Tuesday, May 24, 2011

THE MASON-DIXON LINE, Part VII - AUNT JENNY

                                                                  AUNT JENNY 
     There was a slave woman known to local history as "Aunt Jenny" who lived in Parkersburg, Virginia on the Ohio River. US Highway Route 50 (then known as Arlington Pike) ran west across present day West Virginia and was used by fugitive slaves heading for the Ohio River and the Underground Railroad beyond. Because this road crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, a formidable barrier, I assume most fugitive slaves used the Arlington to access Pennsylvania rather than crossing the mountains and foothills to the Ohio River.
     From west of Clarksburg, Virginia, however, fugitive slaves used the Arlington Pike to reach the Ohio River at Parkersburg in Wood County. There they sought out Aunt Jenny, who worked with Belpre, Ohio, Conductor John Stone of the Underground Railroad in southeastern Ohio.   
      "Aunt Jenny" was really a code name; her real name was Edna Sutton, a black woman identified by Historian Herbert L. Roush in his book "THE UNKNOWN SETTLEMENT, A historical Narrative of Little Hocking, Washington County, Ohio (1789-1984).”
     According to Mr. Roush, Edna Sutton came to Little Hocking to work on railroad construction right after the Civil War. At first she had disguised herself as a man, and applied for work under the name Ed Sutton. She labored as a man on the railroad construction crew until the work moved too far from Little Hocking. Choosing to stay in the Little Hocking area, she revealed her true gender and was employed as a domestic by Horace Curtis.
     The most important clue that Edna Sutton may have been "Aunt Jenny" came from her own words when she explained that she had “blown the horn at Parkersburg.” She didn't know her exact age and had simply assumed the surname Sutton. The rest of her life she did a variety of odd jobs but always managed to take care of herself. Whatever her true name or origins, "Aunt Jenny" did a service in helping fellow slaves on their way to freedom. She died alone in Little Hocking around 1878 and is presumed buried at the Newberry Cemetery at Little Hocking.

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