Charles Griffin Clark, founder of the freedmen’s community of Clarksville in Austin, Texas, was born a slave in Mississippi about 1820. Most likely Griffin was living in Texas by the early 1850s—the 1870 census indicated that his son Miller had been born in Texas about 1851. The family was living in Travis County when, on August 11, 1871, Clark bought two acres, situated approximately one-half mile west of the city limits of Austin, from Confederate general and former Austin mayor Nathan G. Shelley. He purchased the land for the sum of $100 under the slave name of Charles Griffin, which he later dropped in favor of the name Charles Clark, and built a house on the property located at present-day 1618 W. 10th Street in Austin. Clark sold sections of his land to other freedmen. Over time, other former slaves purchased nearby plots that were previously owned by former Governor Elisha M. Pease and land agent Max Maas, and the community of Clarksville took shape.
Recognized as one of the oldest freedmen’s towns west of the Mississippi, it was one of four such settlements in Austin, along with Wheatville, Masontown, and Kincheonville. While Clark has been credited with founding the community, not much is known about the man’s life. According to an interview with Clarksville resident Link Thompson, who claimed to be a descendent of Clark, he had a wife named Mary Smith and a son named Aaron. However, an official history printed by the Clarksville Neighborhood Association claims that Aaron Clark was his brother, and 1870 census records show that Clark, listed under the name Charles Griffin, had a wife named Francis, a son named Miller, and worked as a farm laborer. Regrettably, not much about this important man can be discerned from available records.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Robyn Turner, Austin Originals: Chats with Colorful Characters (Amarillo: Paramount Publishing, 1982). John Henneberger, Clarksville: A Short History and Historic Tour (Austin: Clarksville Community Development Corporation, 1978). Jennifer Rita Ross, The Aesthetics of Gentrification in the Clarksville National Register of Historic Places Historic District, Austin, Texas, 1871-2003, (M.A. thesis, Texas Tech University, 2003). Vertical Files, Austin History Center, Austin (Subdivisions—Clarksville).
Activism and Social Reform
Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
R. Matt Abigail,
“Clark, Charles Griffin,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 14, 2013
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: