African American Transportation History: C.R. Patterson, Carriage Maker and Transportation Entrepreneur

Charles Richard “Rich” Patterson started out life as an enslaved person but ultimately gained his freedom. He went on to achieve prominence as both a carriage manufacturer and civil rights champion.

Patterson was born into slavery on a plantation in Virginia in 1833. While there are conflicting accounts of how exactly Patterson became free, census records confirm that he settled in the village of Greenfield in southwestern Ohio prior to the American Civil War. (Greenfield, which is located mostly in Highland County in the Buckeye State, served as a “station” for the Underground Railroad and that network’s efforts to help escaped enslaved persons make their way to freedom.)

Patterson initially worked in Greenfield as a blacksmith for Dines & Simpson Carriage and Coach Makers Company. Patterson eventually became foreman at Dines & Simpson and helped establish that company as a high-quality builder of horse-drawn vehicles. In 1873, Patterson and a white man named James P. Lowe became partners in a new carriage manufacturing enterprise that was first known as J.P. Lowe & Company.

In 1893, Patterson bought out Lowe’s share and renamed the business C.R. Patterson, Son & Company. The son referenced in that new name for the company was Samuel, the younger of Patterson’s two sons. Samuel worked at the company for just a few years before he died in 1899 at the age of 26. Frederick Douglas Patterson, the oldest son of C.R. Patterson, then stepped in to help run the business.

Along with earning acclaim for his work as a carriage manufacturer, C.R. Patterson made quite a few other noteworthy contributions to his community. He was active in the Greenfield African Methodist Episcopal Church as both a trustee and Sunday school teacher, for example.

In addition, Patterson struck a significant blow for civil rights after his oldest son was barred from attending Greenfield High School due to the whites-only policy for admission there. In response to this discriminatory practice, C.R. Patterson filed the court case Patterson vs. The Board of Education. In 1887 — and just a few days after the Ohio state legislature voted to allow racial integration in schools – the Highland County Court of Common Pleas ruled that Frederick Douglas Patterson could attend Greenfield High School under the same regulations applicable to white students.   

C.R. Patterson died in 1910. His surviving son subsequently shifted the focus of the family’s company from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. The reconfigured company first served as a repair shop for those more modern vehicles and then was converted into the manufacturer of a two-door car called the Patterson-Greenfield automobile.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

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