Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kentucky Artist Portrayed a Dignified John Brown in 1860

It is amazing what a little looking around will turn up. Recently, while browsing through our museum gallery at the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS), I ran across a thumbnail image and mention of an artist that was born in Kentucky and was featured in a section on native Kentucky talent. What drew my attention was the image to right; John Brown. It piqued my curiosity why a Kentucky artist would paint the abolitionist, and then the next thought that entered my mind was, when was this portrait produced? I wrote down the artist's name and went to searching after work that day. I wasn't able to find much online about this specific piece, so I checked the KHS library catalog and found a small booklet that was produced in the early 1980s for an exhibition at KHS on the artist's (Patrick Henry Davenport) work.

Davenport was born in Danville, Kentucky in 1803 and began his career as a portraitist in the 1820s. He married a "Georgian belle," Eliza Bohannon in 1827 in Vicksburg, Mississippi and the couple returned to Danville to live. Davenport's ability must have been quite well known because one of his earliest subjects was the wife of Kentucky's first governor (Isaac Shelby), Susannah Hart Shelby. Davenport actively advertised his talent in Kentucky newspapers and solicited his services mainly to the upper class. In 1838, he along with his widowed mother, purchased Crab Orchard Springs resort spa in Lincoln County. At this time Davenport was a husband, father to five children, and the owner of three slaves. In 1853 Davenport sold the resort, and after considering a move to Texas, decided to relocate to Illinois, as many other Kentuckians had. In Illinois Davenport continued to paint, often going into Indiana to do portraits as well. He continued to paint after the Civil War and lived to see his eighty-eighth year, dying in 1890.

The painting of John Brown that Davenport produced was made in 1860, apparently from photograph images of Brown. On the back of the painting Davenport wrote, "A Martyr to the Cause of Freedom John Brown, who was hung at Harper's Ferry, Va. December 21 [Dec. 2], 1859 aged 63 [59] years." Davenport family tradition states that the portrait was commissioned by one of Brown's sons and then refused upon completion.

A multitude of questions arise for me. Why would a former Kentucky slave owner paint such a dignified portrait of the most vehement abolitionist of the time? Did his views on slavery change so significantly in the six years since he had left Kentucky? I suppose, if he was commissioned by the Brown family as tradition states, he approached the piece as paid work. But, did he truly subscribe to the words he wrote on the back of the painting? Or were those just written for the patron's sake? Since the painting was completed in 1860, emotions over the Harpers Ferry raid were still quite fresh in America; North and South. It would seem that not enough time would have passed to change the image of Brown in most people's eyes, especially a former Southerner. But then again, possibly Davenport was able to put period prejudices aside. After all, while he still lived in Kentucky, he did paint free man of color Dennis Doram and his wife Diademia (see May 19, 2009 post).

At the time the exhibition booklet was produced (1982) this original work was in a private collection in Washington state. Now it resides in the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society. Today, I was fortunate enough to get to see it in person in our collection storage. Believe me, it is even more impressive than the image presented here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Opposing Image Perspectives on the Emancipation Proclamation

Examining opposing views in history makes studying the subject more exciting and potentially provides one balance. Of course, different perspectives not only come in words, they also come in images. One of the most controversial measures of Abraham Lincoln's presidency was his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. First presented preliminarily in September 1862, it was set to go into effect on January 1, 1863. The measure was to free the slaves in those slave states still in rebellion and not under Federal control, and specifically did not free the slaves in the volatile Border States.

Union soldiers as well as civilians viewed the Emancipation Proclamation in diverse ways. Some were for anything that would end the war sooner, while others swore that they would desert before they would fight for anything other than to preserve the Union. Most Southerners were of the opinion that the document was nothing more than a presidential sanction for slave insurrections and wanton destruction.
The image above was drawn by Confederate sympathizer Adelbert J. Volck. Volck was a Prussian political refugee who came to America during the 1848 European revolutions. He was not only an artist, he practiced dentistry as well. Produced in 1864, this pro-Southern image portrays Lincoln as the demonic author of the despised Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln rests his left foot on the Constitution, while a demonic icon hold his glass of water. A statue of Lady Liberty has a hood over head in the corner as bats are seen out the window. A picture of John Brown holding a pike and with a sarcastic halo is on the wall and labeled "St. Ossawattomie," for his role in Bleeding Kansas and his Harpers Ferry raid. The picture to the right of Brown's image is a scene of terror from the Haitian revolution, "Saint Domingue," where a slave rebellion started in 1791 and took power from the French colony. Finally, what appears to be a buzzard's skull holds back the curtains, while another skull image is worked into the president's chair back.
A more favorable view of Lincoln's measure is David Gilmore Blythe's lithograph, President Lincoln, Writing the Proclamation of Freedom. Also produced in 1864, Blythe's Lincoln is much different than that portrayed by Volck. Blythe's Lincoln is shown working hard on the document in his bed clothes and slippers with books and papers surrounding him for inspiration. Instead of standing on the Constitution as Volck portrays it at top, Blythe shows Lincoln with the Bible and Constitution on his lap. A bust of Andrew Jackson, who threatened to put down South Carolina's threats during the Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s, sits on the mantle, while a bust of former president James Buchanan (who proved inactive in South Carolina's December 1860 secession) hangs by a rope from the bookcase. An American flag drapes the window to allow enlightenment enter the room, while a scales of justice hangs on the wall and a rail splitter's maul lays on the floor with one of his bedroom slippers.
It has been said many times that "a picture is worth a thousand words." Art, like history, is open to interpretation and is influenced by the artist's sympathies and biases. An artists' perspective often comes out as clearly in images as an historians' does in written text. Part of the fun of studying history is recognizing those sympathies and biases and weighing them against what you have previously learned.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lincoln and Davis On John Brown's Raid

In my search for Kentuckians' thoughts on John Brown's raid, I somehow almost overlooked two of the state's most important native personalities of the era; Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. I suppose that my oversight was largely due to the little time that either man actually lived in Kentucky. Lincoln's family moved Indiana when he was seven years old and the Davis family left for Louisiana (and then Mississippi) when Jefferson was only two or three years old.

Both men would eventually return to the Bluegrass State during their lives for brief times. Lincoln would come back in 1841 to visit his Illinois friend Joshua Speed at his Farmington Plantation outside of Louisville. Davis would return for his education. He first studied at St. Thomas, a Catholic school in Washington County, Kentucky, and then returned again for college at Transylvania University in Lexington before going on to West Point.

Since Lincoln and Davis were in opposing parties at the time of John Brown's raid, it is not surprising that their opinions differ somewhat; although only slightly. Lincoln, the Republican, had proclaimed that he was not against slavery where it already existed, but he was against the extension of slavery into the western territories. Davis, the Democrat, slaveholder, and ideal Southerner believed that the territories were open to settlement and that settlers had the right to bring their slave property with them.

Lincoln commented on Brown several times in the fall and winter of 1859-60. In one speech in Kansas, Lincoln stated that Brown has been wrong in his actions for two reasons. One reason was that Brown's method was against the law. The second reason was that the raid was useless as an attempt to get rid of a "great evil." He called Brown a man of "great courage," and "rare unselfishness," but ultimately concluded that Brown was "insane." Later on during the same Kansas trip, Lincoln said that Brown had been "executed for a crime against a state." He continued that if Kansas chose to go with those that would seek to destroy the Union, then "it would be our [I suppose he means federal government's] duty to deal with Kansas as old John Brown has been dealt with." In his famous address at Cooper Union in New York City on February 27, 1860, Lincoln reiterated the thoughts he has shared in Kansas, but went on the offensive. He claimed that there was not any connection between Brown and the Republican party. Lincoln said that Harpers Ferry was not a slave insurrection, but rather "an attempt by white men to get up a revolt among slaves, in which the slaves refused to participate." He explained that Southerners had attempted time and time again since the event to make political capital out of it. Lincoln claimed it was the perfect example of the South's attempt to "rule or ruin."

At the time of Harpers Ferry, Davis was a Mississippi senator in Washington DC. In speeches Davis called Harpers Ferry "a murderous raid," and "a conspiracy against a portion of the United States, a rebellion against the constitutional government of a State." He called for investigations into the affair and was a committee member who took an active role. In a senate speech on December 6, only four days after Brown was hanged, Davis explained the major reason an investigation was necessary. "The great consideration is the invasion of a State to disturb its domestic peace, the preservation of which is a purpose which stands prominent among the great objects for which our Union was formed."

Lincoln and Davis seem to differ little in opinion on Harpers Ferry, but while Lincoln could consider that Brown had courage and was unselfish, Davis would not have consented to such an idea. Both thought Brown wrong in that he violated the constitutional laws of a State. But, Lincoln saw Harpers Ferry as an isolated event. He thought slave insurrections were no more common after the formation of the Republican party than before. Davis, on the other hand, saw Harpers Ferry as what Southerners could expect from an unsympathetic North.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Kentucky Free Man of Color That Mentioned John Brown

Every once in a while when researching you stumble across something you didn't intend to find, but makes all the other fruitless searching worth the work. Last evening I intended to do some more searching through nineteenth-century Kentucky newspapers for mentions of John Brown. While looking for the roll I wanted to see I saw the Kentucky governors papers on microfilm. After speaking with the reference librarian who had a broad listing of what those paper contained, I saw one section for Governor Magoffin said "Harper's Ferry Affair." BINGO!

About half way through the roll I found what I had only hoped to find; a Kentucky African American perspective on John Brown.

This letter was was written on January 12, 1860; a time when things in Kentucky were fever-hot over Brown's raid. Brown had been hanged on December 2, 1859, and John Fee and his Berea missionaries had been exiled from the state later in the month. Cassius Clay had addressed a crowd from the Kentucky state capitol steps on January 10, in which he condemned Brown's actions, but supported the right to speak freely in opposition to slavery. The letter was written from Lebanon, Kentucky in Marion County.

The author, Abraham Meaux, was a free man of colour (as he spelled it), and was a barber. He had been given his freedom at the death of his master. Since his emancipation he said that, "I have lived every since from the Sweat of my own brow." He stated that "My forefathers was emegrated from Africa to America against their will," and he obviously thought that he too would be moved against his will, as he explained, "its hard that I will have to be driven from home to some place I know not where." Meaux was referring to the tighter controls that were being put on free blacks in Kentucky in the aftermath of John Brown's raid.

Meaux was not totally correct when he said that, "My unfortunate rase [race] had nothing to do with John Brown And nor Harpers ferry." It was quite well known that four of the five African Americans that participated in the raid were free blacks. Meaux expressed strong feelings against Brown and the trouble that he was currently causing free men of color. "I see the evil that he [Brown] has done us poor coloured people in the state of Kentucky. I wished that they had hung him the first day that they imprisoned him higher than Haman was hung," Meaux wrote. He explained that he well knew that there were some free blacks "that is getting their living out of chicken coops and Smoke houses" [thievery]. "But it will look so hard to drive those who stand up and faces the open day light upon his honesty like a white man."

Meaux said that he had recently heard rumors in his barber shop from legislators heading to Frankfort that the governor intended "to make a law to drive" the "free coloured people out of the State." Throughout the letter Meaux is very deferential as one would expect. To close out the letter he became even more so. "I am in hopes that this letter will not be considered as an insult nor as an offence to you. I am a stranger to you but I presume that you was acquainted with my father Walter Meaux he was a man who lived his days honest." He explained that, "Although I have some reckles relatives I have been accused in one or two instances myself but I can raise my right hand at the hour of death not guilty. Alough [allow] me to say againe as your humble servant do not receive this letter as an insult for it is not intended as such. I know you will not condisend [consider, consent?] to answer this address." He closed, "I remain your Obedient Servant;" a common closing of the era.

A description was written on the outside of the letter in different handwriting that said, "Abraham Meaux-free boy." Meaux had described himself as "Boy" earlier in the letter when he wrote he "was raised in the little county of Boyle can bring a repprobation [approbation] from my county court showing that I have been an obedient Boy and have lived honest. Although it looks like my obedience will do me no good in this case it seems that I will have to suffer with the guilty" [he means Brown].

Meaux's spelling and punctuation left something to be desired, but it was certainly no worse and probably much better than many of the whites whose letters I have read. I am curious to learn more about this "free man of colour." How old was he? Did he, as did many blacks in Kentucky, participate in the Civil War? How did he experience Reconstruction? I will probably never find the answers to those questions, but I now have something I had only hoped to find when I began my research; an African American Kentuckian's perspective on John Brown's raid. I love research!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Kentucky Confederate Provisional Governor Hawes Gives His Take On What the War Was About

Kentucky's role in the Civil War was unique. The state had representatives in the United States congress in Washington, and they had representatives in the Confederate congress in Richmond. They had a star in the United States flag, and they had a star in the Confederate battle flag. And, of course, men from the Bluegrass State fought for both the Union and Confederate armies. Kentucky really did experience a war of brother vs. brother.

Kentucky also had two competing governors. Early in the war Bowling Green was designated as the Confederate capital of Kentucky and George W. Johnson was named governor. Johnson's rule was short lived though as the Confederates were driven out of the state in the spring of 1862. Johnson traveled with the Confederate army on its retreat out of the state and fought as a private in the Battle of Shiloh with fellow Kentuckians where he was killed.

Richard Hawes (pictured above) was selected to replace Johnson, and when Braxton Bragg's Confederate army invaded the commonwealth in the late summer of 1862, the Confederate forces captured the capital at Frankfort and held an inauguration for Hawes. But, Hawes's stay in Frankfort proved very short as the Confederates left the state after the Battle of Perryville.

Recently a colleague at work gave me a copy of Hawes's inauguration speech. I found it extremely interesting. Of particular interest to me was a section of the oration where Hawes described why the war was being fought. He said, "The people were told, the that the Federal Government did not intend to destroy the titles to slave property. It is now a truth and a fact, that the great aims and purposes of this war of subjugation, are the abolition of African slavery."

He continued in this same vein, "Let us then forget if we care, the past minor issues and plant ourselves on the one side or the other of this Abolition war. I have lived in your midst from my boyhood to the age of seventy-five [actually sixty-five] years, and I have utterly misconceived the characters and souls of Kentuckians if they hesitate as to the side they will take in this Abolition war."

Hawes then outlined his feelings on slavery, the destruction that emancipation would bring, and the sacrifices needed to win the war. "You know, fellow citizens, what African slavery is. You know that emancipation would be the most unmitigated curse which could be inflicted upon the slave race. You know that the abolition of slavery would crush and desolate the planting States. You know that a war of subjugation, to be successful, must be ruthlessly borne over the dead bodies of millions of the most chivalrous devotees of liberty, who are the bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh."

The Confederate governor concluded this part of his speech on the subject of slavery by stating, "I assume the duties devolved on me as Provisional Governor, to give you and opportunity to take your stand and make your choice in this Abolition war, and to decide fully and fairly whether you will cast your destiny with the North or the South."

Bragg had entered Kentucky with wagon loads of rifles to give to the flocking Kentuckians that he was told would enlist if he would only make a stand for the state. Kentuckians never come to the Confederate standard as expected and Bragg left the state following the terrible Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862. Hawes would leave the state with Bragg, but his hopes and efforts for another major Kentucky campaign lasted until the end of the war.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just finished reading - The Kentucky Tragedy: A Story of Conflict and Change in Antebellum America by Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.

I first heard about the "Kentucky Tragedy" story shortly after moving to the state. The museum theater group were I work (The Kentucky Historical Society) presented a theatrical interpretation of the story at the annual Boone Day celebration this past June in Frankfort. Unfortunately I was not able to see the play, but I remember that my curiosity to learn more about this event was stirred from the play's description.

Author Dickson D. Bruce in The Kentucky Tragedy: A Story of Conflict and Change in Antebellum America not only covers the history of the Tragedy, but also explores the plethora of copy-cat works of fiction and theatre that closely followed this intriguing murder. Well known authors such as Edgar Alan Poe, William Gilmore Simms, and Charlotte Barnes, among a host of lesser known writers all used the story as a base for works largely because of the public interest in the story.

The idea of honor was as pervasive as any in antebellum America; and most historians would agree even more so in the Old South than anywhere else. At that time one's reputation and family name was paramount to any other consideration, especially for those of wealth and political renown. Bruce uses the idea of honor throughout his book to explain not only the story of the Kentucky Tragedy, but also as a framework to explain how the related events were received by Americans that read the story and the related fiction works that followed.

OK, OK, maybe I have whetted your appetite for what went down. Here goes: Around 1819, Solomon P. Sharp, one of the Bluegrass state's leading politicians allegedly seduced Ann Cooke, who later delivered a stillborn child she claimed Sharp fathered. A few years later Cooke married Jereboam Beauchamp (17 years her junior). During the summer of 1825, the scandal of Cooke and Sharp's illicit affair reemerged, most likely for political reasons. The resurfacing of the event obviously sent Mr., and now Mrs., Beauchamp into a fury. The couple agreed that the only honorable course left them, since Sharp had ruined Ann (and by marriage, Beauchamp's) good name, was to kill Solomon Sharpe.

On November 7, 1825, the day before the Kentucky legislature was set to meet, at about 2 a.m., Beauchamp went to Sharp's Frankfort home and knocked on the door. After a very brief conversation Beauchamp stabbed Sharp in the chest and then fled the scene. Beauchamp was caught, tried, and sentenced to hang for the murder. Ann received permission to visit often with her husband in jail while he awaited his execution date. After asking to be left alone sometime before the execution, they both drank laudanum that Ann had smuggled in, with a desire to commit a double suicide. The drug did not have the desired effect though, it only made them sick. The morning of the execution Ann somehow smuggled in a dagger, and as they pledged their love for one another, they apparently stabbed each another. The stab wound she received proved fatal but his wasn't. Beauchamp's hanging went on as scheduled. The two had requested to be placed together in a single grave and their wish was granted. Wouldn't this make for an interesting short movie?

In his conclusion, Bruce explains that although much as changed since the time of the Kentucky Tragedy, much has also remained the same. "We remain, in many ways, part of the Tragedy's world. Our admiration for the antisocial, violent hero remains undiminished. And many of the tendencies and tensions of antebellum life - its competitive individualism, its stress on appearances, even its seemingly archaic approaches to gender - remain with us as well. We continue to define courage, loyalty, and duty in essentially violent terms. Placing law on the side of rules and rules in opposition to heart-felt action, we remain wedded to scenarios in which law and justice, law and virtue, stand in tense relationship that only violence can resolve. We retain that fascination with and fear of the physical self that underlay the Tragedy's appeal in its own time."

It appears that the Kentucky Tragedy is still as popular today as it was in the 1820s and 1830s. Yet another recent scholarly work has appeared on the subject. Murder and Madness: The Myth of the Kentucky Tragedy by Matthew G. Schoenbachler just came out last fall from the University Press of Kentucky. Looks like I'll have to check out this one too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

1860 Kentucky Statute Limited Free Blacks

In an earlier post I discussed Governor Beriah Magoffin's call to reorganize the Kentucky state militia in the wake of John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid. In his message to the Kentucky General Assembly in December 1859, the governor also called for tighter restrictions on African Americans, especially the free people of color in the Commonwealth.

With thoughts of a potential John Brown-like insurrection weighing heavily on his mind, Governor Magoffin said, "Self-preservation and the safety of the republic demand renewed vigilance upon our part, whether agents and emissaries of the Republican party, and the enemies of the union come among us as teachers, as peddlers, or as free negroes from the free states." The governor was all too aware that free black men such as Dangerfield Newby, John Copeland, Lewis Leary, and Osbourne Anderson had been among Brown's most trusted men.

Magoffin made several recommendations he hoped the state legislature would take seriously. He said "I would therefore recommend a heavier taxation upon peddlers, a repeal of laws allowing free negroes to come within our borders from other States, and the enactment of a law imposing a heavy penalty upon them for coming to the State, under any pretense whatever." He continued, "It would be well, too, to offer to each free negro, who wished to leave the State, who had not the means, a sufficient sum of money to bear his expenses to this destination; when once out, he could not return." In effect he was saying, we want you gone, and we'll help you leave, and once you're gone, don't come back.

The governor made clear his thoughts about free blacks. "This population is a great nuisance in our State, and while the good and industrious ought to be protected and respected, I am not sure that it would not have been well to have sold into slavery again those who were guilty of crimes of a certain description, and for misdemeanors, instead of punishment now provided by law - for drunkenness, immorality, laziness, and general misconduct, upon proof and conviction before a proper tribunal, it might have been well to have hired them out for a year, or longer, for the first offense, and for the second to have banished them from the State, or sold them into slavery, the money raised this way to be transferred to the school fund. Better far would it have been, both for the black and the white man, than to permit him, an idler, a thief, a drunkard, and a vicious vagabond, to have the name of a freeman, and to be left uninterrupted to associate with and to corrupt our slave population."

The Kentucky state legislature took the legal ball in a hand-off from the governor and ran it for a touchdown when they put into law in that session many of his recommendations. On March 3, 1860 the lawmakers passed 14 laws titled, "An Act concerning free negroes, mulattoes, and emancipation."

The law said that no slave could be emancipated in Kentucky without a bond being taken out to remove that slave within 90 days after emancipation; any free black or mulatto that came into the state would be guilty of a felony and subject to a sentence of six years in the state penitentiary; any Kentucky free black that leaves the state and enters a free state will forfeit his residence and not be allowed to return; any free black "who shall keep a disorderly house, or be found loitering about, engaged in no honest calling" could be sold into servitude for no less than two and no more than ten years; any free black or mulatto that shall allow others "to assemble at houses occupied by them, or upon premises under their control, for the purpose of gaming, drinking, or dancing," would be punished as detailed in the previous statute.

Interestingly the lawmakers allowed free blacks (men over 21, and women over 18) that wanted to, to choose a master or mistress, "whom he or she will serve during life." They also made it illegal for anyone, white or black, to purchase a slave in order to make them anything other than a slave.

I am not passing judgement or trying to justify the actions of these law makers from 150 years ago; I'm only trying to show what they did and the motivations behind their actions. These laws vividly demonstrate the race basis of slavery in mid-nineteenth century America. Now, can you imagine any body of legislature anywhere at this time making laws such as these that applied to white men? How many white Kentuckians would have filled the state penitentiary if they had been subject to these statutes? Think about it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Help Save the Franklin Battlefield

CARTER COTTON GIN HOUSE-FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE
From an email sent by the Civil War Preservation Trust:

"Let's Reclaim a Key Section of the Franklin Breakthrough.
'The most desperate fighting imaginable.'
There were many horrifying scenes of carnage throughout the Civil War, but there are few that can compare tot what was witnessed on November 30, 1864 at the Battle of Franklin.
In what became one of the largest and most precipitous charges of the Civil War, Confederates of Frank Cheatham's corps hurled themselves against strong Union entrenchments. Despite facing enormous odds, these battle hardened Confederate forces did manage to break through the Union line at its center.
Facing the sudden prospect of total defeat, Colonel Emerson Opdyke and his brigade of veteran Midwestern soldiers - Opdyke's Tigers - charged forth into the breach and drove back the Confederate attackers. After five hours of frenzied fighting more than 8,500 soldiers would lay dead on the field and John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee was left in shambles.
CWPT is partnering with Franklin's Charge to preserve forever a 1.07 acre portion of the Franklin battlefield - ground which witnessed the Confederate breakthrough and Union counterattack. Join us in saving this hallowed ground.
Franklin 2010 Preservation Campaign
Acres: 1.07
Total Cost: $950,000
CWPT Fundraising Goal: $150,000
Match: $6.33 to $1
Match Sources: ABPP, Franklin's Charge
For more information - www.civilwar.org/franklin10
It's not everyday that we get the chance to reclaim a battlefield that has been lost. As we did with the former Pizza Hut location, at the Carter House Garden, and on the Eastern Flank, we are slowly taking back what was lost at Franklin. Join us in adding another crucial part of the puzzle at the Franklin battlefield.
Very sincerely yours,
Jim Lighthizer
President, CWPT"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Origins of Underground Railroad Name

While just about everyone has heard of the Underground Railroad, few realize the origins of the name. One story has it that in 1831 a runaway slave from Kentucky, Tice Davids, reached the Ohio River just across from the town of Ripley, Ohio. The fugitive's master was in close pursuit and as Davids slipped in river to swim across, his owner found a boat on the shore and followed. The owner could see Davids's bobbing up and down in the current and saw him emerge on the Ohio bank. When the master finally made his way across the river, he searched high and low in the town in attempt to reclaim his property. But Davids was no where to be found, which led the frustrated owner to exclaim that Davids must have "gone on an underground road."

Although the practice of aiding fugitive slaves predates the term itself, with the rise of the invention of the train, and the rapid expansion of the railroad system in this era, those terms were added to the "underground road" name. In addition, such railroad terms as stations (safe houses), and conductors (friends of fugitives), as well as phrases such as "catching the next train North," were appropriated by those that supported the practice.

Ripley, Ohio was known throughout Kentucky as "the hell hole of abolitionism," due to the fact that many people in the town provided help to fugitives from the Bluegrass state in their effort to make it to Canada. The Rev. John Rankin was the recognized leader in the community. His house sat high atop the town on a ridge (see picture above) and served as a beacon to Kentucky slaves. Rankin was born and raised in Jefferson County in East Tennessee and had later moved to Northern Kentucky to preach, but he finally moved on to Ohio when his antislavery messages were not well received in the Commonwealth. John Parker, a mixed raced freeman born into slavery in Virginia and then sold in a slave coffle to Alabama tried to escape several times before finally purchasing his freedom. He moved to the town in the mid 1840s after a short stay in New Albany, Indiana. Parker eventually established his own iron business and made numerous exciting trips into Kentucky to pilot slaves across the Ohio River and help send them on their way to Canada. His story is vividly brought to life in The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Both the Rankin and Parker houses survive today in Ripley. I hope to soon make a trip across the Ohio myself to see both of these historically significant sites.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

John Brown was Hanged with Kentucky Hemp Rope

One of the most rewarding things about doing research is finding that otherwise obscure nugget of information that helps answer the historical question you are asking and that solidifies your hypothesis. On the other hand, one of the most frustrating things about research is finding those nuggets of information and then having to wait to find time to dig deeper to learn even more about a source.

I recently ran across a couple of accounts that credited Kentucky with supplying the hemp rope that was used to hang John Brown. Apparently three states (South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky) vied for the honor of providing the cordage, but the Bluegrass hemp won out. One account I found explained that the three ropes were examined in a public forum for several days before the execution. The South Carolina rope that was made of cotton was judged too weak for the job, and the Missouri hemp rope was also judged inferior to the Kentucky rope.

So, what happened to this relic after the hanging. It appears there is some disagreement in the historical record. One account said that the wooden gallows was disassembled and mixed with other lumber for use in other construction projects while the rope was burned. Other accounts say that the rope still exists. One possible sample of rope is in the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum in Front Royal, Virginia (pictured above). Apparently this piece of rope was brought back from the hanging by the Warren Rifles militia unit that attended the hanging and later became a company of the 17th Virginia infantry regiment in the Civil War. Another piece is said to be in the West Virginia State Museum. The Massachusetts Historical Society also claims to have some of the rope. A newspaper article from the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette published in 1929 said that the rope or a piece of it was in the Kentucky archives. I don't think that the Kentucky archives was even existed in its current state in 1929, but possibly they meant the Kentucky Historical Society; anyhow, apparently this piece of the rope no longer exists.
I think that it is a particularly significant gesture for the state of Kentucky to send this token of its hate for abolitionism to Virginia to be used in the execution of Brown. It shows that the state was committed to the institution of slavery and that an attempt such as Brown's to end that practice would not be tolerated. Kentucky was nationally known for its hemp and rope production during the Antebellum years, and by choosing this gifted symbol it solidified its proslavery position in the country's perception.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Which is it, Southern or southern?

Are they any English majors or grammar experts out there that can help me out? I am have been having trouble deciding whether the word Southern or Southerner should be capitalized or not. I was informed by a professor in graduate school that the proper use is, southern, with a small "s". Later, I was corrected by yet another authority that the "s" in Southern or Southerner should be capitalized.

I know that the word South should be capitalized when talking about the region, and should be lower case when speaking about the direction (same goes for North, or course). But when it comes to Southern it seems that anything goes...although there must be a correct and incorrect way to use it. I have often referred to my multitude of books on Southern history for examples, and there too it is used both ways, although, it seems that more recent texts go with lower case "s," while the older books use Southern or Southerner more. It seems that the only rule I can figure is to use one or the other consistently.

If anyone has an opinion or actually knows the rule I would be glad to be properly informed. I have always used Southern, Southerner or Northern and Northerner on the blog here, but I would like to be correct. It will help me sleep better at night.