In celebration of the heroes of the Underground Railroad, Ohio Memory and the Ohio Historical Society are providing free digital access to the internationally-acclaimed Wilbur H. Siebert Collection during this year’s Black History Month. The following narrative [MSS116AV BOX 57 08OH 031] by escaped slave Asbury Parker is from the collection. Spelling and punctuation are Parker’s own.
[Ohio Lawrence County]
Interview with Asbury Parker of Ironton, Ohio, Sept. 30, 1894.
Asbury Parker said:
I was born In Cabell County, West Virginia, in 1830 (I think was the date). I belonged to Richard Brown. I was with him till I Was 13 years old and then was sold at his death and came to Lawrence County, Ky., on Sandy Row and was there till I was about 21 years old when I left in 1857.
I was a team-driver about Wm. Patterson’s iron works-the Clinton Furnace in Greenup County (now Boyd Co.), Kentucky. Jim Rowe was my purchaser. I got acquainted with a good many white men from the other side of the River. They seemed to take a liking to me, and some of ‘em told me that I was too smart to be a slave. They would tell me about Sandusky City and Cleveland, north on the lakes, and that I could take shipping there and cross to Canada.
I allus wanted to be free and when Buchanan run against Fremont there was a good deal of talk about war over there if Fremont was elected, about his being a damned Abolitionist and a friend of the nigger. I kep thinkin’ about runnin’ away but had been puttin’ it off. I had almost fell out with God for making me a slave. But when Buchanan was elected I made up my mind I never would be freed and to make a break, and I told the boys that by the end of another year no white man would be collectin’ my wages.
In the latter part of April I came over. I crossed the River at Huntington (there was no Huntington there then). A friend of mine put me over the River his skiff and I came here to Ironton about 2 o’clock P.M. and met Gabe Johnson. (When I was 18 years old several of us boys came over to store-boat to get some brandy on the Ohio side. We got it and was goin’ back when a boat with a couple of white gentlemen rowed up and one black-whiskered man asked whare we’d been. I told him and he said “You been in a free state, and going back to Kentucky again? You’re G-d- fools.” I said “Boys you hear that, and wanted to start then, but they were afraid. I think the man spoke the truth).
I went to my mother-in-law’s house. She was free woman on this side. Dan Holt and Nat Salisbury went with me that Sunday night out to the settlemtns of Olive Furnace (Lawrence Co.): After I got out there daylight had struck us and the boys told me where to stay and that night to go to old Cratoff’s house—and old colored man and a great U.G.R.R. worker. They told the old man I’d be there that night. On my way up I stumbled over a fallen telegraph wire, and I had never seen one, but heard of ‘em, and I said G— that thing. It’s tellin’ the white people just where I’m goin’ —that they’s a runaway nigger in the woods.”
The old man took me in. I was dressed in black broad cloth. I’d left off my Kentucky jeans. The old man told me I could travel in broad daylight if I’d hold up my head and act free. He conducted me over into the Stewart settlement that night and we got there at one or two o’clock in the morning, and I got my breakfast there. From the Stewart settlement I went up the Washington switch—Cratoff went up part of the way with me and told me to take the train there. I had never seen a train before, but when it slowed down I got on and never knew nothin’ about tickets. I offered the conductor a $5 bill on the Wheeling Bank of Virginia. He took it and changed it, but I think he knew I was a scape Jack. He saw me thru to Hampden (in Vinton Co.) and there saw that I got on the train for Columbus.
I got in there that night about 11 o’clock and gave a boy ten cents to take me to the house of colored people. I told him I had kin there but couldn’t find them till in the morning. He took me to a policeman and the policeman showed me a street where he said all the people were colored from one end to the other. The second door I knocked at they took me in. They sent for a tall barber—John—to ask me some questions about whar I’d come from. The family’s name was Smith. I stopped there a couple of days and rested. From there I went out to the Benedict settlement. There I found another colored man a resting—had been there a day or two.
We were directed to Jim McKibben’s the other side of Mt. Gilead, about a couple of miles, then up to Iberia. Stopped with Richard Hammond’s (four or five brothers of ‘em) John and others), and I also stopped with old man Armstrong. I was there three or four days before I left. All that ridge was what they called Republican Ridge—all white men. Professor Gordon was the President of the college there. I was around the college some. Then I went to Galion, Ohio, went right on up the railroad track, stopped at a little house on the left about ten o’clock at night and got something to eat.
Then we went right on, followed the track and got to Sandusky about 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday. After we got into Sandusky the first man we spoke to was a colored man. He brought a boy and the boy knew all about the U.G.R.R. and went and came back with $8 he’d collected. The boy then took us down to the boat—the “Bay City,” running from Sandusky to Detroit. The boy told us to get off the first landing, at Malden, then we’d be in Canada. We landed about 11 o’clock in the night—Friday.
The next day or two I found boys [slaves] there that had run away from the same county—Alick Mead, Lewis Bealer, Jim Pogue, Tom Clansy, Daniel Brown (Fiddler Brown), Mary Mead. I stayed in Canada 13 years before I came back—mostly in Windsor, opposite Detroit. They was settled there by the hundreds—Kentuckians, & West Viriginians mostly, but I saw one from Alabama and one from North Carolina and several (3 or 4) from Tenn. When I was there a good many owned land and farmed, 25 40, a few 100 acres. Others worked by the day on farms and chopping wood.