indianapolis area, but others pursued education and careers outside of Indiana. Son Louis Clarkson Tyree attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and went on to study law at Harvard and Boston University. He had a career as attorney in Chicago. Another son, Jasper Tyree, served in the Spanish-American War and later ran a café in Indianapolis. Grandson Paul Fowlkes studied photography at Alabama State Teachers College and owned a photography studio in Indianapolis around the 1950s.

The Tyree family’s story is an important part of Indianapolis, Indiana and United States history. Providing digital access to the Frances O. Patterson Papers and other African American history collections is part of the IHS mission to share history from all perspectives.

Explore this collection and others at images.indianahistory.org.

Kathy Mulder works in Digital Collections at IHS. She first became interested in history while tagging along with her grandmother who was a docent in historic Madison, Indiana.

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