Tuesday, May 24, 2011


                                             THE VAUCLUSE SLAVE AUCTION
            The former village of Vaucluse, later called Jonestown, is now a ghost village near present-day St. Marys in Pleasants County, West Virginia. According to a 1986 historical article by George Riggs of St. Marys, supported by Mrs. Jessie Radcliff's recollections of stories her grandfather told her, about 1789 a young French trapper named Pierre Vaucluse was paddling by canoe down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh on his way to the Northwest Territory’s first organized settlement in Marietta. On the Virginia side of the river, he spotted an interesting-looking hollow, found the place to his liking and built a cabin there. Others joined him and the settlement of Vaucluse grew along the southern shore of the Ohio.
            Eventually the Blacksburg Road, also known as the Northwest Turnpike, was extended westward to the little river port of Vaucluse. The road was heavily used to haul freight by horse and wagon from Clarksburg to the steamboats that began plying the Ohio River after 1811. Vaucluse had a slave auction to serve the domestic slave trade which used the Ohio to transport Virginia slaves to markets in the Deep South. Mrs. Radcliff states that her grandfather William Brown witnessed slaves being auctioned on a platform supported by a rock ledge when he was a small boy. Toward the end of its existence, Vaucluse was a busy place, with Clarksburg teamsters yelling at their horses, slave dealers bidding on slaves and steamboat whistles blasting away.
            Many disputes, often leading to violence and bloodshed, arose between suspected abolitionists and slave-owners. Mr. Riggs wrote about a slave cemetery located south of Vaucluse on the former Dye Farm, near WV Route #2 in the present-day community of Belmont in Pleasants County. The home of Arch Bradford is reported to have had a tunnel leading from the basement of his house down to the Ohio River, from which abolitionists in the area would help fugitive slaves cross to the Underground Railroad in Washington County.  The former Alexander Henderson Plantation (now the site of the American Cyanamid Chemical Plant at Willow Island in Pleasants County) possessed a number of slaves, and many of them reportedly used this tunnel.  Gangs of white men and some slaves, with bloodhounds, would beat the bushes looking for escaped slaves, only to lose them near the Bradford home. According to Mr. Riggs, the Henderson house, which is still standing within the perimeter of the American Cyanimid complex, used to have iron rings in the walls of the basement to secure the chains of errant slaves who were being punished.
            A short distance down the Ohio River at Bull Creek was a plantation owned by Solomon Harness, who purchased the property in about 1810. The owner before him had bought the property from President George Washington and built on it a cabin of native chestnut logs in 1790. The first evidence of slaves escaping from the Harness plantation is a reward posted in an 1820 edition of the Marietta Gazette, offering $100 for the capture of a slave named Tom. There were no doubt other Harness slaves who escaped between the years 1820 and 1843, when the well-documented escape of Jane and her seven children, for which this book is named, occurred.  The next plantation down-river from Harness belonged to William Corbett, who lost some of his slaves to the Underground Railroad, though details of those escapes are few and rather vague.

1 comment:

  1. This is so interesting. I saw this historical marker just yesterday but did not have time to read it. Thank you for posting such an interesting story, and for you other posts about the Ohio River valley in the Tyler/Pleasants county area. This is part of history that is missing in most books. Also, I read on an online forum that there is supposedly a slave cemetery at the Ben's Run church--that it was located in a corner of the cemetery there. I noticed last winter that there was a wooded area outside of the graveyard fence that looked for all the world like it held unmarked graves. I didn't check it out as it was snowing and I was already pretty cold. We stopped there yesterday by the undergrowth is too thick to really see anything. Do you know anything about this cemetery? Many of the Wells family are buried here, as well as Friend Cochran who I was believe was the man that Friendly was named after.