Thursday, April 4, 2013

Crying Wolf in Owen County

In a number of previous posts I have shared how the potential threat of slave insurrections engendered fear in Kentuckians during the antebellum era. Much of this terror was due to the state's geographical location. Nestled between the free states of the North and the deeper South states, Kentucky was truly a border state - and as many whites thought, susceptible to a slave insurrection or abolitionist raid instigated and chiefed by white men.

The dreaded potential was vividly illustrated in a letter that ran in the Frankfort Daily Commonwealth on May 17, 1861. To many, the outbreak of the Civil War only heightened the possibility of such an act.

Letter from Owenton

Owenton, Ky., May 13, 1861

Dear Sir: I understand that Frankfort on last Thursday morning was in a state of great commotion and excitement, arising from the report that there was an armed band of negroes ravaging the country along the valley of Eagle Creek, in Owen county. I have no doubt that this matter, ridiculous as it is and was, has found its way into the papers, and is producing legitimate fruit. The whole thing, from my information (which is reliable) had its origin in the neighborhood of Lusby's Mills, on Eagle Creek. A [black] man of the neighborhood had business at a tanyard, not far distant, and went there on foot, taking his gun on his shoulder, and on his route passed in sight of the house occupied by the family of the tanner. The old lady, (who is exceedingly timid and nervous,) saw him, and was at once filled with alarm, and in all due haste went to the house of a near neighbor, and these told that she had seen a negro armed with a gun, &c., and that there was a large number of them, she had no doubt, armed in a similar way in the woods, and that their object was to slay and pillage. This was enough. In a marvelously short time, that whole region of country was in a state of wildest excitement, and by half past 3 o'clock in the evening, the information was received in Owenton that there was from three to five hundred free negroes, headed by white men, all fully armed, who were passing through the country, along the valley of Eagle, in the vicinity of Lusby's Mills, and were slaying all that came in their way, without regard to age, sex, or condition. I write that you may have the truth in regard to this thing.
Yours truly,

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