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Saline County Century Farm: John Black family settles here following Civil War

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

During the 2010 celebration and recognition ceremony in November, the John S. Black family had two family farms honored as Saline County Century Farms. From left are: John S. Black, Joe Summers, Lilly Summers, Tori Summers, Isaac Summers and Saline County commissioners Dick Hassler and Norvelle "Brownie" Brown.
It was 1865 and the end of the Civil War when John L. Black moved his family to Saline County in the middle of the night, leaving from his Knox County farm in northern Missouri.

"They loaded up one night in the darkness and they came down here and they bought the farm," said his great grandson John S. Black, who still farms the land. The danger that forced them to relocate was because Black, born and raised in Virginia, was a known southern sympathizer, although he didn't support secession and hadn't fought for either side, according to an article about him in the 1881 Saline County history book.

He and his wife Nancy J. Porter, daughter of David Porter, one of the members of the constitutional convention, moved with their large family to a farm near Slater.

At that time, many of the Saline County landowners were also southern sympathizers.

Black purchased 670 acres for $2,000 cash, according to his great-grandson.

The farm was split around 1932, but both of the farms, one of 185 acres now owned by John S. and another of 338 acres in a Black family trust, were recently honored as Saline County Century farms for being in the same family for 100 or more years.

Contributed photo Below: John L. Black with the steam engine he used to thresh wheat. The photo is one of a collection Black's son, John S. Black has as part of the family history.
According to the 1881 history book, the war had been a "great drawback" to John L. Black and his family, which included 11 children.

His great-grandson has a framed copy of the long list of items the federal army "procured" from Black while he was farming in Knox County.

"He listed them. He was in hopes of getting them back," said John S., who said they took some things in August 1861, and then more items in November 1861. The long list included a mare, as well as tack and several food items.

"I don't think the Union ever paid him back," John S. said.

After settling in Saline County, however, Black became a longtime farmer in the area, building a "well-stocked and well-improved farm" according to the 1881 history book.

He also became a stockholder and director of the Miami Bank.

One of his sons, Sam L. Black, purchased the land from his brothers and sisters and continued farming, with his wife, Iza Jane Black. He later became a director of Wood and Huston Bank.

According to family stories, Sam L. was "big into cattle."

"They said he would get them brought in to Norton on the rail car and they would start unloading them and when the last animal came off the cars, the first one was going on to the farm," recalled John S.

The next Black to farm the land was John S. Black's father, John L. Black. He and his wife, Nell Lucille Scott Black, had an infant son who died at birth; a daughter, Virginia (Page); and then John S. in 1941.

However, three months before John S. was born his father died in a car accident. In fact within a year and a half, his grandfather and uncle died as well. He does remember visiting his grandmother, who lived in the large family home nearby.

His mother, Nell, whose own ancestors were also early settlers of Saline County, raised John S. and his sister on the farm by herself, renting out the farmland.

"She went through quite a bit of hardship," he said.

What he knows of his father, who was 34 years old when he died, comes from pictures and family stories.

One picture of his father was taken when he was a young man, in front of a steam engine which he used to thresh wheat.

"He ran a threshing crew," said John S. His father had purchased the steam engine from a man named Boland, who had used it to plow several acres of ground in the Van Meter and Malta Bend plains.

"They had gang plows," he explained. "They could plow with 10-12 bottom plows."

He said his mother eventually sold the steam engine to the city of Slater, which buried it under a tank and was going to use it to heat up tar to pave the roads. However, it turned out to be too small for the job and Black thinks the steam engine was sold to a scrap yard.

Growing up on the farm, John S. said they always had show cattle and his mother "loved her short horns."

He said she kept he and his sister busy with 4-H and other activities and one year he had reserve champion short horn at the American Royal.

Besides livestock, his mother also made sure they had a well-rounded education through 4-H, and he did other projects such as gardening and flowers.

"She was a good mother," he said.

Growing up on the farm he also remembers the threshing machines, which by then no longer powered by steam engines.

"They used an L.A. Case to power the threshing machine and I would go out and play on the stacks of hay," he recalled.

After graduating from Slater High School and attending a semester of college, Black came back to farm.

"I farmed with a couple of fellas one year. I decided I wanted to farm on my own and my mother decided she would let me farm on my own," he said. "She put faith in me and I came through."

Black still farms the land, along with some part-time help. He no longer has cattle on the farm, but his son-in-law, Joe Summers, does keep cattle there.

On the land is a small cemetery, which is fenced off, but has no name-markers. Black thinks it was probably pioneers who died while passing through on the Santa Fe Trail, which goes through the farm.

"In fact, if you go down to the woods (on the farm) you can tell where the trail used to be," he said.

Black has a lot of history books and memorabilia from his family, including three family bibles his mother kept. His family tree traces back to Sam Houston and he has several other articles and leather bound books about his ancestors.

Black's family now includes one daughter, Tori Summers, her husband, Joe, and their children, Adrian, Allea, Issac and Lilly. His son, John A. Black, lives in Leawood, Kan., with his wife, Susan, and two daughters, Nelle and Isabella.

His sister, Virginia Black Page, now lives in Bowling Green, Ky.

Contact Marcia Gorrell at


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John--I am sure Mrs. Black was a great Mother AND I am here to tell you how my girls enjoyed her as a 4-H leader. I really think she enjoyed teaching crafts as much as the girls did making things. She was always buying something for her 4-H'ers to try--some projects worked--some didn't, but Mrs. Black was always there laughing and cheering them on!! She was also as excited as anyone at the Saline County Fair when "her kids" got their ribbons and was thinking what are we going to do for next year's fair. Quite a Lady!!

-- Posted by farmerwife on Wed, Dec 22, 2010, at 1:59 PM

Another great story about a great family farm!!!!!

I really enjoy reading these!

-- Posted by Gal66 on Wed, Dec 22, 2010, at 11:24 AM

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