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Old October 28th, 2012, 05:31 AM   #1

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Abolitionist towns - Ripley, Ohio


In 1804, Colonel James Poage, a slave holding Virginian, brought his family and his slaves down the Ohio River to settle on a plot of land that had been deeded to him by the state of Virginia in gratitude for his service in the American Revolution. The land was on the north side of the Ohio River, in the new state of Ohio. Ohio had been formed out of the Northwest Territory, where the Founding Fathers had decreed that slavery would be illegal. And now that Ohio was a state, slavery would be banned by its own constitution. But that was no worry to Colonel Poage. In fact, that's largely why he came. Colonel Poage had grown to loathe slavery and slave holding. But Virginia law made it difficult for him to free his slaves there, and his opinions about slavery made him some powerful enemies.

So he came to Ohio, freed his slaves, and started a new settlement that would eventually come to be known as Ripley. Shortly thereafter, anti-slavery Southerners from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and the Carolinas would also find their way to the settlement. They had seen slavery first-hand in their native states, and some of them, like Colonel Poague, had owned slaves themselves. Some others had been slaves. And now for the first time many of them would be able to voice publicly, without fear of reprisal, their disdain for slavery. And together they would do something about it. Ripley would become one of the pioneer abolitionist towns, and would spread its anti-slavery seeds all over the northern United States. Over the following decades, Ripley would inspire abolitionist towns to spring up throughout Ohio and the North, and Ripley citizens would become the inspiration for subsequent generations of abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison.

This is the first in a series of threads I plan that will discuss the history of some of these abolitionist towns and the people who lived there. I'm posting these in threads, rather than blogs, in the hopes that it will generate some discussion.

Map showing location of Ripley, Ohio
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Old October 28th, 2012, 05:34 AM   #2

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Frontier town


Not everyone who settled in Ripley was anti-slavery. In fact, abolitionists would quickly become a minority in the new settlement and the region. Being located right on the banks of the Ohio River, Ripley would become a gateway for slaves escaping from Kentucky, but it would also become the target of mounted posses of Kentucky slavecatchers. In the "wild west" atmosphere that was the newly formed state of Ohio, this would lead to shootouts, abductions, arson and constant legal battles. All in a town that would grow to just 3,000 residents by the start of the Civil War.

One key factor in the development of Ripley as an abolitionist town was the establishment in 1819 of settlements of freed slaves just a few miles to the north of it. These were called the Gist Settlements, after Samuel Gist, a wealthy British merchant who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves in Virginia. As part of his will, he directed that his slaves be freed, and that settlements, complete with churches and schools, be established to house those who wanted to settle there. This met with strong opposition in Virginia, so the settlements were established in Ohio instead. The settlements soon became a sanctuary not only for freed slaves, but also for fugitive slaves who crossed the Ohio River and were conducted through Ripley.


Click the image to open in full size.

Ripley consists of a narrow band of land sandwiched between the Ohio River and a steep bluff. From its beginning, the town's main thoroughfare was a riverfront street called "Front Street". Multiple alleys extended back from Front Street towards the bluff behind it. The homes and barns of abolitionists on Front Street and the alleys became hiding places for fugitive slaves escaping across the Ohio River. It is estimated that 2,000 or more fugitive slaves made their escape through Ripley. Few of them could stay in Ripley for more than a day, however, as it was far too dangerous. Ripley was just a stopover on the journey north. Although the documented occurences of escapes came after 1830, it is clear that the escapes began in the earliest days of Ripley's history.

A Kentucky slaveholder, searching unsuccessfully for an escaped slave in Ripley in 1831, exclaimed that the fugitive "must have gone off on an underground road." The news spread, and the term "Underground Railroad" was born. But Ripley was more than just a station on the Underground Railroad. It became the early center of the spread of anti-slavery sentiment and the development of a national abolitionist movement. In fact, when asked after the Civil War "who abolished slavery", Henry Ward Beecher answered that it was one of Ripley's most prominent citizens and his sons.

In the coming days, I'll post several biographies and stories here, describing the events and people of Ripley, Ohio.

Last edited by Rongo; October 28th, 2012 at 06:41 AM. Reason: added Beecher response, link to Gist Settlements
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Old October 28th, 2012, 08:38 AM   #3

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By the way, I should mention that my main source of information for this thread is a personal tour of Ripley and its museums, and this excellent book:

Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad: Ann Hagedorn: 9780684870663: Amazon.com: Books
Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad: Ann Hagedorn: 9780684870663: Amazon.com: Books


I'll post other sources as I reference them.

Last edited by Rongo; October 28th, 2012 at 08:43 AM.
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Old October 30th, 2012, 10:24 AM   #4

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Alexander Campbell


Alexander Campbell was another Southern slave holder who came to Ripley in 1804. He was born in Virginia in 1769, and had moved to Kentucky where he became a doctor and a representative in the Kentucky General Assembly. Even though he was a slave holder, he favored an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution abolishing slavery. In 1803 he moved to Ohio and freed his slaves, and eventually found his way to a home on Front Street in Ripley.


Click the image to open in full size.

He continued both his medical and political careers in Ohio, serving in town and state government and in the United States Congress. Interestingly, for most of his political career he was a member of the Democratic party, which is associated with a pro-slavery stance. During these years, Campbell, like many other Ripley citizens, apparently felt that slavery was best battled through churches, moral persuasion, and underground railroad activity, rather than political action.

Along these lines, Campbell was very active, and was considered by many to be "Ohio's first abolitionist". Although there is no documented evidence of him harboring fugitive slaves in his home, he assisted in the planning and execution of many slave escapes. Campbell was also a backer of Ripley College, which was founded in 1829. Two years after its founding, Ripley College admitted a black student, which caused several white students to threaten to quit. Campbell supported the black student, but eventually the student left the college and recieved private instruction from another Ripley resident, before going on to complete his studies in Cincinnati.

In 1835 Campbell helped found the Ripley Anti-Slavery Society and became its first President. By this time, Campbell and other Ripley residents were beginning to advocate a more active role in the elimination of slavery. Among its provisions, the Ripley Anti-Slavery Society's constitution pledged to:

Quote:
"convince their fellow citizens that slaveholding is a heinous sin in the sight of God."

"influence Congress to abolish Slavery, and to prevent its extention to any State tha may be hereafter admitted into the Union."

"aim at the elevation of the character and condition of the people of colour by encouraging their intellectual, moral, and religious improvement and by removing publick prejudice, that thus they may according to their intellectual and moral worth share an equality with the whites in civil and religious privileges. But this Society will never in any way countenance the oppressed in vindicating their rights by resorting to physical force."


Source: Ann Hagedorn, Beyond the River, pp. 100-101
In 1836, a mob broke into the offices of Cincinnati's abolitionist newspaper, The Philanthropist, and destroyed their printing press and documents. The Ripley Anti-Slavery Society, led by Dr. Campbell, condemned the actions and raised funds to help replace the printing press. By 1840, Campbell's political transformation would be complete when he joined a handful of Ripley residents and supported the newspaper's publisher, another Kentucky slaveholder-turned-abolitionist named James G. Birney, for President of the United States on the Liberty Party ticket. (I'll have more to say about Birney in the "Abolitionist towns - Cincinnati, Ohio" thread, when I get to it. )

Campbell was one of several Ripley residents who would have a bounty put on his head in Kentucky for his abduction or assassination. He would die peacefully however, in 1857.

Other sources:

Alexander Campbell - Ohio History Central - A product of the Ohio Historical Society

Places of the Underground Railroad: A Geographical Guide - Tom Calarco, Cynthia Vogel, Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux - Google Books
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Old October 31st, 2012, 05:16 AM   #5
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Just thought I would reply since nobody else has and let you know that this is an interesting thread. Keep it going.
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Old October 31st, 2012, 07:56 AM   #6

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Just thought I would reply since nobody else has and let you know that this is an interesting thread. Keep it going.
Thanks, Unrevised. Good to know.
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Old November 1st, 2012, 12:44 PM   #7

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Other early abolitionists


Anyone who's familiar with the history of Ripley knows about John Rankin, the Tennessee preacher who became one of the most prolific of all Underground Railroad conductors and who some considered the father of the national abolitionist movement. But Rankin didn't arrive in Ripley until 1822, and it's clear the Underground Railroad, even though it wasn't called that yet, was already flourishing in Ripley by that time. So before I bring Reverend Rankin into the picture, I thought it would be a good idea to post short biographies of some of Ripley's other early abolitionists:

Reverend James Gilliland

James Gilliland was a South Carolina minister who preached against slavery and in favor of emancipation. This eventually turned his congregation against him, and he ended up leaving South Carolina and forming his own church in Red Oak, Ohio (just a few miles north of Ripley) in 1806. During his time in Ohio he would hold abolitionist rallies and assist his Ripley neighbors in harboring hundreds of fugitive slaves in his home and his church.

The Collins Family

Nathaniel Collins was a carpenter and cabinet maker in Ripley who began hiding fugitive slaves in his fields around 1815. In 1826, he would become Ripley's first mayor. His sons, Thomas and Theodore, were also extremely active on the Underground Railroad. Thomas was a carpenter as well as a coffin-maker. He would frequently hide fugitive slaves in his workshop on Front Street, sometimes even in the coffins themselves. Theodore owned land on the bluff above Front Street. His home would often be an intermediate stop for fugitive slaves on their way to Dr. Gilliland's and other northern safe-houses.

Thomas McCague

Thomas McCague was the owner of a highly successful pork-packing business and was one of the wealthiest men in the country. He was originally from Kentucky and moved to Ripley in 1820. He and his wife still had several slave-owning friends and relatives and high-level political connections in Kentucky, so no one in Kentucky ever considered that the McCagues might be part of "Ripley's dirty little secret." But they were. They frequently hid fugitive slaves in their stately Front Street home. McCague's role became even more important after 1838, when much of the regional chain of the Underground Railroad was exposed during a trial of one of its conductors. McCague was one of the few conductors who wasn't exposed.

John Hudson

John Hudson was one of several freed slaves who lived in the Gist Settlements and guided fugitive slaves from station to station on the Underground Railroad. Hudson received financial assistance from the Ripley abolitionists in his endeavors and was particularly known for his boldness and cunning in thwarting slavecatchers. In one episode, Hudson set up a warning system with a pursued slave named Ike, where he would follow the slavecatcher with a large conch and blow warning signals for Ike to hear. When he was asked if he was concerned about reprisal from the slavecatcher, Hudson replied "No. The knots on the shell would hurt a fellow's head very bad." (Beyond the River, p. 89)

In the early years, fugitive slaves were often harbored in the Gist Settlements. But over time the settlements would become the first place where posses of slavecatchers would search, so it became preferable for Hudson and the other conductors to guide the fugitives to the white towns instead. In fact John Hudson's sister, Sally, was mortally wounded when shot in the back by a posse that invaded the settlements in 1839.

John Hudson's daring and prolificity as a guide were unmatched in early Ripley, but one day would be eclipsed by another freed slave in Ripley who would be hailed by many as the boldest Underground Railroad conductor in the country.

But that's still a couple decades away. Next up, the man of whom William Lloyd Garrison would say, "Long before my own mind was turned to this subject, he had fully comprehended it, and bravely and faithfully bore an uncompromising testimony for the abolition of slavery. His name deserves to be held in last remembrance." (Beyond the River, pp. 273-274)

--------------
Other sources:

http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org:2007/c...PTR=2033&REC=3

http://files.usgwarchives.net/sc/and...eries/a370.txt
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Old November 4th, 2012, 02:03 PM   #8

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John Rankin


Of all the fascinating people who made their home in Ripley, John Rankin would be the most famous. His name would achieve national recognition and he would be involved in virtually all of Ripley's abolitionist activities since his arrival there in 1822. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, it's estimated that he harbored as many as 2,000 fugitive slaves in his home and barn, sometimes housing up to 12 at a time. He gave hundreds of anti-slavery speeches and sermons, both at his local church in Ripley as well as on the national stage. He founded schools to teach both black and white students, and was instrumental in the founding of the Ripley, the Ohio, and the American Anti-Slavery Societies. His anti-slavery writings were arguably the beginning of the national abolitionist movement, to the extent that William Lloyd Garrison would call him "my anti-slavery father; his book on slavery was the cause of my entering the anti-slavery conflict." (Beyond the River, p. 58)

Click the image to open in full size.

Rankin was born in Tennessee in 1793 to anti-slavery parents. At the age of 21 he became a Presbyterian minister, and shortly afterwards began preaching against slavery. This created much friction with his Tennessee congregation, and he was eventually advised to quit preaching or leave the state. He chose to leave, having heard of an anti-slavery town in Ohio called Ripley. But on the way to Ripley, he stopped at an anti-slavery Kentucky church that needed a preacher, and ended up staying there and preaching for four years. He also started a school for slaves, but this was shut down by a local mob. A local financial crisis finally prompted Rankin to complete his move to Ohio.

He arrived in Ripley in 1822 and took residence at a house on Front Street. Here he immediately began taking part in Ripley's secret life. Then in 1824 he learned the stunning news that his brother in Virginia had bought slaves. After much thought and soul-searching, he began writing his brother a series of letters trying to persuade him to emancipate the slaves. At the encouragement of local abolitionists, these letters were published in Ripley's local newspaper and would eventually be published in newspapers and book form nationwide. It was this book that would propel him to national fame and become the inspiration for Garrison and a whole generation of abolitionists. (I'll post excerpts from the book in a later post.)

In 1829, John and his wife, Jean, decided to move their ever-growing family (which would eventually include 13 children of their own and two other girls, one black and one white, who they would raise as their own) to a more spacious home on the bluff overlooking Front Street. This home would become one of the most famous stations on the Underground Railroad. (I'll have more about it in the following post.)

In Rankin's early years, he was an "evangelistic abolitionist", believing that slavery should be ended through the churches and moral reform. But as time went on he eventually drifted towards the view of other Ripley citizens, that political activism would be necessary. His children followed in his footsteps, and several of them became skilled and daring conductors on the Underground Railroad, frequently spending entire nights guiding fugitive slaves from their father's house to the homes of Theodore Collins, Dr. Gilliland, and other area abolitionists. His sons would also be involved in a shoot-out when a gang of Cincinnati men would attempt to burn down his house and barn in the middle of the night in 1841. (More about that in a later post too.)

Like Dr. Campbell and a couple other Ripley citizens, a bounty would be offered in Kentucky for Rankin's abduction or assassination. But Rankin would also die a peaceful death - in 1886 at the age of 93 years. In his autobiography, he wrote, "I lived to see four million slaves liberated, but not in the way I had long labored to have it done." (Beyond the River, p. 276)

When asked "who abolished slavery", the renowned abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher replied "Rev. John Rankin and his sons did it." (Beyond the River, p. 274)
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Old November 4th, 2012, 03:11 PM   #9

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A very interesting and sadly forgotten part of US history. I look forward to seeing more.
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Old November 4th, 2012, 07:30 PM   #10

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A very interesting and sadly forgotten part of US history. I look forward to seeing more.
Thanks, Fiver. I have one more biography to go (my personal favorite), but since he doesn't arrive on the scene until 1849, I'll start posting some stories about some of the events that happened before then, before I get to him.
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