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Old November 18th, 2012, 04:49 AM   #21

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Midnight attack on the Rankins

On September 12, 1841, Calvin Rankin, one of Reverend Rankin's sons, started to feel uneasy. By this time he was used to the threats and the ruffians, but something about the atmosphere in town this day put him on high alert. His cousin, John P. Rankin, who was staying with them at the house on the hill, agreed. Reverend Rankin, however, was complacent. Even though there was a bounty on his head and he too had spent many years dealing with the threats and the ruffians, he tried to talk the boys out of their paranoia. But they wouldn't be dissuaded. They went to bed that night partially dressed, with their guns ready, and slept lightly.

It was fortunate they did. For in the middle of the night Calvin heard a low whistle outside his window. He and John P. grabbed their guns and headed outside to investigate, each going in a different direction around the house. As Calvin rounded a corner, a gunshot was directed at him at nearly point blank range. The bullet grazed him, but the powder discharge from the gun caught his shirt on fire. Calvin put out the fire and fired back, but the man ran.

John P. also ran into a man as he rounded a corner. This man also fired, but missed, then ran and joined up with the other man. John P. fired and mortally wounded one of the men. With this, other men appeared out of the woods and joined the retreat.

While all this was going on, other family members saw flames flickering in the family barn. They quickly ran out and extinguished the fire, before it could reach the unthrashed wheat and ignite it in an explosion that surely would have destroyed the barn and spread flame to the house. Clearly this had been the objective of the attackers.

The next day, Reverend Rankin published an open letter in the local paper. Here's an excerpt:

"Thus have I been attacked at midnight with fire and weapons of death, and nothing but the good providence of God has preserved my property from flames and myself and family from violence and death. And why? Have I wronged any one? No, but I am an ABOLITIONIST. I teach the doctrine that all men are born equally free and independent, that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, that to buy, to sell and hold human beings as property is sin. I do not recognize the slaveholder's right to the flesh and blood and souls of men and women. For this I must be proscribed, my property burnt, and my life put in jeopardy! I am charged with feeding the hungry and clothing the naked; the poor man, white or black, has never been turned away empty from my door. And for this I must stand guard over my property and family while others sleep in safety.
Now I desire all men to know that I am not to be deterred from what I believe to be my duty by fire and sword. I also wish all to know that I feel it my duty to defend my HOME to the very uttermost, and that it is as much as duty to shoot the midnight assassin in his attacks as it is to pray.

I therefore forewarn all persons to beware lurking about my house and barn at night. When I am put upon the necessity of standing guard over my family and property, I shall not do it in vain."

Source: Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad - Ann Hagedorn - Google Books
Indeed Rankin would not be deterred. He and the other area abolitionists redoubled their efforts. The decade of the 1840s would see much strife and conflict on the Ripley side of the river, with arson, abductions, armed searches, beatings and daily threats. But as the decade closed, the war on the river would take a new turn. As we shall see in the final posts of this saga, Ripley would see the arrival of an audacious Underground Railroad conductor who would carry the cause across the river and into Kentucky.

Last edited by Rongo; November 18th, 2012 at 04:54 AM.
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Old November 18th, 2012, 07:11 AM   #22

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Originally Posted by Rongo View Post
Indeed. He passed up a LOT of money when he let her go.
How much could he have gotten if he turned 'Eliza' and her child in?
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Old November 18th, 2012, 08:21 AM   #23

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Originally Posted by Fiver View Post
How much could he have gotten if he turned 'Eliza' and her child in?
According to Ms. Hagedorn, slavecatchers along the Ohio River could fetch "up to $500" in rewards for the capture of a slave, which would be about $10,000 in today's money. I assume the child would probably be worth considerably less than that, and "Eliza" herself might not fetch the full $500, but it still would be a substantial sum.

The interesting thing is that this was Chancey Shaw's "job". He had been staking out the frozen Ohio River for a week looking for escaped slaves crossing. It was like a gold rush.
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Old November 19th, 2012, 12:15 PM   #24

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John Parker

John Parker was not a man to mess with, especially when it came to the subject of slavery. Having been enslaved himself for the first 18 years of his life, it was personal with him. He would become arguably the boldest Underground Railroad conductor of all, and in my opinion the most fascinating of all the interesting people in Ripley. The Cincinnati Enquirer would say of him: "He gloried in danger. He would go boldly over into the enemy's camp and filch the fugitives to freedom.'' The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune said simply: "A more fearless creature never lived."

Parker was born into slavery in 1827. When he was 8 years old, he was sold by his owner (who also happened to be his father). Separated from his mother, he was chained together with several other slaves and marched from Norfolk, Virginia to Alabama. As a result, he was seething with anger. He immediately became a problem for his new master, a physician in Mobile. He tried to escape several times and was beaten several times. But in between the escape attempts and the beatings, the doctor's children secretly taught him how to read.

Parker was also apprenticed out to an iron foundry, where it was discovered that he had an unusual talent for developing quality moldings. Eventually he worked out a deal where he would work overtime in the foundry and use the excess earnings to purchase his freedom. He spent many nights locked in the foundry, at his own request, working. By the time he was 18 years old he had earned enough to purchase himself for $1800.

He moved to Indiana and stayed there for a short time, before moving to Cincinnati and working at a foundry there. Here he became acquainted with a neighbor, a free black man from Maysville, Kentucky, on the Ohio River a few miles east of Ripley. This man had been an Underground Railroad conductor while living in Maysville, but his identity was discovered and he had to flee for his life. But that didn't end his desire to help slaves escape. And now he knew of two slave girls in Kentucky who were looking for help escaping. He tried to talk Parker into assisting him, but Parker at first would have nothing to do with it.

Eventually though, Parker had a change of heart and agreed to assist his neighbor. But then his neighbor backed out of the deal when they had difficulty procuring a boat to cross the river. Parker was undeterred though. By this time his mind was set on rescuing the girls, and nothing was going to stop him. So he eventually found passage across the river and single-handedly brought the girls to freedom. It was the first of hundreds of escapes that Parker would be involved in, most of them from inside Kentucky.

Parker remained in Cincinnati for four years as an active agent on the Underground Railroad there. But he was a bit put off by the air of suspicion that existed in that town between black and white Underground Railroad conductors, so in 1849 he moved to Ripley, which he called "the real terminus of the Underground Railroad". He took up residence on Front Street (the house is now a museum, see photo below), and eventually built his own foundry behind the house. Over time he would come to employ dozens of workers, secure two patents, and become one of the richest men in town. But for all this success, his greatest triumphs were the dangerous and secret adventures he carried out at night...

Other sources:
Aboard the Underground Railroad-- John P. Parker House
The Autobiography of John Parker - Duke University Special Collections Library
Attached Images
File Type: jpg ParkerHouse.jpg (96.7 KB, 2 views)

Last edited by Rongo; November 19th, 2012 at 12:24 PM.
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Old November 25th, 2012, 02:23 PM   #25

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Parker in action

John Parker used a network of Kentucky slaves and freemen to keep him informed of activities on the Kentucky side of the river. When he heard about slaves who had escaped or wanted to escape, he would make arrangements to meet them, or sometimes just plain guess where they might be at any given point of time. Then he would cross the river and wait for them.

On one occasion, a Kentucky slave brought Parker and Thomas Collins notice of ten fugitive slaves who had escaped from central Kentucky. But their leader had been captured, and now they were stuck 20 miles south of the Ohio River with no idea how to proceed. So Parker and Collins devised a plan where the slave would guide Parker to the fugitives, then Parker would guide the fugitives to the river, where Collins would pick them up in a boat. But Parker brought the fugitives to the river ahead of schedule, before Collins had arrived, and slavecatchers were hot on their tail. Parker describes what happened next:

...at the ferry I found one lone boat. The next thing was to find the oars. I sent the whole crowd stomping through the brush in search of them.

While we were wildly searching, I heard the cry of hounds. The patrol had worked faster than I thought. Leaping into the boat to tear up a seat to use as a paddle, I stumbled over the oars, which I had missed finding in the dark. With a halloo, I piled the crowd into the boat, only to find it so small it would not carry all of us. Two men were left on the bank.

As I started to push off, leaving the poor fellows on the bank to their cruel fate, one of the women set up a cry that one of the men on the bank was her husband. Then I witnessed an example of heroism and self-sacrifice that made me proud of my race. For one of the single men safely in the boat, hearing the cry of the woman for her husband, arose without a word [and] walked quietly to the bank. The husband sprang into the boat as I pushed off.

As I rowed away to safety I saw dimly the silent but helpless martyr. We were still far from the Ohio shore when I saw lights around the spot where we had left the man, followed by shouts, [by] which I knew the poor fellow had been captured in sight of the promised land.

<You can read the whole story here: John P. Parker, Conductor, on the Underground Railroad >
In another daring episode, one of the employees of Parker's foundry, a son of a Kentucky slaveholder, had been bragging about how his father's slaves could never be carried away to freedom. Parker took this as a personal challenge. So one night he snuck across the river to the father's plantation and talked to the slaves in their cabins. He found a married couple who wanted to make the escape as long as they could take their infant with them. Parker made arrangements to come back and get them all the next week. But when Parker arrived for the rendezvous one night, he learned that the master had become suspicious and taken the infant into his own bedroom. Undeterred, Parker snuck into the master's bedroom while he was asleep and gently removed the baby. But just as he was leaving the room, the baby cried and the master woke up. Parker ran with the baby and the couple to a skiff on the river. The master fired at them, but they got away to the Ripley side, where they were hidden in the home of another abolitionist.

Parker also joined the Rankins in another bold adventure. One morning Reverend Rankin, during his daily reconnaissance of the Kentucky bank from his house atop the hill, spotted 5 fugitive slaves hiding out on the Kentucky shore. Apparently they had planned to cross, but got there too late to do so under cover of night and were now trapped. Rankin called a council of war, in which he proposed taking an armed flotilla across the river in broad daylight to escort the slaves to freedom. Parker and the others talked him out of doing this by daylight, saying that it would be much too dangerous. So they anxiously waited the day out and kept an eye on the fugitives. As the sun started to set though, Parker, Rankin, and several of his sons, all armed to the teeth, set off across the river and rescued the slaves. They brought them back to Ripley, fed them at the Rankins, then sent them on their way to freedom.

All of this came at a price, however. On one of Parker's forays into Kentucky he noticed sheets of white paper tacked to the trees and fenceposts over a wide area. He finally went to investigate, and discovered they were reward posters - for himself. He now joined the honor roll of Ripley men with bounties on their heads. He didn't take this lightly, though, for as he said "I knew how deadly in earnest the men were who authorized billeting me from every fence corner as being worth $1,000 to any rascal who saw me."

In the subsequent days, back in Ripley, Parker discovered he was being stalked. Meeting with the other abolitionists, they decided that he should lay low for a while and not be involved in any escape activities. But apparently one abolitionist didn't get the news, and brought a group of fugitive slaves to Parker's house one day. Although they had made it to his house undetected, Parker was concerned that he wouldn't be able to get them out undetected. So that night he left the house alone and took a walk in the alleys behind Front Street. Sure enough, his stalker followed him. But when Parker rounded a corner he slipped into the shadows, and as his stalker turned the corner, Parker jumped him and shoved a knife against his chest, warning the man never to let him catch him again. The man fled, and Parker returned to active duty on the Underground Railroad that night.
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Old November 26th, 2012, 03:05 PM   #26

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War... and peace

In 1850, just one year after John Parker moved to Ripley, a new federal Fugitive Slave Law was passed, which made it a crime to help a slave escape from bondage. Parker took his memo book, which contained complete details of the 315 slaves he had helped escape to date, and threw it in the furnace of his foundry. But although the new law forced a new level of secrecy on Parker and the other Ripley abolitionists, they were not deterred from their mission. In response to the new law, concerned citizens of the county met and passed the following resolution:

"Resolved that should a fugitive come to our doors, he shall not be turned away and that we will defend him to the same extent and with the same weapons as we would defend our wives and children, and that the dark shadow of the kidnapper whether officer or private person shall never pass our threshold."

Source: Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad - Ann Hagedorn - Google Books
Reverend Rankin himself said, "Disobedience to the enactment is obedience to God." And the ranks of Underground Railroad conductors in the area continued to grow, despite the passage of the new law. In 1859, a Kentucky slave by the name of Arnold Gragston began to row fugitive slaves across the river to Ripley, each time returning to Kentucky and his own life of slavery.

By the time Civil War broke out in 1861, Ripley's population had grown to 3,700 people. Many of them enlisted in the Union armed forces, including five of the Rankins' sons, as well as sons of the Collinses, Gillilands, Becks, Campbells and other abolitionist families. John Parker's foundry turned out castings for the Union war effort, and when black soldiers were accepted into the armed services in 1863, Parker became a recruiting agent for 27th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops.

The older generation of Ripley abolitionists (Reverend Rankin was now 68 years old) formed a Home Guard in addition to their Underground Railroad activities, which they kept up throughout the war. Among other things, the Home Guard sabotaged bridges to thwart the progress of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan on his infamous 1863 raid that passed through Ripley and Sardinia.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. This, however, did not affect the slaves in Kentucky, who remained in bondage. Shortly thereafter, Arnold Gragston led his last escape party out of Kentucky. It was himself and his wife. This time he would not be returning across the river to his life of slavery. Instead he continued on to Detroit and freedom. (He would eventually come back to live in Ripley.)

Finally, in 1865 the war ended, and in December of that same year the 13th amendment of the Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in Kentucky and throughout the United States. For the first time in its 61 year history, Ripley, Ohio could be an ordinary little American town.

"The town in its simple way goes on unheeding its valiant men and their deeds. In a measure it is not to blame, for when these men stood alone in their fight against slavery, they could dare not talk, besides -- they were a sturdy group, modest and unassuming. With their stories untold they passed on and were forgotten. But these men were real martyrs to their cause." - John Parker, 1885

Source: The Autobiography of John Parker - Duke University Special Collections Library

This ends the saga of Ripley, Ohio. In the next couple months I hope to start the next thread in the series: "Abolitionist towns - Cincinnati, Ohio"
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Old January 28th, 2013, 05:08 AM   #27

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This is a very interesting thread, thanks Rongo....

With all the hype Lincoln has been getting, it's good to read something that's about the real abolitionists of America.
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Old March 8th, 2013, 12:02 AM   #28

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Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
To me, state's rights is not the central or even a major issue of the American Civil War.
However much i may disagree with you, I can still respect your view. However, when i can put aside my personal feelings on the issue and also look at from a Northerners view point, the issues of states rights had a significant impact on the lead up to the war.

As I've seen the period, the South was not against big government. They were in fact in favor of it, so long as THEY controlled the government. And after the founding of the country, the South got exactly that.
Though i agree with you that the South controlled a lot of the USG in the first seventy years of the US existence, i currently disagree that most any state favored a growth in government.

And despite compromises, the managed to push the issue to the point where abolitionists and anti-abolitionists were pushing ever closer to war with every state joining the Union, and more often than not, these issues were settled in the South's favor.
Not fully factual as i've understood it. For the plantation owners and the industries that depended on slave labor, it worked in their favor when they were able to get their way. However, for most Southerners and Northerners alike, the compromises was intended to stop a possible civil war many weren't looking forward too.

The key point in this was the Fugitive Slave Act which would actually trample on the rights of the Northern States with regard to catching slaves. In this the South had no problem with the Federal government expressing its authority over the states. Now, I'm not exactly sure on how resistant the northern states were to the Fugitive Slave Law, but I do know that abolitionists felt offended by the law... and if the Northern states were opposed to the law, they couldn't do anything about it.
That is a point both Rongo, you and Fiver have addressed and that i willingly conceded too and admit my Southern roots had gotten in the way.

For the South, this assured them that their minority population could rule over the majority population of the North. It was even further bolsted by the Dred Scott case, which showed them that not only did they balence the Senate and control the Presidency, but the Supreme Court was on their side too.

But, this then attracted greater response from abolitionists who wanted to end slavery altogether and from the newly formed Republican Party which campaigned to contain slavery. They didn't do much when Buchanon was elected President, but they would begin to gain some popularity with Lincoln's appearance in their ranks and gained major help when Northern Democrats backing a platform somewhat similar to Lincoln's nominated Douglass and Southern Democrats backing a platform to expand slavery nominated Breckenridge...

And over the years immediately prior, both North and South seemed to be itching for a fight over the issue, if Kansas and the Harpers Ferry Raid were any indication. And by the 1860 election, the South, knowing that Kansas was soon to be admitted as a Free State put their last hope for control of the Federal government was to get Breckenridge elected, as Douglass with popular soveriegnty would allow for the continued impasse and violence that could potentially stop slavery's spread and Lincoln, promising to stop slavery's spread seemed a direct enemy to them. Breckenridge finished second in the electoral college, mostly by carrying the entire South, but finished third in the popular vote behind Douglass and Lincoln...

And as such, the South had lost its grip on control of the government and decided they didn't want to be in a Union where they weren't in control...
Thank you for eloquently stating your views. I see your point, aside from the slavery issue, it was all over who was in control of passing the laws and running the government.

And it's finally here that the whole "state's rights" argument comes out, yet they had no problem with squashing the rights of other states when it was in their best interests to do so.

That is why state's rights is a distraction in the American Civil War.
I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, that is the problem of interest groups that still plague us to this day. These groups following their own special interests don't usually line up with the desire of a nation's population. If Southerners and Northerners understood exactly what was going on instead of relying solely on the views of politicians and special interest through the local papers, then i think it may have been possible to have better defined our laws, avert the tragedy of the civil war and still have been able to abolish slavery, all without firing a shot.
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Old March 8th, 2013, 08:55 AM   #29

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Originally Posted by Panthera tigris altaica View Post
If Southerners and Northerners understood exactly what was going on instead of relying solely on the views of politicians and special interest through the local papers, then i think it may have been possible to have better defined our laws, avert the tragedy of the civil war and still have been able to abolish slavery, all without firing a shot.
"Aye, there's the rub!"
I think we would have had to have been that "wholly superior people" that Shelby Foote talked about who might have found the improbable compromises necessary to avoid war.

We are really not in a position to judge our ancestors' weakness in that regard.
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Old March 8th, 2013, 04:16 PM   #30

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Originally Posted by Panthera tigris altaica View Post
Thank you for eloquently stating your views. I see your point, aside from the slavery issue, it was all over who was in control of passing the laws and running the government.

I respectfully disagree. In my opinion, that is the problem of interest groups that still plague us to this day. These groups following their own special interests don't usually line up with the desire of a nation's population. If Southerners and Northerners understood exactly what was going on instead of relying solely on the views of politicians and special interest through the local papers, then i think it may have been possible to have better defined our laws, avert the tragedy of the civil war and still have been able to abolish slavery, all without firing a shot.
First, your welcome for a fine reply...

In theory some compromise could have been reached that would avoid the war and potentially end slavery... but accomplishing this was a matter of time and probably would have meant that a firmer stance should have occurred MUCH earlier than 1860. By that time, after a long string of souther "victories," abolitionists who felt slavery to be a moral wrong were beginning to lose any patencie for any sort of compromise. John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a sign of that. And southern slave holders, confident in their successes weren't about to let anything slow them down... As you mention, by 1860 these special interest groups had gotten to a point in American society where they wouldn't back down.

The compromise to avoid the Civil War would have had to revolve around compensated emancipation without allowing for taking of new slaves, or gradually freeing the children of slaves rather then keeping them in chains as they were born. Doing so would have been slow and gradual, and possibly costly, as it would probably have to be the federal government paying for them. It wouldn't necessarily have to grant racial equality, just the abolition of slavery and possibly leave the door open for Civil Rights legislation later when the society and culture had adapted to having freed African Americans...

But starting this would have meant firmer measures taken to address the issue early on. The avoidance of the issue for so long in American history meant that in the end, when it did become an issue that couldn't be ignored, it was too big and too divisive for any sort of compromise.
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