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“Oh, I’m just taking three pigs to market” –Ohio’s Underground Railroad

Posted by | March 19, 2015

By the 1820’s, several thousand African Americans had settled in Ohio. Early slave laws discouraged black settlement. In spite of the severe fines and penalties imposed by these laws, Ohioans were quite active in aiding fugitive slaves on their journey north to freedom in Canada on the Underground Railroad network.

Detail from ‘The underground railroad,’ by Chas. T. Webber, c1893.

A number of small black communities sprang up in southeastern Ohio and quite often served as “stations” along this network of safe houses. By necessity, the routes of the Underground Railroad generally avoided cities, where more people meant a greater risk of being caught. They were often across areas of marginal farmland and wooded areas where houses were few.

Anyone willing to take the risk might have been a conductor: abolitionists, clergy, farmers, teachers, whites, free blacks, mulattoes, Native Americans, rich or poor. Some, like Harriet Tubman are famous for their sacrifices. But others worked in secret, and never told even their families of their involvement.

“The threats of local proslavery people did not frighten the Abolitionists,” says Norris Franz Schneider in Bridge City: The Story of Zanesville and Muskingum County, Ohio.

“They not only held firmly to their opinions, but also helped escaping slaves to reach freedom in Canada. For this aid they were subject to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for six months under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. At least twenty-five Muskingum County families risked this punishment by operating stations on the Underground Railroad.

Affadilla Deaver (b. 1808?) worked with the Underground Railroad in Deavertown, Morgan County, Ohio.

“This was a series of stations for transporting slaves secretly to Canada. Escaping slaves crossed the Ohio River near Parkersburg or Point Pleasant and were conducted through Deavertown to Zanesville and westward to New Concord on the way to Bloomfield and Coshocton.

“Two northbound Underground Railroad lines through Rosseau and Pennsville came together at the home of Thomas L. Gray, a harness maker in Deavertown. One of Gray’s trusted assistants was Rial Cheadle, teacher, peddler, keelboatman, and maker of pewter buttons. On peddling trips to the South, Cheadle posed as a halfwit and entertained the slaves with eccentric songs. The plantation owners saw no connection between Cheadle’s visits and the departure of their slaves. But Cheadle always had several slaves with him when he knocked at the door of friends and hummed softly, “I’m on my way to Canada, where colored men are free.”

“The first station one mile north of Deavertown was operated by Mrs. Affadilla Deaver. Two miles farther slaves were kept at the home of Henry Weller. Avoiding Roseville, the runaways found their next refuge at the home of Lydia Stokely.

Thomas L. Gray (1815-1899) pictured here standing in front of his home in Deavertown, Morgan County, Ohio. He used this house as a station on the Underground Railroad.

Thomas L. Gray (1815-1899) pictured here standing in front of his home in Deavertown, Morgan County, Ohio. He used this house as a station on the Underground Railroad.

“The store and tan yard of Andrew Dugan two and one-half miles above the Stokely farm gave the next haven. Two miles farther north the escaping slaves found safety at the grist mill of Josephus Powell. Stations between this mill and Putnam were kept at the Five Mile House, and the William Wiley, Cyrus Merriam, and Jenkins homes.

“As these people concealed slaves during the day and smuggled them to other stations at night, they had many amusing and exciting adventures. Gray once started to Roseville with three slaves and realized that he was being watched. He had the three boys lie on the floor of the wagon and hold up their hands and feet. Then he threw a sheet over them. When some proslavery men asked him what he was hauling, Gray replied: “Oh, I’m just taking three pigs to market.”

“Affadilla Deaver started to Roseville one morning with several slaves concealed on the bottom of the wagon beneath straw and produce. At the bottom of Wigton’s hill the wagon stuck in the mud. Not daring to remove her load, she asked four proslavery farmers to assist her. Unknowingly they helped the slaves on their way to Canada.”

Sources: “Bridge City: The Story of Zanesville and Muskingum County, Ohio,” by Norris Franz Schneider , The World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, 1950, pages 207-8.

Underground Railroad and Freedom Trails on the National Forests, Wayne National Forest website, Nelsonville, OH: http://bit.ly/f2QJeY

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Alarmed by the American Plutocracy

Posted by | March 18, 2015

As we look over the country today we see two classes of people. The excessively rich and the abject poor, and between them is a gulf ever deepening, ever widening, and the ranks of the poor are continually being recruited from a third class, the well-to-do, which class is rapidly disappearing and being absorbed by the very poor.

“On one side of this gulf we see the people toiling day and night, in the fields, the mines, the factories, working for meager wages, scantily clad and poorly fed and when the year’s crop is gathered or the day’s wages are paid we see the products of the farms and the fruits of the toil transferred across this inseparable gulf and delivered to those who are on the opposite side.

“An inspection shows that they are well clothed and that they have every comfort and luxury. They live in splendid mansions, in gorgeous palaces. We see no farms, no mines, no mills, no factories, for the dwellers on this side of the gulf do not labor. Yet there is piled up all the products of the farms, the mines, the factories which came from the other side.

“A little study of the situation reveals the fact that the laws are such that this vast army of people on one side are compelled to labor and toil in poverty in order that the few dwellers on the other side may lead lives of idleness and luxury.

“One of these classes represents plutocracy, the other represents the great masses, the toilers of the nation.

“The greatest struggle of all the ages is the one now going on between these two classes. Plutocracy is endeavoring to widen and deepen the chasm while the people are trying to bridge it until there will be a common ground on which all can meet on an equal footing.

“The rapid concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is the most alarming sign of the times and unless speedily checked portends the decay of our national greatness. The danger is so imminent that thinking men everywhere are alarmed.

“I have an unwavering faith in the honesty and patriotism of the masses and believe that when the critical moment arrives they will exhibit the spirit of our ancestors when they declared what ‘all men are, and of right ought to be, free and equal.’”

The American Plutocracy, by Milford Wriarson Howard, Holland Pub. Co, NY, 1895

Milford Wriarson Howard (1862-1937) wrote three nonfiction books on political subjects. He was a member of Congress, 7th Alabama District when he wrote ‘The American Plutocracy.’ In 1894, he had run as a Populist following a bitter split in Alabama’s Democratic Party, winning in a violent race where threats were made against his family. Two years later he suffered a nervous breakdown but successfully ran for re-election, moving his family from Ft Payne to Cullman, AL, for their safety.

Milford Wriarson HowardHoward was seriously considered as a candidate for governor of Alabama and the U.S. Senate, and was nominated for the presidency in 1908. He was unsuccessful in a third 1910 Congressional run.

In 1927, Howard took his wife on a six-month trip to Europe, writing a series of articles about their trip for The Birmingham News. He interviewed fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Italy, and the interview changed his political views, causing him to endorse fascism. His last book was “Facism, A Challenge to Democracy.” published in 1928.

Credit is due him for the existence of Alpine Camp for Boys, the Master Schools for underprivileged children on Lookout Mountain, Sally Howard Memorial Chapel, and the Scenic Highway, which runs the length of Lookout Mountain. His dreams led to Comer Scout Reservation, DeSoto Park, and DeSoto Parkway.

 

sources: http://alabamaliterarymap.lib.ua.edu/author?AuthorID=111
www.mentonealabama.org/Strayhorn/StrayhornLegends.htm
The American Plutocracy, by Milford Wriarson Howard, Holland Pub. Co, NY, 1895
www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10904378

 

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Book Review: ‘The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom’

Posted by | March 17, 2015

John-Brown-150x150Please welcome guest author John Brown. Brown is professor of political science and history at Roane State Community College in Harriman, TN. A graduate of Roane State, the University of Tennessee, and Appalachian State University, John is the author of Harriman: Images of America. He currently resides in Oak Ridge, TN with his wife, Maggy, son, Ian, and two dogs, Barney and Bear.

 

No industry is more associated with Appalachia than mining. The mining industry is a powerful force in the region, employing thousands and supplying the coal that generates electricity for millions. It is also one of the most controversial, with questions about mine safety surfacing periodically, especially after all too common mining disasters. The United Mine Workers, representing around 80,000 miners, is also a potent and controversial force, though its influence has declined in recent years.

Devil cover

Controversy about mining and strife between miners and their employers is not a new phenomena, as historian James Green points out in his new book, The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia’s Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom.

Devil recounts the four decade long struggle to unionize miners in the Mountain State, spanning the years from the 1890s until the 1930s.

Although an interesting and important part of American history, this is an area that has often been neglected. Green’s work is a good introduction and will be of interest to historians and general readers alike.

By the 1890s industrialization had brought new demand for coal, and extracting the mineral quickly became a staple of West Virginia’s economy. Mining brought jobs, industry, and money to the region. Unfortunately, the benefits were not evenly spread; speculators reaped handsome profits as miners themselves struggled with dangerous working conditions, low pay, long hours, limited job security, and no benefits. The tension was increased by the fact that outside speculators from New York, Connecticut, and elsewhere held most of the state’s collieries (in southern counties, this was true of 81% of collieries), and were reaping huge benefits but passing along little to West Virginians.

In addition to these privations, coal companies exerted almost complete control over miners’ lives. Companies constructed entire towns and owned every inch of land, including the homes, stores, schools, and churches. Teachers, ministers, store employees, and everyone employed in the town were a company employee. Miners who complained about the arrangement or otherwise caused trouble ran the risk of being blacklisted. At a time when northern factory workers were fighting to organize, it’s no surprise that similar efforts received a sympathetic ear from West Virginia’s miners, although many miners were cautious about publicly associating with a cause that could jeopardize their livelihoods.

The movement toward unionization in West Virginia was a long, hard slog, and it was by no means a foregone conclusion that it would be successful. Mining companies certainly worked hard to ensure that it would fail. Miners themselves, skeptical of the outsiders who led the United Mine Workers of America, divided along racial lines, and fearful for their jobs, were themselves reluctant during the early years, and would never be completely united. Accomplishing their goals would call for drastic measures, and both sides committed violent atrocities. Ultimately, however, the efforts succeeded due to the hard work of the miners themselves.

Entrance to a WV coal mine. (from Library of Congress - http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/nclc.01055/)

Entrance to a WV coal mine. (from Library of Congress – http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/nclc.01055/)

Those unfamiliar with the labor movement in West Virginia might initially think referring to these confrontations as “mine wars” to be hyperbolic, but as Green makes clear, it is no exaggeration.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, the most famous armed confrontation between union and nonunion forces, was the largest insurrection since the Civil War.

By 1920, unions had made inroads into most of the state, but the southern counties continued to hold out. Thousands of miners marched into nonunion Logan County to force unionization and began a protracted battle with nonunion miners, which ended only when federal troops arrived.

In the short-term, the union’s efforts were unsuccessful: the southern counties remained nonunion, and union membership plummeted. Nonetheless, many opinion makers of the time, including the Nation and the Washington Star, sided with the miners, giving them a needed public relations boost. Nonetheless, full unionization was still more than a decade away.

Green’s writing style is engaging and easy to follow. He is a gifted storyteller who manages to weave a fascinating narrative that is both scholarly and fun to read. Though I have read about this period of history, I am by no means an expert. Nonetheless, I had no trouble following Green’s account, and was never bored by his writing.

Another strength of Green’s book is his ability to put the labor strife in broader contexts, specifically that of Appalachian culture, and the labor strife prominent in much of the U.S. This was a time when the Appalachian people were seen by many outsiders as savages, mired in ignorance and violence (the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud had ended only in 1891), or as impoverished unfortunates, needing the help of more “civilized” outsiders.

Mother Jones (from Library of Congress - http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a10320/)

Mother Jones (from Library of Congress – http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3a10320/)

These views affected how the conflict was perceived, with even some union leaders viewing West Virginia miners’ reluctance to unionize as evidence of their inferiority, and newspapers such as the New York Times seeing the dispute not as a labor conflict, but rather as the result of “primitive ferocities” and evidence that West Virginians were “of an inheritance and habit apart” from the rest of the country. Perhaps these attitudes also help explain why this period seems to receive relatively little attention from historians, and why getting Blair Mountain recognized as a national landmark was such a struggle, and why it has since been delisted.

This, of course, is not to say that violence was not an issue in the region, or that it didn’t play a role in unionization. Regardless of how unfairly they were covered outside the region, feuds did occur, and brutality was a way of life for those working in the mines. The descendants of pioneers, slaves, or recent immigrants, their lives had been a struggle for generations, and mining, where death by accident was a daily threat, must have hardened many men. Living in a society where they had virtually no legal means to air their grievances, and even complaining about one’s lot could cost one’s livelihood and home, left them with few options.

Although giving Appalachian culture its due in the book, Green also discusses how the mine wars fit into the larger history of labor strife. One of the more fascinating figures Green brings to life is Mary “Mother” Jones, an Irish immigrant who became one of the most radical voices for workers’ rights during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

After losing her husband and four children to disease in Memphis, she moved to Chicago in 1870 to start over, and quickly became a leader in various labor movements there. Her interest in the plight of workers led her to take part in various strikes in California, Pennsylvania, and eventually led her to Charleston, WV, where she spoke before a “monster rally” and later attempted to organize the UMWA in the state. Though unsuccessful, Jones became a powerful voice for the miners of West Virginia, defending them against the common charges of ignorance and cowardice.

Don Chafin (from West Virginia History Collection - http://ow.ly/KpRuG)

Don Chafin (from West Virginia History Collection – http://ow.ly/KpRuG)

Green recreates a colorful cast of characters and organizations Green. Along with aforementioned “Mother” Jones, Green brings to life the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, whose agents served as hired thugs for the mining companies, beating and even murdering their enemies; Logan County sheriff Don Chafin, the commander of anti-union forces at Blair Mountain who would stop at nothing to keep the union out of his county; his archenemy Devil Anse Hatfield, whose support for unionization may have had more to do with animosity toward Chafin than fealty for labor; and the Rev. John Wilburn, the minister-turned-guerilla-fighter at Blair Mountain, who, after hearing about a police raid that killed miners, proclaimed, “The time has come for me to lay down my Bible and pick up my rifle and fight for my rights.”

While reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder how future historians will view the politics of mining in our own era. Many of the controversies Green discusses remain alive today. As mining disasters at Sago and Upper Branch, as well as the indictment of former Massey Energy Company CEO Don Blankenship demonstrate, the question of mine safety has not been settled. Nor have concerns about the environmental impact of mining, particularly that over mountain top removal. While it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the era Green discusses, it would appear we still have a long way to go.

I would recommend The Devil is Here in These Hills to anyone with an interest in American history, mining, or Appalachian studies. James Green has written an enlightening, accessible tome that should become the standard history of mining unionization in America.

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Berea College Archives preserve the stories, black and white, man and woman

Posted by | March 16, 2015

Rachel VagtsPlease welcome guest author Rachel Vagts. Ms. Vagts joined Berea College’s Hutchins Library as the Head of Special Collections and Archives in February 2014. A native of Minnesota, she spent the previous 15 years as the College Archivist at Luther College in Decorah, IA and has served as the Director of the Archives Leadership Institute since 2013.

 

It was spring break last week at Berea and a storm closed the college on Thursday. Friday was a fairly quiet day with a few researchers and more than half of the staff out for the day. The last event on my schedule was a reception at the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education. It was a send-off for a group of college community members who were traveling to Selma, Alabama over the weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery. I wanted to attend because my colleague Chris Miller had put together an exhibit of photos from the Berea College group who traveled to the march in 1965, and because there would be alumni returning to campus who had been part of the march.

In no way was I prepared for the next two and a half plus hours. As I sat listening to our alumni tell their stories of traveling to Selma, some for the second march on Turnaround Tuesday and many others for the third and final march on the 21st, I was so moved by their connection to our college’s history. Yes, they were called to act in the name of expanded civil rights, but again and again the name of the college’s founder, John G. Fee, was repeated.

Courtesy Berea College Alumni Relations.

Ann Beard Grundy ’68 and Barbara Cranford Rhymes ’65 look at the photo of the “Berea 59” with Dr. Alicestyne Turley, the Director of the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education. Courtesy Berea College Alumni Relations.

 

Fee founded Berea College in 1855 as a school for men and women, black and white. Amongst his many beliefs was that he was anti-caste–believing that all people deserve equal treatment. Most spoke of how participating in the March had changed their lives–nothing was ever the same after Selma.

It made me regret not acting sooner to volunteer to be a part of the group that was traveling from Berea, but instead I had my own journey to take on Saturday. I was making a return trip to Alcoa, Tennessee to accept the donation of a collection of oral histories–Blount County Black History-As Told by Those Who Lived It-Then and Now. The collection had come to Berea via an Alcoa native and member of our faculty, Professor Andrew Baskin. We had been working with the donors for a few months and this was my second trip to Alcoa.

Working with this group (Dorothy Kincaid, Jo Davenport and Charles Pride) had been a pleasure, and after nearly a year of talking about how we might bring the collection to Berea College, it gave us all a sense of satisfaction. It was a concrete step in reaching one of our collection development goals of increasing our documentation of African-Americans in Appalachia.

I returned home feeling a strong need to write to two of my college professors, Greg Kaster and Kate Wittenstein. I had studied with them at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota, taking African-American history with Professor Wittenstein during spring semester of my first year and taking a number of classes with Professor Kaster, but the most memorable being a January term course during my junior year called “Do the Right Thing.”

Courtesy Berea College Alumni Relations.

Members of the “Berea 59″ who participated in the Selma marches in 1965, hold a banner created by Carolyn Hearne, ’66, who made the same one they carried 50 years ago. Courtesy Berea College Alumni Relations.

 

In that course we studied the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. We read and wrote a great deal and most memorably for me, we watched every single episode of Eyes on the Prize. I thanked them for the education they had provided to a young woman who had grown up in a very homogenous small town in Minnesota and how I was using those lessons every day in my work.

Much as I was a student of history then, I remain one now. I am learning the history of the college where I work and whose history I am charged with preserving, but I also am learning the history of the region where I now live. As a collection that represents the first integrated co-educational college in Kentucky, we have a deep desire to continue to preserve the stories of the people who were a part of our college and our region, whether they are black or white, man or woman.

Last week was one of those times when I felt the history happening around me and it made me proud to be a part of it, part of the history of Berea College and to continue to do what we are able to preserve the story and history of all peoples of Appalachia.

 

 

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With their Heads Together as Lovin’ as Two Little Kittens

Posted by | March 13, 2015

Major crime remained very rare in Noble County [OH], and the occasional exceptions made big news. One of the county’s more baffling murder cases began on November 5, 1905, when the family of William Leisure returned to their Carlisle home from Sunday church services and found Leisure sitting fatally wounded in his chair with two bullet wounds to the head.

One bullet, fired from inside the house, was found lodged in the door, but no weapon could be found. Subsequent investigations were apparently fruitless as well, because in December, the county commissioners offered a $350 reward for evidence leading to conviction of the guilty party. They later increased the reward to $500, and on January 10, 1906, the apparent breakthrough came.

On evidence gathered by T.P. Gidden of Caldwell and a Cambridge detective, officials arrested James Harvey Leisure, a nephew of the deceased. A few weeks after his arrest, a grand jury indicted Leisure for first degree murder. Meanwhile, rumors spread that the accused had a romantic interest in his uncle’s daughter, while others spoke of his alleged love for Leisure’s wife.

By the time the trial opened on March 13, interest in the case was intense. Courtroom spectators reportedly stood “on window sills, on the backs of seats, on the tops of desks and wherever a footing could be had.” They watched as over fifty witnesses told their stories in an epic two week courtroom drama.

The prosecution based much of its case on James Harvey Leisure’s alleged love for his uncle’s wife. They produced one witness, a neighbor, who testified, according to the Republican Journal, that she had once seen the accused and Mrs. Leisure “with their heads together as lovin’ as two little kittens.”

They were unable, however, to secure a witness to the crime. This aided the defense, which called a large number of character witnesses before both counsels addressed the jury one last time. With two weeks of testimony to consider, the jury deliberated 6 hours before finding Leisure not guilty. No subsequent arrests were made in the case. James Harvey Leisure died in 1908.

 

from A History of Noble County, 1887-1987, by Roger Pickenpaugh, Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1988

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