Thursday, May 26, 2011


                                                              A FRIEND OF LINCOLN’S
            The last Emancipation Day celebration here in Marietta that I attended was held at the Washington County Fairgrounds in September 1945.  Only 5 years old, I couldn't really grasp the importance of the event, but one thin memory has stuck in the back of my mind.
            It was a beautiful fall day in the middle of the week, and I was allowed to be absent from school that day.  I felt special and important because I was one of two black children in my class, and one of only four black pupils enrolled at Marion Elementary School.  Ironically the other black child in my class was killed in an accident the following year at the Fairgrounds.
            There were more black people there than I have ever seen, before or since, at one time in Marietta.  Many white people also stood around on the fringes of the crowd with their hats off as the minister offered his prayer of thanks to God.  I can remember a slight breeze coming from the direction of the Muskingum River.  The county fair had recently concluded and the faint pungent odor of animals still drifted in the air.
            After the prayer the principal speaker rose to address the crowd.  I can't remember his name, but he was a tall, very black man with a well-tailored suit and dark tie emphasized by his starched white shirt.  Now, I would be stretching it if I told you I can remember every word of his speech, but I can recall these words: "Lincoln's friend."
            The speech was about Charlotte Scott, an ex-slave who had lived in Marietta with her employer, Dr. William Rucker.  The family of Dr. Rucker's wife Meg had formerly owned Charlotte in Covington, VA.  When Dr. Rucker married Meg Scott, her parents gave Charlotte to her as a wedding gift.  You see, Charlotte had raised Meg, loving her as she would have her own child.
            Soon after the  marriage, around 1855, Dr. Rucker moved to Marietta to begin his medical practice.  In spite of his southern origins,  Rucker did not much care for slavery, so he gave Charlotte her freedom papers and began paying her a salary as soon as the three of them arrived in Marietta.  For all practical purposes, Charlotte was a member of his family and that was the way she was treated.
            Charlotte had been in Marietta ten years when on April 15, 1865, the news that President Lincoln had been assassinated the day before reached the Rucker household.  When she heard the news Charlotte cried out, “Mr. Lincoln was a friend to the colored people, and he was my friend!  He ought to have a memorial built in his honor.”
            After Lincoln's assassination, former slave Charlotte Scott gave her entire savings of $5.00 to her employer, Dr. Rucker, and asked him to find a way to build a memorial for the late President.  Dr. Rucker sent her contribution to James Earl Yeatman, an acquaintance in St. Louis who was president of the Western Sanitary Commission, which provided hospital services for Civil War veterans.
            Moved by Charlotte's compassionate idea, Yeatman made the commission responsible for collecting donations for a memorial.  To gain a favorable response among recently freed slaves, he publicized Charlotte's request and donation.  Colored troopers under the command of J.W. Davidson were motivated to contribute $12,000, and another $12,000 was donated later by other freedmen.
            The commissioners then spent several years looking for a design they felt would do honor to Lincoln.  The very day Lincoln was assassinated, an American sculptor named Thomas Ball had designed a statue of the former president with an emancipated Negro.  He wasted no time in making a model of the statue and placing it in his studio for friends to admire.
            Eventually the commissioners approved Ball's design and asked him to cast it in bronze.  The result was the monumentally imposing figure of Lincoln, his left hand over the head of an emancipated slave and the Emancipation Proclamation tucked under his right arm, seated in serene majesty in Washington DC's Lincoln Memorial.
            A plaque on the pedestal reads: “Freedom's Memorial, in Grateful Memory of Abraham Lincoln: This monument was erected by the Western Sanitary Commission of St. Louis, MO, with funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States declared free by his Proclamation January 1, A.D. 1863.  The first contribution was made by Charlotte Scott, a freed woman of Virginia, and consecrated by her suggestion and request on the day she heard of President Lincoln's death.”
            Charlotte was present at the unveiling and her picture was taken and sold to spectators.  Her name was on the breath of every citizen of the United States.
            After the Civil War Dr. Rucker moved his family back to Virginia, and Charlotte went with them, eventually dying and being buried not far from where she was born.  Children pass by the cemetery on their way to school.  Although their teachers tell them of the Great Emancipator and his martyrdom, they seldom if ever mention his very special friend --even though a monument to that friendship stands today in the nation's capital.
            But I doubt that Charlotte Scott would mind that history has forgotten her.  She simply wanted to express what every person of color felt.  President Lincoln lifted the yoke of slavery from every black man, woman and child in the United States and made them citizens.  After 246 years of brutal slavery, generations of grueling work without pay; after being beaten and cursed daily with the complete loss of their African heritage; after being bought and sold like animals, denied the freedom to educate themselves and determine their own it any wonder why freedmen loved President Lincoln so?
            Every American, and especially every black American, should be proud that the sublime and inspiring monument in Lincoln's Memorial was paid for entirely by funds donated by African-Americans.  And the citizens of Marietta can take pride that it was a former resident who had the idea and the seed money to turn a people's gratitude into a lasting tribute for free people of the world to contemplate.


                                             THE BATTLE OF BUFFINGTON ISLAND
            Nearly all the major battles of the Civil War were confined to the South or the border states, the one major exception being the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.  But just a little more than two weeks later, on July 19, 1863, there was also an  important battle fought in and along the Ohio River at a place called Buffington Island, adjacent to Meigs County 20 miles southeast of Pomeroy, Ohio.  In the big scheme of things, the Battle of Buffington Island, involving 13-15,000 men, was fairly minor.  However, it was the only significant engagement fought in Ohio and is noteworthy as well for the fact that three future presidents of the United States -- James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William McKinley -- were involved.  How many other Civil War battlefields can make such a claim?
            Morgan's Raiders were essentially a guerrilla band of cavalry who terrorized southern Ohio for two weeks under the dashing leadership of General John Hunt Morgan.  Born in Huntsville, Alabama, on June 1, 1825, Morgan first enlisted in the U.S. Army for the Mexican War, in which he served as a lieutenant of cavalry.  In September, 1861, he joined the Confederate Army as a scout but soon became captain of a squadron.  Morgan began a short but colorful career at the head of his eponymous Raiders in Tennessee in May, 1862, striking behind thinly stretched Union lines with some 900 men.  He cut railroad tracks, disrupted communications, attacked detachments of Union troops, and destroyed military equipment.  He repeated these tactics in August near Nashville, where he had captured more than 1,700 prisoners by December.  By the end of the year his force had grown to a division, with two brigades and 4,000 men, and Morgan had risen to the rank of brigadier general.  In May, 1863, the Confederate Congress formally commended him and his men.
            In June, 1863, General Braxton Bragg authorized Morgan to undertake another raid in  Kentucky.  Morgan began operations on July 2 with 2,400 hand-picked men.  Within a week he exceeded his instructions, crossing the Ohio River into Indiana where he surprised a Union detachment of home guards.  He then moved east through southern Indiana and swept through the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Riding 21 hours a day, Morgan's men and horses were exhausted to the extreme when they reached Buffington Island, where Morgan had hoped to cross the Ohio River. 
            Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Union Army's Department of Ohio, had sent a 14,000-man force of Federal cavalry and infantry after Morgan's much smaller band of riders.  Following a series of running skirmishes across southern Ohio, Union forces finally caught up to Morgan at the town of Portland in Meigs County, not far from the Ohio River port of Pomeroy.  Having chosen that spot to take advantage of a ford across the river, Morgan was met by Union forces which included three Federal gunboats.
            In a day-long, running fight, 10-12,000 Federal infantry and cavalry engaged Morgan's unit in the fight known today as the Battle of Buffington Island.  Union forces commanded by Brigadier Generals Henry Judah, James Shackelford and Edward Hobson met Morgan's Raiders in the narrow flood plain on the Ohio side of the river, with the safety of Virginia enticingly beckoning the Southern cavalier.
            When the Yankee forces finally caught up to Morgan's column around three in the afternoon, Morgan requested an hour to decide whether to surrender.  Shackelford granted the truce, which Morgan used to prepare a defense.  Judah's force pinned down the Confederates, while Hobson's 4,000 troopers first flanked, then  charged into Morgan's column.  Maj. Daniel McCook, 65, and the father of the famous Fighting McCook brothers, was mortally wounded in the opening volleys of the fight.
            Morgan's men were driven back across the flat, wide-open flood plain, their line of escape across the river cut off by the Federal gunboats.  The Confederate troops had to fight their way out, finally running a gauntlet of Federal forces.  Morgan's brother-in-law and chief lieutenant, Col. Basil W. Duke, was captured as were nearly 1,200 of Morgan's "terrible men," including the commanding general's younger brother.  Most of those captured were imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.  Fifty-two of Morgan's men lay dead on the field.
            Morgan himself escaped to the northeast, again being driven from another fording of the Ohio by the Federal gunboats.  As the gunboats approached, Morgan himself was halfway across the river, with a large portion of his command still on the Ohio side.  Unwilling to abandon these men, he turned back and his force sought an escape route on Ohio soil.  Several days later, Morgan and some 300 survivors were surrounded and defeated near New Lisbon, in Columbiana County, Ohio, on July 26, to join Duke in the Ohio Penitentiary.
            Morgan escaped, however, and in April, 1864, became a commander of a Virginia unit.  He was killed in Tennessee by Union forces on Sept. 4, 1864.  His guerrilla campaign, still remembered in Southern Ohio, had helped draw off Union forces from Tennessee.


                                                      SHOOTING THE TOWN BULL
            During the last decades of slavery, from 1830 through 1865, many dramatic events took place along the Ohio River between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates.  Although slave escapes and attempted escapes were anything but humorous, incidents incited by slavery  occasionally broke through the prevailing tension along this part of the Mason-Dixon Line to make people forget their enmity for a moment.  This particular episode began typically on a very serious note. 
            On July 9, 1845, a group of abolitionists from Decatur Township in Washington County had gathered at Hall's Landing near Constitution on the Ohio’s northern shore to rescue a party of fugitive slaves that had escaped from a plantation downriver from Blennerhassett's Island.  Having discovered the plot, the slave-owner had stationed 17 or 18 armed Virginians in the bushes along the Ohio side of the river to intercept the errant slaves.
            Five slaves were captured, while one was rescued and quickly dispatched on the Underground Railroad.  However, three abolitionists, Messrs. Garner, Loriane and Thomas, were seized by the Virginians and taken to jail in Parkersburg, Virginia, where they were imprisoned without a hearing, the opportunity for bail or permission even to contact their families.  A company of militia was raised to defend Parkersburg against any armed attempt to free the prisoners.
            One night in the middle of September, while some of the soldiers were visiting a nearby sporting house and others were in the whiskey shops or sound asleep, the alert sounded down on Ann Street close to Court Square.  Within half an hour the militia was assembled and called to order by their captain, then sent to the bushes near Pond Run where an impending invasion force was thought to be gathering. The Virginians found only a deadly silence.  Even the late summer night’s serenade of insects was missing.  Nerves grew raw as the citizen soldiers quietly waited in the dark with rifles and pistols at the ready.
            Then the cry went out, "The abolitionists are coming!”  Even the captain trembled as a shapeless hulking form parted the bushes.  "Fire!" he ordered.  A hail of bullets lasting several minutes rained upon the unidentified intruder, and a horrible roar that witnesses described as a cross between thunder and a steam whistle arose from the bushes.  Then once again there was silence.
            The strain of this second silence was too much, and the formerly brave captain, followed by his loyal troopers, bolted for the safety of home.  Next morning some boys playing near Pond Run discovered the carcass of the "town bull," so riddled with bullets that  the hide was unfit for tanning.  Legend holds that for the next quarter century, the ghost of Parkersburg’s town bull would rise from Pond Run at midnight to stare balefully toward the Ohio shore where the abolitionists who had brought about his untimely demise resided.  Finally,  on January 10, 1846, six months after their capture, the abolitionists were released, but not before the incident had escalated into imminent war between Virginia and Ohio over bullshots heard from western Virginia to the Potomac.
                                                         THE END OF AN ERA
            The Underground Railroad completed its remarkable service in southeast Ohio around 1861, when many of the abolitionists who had operated it left home to join the Union Army in the Civil War.  On Apr. 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter; five days later, at a state convention in Richmond, Virginians had to decide whether to join the war on the side of the Union or Confederacy.  A majority voted for an ordinance of secession, but delegates from the northwestern part of the state returned home and held two conventions at Wheeling, on May 13 and June 11.  Declaring the government at Richmond void, the second Wheeling convention established a "restored" government of Virginia and appointed Francis H. Pierpont governor.  In a public referendum on Oct. 24, 1861, voters overwhelmingly supported creation of a new state, Kanawha.  The next month a third convention met at Wheeling, changed the name of the state to West Virginia, and began to draft a constitution.  Voters approved the new constitution in April, 1862, and a year later President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed West Virginia a state, to be admitted to the Union 60 days later, on June 20, 1863.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


                                              AUNT LUCY AND JAMES LAWTON
            This story concerns an elderly slave woman's escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad in Washington County, Ohio.  The story was preserved in the diary of James Lawton Jr., the son of  the abolitionist James Lawton, Sr., who was the participant and story-teller for the mini-drama.  The Lawtons lived at Barlow during the Underground Railroad Era. Their story is as follows:
            The story I am about to relate, though strictly true, is unique in its main features, and shows that however much a humane master might desire to make his slaves comfortable in old age, the system would not always allow him to do so.
            Aunt Lucy was a black woman about 60 years old, who belonged to an old gentleman in Virginia who was a Free Mason.  He had become reduced in property so that to satisfy a demand on him, the sheriff of the county had levied on the woman to secure the debt.
            According to my recollection of the circumstance, the sheriff, fearing to leave her near the Ohio River, took her some 12 miles back into Virginia for safe keeping.  But during a stormy night in the latter part of winter she escaped and sought her way back to her master's house on foot through rain and mud, and in consequence had a severe attack of pneumonia.  And according to the family report, she recovered very slowly.  In fact, before she was by then reported convalescent, she was found on this side of the river, with cabalistic script which she was to hand to a Brother Mason who lived some ten miles back  in the country.  Her master knew who could be trusted on the border opposite to him, and one of those soon undertook to inform the Brother Mason of the trust conferred on him.  But finding that said Brother was employed at labor a long distance from home, the agent concluded to get assistance in another quarter; so he sought out a brother abolitionist who agreed to take charge of Aunt Lucy for a time. If she had desired to go to Canada there would have been but little difficulty in the case.  But she did not desire to go North at all. She had a son, a free man living in Cincinnati who would care for her if she could be conveyed there; but it was a difficult and even dangerous task for an abolitionist to interfere in any way with the interests of slavery.
            It was in the afternoon of a day in the month of March that I consented to remove Aunt Lucy from her retreat on this (Ohio) side of the river, not far from opposite her master's residence to a more safe situation some ten miles back, and to do this work with safety, I had to take the hours of night and travel on unfrequented road -- a mere track most of the distance, as in case of any subsequent investigation, the going in that direction with a spare horse and a woman's saddle might implicate me.
            We had the woman mounted and left the river about nine o'clock in the evening, and arrived at our destination some hours later after a tedious and somewhat dangerous ride.
            After that there were some ten more days in which the woman was secluded from sight of any but the family.  In the meantime, she, as well as the rest of us became rather impatient of the situation, its uncertain termination and consequences.  By going to another part of our county, I found the Masonic Brother who was entrusted with the charge and cabalistic explanation.  But he was not equal to the task -- the fear of the slave power, even in such a fraternity, seemed to paralyze him completely.
            I now felt that I alone must take the responsibility, and in my dilemma sought to get some advice from the woman's master.  So I wrote a line to him and sent it by a trusty boy, and in reply received a very courteous, non-committal letter, the purport of which was that if Aunt Lucy was not with her friends, could I find means of getting her there?  Aunt Lucy was with friends, but neither she nor they were satisfied to have things remain in such uncertainty.
            Being summoned to court at Marietta as a witness, I had to leave home, and at Harmar was called aside by a prominent Mason who assured me that if I could bring the woman to Harmar, she could be conveyed to Cincinnati.  So I began to have a better opinion of Masonic pluck.  The Order fulfilled its promise and at the courthouse I was introduced to a theological student from Cincinnati who had been employed by the son to bring his mother to that city.  One of the true friends of the oppressed had written to the son in her behalf.
            I could not leave court, but we arranged matters for her transportation to Hills Landing below Little Hocking.  And so with the boy as a conductor, and the agent and a black man riding behind them, in seeming non-attendance, they found a boat to the care of whose captain the black man delivered his “woman,” referring that officer to the agent as the gentleman who had consented to take charge of her.  And so Aunt Lucy found Freedom, her son and a quiet home.
            Some years later that boy who conducted Aunt Lucy to Hills Landing became an itinerant preacher in the Cincinnati Conference, and at one time had a congregation made up mostly of black persons, among which, as pastor, he sometimes visited.  At the house of an intelligent and prosperous member of his church he sometimes saw an aged black woman who belonged to a different branch of the Methodist Church, and who as he thought, was rather inclined to be shy or unsociable.  So he sought to draw her out by some question regarding her former life -- whether she had ever been in bondage?  She then gave him the history of her escape, her brief sojourn in Washington County, and the manner of reaching a boat through the guidance of a boy conductor.  Of course, the preacher told her who that boy was.


                                                                THE TUNNEL MYTH
            Many stories have circulated about tunnels linked to the Underground Railroad, some of which were supposed to run under the city of Marietta.  The most persistent rumor concerns a tunnel that supposedly ran from the banks of the Ohio or Muskingum River (take your pick) to the Anchorage, a house built by Douglas Putnam which wasn't even completed until 1858.  I have spent considerable time trying to verify the existence of such tunnels even though I’m very skeptical that there were ever any longer than fifty or sixty feet, and even these short tunnels must have been rare. 
            In my experience as an operating engineer for over thirty years, excavation was my specialty; I have dug up a lot of dirt on projects all over southeastern Ohio.  Based on my observations, the soil types that exist in the Ohio River valley and its surrounding hills would make it very difficult to dig out and maintain long tunnels at a time when modern machinery didn't exist.  Where would the excavated soil have been placed so it wouldn't be noticed?  Who would have labored to put in timbers to support a tunnel's roof ?  How would a tunnel have been ventilated?  On more than one occasion, I know of workmen killed or injured when the side walls of an open trench less than six feet deep caved in where there wasn’t even a roof to be concerned about.  As a matter of safety, trenching is such a dangerous task that OSHA safety regulations require construction crews to use a massive device called a Trench Box to protect workers in trenches over four feet deep.
            Some Underground Railroad stations and safe houses apparently did have short entrance- and exit-tunnels between a cellar and a hidden ravine, for example, with an exit or entrance located a short distance from the house or barn where fugitive slaves were hidden.  These would have been used for emergencies, as when the house was thought by a stationmaster to be under surveillance.  But I believe these short tunnels, where they existed, and the often literal inference given the word "underground" are responsible for all the myths and misperceptions of a vast web of tunnels running from house to house between the Ohio River and Canada.  Unless, of course, Underground Railroad operators themselves were responsible for perpetuating the myth to confuse and discourage bounty hunters.

                                                                 JEWETT PALMER
            While fugitives slaves may have taken refuge in Marietta on rare occasions, usually in an emergency, most often they quickly passed through the town at night and headed for more remote stations a night’s journey north of the Ohio River.  Jewett Palmer operated such a station in Fearing Township and, later, a few miles away in Liberty Township, both in Washington County.  Palmer was born near Orford, Grafton County, New Hampshire, on May 18, 1797. He grew up and received his basic education on his father's farm, a typical upbringing at that time.  While he had little formal schooling, Palmer was very intelligent and a serious reader.  At the age of 16, he joined the New Hampshire Volunteers and fought in the War of 1812.  Upon his discharge after the war, he returned to the family farm in New Hampshire.
            In 1817 the Palmers began a move to Ohio, spending the winter in Butler, Pennsylvania, and arriving in Washington County in 1818.  Jewett was soon exposed to the plight of fugitive slaves from across the Ohio River trying to find their way north across Washington County.  His own family had no doubt already instilled anti-slavery sentiments in Jewett's mind, as the Palmers were closely related to William Lloyd Garrison, the national leader of the Abolitionist movement in the United States.
            In 1823, Palmer married Rachel Campbell and the couple settled on a farm at the northern edge of Fearing Township.  Although he never ran for elective office, Palmer soon gained respect as a community leader.  His character was described as industrious and upright with unwavering judgment and fearless adherence to principle; he was always a helping hand to the down-trodden and the slave.  By 1830 he was operating the Underground Railroad station where many fugitive slaves found a helping hand for the next 35 years.  Known as "Uncle Jewett," Palmer remained popular with younger people for his entire life.  Young men sought his political advice and often voted for the candidates he endorsed, who of course were anti-slavery.  In 1852 he promised a group of young voters that they would see an end to slavery in their lifetime, little realizing that emancipation would come about during his own.
            At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Palmer, by this time advanced in age, tried to enlist in the Union Army.  He was affectionately assured by the recruiter that the situation was not yet so drastic as to demand men his age, so the elderly veteran of the War of 1812 went back to his farm to tend his crops.  His son Jewett Palmer, Jr., attained the rank of major in the Union Army before the war ended.  His father lived to see the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of all slaves in 1865.  In 1873, Palmer, Sr., came in from the fields for dinner and began reading a newspaper. When called to the table he declined, stating that he would wait a while.  Suddenly his arms dropped to his side and he peacefully departed this life on earth.  But as long as the struggle for freedom and justice continues on this planet, the spirit of Jewett Palmer will live along the rugged winding trail of the Underground Railroad across northern Washington County.

                                          THOMAS RIDGEWAY’S RAINBOW STATION
            Thomas Ridgeway was born January 22, 1796, of English ancestors at Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, where he resided until he was 13.  He obtained his education by attending night school, since he worked full-time as a cooper or barrel-maker during the day, supervising the cooperage department of one of the largest mackerel fisheries on Cape Brenton Island.  Later he was employed at other fisheries along the coast of Newfoundland, and as a British sailor during the War of 1812 he survived a terrible shipwreck.
            In 1821 Ridgeway went to New Orleans to seek his fortune working in the sugar refineries, but his health failed and he was forced to return to Halifax, Nova Scotia, later that same year.  In the spring of 1822 he returned to New Orleans where he resumed his old job until autumn, then traveled to southeast Ohio’s Washington County to visit the Dyar family, distant relatives who lived on a Muskingum River homestead.  He stayed with the Dyars until spring, when he and Joseph  Dyar pushed a boat up the Kanawha River to the salt works near present-day Malden, West  Virginia.  After disposing of their cargo at a nice profit, they contracted to produce salt barrels for a bushel and a peck of salt per barrel and the following fall sold the salt along the Ohio River from Marietta to Wheeling. 
            After continuing this enterprise for a couple of years, they returned to Marietta to buy some land jointly, dissolving their partnership in about 1825 when Ridgeway settled on a farm and soon afterwards married Esther Ann Dyar, the sister of his partner.  The couple had five children before Esther died, in 1836.  Ridgeway married Sarah Doane two years later and had five more children.  The second Mrs. Ridgeway died in 1862, and Ridgeway married Caroline Johnson in 1866.
            Ridgeway, a staunch Republican, operated a ferry across the Muskingum River between his house and land he owned on the east bank of the river.  His house was an asylum for runaway slaves; he is credited with sheltering more than 50 during the Underground Railroad era.  He lost two sons fighting for the Union in the Civil War.  A civic-minded man who supported many progressive causes, Ridgeway died April 23, 1883, at the age of 87.  He is buried beside his three wives and several children in the Rainbow Cemetery in  Washington County’s Muskingum Township.


                                                             HENDERSON HALL
            One of the best examples of a plantation in the mid-Ohio River valley, Henderson Hall, is still standing between Williamstown and Parkersburg, WV, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Henderson family of Wood County were descended from Alexander Henderson, who came to Virginia in 1756.  Alexander was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and immigrated to Dumfries, Virginia, where he established a very profitable importing firm.  Before the American Revolution, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and was one of five committee members appointed to establish the boundary between Virginia and Maryland.  He was a close friend and political associate of George Washington, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and his marriage to Sarah Moore is mentioned in Washington's journal.  From Washington, Henderson acquired over 26,000 acres in western Virginia. 
            Alexander and Sarah Henderson had six sons and four daughters.  In 1797 three of the sons and Sarah Moore Henderson set out to explore their father's land holdings on the Ohio frontier.  Alexander, Jr., came to Wood County where he built a cabin for himself and his slaves before returning to Dumfries.  In July, 1799, he sent his overseer Henry Summers with ten slaves "for the purpose of effecting a settlement on the Little Kanawha River.”  The slaves were listed as Henry Bull, 48 or 49 years old; his wife Sukey, 36; their children, Heathy, 9, Lucy 7,  and Sarah, 6  months; Abram, 24; Hannah, 19, and her child Davy, 18 months; John Dingo, 11; and his younger brother Stephen.
            In 1801 Alexander, Jr., married Jane Lithgow and brought her to Wood County.  Alex hunted bear to get the $5-per-head bounty they brought and had the silver he earned melted down to make hollow ware and flatware for his bride.  Their first two children died of "bilious fever."  Their third child, George Washington Henderson, was born in 1804 at Willow Island near Bull Creek.
            George W. Henderson attended school in Marietta and graduated from Ohio University in 1818.  In 1826 he married Elizabeth Ann Tomlinson, the daughter of Joseph Tomlinson III, son of the original claimant of the site of Williamstown, whom we met earlier. At first the Hendersons lived on his father's plantation at Willow Island where they worked the land with slaves.  In 1836 the couple purchased land from Elizabeth's father and built a modest but comfortable home.  During the 1850s they constructed a three-story addition to the front of their home, and the place became known as Henderson Hall.  All the building material was produced on the plantation. The bricks for the addition were fired on site, the sandstone was quarried on the property, and the wood came from massive walnut trees on the grounds.
            Although the average slaveholder in western Virginia during the 1840s owned only five slaves, Henderson at one time owned over 30, most of whom ran away in droves.  Their escapes were well documented in the Marietta Gazetteer and Marietta Intelligencer newspapers.
            Let's look at how slavery was practiced at Henderson Hall, where trusted slaves had a considerable amount of mobility.  It’s hard to determine whether all the slaves were treated in a similar fashion, but at least two Henderson slaves, Steven Dingo and his wife Julie, were members of the First Congregational Church in Marietta.  They also made regular trips back and forth across the Ohio River to deliver farm produce from Henderson Hall to Marietta merchants,  receiving payment which they brought back to Henderson -- at least that’s what they were supposed to do with it.
            As the story goes, "Uncle Steven," as Dingo was called, began to take out small amounts of Henderson's money to put in care of a free black abolitionist named Tom Jerry who was also an agent for Marietta's branch of the Underground Railroad.  When enough money had accumulated to give them a new start in life, Uncle Steven and Aunt Julie, in spite of their advanced ages, “boarded” the Underground Railroad in Marietta and took off for Canada sometime in the early 1840s.  In 1845, another Henderson slave named Isaac Fairfax set off for Canada on the Underground Railroad, then after a year’s absence wrote Henderson this interesting letter:
                                July 13, 1846, Niagara, Canada:
                                Mr. Henderson,
                                Dear Sir,
It is not any hard usage I have met with since my arrival in Canada which induces  me  to acknowledge that I am very sorry for the manner in which I left your house without your leave or the leave of any of your family. I must acknowledge that you ever treated me kindly, so not any unkindness of yours, but longing for Liberty induced me to leave you.
If you will promise me on your honor that no punishment shall be inflicted upon    me for my offense, and I shall be on the same conditions as before, I am willing to return to you again and you never shall have any cause to repent it. I know that I am taking a risk, but knowing you to be a man of honor, even where a slave is concerned, I will place my confidence in you.  X (His Mark)
I remain Your Most Humblest obedient Servant, Isaac Fairfax
                                                I will remain in Niagara with my brother for  your answer.     
            George W. Henderson agreed to the terms in the letter and in September or October of 1846, Isaac Fairfax returned to Henderson Hall.  He remained there until the spring of 1847, when he left again, this time with eight other slaves!  A slave informant reported to Henderson that Fairfax had conspired with David Putnam, Jr., of Marietta to escape on the Underground Railroad, and a court case ensued.


                               SLAVES AND THE SHAWNEE ON THE OHIO FRONTIER
            In the late 1700s the Shawnee Indians were still bitterly contesting the encroachment of white settlers on their tribal lands.  Although the main Shawnee village was located at "Old Chillicothe" on the Mad River just north of present-day Dayton, Ohio, white settlement along the Ohio River had prompted the Shawnee to increase their scouting patrols in the mid-Ohio Valley.  Under the threat of Indian attacks, Isaac Williams, an experienced frontiersman who had served as a scout for George Rogers Clark in the Virginia Militia before the American Revolution, moved with his wife Rebecca to land given to her by her brothers Joseph and Samuel Tomlinson for serving as their housekeeper.  Fort Harmar, which had recently been completed just across the Ohio River at the mouth of the Muskingum, its tributary, in what is now Marietta, Ohio, offered some protection from Indian raids.
            According to a deposition by Joseph Tomlinson in Chancery Court at Clarksburg, Virginia, he and Samuel had cleared four acres of land opposite the Muskingum River at Williams Station (the present-day site of Williamstown, WV) in the spring of 1771.  They erected a log cabin and in Joseph's words, "planted the first corn...raised by civilized man on or about this area."  At that time the Tomlinsons’ Wood County cabin was the only white man's habitation between Grave Creek, Virginia, and Vincennes, Indiana.  Whether or not the Tomlinson brothers were slave-owners before coming to western Virginia is unclear, but Joseph had owned slaves at Grave Creek when the American Revolution broke out in 1776. 
            The Tomlinsons’ brother-in-law Isaac Williams first came downriver to Williams Station in the early spring of 1785, bringing with him a few slaves to clear land and plant crops to sustain the party through the winter.  He returned to his wife at Grave Creek the following year, then on March 24, 1787, came back to Williams Station with Rebecca to stay.  The permanent settlement of Williams Station also included Isaac's slaves and twelve white tenant families.
            For the next few years, Williams kept a number of slaves working at clearing and planting his land, while he himself spent at least some of his time at his old profession of scouting and tracking Indians.  On one occasion he followed a scouting party of Shawnee who had abducted a teenage girl from a white family who had settled nearby.  Williams traveled down the Ohio River with five other settlers to present-day Little Hocking, where he searched west along the Hocking River for ten miles before he found and rescued the girl and killed the Indians who had taken her.  After hiding from another band of Indians for two days, Williams finally returned the girl to her family.
            Williams, or the labor of his slaves, is also credited with saving the settlement of Marietta during the hard winter of 1788-89 by selling its inhabitants corn.   In 1789 he received a franchise from the state of Virginia to install and operate a ferry between Williams Station and Marietta, and his slave Frank Wycoff often worked the line that pulled the ferry back and forth across the Ohio.
            Tecumseh (1768?-1813), the great Shawnee leader who fought against United States expansion in the Midwest in the early 19th century, was born in Old Chillicothe the son of a Shawnee warrior killed fighting white settlers in the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore's War, between the colony of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo American Indian nations in 1774.  Isaac Williams was a Virginia Militia scout during that campaign.
            In October of 1791, a scouting party of Shawnee led by the young warrior-chief, who was about 16 at the time, was patrolling along the Ohio River in Wood County, which the Shawnee still claimed.  Seven miles north of Williams Station, Tecumseh and his Shawnee patrol encountered and captured Wycoff, Williams’ young slave.  He had been searching for horses that had wandered off near Kerr's Island (presently Buckley's Island, in the Ohio River adjacent to Marietta).  The Indians traveled with their captive seven miles north to Bull Creek, where they spotted Captain Nicholas Carpenter and five soldiers driving a herd of cattle toward Fort Harmar, which obtained its military supplies from the U.S. Army Supply Depot in Clarksburg.
            It was growing dark when Captain Carpenter reached Bull Creek, so he decided to set up camp and wait until the next morning before continuing to the ferry crossing.  Even though there had been signs of Indians in the area, there had been no hostile acts for months; perhaps this was why Carpenter did not post a sentry at his camp that night.  It was his last mistake. Tecumseh discovered the camp just before dark and decided to attack early the following morning.  At dawn Tecumseh and his small band of warriors left Frank Wycoff tied to a tree while they crept up and surprised the unwary soldiers.  Wycoff managed to untie himself and rush back to Williams Station to get help, but by the time Isaac Williams and a party of would-be rescuers arrived at Bull Creek, three hours had elapsed and Captain Carpenter and four of his men were dead.  One trooper was still alive but badly wounded.
            This was Tecumseh's first recorded killing of white settlers.  Two decades later in 1813, when he had not only become a great Shawnee warrior chief but Brigadier General in the British forces, he himself was killed at the Battle of the Thames River in Canada by Richard M. Johnson, a future congressman from Kentucky and Vice President of the United States (1837-1841).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


John Curtis
                                                                   ROCKINGHAM JOHN
            My black Curtis ancestors came from Rockingham County, Virginia, the same Shenandoah Valley geography as Tom Lincoln, father of Abraham, "the Great Emancipator."  In 1830 there were only about 500 slaves in Rockingham County, compared to several thousand in less mountainous Spotsylvania County to the east.  Spotsylvania County, you may recall, was the home of Kinte Kunte of "Roots" fame.
            Although Virginia was the colony that introduced slavery to America and had the largest slave population at one time, by 1700 eastern Virginia was cleared and productive.  By 1780 owning slaves had become more of a status symbol than an economic necessity.  Then the invention of the cotton gin and Congress’s ban on the importation of slaves set the stage for slave-breeding in Virginia and the United States.  But although the public revulsion which prompted the legislation -- from both moral outrage and fear of labor competition -- added fire to the abolitionist movement in America, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was still more than half a century away. 
            In the meantime, as the need for slaves continued to increase on cotton, rice and sugar cane plantations in the Deep South, their price doubled.  For example, during the 1840's when the price of potatoes was six cents a pound, and a good horse might cost $20, a prime slave could bring $1,000 or more.  Some planters in Virginia sold an occasional slave when cash was short, but others began to raise slaves and sell them to slave traders traveling around the state.
            This, then, was the setting for the escape of my great, great grandfather John Curtis and his two younger brothers from a Rockingham County plantation in about 1846.  According to family history it all began with a mule.  John, 16 at the time, and his master-father got into an argument over the master's cruel treatment of the animal.  The argument turned into a scuffle and John hit the alleged mule-abuser with a single-tree, the heavy wooden bar to which the traces of a harness are fastened so an animal can pull a wagon or farm implement.  Fearing he had killed his master, John took off with his two younger brothers: Ben, 13, and Harrison, 14. 
            Almost certainly with the help of the Underground Railroad, they made their way across the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to the Ohio River, just south of Sistersville in what is now West Virginia -- "with the dogs on their heels," according to the stories told to me by three of John's seven children.  I believe this to mean that they were being pursued by bounty-hunters from Wheeling, where there was a slave auction house.
            Although the boys managed to cross the river, they were still far from safe, with the bounty-hunters and their baying hounds hot on their trail.  Fortunately, they found a place to hole up in: Colby's Cave, near the junction of Ohio Routes #145 and #260 in present-day Elk Township in Noble County.  The only problem, the story goes, is that the cave was already claimed -- by a bear.  This isn't too hard to believe when you consider that black bears were common in the area not only in the 1800's, but are actually making a comeback in this part of the country today.  The boys were desperate for a hiding place, so John found a heavy piece of lime rock, hit the bear in the head with it and killed it!
            Now they had a hiding place, but the bounty-hunters, unseasonably bitter cold and early November snows kept them pinned in the cave, with no winter clothing and only bear meat to eat, for nearly two months.  The boys didn't dare venture out for food or better shelter because they'd be so easy to track in the snow.  But when Ben, the youngest, died of exposure, John and Harrison were determined to give him a proper burial.  Because the ground was too frozen to dig in, they covered his body with slabs of stone beside Duck Creek.
            By this time the bounty hunters had apparently already left, because it was members of the Feltner family, who ran the Carlisle, OH, branch of the Underground Railroad, who discovered Ben's body and the tracks leading back to Colby's Cave.  The Feltners had been on the lookout for runaways in need of their help ever since spotting the bounty hunters.  After finding John and Harrison nearly frozen to death, the Feltners took the boys in and cared for them until they recovered their health.  This part of the story was related to me in 1967 by Lester Feltner, then 95 or 96, whose grandfather ran the Carlisle station.
            Within a year of his arrival in Carlisle, John sent for his mother Elizabeth Curtis and the rest of her family.  Although the facts are hazy, apparently their Virginia master manumitted, or freed, the entire family, who soon arrived with their freedom papers to settle in and around Stafford, OH.  Rockingham County relatives who were free people of color, descended from indentured servants rather than slaves, came with them. 
            Rockingham John, as he became known, liked the countryside around Stafford, which he said reminded him of his beloved Shenandoah Valley.  He became a conductor on the Carlisle branch of the Underground Railroad himself in the decade prior to the Civil War; his brother Harrison worked at the Barnesville, OH, station in Belmont County. 
            During his years with the Underground Railroad, John became very knowledgeable about using roots and herbs to treat both man and beast and often had to treat sickness among his fugitive charges.  In the winter of 1863 a group of runaway slaves from Kentucky, traveling without a conductor and suffering from exposure, became lost at Renrock, a cluster of houses a few miles south of Cumberland, OH, in western Noble County.  Several of the party were gravely ill, and although John was sent for and did his best to save them, seven died and were buried on a windswept ridge above Renrock.  The survivors were taken in by the people of Cumberland, and most ended up settling there themselves.  One who didn't was a 20-year-old mulatto woman named Jane Early, who became Rockingham John's wife.  It's unclear whether Jane was one of the Kentucky runaways or an earlier resident of Cumberland when John met her.  They married in 1867 and bought a farm in Stafford, which stayed in my family until 1961.
            John's many adventures as an Underground Railroad conductor include a battle with a huge rabid dog or wolf, which he killed with a pitchfork; and a gunfight with a bounty-hunter, whom he reputedly shot to death to save not only his own life but the freedom of the fugitive slaves in his care.  But that's another, very dramatic, story. 


                                                            DAVID PUTNAM, JR.
            David Putnam, Jr., was born on May 17, 1808, at 519 Fort Street in Harmar, a section of Marietta, Ohio.  He was the son of David and Elizabeth (Perkins) Putnam, the grandson of Col. Israel Putnam, and the great-grandson of General Israel Putnam (1718-90), a farmer who left his plow in the field to go fight in the battles of Lexington and Concord at the beginning of the American Revolution.  David Putnam, Jr., was also a cousin of Brigadier General Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War veteran who led the first party of authorized American settlers down the Ohio to Marietta in 1788, establishing the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory.
             David Putnam, Jr., married Hannah M. Munson on September 26, 1833, and their marriage was blessed with seven children: Peter Radcliff, Martha Munson, Mary Burr, Catherine Douglas, Hannah Hubbard, Rufus Browning and Elizabeth Perkins Putnam.  He built his home above the Harmar Cemetery on the west side of the Muskingum River in present- day Marietta, where he raised a family amidst his not-so-secret activity with the Underground Railroad.  (The house was demolished for construction of the Washington Street Bridge in the 1950s.)  Though Putnam didn't hide fugitive slaves at his home very often, during difficult circumstances he was compelled to do so.
            Putnam acquired his antislavery sentiments from growing up across the Ohio River  from Wood County, Virginia, part of the "Old Dominion," where slavery was not only legal but  thought of as essential to the economy.  The two sides of the river began development about the same time (1785-1788), with people of opposing political views on slavery settling within sight and shouting distance of one another.  In all fairness, it must be noted that many living in western Virginia eventually came to reject slavery and seceded from the state in 1863 to form the free state of West Virginia, which remained loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War.
            Putnam was born and raised at just the right time in American history, in just the right location and with the necessary background to become a leader of the Underground Railroad. As a young man he had become personally acquainted with many of the slaves in Wood County and had listened to their fears of being "sold down the river" to plantations in the Deep South.  He began his fight against slavery as a teenager.
            When I use the word “fight,” I mean it literally.  Putnam grew up to be a tall muscular fellow who was equally comfortable settling his disputes either diplomatically or with bare knuckles, as the need required.  In December of 1845, he wrote in a letter to be delivered by William P. Cutler of Marietta to a Mr. Guthrie in Columbus, Ohio: "If we cannot catch the kidnappers, the devil will!"  The kidnapers referred to were bounty hunters in pursuit of fugitive slaves.  In 1847 Putnam was sued by Virginia plantation owner George Washington Henderson for the loss of nine slaves whom Henderson claimed Putnam had influenced to run away.  The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Columbus, was dismissed in 1852.
            Putnam was a merchant in good standing in Marietta and had many supporters who came to his defense on several occasions when he was besieged by pro-slavery advocates.  He lived to see the collapse of the “Slavocracy” a quarter of a century before he died, on January 7, 1892.  He now rests in the Harmar Cemetery below his former dwelling.

                                                         Henderson vs. Putnam
Filed in: U.S. CIRCUIT COURT, District of Ohio in Columbus,  on June 25, 1849. 
Attorneys for the Plaintive: Samuel F. Vinton and Noah H. Swain.
Attorney for the Defendant: Salmon P. Chase
            G.W. Henderson, Briar Plantation, Wood County, Virginia (Slave Owner), charged that under provisions of  the [1793 U.S. FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW], David Putnam, Jr., Harmar (Marietta), Washington County, Ohio, did illegally entice, conceal and otherwise aid (nine) Negro slaves, all the legal property of G.W. Henderson, to run away from their owner, and the State of Virginia at various intervals commencing on or about 15 February, 1846, the last instance occurring on or about 11 February, 1847.  Plaintive filed two Suits for compensation for lost property.
                Suit 1:  Asked $5,500 for the value of the slaves.
Suit 2:  Asked $10,000 compensation for causing a breech of contract (specified in the provisions of the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law) and for lost labor and legal fees.
Disposition:  The case was dismissed on October 12, 1852, on the grounds of flawed legal language in the FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT of 1850.
Ref:  INSUPERABLE BARRIERS - A Case Study of the Henderson vs. Putnam Fugitive Slave Case, by William B. Summers.  [The complete manuscript, with notes and bibliography, can be viewed at the Archives and Special Collections Room, Dawes           Memorial Library, Marietta College.]
            It is also of interest to note the career of Putnam's lawyer, Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873).  Chase was one of the best known attorneys in the United States at the time.  Born on January 13, 1808, in Cornish, New Hampshire, he was educated at Dartmouth College.  As a lawyer in Cincinnati, Ohio, he defended numerous fugitive slaves’ cases, was a leading spokesman for the anti-slavery Liberty party, and helped found the Free-Soil party in 1848. Chase was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1848 as a Democrat but separated from the party in 1852 when it committed itself to slavery.  He was elected governor of Ohio in 1855 on the Free-Soil ticket and, in 1857, as a member of the newly formed Republican party, which he also helped found.
            From 1861 to 1864 he was secretary of the treasury in the cabinet of President Abraham Lincoln.  During his term in office Chase developed the national banking system and issued the first legal-tender paper currency not backed by gold.  “Greenbacks” were used to finance the federal cause during the Civil War.  Chase resigned from the cabinet because he thought Lincoln's anti-slavery position was too moderate.  In 1864, however, Lincoln appointed him chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in this capacity Chase presided at the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.  In 1873, because he felt the decision by the federal government would endanger the rights of black people in the South, he wrote a dissent in the well-known Slaughterhouse Case