Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Joseph Reno

As a rule, it can be difficult to trace the lives of African Americans in the 19th Century. But there are exceptions. Here is one from Medina's History:

Joseph Reno
Joseph Reno was born in Champaign County, Ohio circa 1812 to Francis & Rachel (Magee) Reno. He married Anna King in Springfield, Clark County, Ohio on 11 Aug. 1830 and moved to Medina by 1840.

In the 1840 census for Medina, Ohio, Joseph Reno's household includes 2 Black people: a male, 24-35 years old, most likely Joseph and one female, aged 10-24 years old, probably Anna.

In the 1850 Census, Joseph is entered as a Mulatto; age 36, born in Ohio; Occupation, barber; personal property valued at $1600; Rhoda, aged 34; born in Ohio; race not indicated, and Abram Reno, aged 27, listed as mulatto; barber; $800 in personal property.

In the May 22, 1855 Medina County Gazette: "J.H. Maxell and Alex McClure have purchased the space next to the Exchange Buildings formerly occupied by Jo. Reno, and intend to erect a splendid store, three stories high, immediately."

For the 1860 census in Medina County, Joseph is listed as 45 years old (no race indicated). He is a barber, with property valued at $1500. "Roda" is age 43.

Joseph's mother, Rachel (Magee) Reno, died in Medina on 22 May 1864 at his home.

In the History of Medina County and Ohio (1881) on page 248:
      "At another time a larceny had been committed in Medina, and Joseph Reno, a colored man, had ferreted out the thief and arrested him, and fearing that he might not be allowed to testify on account of his color, so induced the criminal to confess in the presence of a white witness as to effect his conviction. Reno was offered as a witness and the State offered to show he was more than half white, but Judge Dean would not hear any such proof and decided that, by "inspection" Reno was a "negro" and refused to allow him to testify. At that time, by the laws of Ohio "negroes and mulattoes" were not competent witnesses where a white man was a party."

In a March 1870 Gazette -- "Joe" Reno an old colored man at the American House, known to all the world and the rest of mankind as just the best fellow in the world to have around a hotel, and whose jovial countenance is never invisible, though under a cloud, celebrated the adoption of the 15th Amendment by taking a trip to Cleveland, stopping with his old friend Terrell of the Forest City House. We trust he had a pleasant visit."   Terrell was a previous manager of the American House.

And just a month later, also in the Gazette:
"At the election in this village last Monday, Mr. Joseph Reno - everybody knows "Joe" - cast his first vote. Sixty years old, and a taxpayer for may years, he now comes into the exercise of a right which all men are bound to respect. It is needless to say that Joseph voted a straight Republican ticket."  During this time period, the Republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, was considered favorably by the African American Community.

For the 1870 Medina County Census, Joseph was listed as a Mulatto, but now his occupation was listed as "Domestic Servant". In the house with him, is Hannah, aged 40 with Personal Property worth $4380. Also listed is May, aged 15, Mulatto, Mandy age 9, Mulatto and Elena, age 1, Mulatto. 

The relationship between Joseph and the people he lived with is never defined. His wife, Anna, never shows up by name in the census records with him. Joseph Reno is not listed in the index for marriage or divorce records for this time period.

The next time we see Joseph's name in the newspaper is 28 June 1872:

Erastus Hitchcock and another youth were firing a pistol across from the American House. Joseph confronted the young men about their reckless behavior as they were disturbing the peace and upsetting a sick child. They refused. Joseph then struck Hitchcock with a broom handle that he used as a cane. Erastus fired at Joe, but missed. But the second shot didn't miss.

Joseph was able to dictate his statement, before he died:

In a time period when minorities and women were largely ignored in the local press, The Medina Gazette dedicated 4 paragraphs to Joe's obituary on July 5th:

We are still searching for where Joseph Reno was buried.

1875 Medina Gazette: "Erastus Hitchcock, who was sentenced to the Penitentiary for six years for shooting Joe REno, was pardoned last week."


Lisa said...

Awesome research and great story!

Art Thomas said...

Than you so much for this fantastic story & Blog on Joseph Reno. Joseph is my 3rd great-granduncle. ...... Art Thomas