Monday, June 20, 2011


Another of the historical markers for which Henry Burke is responsible in collaboration with the Ohio Historical Society. This one was erected in 2003 at the Quaker Meeting House in Chesterhill, Morgan County, OH. The text reads, "Despite the fugitive slave laws that prohibited harboring runaway slaves, fugitives found refuge in the Quaker village of Chesterfield, now Chesterhill. Legend tells that no runaway slaves were ever captured here, although many were hidden and helped on their way to freedom in Canada. A well-organized branch of the Underground Railroad ran through Morgan County with Elias Bundy as a principal conductor. Bundy sometimes concealed fugitive slaves in the woods east of Chesterhill. Historian W.H. Siebert says Bundy, Jesse Hiatt, Nathan Morris, Abel W. Bye, Joseph Doudna, Arnold Patterson, and Thomas Smith “belonged the inner circle of old and reliable Friends (Quakers) upon whom dependence could always be placed.” The first Monthly Meeting was held on October 21, 1834 at the location of the present Me3eting House, which was built in 1839."


            We've heard the stories of Jane and "Uncle Tom", both of whom escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad; perhaps it's time to sketch in some historical background.  How did slavery, and heroic resistance to this evil chapter in the larger story of our nation's history, gain a foothold in early America, land of the free?
            Like most settlers, the first Africans came here not as slaves but as indentured servants.  On a Dutch trading ship in 1619, between 20 and 30 black immigrants, probably from West Africa, arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English Settlement in the Colonies.  Founded 12 years earlier by an expedition of 104 men led by an overbearing little sea captain named John Smith, the Virginia colony was teetering on the brink of survival.  But the new arrivals, followed by thousands of black servants like them and, eventually, some four and a half million African slaves, were about to solve a very big labor problem.
            The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) had secured a charter from the English Crown to look for precious metals in North America.  Wealthy stockholders, or "governors", were appointed leaders of the commercial venture, which the company had named the Virginia Charter after Queen Elizabeth I, the "Virgin Queen", whose reign ended in 1603. 
            America's first labor-management disputes, reflecting the severe working conditions -- and absence of gold -- in the Colonies, prompted the London Company to grant European settlers who had worked off their period of indenture a few acres of land each; and in 1619 the company initiated plans to send a ship full of eligible young women to be their wives.  Although 1620 may be more familiar as the year the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, 1619 was as momentous in American history.  Yet another notable event that year was the formation of America's first representative legislature, the House of Burgesses, in response to the newly freed European settlers' demands for a voice in their own political affairs.  But none of these amenities applied to those who were still indentured; black or white, they were often treated harshly. 
            Indentured servitude was not only a provision of English common law permitting debtors and criminals to be sold into servitude for up to seven years; it was also a way for the destitute to finance their passage to the New World.  Initially, African indentured servants had the same rights as their European counterparts -- with the significant exception that they were granted no land when they were freed, as Europeans were.  This also excluded blacks from voting, through protective legislation mandating ownership of land as a requirement for voting rights -- enacted by the new European-American gentry who had only recently been indentured servants themselves. 
            As the Africans' labor became increasingly more valuable in the Colonies, particularly on Tidewater tobacco plantations, the duration and severity of their servitude was extended until it finally became permanent slavery.

                                            TOBACCO: THE PARENT OF SLAVERY?
            Native Americans had been smoking tobacco in pipes long before Columbus's time, but the plant was unknown in Europe until the explorer returned with some tobacco seeds from the New World.  Then it was grown by European farmers for the next century or so primarily for use as a tranquilizing medication.  Tobacco was first cultivated commercially in North America in 1612 by John Rolfe, an English planter who developed a mild strain in Virginia, from seeds he'd brought from South America, as well as a method of curing it.  Controversial even then -- the Puritans considered tobacco a dangerous narcotic, and James I referred to it as an "uncomely evil" and "that damned weed" -- the plant grew exceptionally well in Virginia's soil and climate.
            It was Rolfe, not John Smith, who two years later would marry Pocahontas.  In the meantime, he created a sensation in Europe with his new smoking tobacco.  To satisfy the increasing demand for it in Europe, by 1621 every settler in the colony was required to meet a yearly quota of 1,000 tobacco plants, which with an average of eight leaves per plant yielded about 100 pounds of dried tobacco leaf.  In 1623, 60,000 pounds of tobacco were cultivated for export with the labor of both black and white indentured servants. 
            Africans, however, were much more capable of tolerating the hot, grueling work of clearing the land of timber, converting swamps to cropland and cultivating the tobacco and semi-tropical crops like cotton and sugar cane for which the New World was so suitable.  And the agricultural wonders being wrought by a stable African labor force began to attract more and more white emigrants from all over Europe.  By the time John Tucker, the first African-American, was born in 1624 -- the year Virginia became a royal colony -- the number of African indentured servants had grown considerably, their economic importance measured in the increasing amount of tobacco being exported. 
            Perhaps the knowledge that the Spanish and Portuguese were holding Africans in bondage for life in Central and South America and the Caribbean encouraged English landowners to enact laws restricting the freedom of Africans.  In any case, in 1635 the Virginia Assembly (the House of Burgesses plus the governor and his council) made it a capital crime for an African to disobey an order given by a European.  The result was slavery for Africans arriving in Virginia after that time. 
            A significant number of Africans had already been freed, however.  Some returned to Africa, some stayed in Virginia, the rest drifted into other colonies to work as sharecroppers or at such menial work as they could find.  With the institution of slavery well in place in Virginia by 1650, other colonies as far north as Connecticut followed suit and acquired African slaves of their own to work in cultivating tobacco.
            During the rest of the 1600's in the developing Carolina colonies, slavery began to become increasingly more repressive.  Southern plantations tended to be isolated and self-sufficient, each like a little kingdom unto itself.  Wealthy Europeans were now comfortable living in the New World after the initial wave of settlers had managed to push the native Americans farther west, and African slaves had cleared most of the coastal swamps teeming with mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria and yellow fever.  These European planters lorded over their plantations like absolute monarchs.  Meting out punishment with impunity, they held the power of life and death over their slaves.

                                             CLIMATE, AGRICULTURE & SLAVERY
            After years of research I have concluded that, due to climate, two distinct forms of slavery diverged in the colonies.  Starting in Virginia and moving north, tobacco was the most important crop for the first century of English colonization.  Its reliability as a staple crop, however, diminished the farther north it was planted. 
            Although tobacco requires a fair amount of attention, crops like cotton, rice, indigo and sugar cane, which need the hot wet climate that prevailed in the southern colonies, are extremely labor-intensive; and more African slaves, who could tolerate this kind of climate, were required to cultivate them.  Combined with the relative isolation of the Deep South's plantations, this spawned the use of extremely cruel methods to control slaves.  To add to the problem, the rich planter class encouraged the help of those without slaves in case of insurrection.
            From Virginia northward, however, slavery developed in a different manner.  From the very beginning Virginians were relatively tolerant with their slaves.  Many slave masters cohabited with their slave women to produce mulatto children.  ("Mulatto" is derived from a Spanish word meaning "cross-bred.")  It was not unusual for the master in this part of the country to set his mulatto children free to avoid embarrassment.  By 1700 a sizable population of free mulattoes lived in America, many in such northern cities as Philadelphia, Boston and New York.  Neither white nor black, entirely free nor entirely slave, free mulattoes were for the most part descendants of freed African indentured servants or children of masters and their slave women. 

                                                       FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
            Generally restricted to their own communities and activities, these "free people of color" developed their own subculture, which offered little social interaction with the swelling numbers of new European immigrants.  Nonetheless, some free blacks gained influence in the north, especially in religious matters.  As an instigator of the "Boston Massacre" of 1770, Crispus Attucks, probably the descendant of freed African indentured servants, gained posthumous fame as the first American killed in action in the Revolutionary War.  Both the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad started in earnest after the American War of Independence.
            Another subculture developed among free African-Americans in the western region of Virginia, where a large group of very light-complexioned free mulattoes formed small farming communities in the vicinity of Philippi.  In general they got along well with native Americans and there was considerable intermarriage between the two cultures. 
            Some free mulattoes were offspring of European men who had married African women and moved west to avoid racial harassment.  On the western edge of the advancing American frontier these people developed their own rural subculture based on anti-slavery sentiments -- particularly after 1787 when the U.S. Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, named for the vast tract of land that would eventually become five Midwestern states and part of another.  Slavery was outlawed in the new territory. 
            Later, in Cutler, Ohio, a community in western Washington County a few miles north of the Ohio River -- which divided the slave state of Virginia (now West Virginia) from the free state of Ohio -- their descendants, along with white abolitionists, would help many fugitive slaves find their way through the rugged countryside of southeastern Ohio to freedom.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


            The above plaque, erected at the Ohio River Museum in 2008, is one of 24 for which Henry Burke secured funding from the Ohio Historical Society. (Two others were funded by the West Virginia Division of Archives and History.) All were made by Sewah Studios of Marietta, OH.
          The text reads, “James Davis (1787-1862) was born in Harmar (Marietta) and was the first documented African American born in the Northwest Territory. During his adult life, he became an Underground Railroad activist in Dayton, Ohio. David Putnam, Jr. (1808-1882), a great grandson of General Israel Putnam, was born and raised in Harmar where he later conducted Underground Railroad activities. Francis Dana (Barker) Gage (1808-1884), daughter of Colonel Joseph Barker, was born in Marietta and became a leading figure nationally with the Abolitionist, Temperance and Women’s Suffrage Movements. Faculty and students from Marietta College became active in the Washington County Anti-slavery Society when it was formed in 1836 at the college. Charlotte Scott, a freed slave living in Marietta at the time of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, suggested placing the Emancipation Monument in Washington DC to honor Lincoln. She donated the first five dollars to raise funds culminating in an 1872 dedication ceremony.”

                                James Davis (1887-1862), a Melungeon    
       James Davis, who is still fresh in the minds of many Daytonians, was the first Afro-American (Melungeon) born in the state of Ohio. He was born at Harmar Village, (Marietta, Ohio) on March 6, 1787. He came to Dayton when he was quite a young man, and soon became a leader in the community. He was one of the leading hunters in Ohio and had the credit of killing the largest bear of his day. He was also the leading violinist and barber in Dayton, and the first president of the American Sons of Protection, the oldest benevolent society for free blacks in the city, which he helped to organize in February, 1849.
       On November 6, 1811, he shaved General W.H. Harrison while the general sat upon a log. The next day the great battle of Tippecanoe was fought, and the red men of the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh killed upward of sixty men of Harrison's army with more than a hundred wounded.
       Father Davis, as he was called, was born to be conspicuous, and was a highly esteemed member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He died a devout Christian January 17, 1862, aged seventy-four years, ten months and twenty days. He was laid to rest in the beautiful Woodland Cemetery where the remains of General Robert C. Schenek, a great Republican leader, and C. L. Vallandigham, a great Democratic leader, also lie. The citizens of Dayton always buried their dead together, regardless of race. 

Monday, June 13, 2011


             Virginia had an excessive number of slaves at the time of the American Revolution. Several factors contributed to this, but the main reason was the depletion of the soil caused by 200 years of tobacco planting. Virginia was full of slaves and "free" Negroes, and the abolition of slavery in Virginia seemed possible from 1885-1800. Then Eli Whitney's 1793 invention of the cotton gin, the 1808 ban on importing African slaves into the United States, and the westward expansion of slavocracy, all joined to create a "supermarket" for Virginia's excess slaves. From 1810 through1860 the Ohio River was used extensively to transport slaves from Virginia to slave markets in the "Deep" South. There were several slave auctions located at intervals along the Ohio River. Here slaves from the interior of Virginia could be sold to slave traders and transported to the Deep South where they brought a high price.
            Beginning around 1820, people from the North, who had traveled in the slavocracy and the increasing numbers of fugitive slaves fleeing across the North, began to tell the horrible truth about the treatment of slaves. Over a period of thirty years, due to the exposure of the cruelties of slavery, the Abolitionist Movement and its active Underground Railroad matured and gained widespread support in the North and indeed even among some citizens of "western" Virginia, especially those along the Ohio River. Following are personal accounts told to Samuel Hall, pre-Civil War librarian at Marietta College, as examples of the spread of information which helped bring about the end of slavery:
            A young man makes the following statement from "western" Virginia. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, and a student in Marietta College. All that prevents the introduction of his name, is the peril to his life, which would probably be the consequence, on his return to Virginia. His character and veracity is above suspicion.
            "On the night of the great meteoric shower, in 1833, I was at Remley's Tavern, 12 miles west of Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia). A slave driver with a drove of 50 to 60 Negroes stopped at the same place that night. The Negroes usually 'camped out' but as it was excessively muddy, they were permitted to come into the house. So far as knowledge extends, the droves on their way to the south, eat but twice a day, early in the morning and late at night. Their supper was a compound of potatoes and meal and was without exception the dirtiest, blackest looking mess I ever saw. I remarked at the time that the food was not as clean in appearance as that which was given to a drove of hogs at the same place the night previous. Such as it was, however, a black woman brought it in on her head, in a tray or trough two and a half feet long, where the men and women were promiscuously herded. The slaves rushed up and seized it from the trough in handfuls before the woman could take it off her head. They jumped at it as if half-famished.
            "They slept on the floor of the room which they were permitted to occupy, lying in every form imaginable, males and females, promiscuously. They were so thick on the floor that in passing through the room it was necessary to step over them.
            "There were three drivers, one of whom stayed in the room to watch the Negroes, and the other two slept in an adjoining room. Each of the latter took a female slave from the drove to lodge with him, as is the common practice of the drivers generally. There is no doubt about this particular instance, for they were seen together. The mud was so thick on the floor where the Negroes slept, that it was necessary to take a shovel the next morning and clear it out. Six or eight of this drove were chained together; all were headed for the south.       
            "In the autumn of the same year, I saw a drove of upwards of a hundred, 40 or 50 of them fastened to one chain, the links being made of iron rods, thick in a diameter as a man's little finger. This drove was bound westward to the Ohio River, to be shipped to the south. I have seen many droves, and more or less in each, almost without exception, the slaves were chained.
            "They generally appear extremely dejected. I have seen in the course of five years, on the road near where I reside, 12 to 15 droves at least, passing to the south. They would average 40 to 50 each drove.  Near the first of January, 1834, I started about sunrise to go to Lewisburg. It was a bitter cold morning. I met a drove of Negroes, 30 to 40 in number, remarkably ragged and destitute of clothing. One little boy particularly excited my sympathy. He was some distance behind the others, not being able to keep up with the rest. Although he was shivering from cold and crying, the driver was pushing him up to a trot to overtake the main gang. All of them looked as if they were half frozen.
"There was one remarkable instance of tyranny exhibited by a little boy, not more than eight years old, that came under my observation, in a family six miles from Lewisburg. This youngster would swear at the slaves, and exert all the strength he possessed, to flog or beat them, with whatever instrument or weapon he could lay his hands on, provided they did not obey him instantly. He was encouraged in this by his father, the master of the slaves. The slaves often fled from this young tyrant.
                  Punishment to a slave for running away
            The following extract is from a letter to a student in Marietta College by his friend in Alabama. With the writer, Mr. Isaac Knapp, I am perfectly acquainted. Formerly a resident of Dummerston, Vermont, he was a student in the above college for the space of one year before going to Alabama. As professor of religion, he is as worthy of belief as any member of the community. Mr. Knapp has returned from the South and is now a member of the same college.
            "In January , 1838, a Negro belonging to woman named Mrs. Phillips ran away, was captured and confined in the Pulaski jail. Mr. Gibbs, overseer for Mrs. Phillips, mounted on horseback, took the slave from confinement and compelled him to run back to Elkton, a distance of fifteen miles, whipping him all the way. When he reached home, the Negro exhausted and worn out, exclaimed, ‘you have broke my heart,’ meaning, you have killed me. For this Gibbs flew into a violent rage, tied the Negro to a stake, and in the language of a witness ‘cut his back to mincemeat.’  But the fiend was not satisfied with this. He burnt the slave's legs to a blister with hot embers and then chained him naked in the open air, weary with running, weak from his loss of blood and smarting from his burns. It was a cold night; and in the morning the Negro was dead. Yet this monster escaped without even the shadow of a trial. ‘The Negro,’ said the doctor, died by he knew not what.  ‘Anyhow, Gibbs did not kill him.’ 
Mr. Knapp gives me some further verbal particulars about this affair. He says that his informant saw the Negro dead the next morning, that his legs were blistered, and that the Negroes affirmed that Gibbs had compelled them to throw embers upon him. But Gibbs denied it, and said the blistering was the effect of frost, as the Negro was much exposed to it before being caught. Mr. Bowers, a son of Mrs. Phillips by a former husband, attempted to have Gibbs brought to justice, but his mother justified Gibbs, and nothing was therefore done about it. This whole affair took place in Upper Elkton, Tennessee, near Alabama.
“A short time since,” (the letter is dated April 1838), “Gibbs whipped another Negro unmercifully because the horse, with which the Negro was plowing, broke the reins and ran off. Gibbs then raised his whip against Mr. Bowers, who shot him. Since I came here,” (a period of about six months) “there have been eight white men and two Negroes killed, within 30 miles of me."
            The following is from Mr. Knapp's own lips, taken down a day or two since:
            "Mr. Buster, with whom I boarded in Limestone County, Alabama, related to me the following incident: ‘George, a slave belonging to one of the estates in my neighborhood, was lurking about my residence without a pass. We were making preparations to give him a flogging, but he escaped from us. Not long afterwards, meeting a patrol which had just taken a Negro in custody without a pass, I inquired, “Who have you there?” On learning that it was George, I rejoiced. I said, “There is a small matter between him and myself, that needs adjustment, so give me a rawhide.” I accordingly took it, and laid 60 strokes on his back, to the utmost of my strength.’
            “I was speaking of this barbarity afterwards to Mr. Bradley, an overseer of the Rev. Mr. Donnell, who lives in the vicinity of Moresville, Alabama. ‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘we consider that a very light whipping here.’ Mr. Bradley is a professor of religion and is esteemed in that vicinity as a very pious, exemplary Christian.' "
Major Horace Nye, an elder in the Presbyterian Church at Putnam, Muskingum county, Ohio, in a letter, dated Dec. 5, 1838, makes the following statement: "Mr. Wm. Armstrong, of this place, who is frequently employed by our citizens as captain and supercargo of descending boats, whose word may be relied on, has just described to me the following incident: while laying at Alexandria, on Red River, Louisiana, he saw a slave brought to a blacksmith's shop and a collar of iron fastened around his neck, with two pieces riveted to the sides, meeting some distance above his head. At the top of the arch thus formed was attached a large cow bell, the motion of which, while walking the streets, made it necessary for the slave to hold his hand to one of its sides to steady it."
            In New Orleans Major Nye saw several with iron collars with horns attached to them. The first he saw had three prongs projecting from the collar ten or twelve inches, with the letter “S” on the end of each. He says that collars are quite frequently used there. To the proceeding Major Nye adds: "When I was about twelve years of age, I lived in Marietta, Ohio. I knew little of slavery as there were few in the part of Virginia opposite that place. But I remember seeing a slave who had run away from some place beyond my knowledge at that time. He had an iron collar around his neck, to which was a strap of iron riveted to the collar, on each side, passing over the top of the head. And another strap, from the back side to the top of the first, enclosed his head on three sides. I looked on while the blacksmith severed the collar with a file, which I think took him more than an hour."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


This historical marker, one of 26 for which URR historian Henry Burke is responsible, was erected at the Belpre Historical Society Museum in 2008, commemorating some of the URR conductors you've read about in previous articles on this blog. The text reads: "Underground Railroad crossings, agents, and conductors were common along the Ohio River between Washington County, Ohio and Wood County, Virginia. At Constitution, six miles upriver from Belpre, Judge Ephraim Cutler listened for hoot owl calls that signaled when a boatload of runaway slaves was crossing from Virginia to the Ohio shore. “Aunt Jenny,” a slave woman in Virginia, used a horn signal to alert abolitionist John Stone in Belpre when fugitive slaves were crossing. At Little Hocking, eight miles downriver from Belpre, slaves crossing from Virginia looked for a lantern signal to guide them to the Horace Curtis Station on the Ohio River shore. Runaway slaves were also assisted by Thomas Vickers at Twin Bridges, James Lawton at Barlow, and others as they traveled northward by various routes through Morgan County to Putnam in Muskingum County where the Underground Railroad merged with the Muskingum River Corridor."


                When the enslavement of Africans in America began, the initial motive of the Virginia tobacco planters was to exploit the labor potential of a particular group of people indigenous to Africa and racially and culturally distinct from European immigrants. But miscegenation soon began to blur this distinction.
               Due to the scarcity of European women during the early years of colonization, male European settlers used African slave women as concubines, mistresses and, in some cases, wives. African women were valued not only for their labor but also their ability to produce more slaves. Most slaveholders had no qualms about the fact that the children slave women bore to be slaves in their turn were often the offspring of the white masters themselves.
               When Europeans first arrived in America, many fraternized and cohabited with Native-American women and girls. Coupled with the immigrants' obsession for gold, this caused trouble between them and the Native-Americans. Soon it became profitable for the Europeans to have their cake and eat it too. After serving his term of indenture a European could save enough money to buy an African slave woman. Then he simply put her to work on the land that had been given him as a free white man, and at night he took his pleasure with her as well. What about the children that ensued? He passed laws that defined slavery like this: "A child born to a slave woman is a slave, and therefore the child is the property of the mother's owner."
               When the European indentured servants who worked right beside slaves in the tobacco fields had the chance they, too, took an African woman as their mistress. After all, the master didn't much care who fathered his slave children; they would eventually be his productive slaves in any case. In fact, the fathers of most mulatto children were usually not the slaveholder himself, but more often one of his European indentured servants.
               The result of such practices is that a large number of slaves born from the middle 1600s until the abolition of slavery were mulattos: a word of Spanish origin which means of mixed African and European ancestry.  Technically speaking, almost every modern African-American person has some European genes in his genealogy.
               Many famous Americans fathered mulatto children: men like Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay and Richard M. Johnson.  In the Mid-Ohio River Valley there are many families who look white yet have a small percentage of African ancestry which dates back to miscegenation in Virginia, including Mulattos descended from Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemming.
               The term "Melungeon" may be derived from the word "melanin" (the dark skin pigment found in Africans) or perhaps from the French word "melange" (mixture). Due to variations in genetics, Melungeons have complexions ranging from “light” to sometimes very “dark.” Some Melungeons are indistinguishable from white people. When the African-connected ancestry of white-looking Melungeons was known in the vicinity where they were born and raised, this linked them to the African Diaspora and the negative social connotations that went with it. But when white-looking Melungeons left the locality where they were known they could and did pass for white. Simply put, these Melungeons were white people with the mind sets of African Americans.
               Melungeons could travel anyplace in the United States without being suspected of having ties to the African Diaspora. But there is a genetic twist to this choice. When two Melungeons marry and have children, no matter how white the parents may look, they still carry some African genes. When a child is conceived these genes sometimes combine in a manner that produces children with some obvious African physical traits. This does not apply to children of a Melungeon and a white spouse.
                Melungeons learned that when their spouses were also Melungeon some of their offspring could – and often would – show some African physical traits. This circumstance kept most Melungeons connected to the African Diaspora while allowing some individual Melungeons to pass as white and travel around in slave territory carrying information about the Underground Railroad.
               Melungeons living north of the Mason-Dixon Line stayed in touch with their relatives who stayed in Virginia. Melungeons in Virginia provided a crucial service by passing critical information concerning the Underground Railroad to slaves on the plantations. They also helped fugitive slaves reach the Underground Railroad stations on the Ohio River.
               Melungeons had no problem acquiring land in Southeastern Ohio. In Southeastern Ohio counties along the Ohio River Melungeons carried out their Underground Railroad activity and over time were joined by increasing numbers of free blacks and white abolitionists in Ohio. The Underground Railroad continued to gain momentum right up until the American Civil War began. To cap off their effort for freedom, many Melungeons joined the Union Forces and fought in the Civil War.
               During the early history of Washington County, OH, groups of dark-skinned people described as "free men of color" began to arrive. Since they were often darker than settlers of European descent, it has been widely assumed that all of them, or their ancestors, had been slaves.
               Some recent genealogical research indicates a different picture. Some of these early dark-skinned settlers were neither Africans nor mulattos; their genes were primarily Native American and European respectively.  Melungeons is what they called themselves.
               There is some evidence that Melungeons may be descended from lost survivors of England's Roanoke Island settlement, founded off the coast of North Carolina in 1585. By 1590 all traces of these settlers had vanished except for one clue: the word "CROAT" was carved into a large tree. The word only added to the mystery. No survivors, remains or artifacts from the ill-fated colony have ever been found. It is considered a possibility, however, that the people of the lost colony may have become prisoners of coastal dwelling Indians and that the Melungeons are their mixed-race descendants. Melungeons are closely associated with the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina.
               By being erroneously classified as black, Melungeons were disenfranchised from U.S. citizenship. Their land was seized and many Melungeons moved north and west during the early 1800s when the Northwest Territory was first being settled. Washington County was the gateway to the Northwest Territory from 1788 until about 1820. Word about the area's fertile land got around and many Melungeons settled here.
               In the western part of the county, where  there was an important branch of the Underground Railroad, Melungeons along with Quakers from Chesterhill helped fugitive slaves find their way north. Melungeons fought in the American War of Independence, they fought for the Union during the Civil War, and they've fought in every war in which the United States has been engaged since. Though their numbers have declined over the years, their descendants sill live in the hills of western Washington County. They are a fine group of people. They own businesses, work on construction or in industrial plants in the area, and teach school.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Three generations of Joseph Tomlinsons lived in the Ohio River Valley. The original Joseph was brought to Virginia by his three sons at a rather advanced age. The Tomlinson brothers, Joseph (II), Samuel and James, and their father accompanied a party led by Colonel Ebenezer Zane when he founded Wheeling, VA (now WV), in the winter of 1769-1770. Joseph Tomlinson, II started his plantation at the Flats of Grave Creek, a few miles downriver from Wheeling, in 1770. Later that year Joseph and Samuel Tomlinson traveled down the Ohio, reaching a point opposite the mouth of the Muskingum River at Williams Station. There they hacked their initials on a beech tree, thereby establishing a 400-acre “tomahawk claim” and a 1,000-acre preemptive claim.
            A tomahawk claim consisted of marking the corners of a plot of land claimed in Indian territory by ringing trees at each corner of the tract, thereby killing the trees, (or with initials as in the Tomlinsons’ case) then waiting until government authorities could coerce the Indians to relinquish title to the land, at which point the tomahawk claim could go through a process to become legal.
            Joseph Tomlinson (I) died at the Flats of Grave Creek in 1797 at the age of 85. Joseph Tomlinson, II died at the Flats of Grave Creek in 1825 and Joseph Tomlinson, III, who lived in Williamstown, died there sometime after the American Civil War. The Tomlinson brothers were among the earliest white settlers along the Ohio River in western Virginia. In fact Tomlinsons had settled in the Mid-Ohio Valley along with their slaves a good five years before Daniel Boone established Boonsboro, Kentucky.
            It’s an interesting side note that this land was claimed by the Tomlinsons slightly before George Washington made his famous exploratory trip along the Ohio River. On his journey along the Ohio in 1770, Washington also made extensive land claims for himself and some of his friends under the Proclamations of 1754 and 1763, which granted lands to veterans of military service in the French and Indian Wars. During his explorations Washington left the Little Kanawha River and proceeded on foot to a point opposite the Muskingum where he spent a stormy night in November, 1770. Then Washington and the Tomlinsons, both parties having filed claims under the same provisions of the French and Indian War, got into a land dispute, and the Tomlinsons were awarded a much smaller claim than they had originally filed.
            According to a deposition made by Joseph Tomlinson, II in Chancery Court at Clarksburg, VA, in the spring of 1771, he and Samuel returned to the land opposite the mouth of the Muskingum and cleared four acres of land, erected a Log cabin and, in Joseph's words, "planted the first corn...raised by civilized man on or about this area." The Tomlinson cabin was the only white man's habitation from Grave Creek to Vincennes.
Joseph II owned slaves at the Flats of Grave Creek when the American Revolution broke out in 1776. Several children born to the Tomlinsons during and right after the American Revolution, and there also were several slave children born there during the same period. One slave born there was named Mike.
As our story unfolds, we find Joseph (II) using his slaves to farm at his Grave Creek and Williams Station locations, taking them up and down the Ohio River as needed. In 1800 there were 61 slaves listed in Wood County, VA and 257 slaves in Ohio County, VA.
            In 1804 while working at Williams Station two of Tomlinson's slaves ran away. They crossed the Ohio River at Marietta, and traveled about 35 miles north on the Muskingum to Owl Creek, where they stopped at a farm owned by William Craig. The fugitive slaves reportedly had been staying at William Craig's place for some time when Joseph Tomlinson received word of their location from a man traveling down the Muskingum by canoe, who had visited with Craig and the two errant slaves. So Joseph Tomlinson II took his son Robert and others up the Muskingum River to retrieve the fugitives.
            William Craig saw the slaveholders coming and gave the alarm. The two slaves started running, but Robert was very swift of foot and soon overtook Mike and knocked him to the ground, using his rifle as a club. When Mike regained his feet, Robert knocked him down again. The young men were the same age and had been born and raised together at the Flats of Grave Creek. The treatment Mike was receiving from his friend enraged him. After repeatedly being knocked down, he pulled a knife from his belt and stabbed young Robert Tomlinson. Robert ran back to his father and cried out, "Father he has killed me," and died on the spot.
            The other fugitive, who remains unnamed, managed to escape but Mike was captured by Tomlinson. After burying his son, Joseph and started across country with Mike, headed for Grave Creek. The first night they camped six miles west of Cumberland at Negro Run, where they encountered two travelers, Mr. Reeve and Mr. Cochran, who were on their way to Kentucky on business. Both men witnessed Tomlinson execute Mike at Negro Run.
Reeve and Cochran reported the murder to authorities in Muskingum County, OH and a coroner's inquest was held by Henry Smith, Esq. of Putnam. When Ohio Gov. Edward Tiffin was notified, he sent a written notice to the Virginia Attorney General for Tomlinson to be extradited to Ohio for deposition, but the request was denied. Mike was never even given a proper burial. His bones eventually lay scattered around the area where he had been killed, according to Reeve, who claimed to have seen them on many occasions later when he camped at the same spot.
            So, in the very early days of slavery in the Mid-Ohio River Valley, tragedy needlessly struck down two young men before they had begun to experience life. In a sense, their deaths signaled the beginning of Ohio's Underground Railroad, which carried many slaves from slavery in Virginia to freedom in Canada. It’s likely that Mike was unaware that the Fugitive Slave Law – giving slaveholders the right to pursue their slaves in “free” states – had been passed by congress in 1793 or he and his fellow fugitive might not have stayed in Ohio. Word got around and by 1812 fugitive slaves from Virginia began to follow the Muskingum River north as far as it went, then kept going to Canada.