Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Personality Spotlight: William S. Bailey

The wake from John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry radiated not only through Virgina and Maryland, but all across the slaveholding South. In Kentucky it forced some men to flee the state for their lives and threatened the livelihood of others.

William Shreve Bailey moved to Newport, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) in 1839, where he opened a machine shop. The self described "cotton machinist and steam engine builder," eventually started penning antislavery articles for The Newport News. Bailey's inflammatory articles soon forced the editor to offer to sell the paper and presses to Bailey, and in March of 1850 he bought the paper and started a vehement attack on the institution.

After several name changes the paper finally was dubbed The Free South. Unlike many other antislavery Kentuckians, Bailey was a solid abolitionist, and he made it clear that he desired the "immediate" end of slavery. This stance of course made a rough road for Bailey in Kentucky. He was sued for libel, threatened, and even attacked, and his residence and printing presses were burned by an arson in 1851, but Bailey persisted in his beliefs and publishing.

Baily's biggest challenge was met when just a few days after Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, a pro-slavery mob attacked the Free South offices. The unruly crowd moved the printing presses out into the street and tossed the type into the gutters. Parts of the mob returned later and stole a number of personal items from the office. Bailey was warned to leave the state or certainly face worse attacks.

Bailey countered the attackers by filing suit against those that destroyed his business and vowed that he would only leave Kentucky "dead...and some some of them must die with me." He was later imprisoned in Newport when he attempted to publish the Free South again, but he was bailed out by Northern sympathizers and was sent on a British speaking tour. When he returned to the states the Civil War had started and he was allowed to continue publishing through and after the war.

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