Friday, September 25, 2009

Reminiscences of Slavery

The Marietta Register, December 28, 1893

Notes on the Under Ground Railway as given by Wm. Smith, of Cutler, Ohio.  Taken by Prof. E. P. Ames in Company with I. W. Putnam, Nov. 19, 1893.

Mr. Smith was born in 1825.  At the age of 14 he commenced the work of liberating the slaves along the border and did not cease his efforts till Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  One morning Mr. Smith and his father were busily engaged about the tar kiln when two strangers, well mounted, approached them and asked if any escaped slaves had been seen in that neighborhood, saying there was a company of eighteen, composed of four men, four women and nine children; Mr. Smith did not remember the description of the other.  A reward of $1,100 was offered for their capture.  These men wore homespun garments, cut in a fashion peculiar to Virginians.  A cape, bordered with a fringe, was attached to the shoulder of the coat, the sleeves of which were also fringed.  Upon receiving the reply that no negroes had been seen, the hunters went on their way toward Plymouth.  About three hours after the above conversation, Hamilton Cottle appeared, much excited, yet apparently anxious to conceal it.  After a few commonplace remarks he began to inquire if there was any short cut through the woods to the home of a certain Newman Tate.  After giving the desired information, Mr. Smith inquired if he had seen the "nigger" hunters.  Cottle evaded a direct answer and asked of Smith what he would do should he see the runaway negroes.  "I would secrete them in a cave and feed them," said he.  Cottle now knew Smith to be a friend and said:  "I will let you into a secret; I am endeavoring to find a secret way of escape for eighteen negroes who are now concealed in a cave on the farm of Joseph Plumley."  Mr. Smith and Cottle started for the hiding place while young Smith was placed on guard and instructed to keep a sharp lookout for the slave hunters.  That night the slaves were piloted through the dark and secret woodland path to Plymouth, where other friends took charge of them and sent them on to land of the free.

The following about "Stumpy Jess," who escaped from slavery in 1842, is taken from Prof. Ames' notes:  "Stumpy Jess belonged to the Neal family, who owned the farm on Washington's Bottom now owned by Capt. Cooper.  Jess received the name "Stumpy" from the fact that he had his feet amputated from having them frozen while as a boy he lay in a hay stack in Decatur township, hiding from his master.  Jess afterward made his escape to Canada, but returned penitent and sad.  Ere long his family, consisting of his wife, 30 years of age, a young woman of 22, a boy of 12 and a small child, escaped to Canada.  The above description of the family was given by the slave hunters, who were elegantly armed, well mounted, and gentlemanly in their bearing.  Jess followed about two weeks after his family.  Alex. Johnson, Creighton Loraine and Neamiah Spencer piloted him to Station Smith; thence he was taken to Daniel Coursey's, from there to Lee's, and thence to Samuel Smith's, beyond Plymouth."

Judge D. S. Gibbs of Hutchinson, Kansas, formerly of Noble county, writes:  "My Under Ground railroad knowledge is very limited.  My older brothers were conductors on that road.  J. D. Gibbs' house was a depot and eating house, and many a poor slave was sheltered and fed and helped on his way to Canada, doing most of the work at night.  My father was one of the old abolitionists and also was one of volunteer workers on said road.  From 1840 to 1856 it was very unpopular to be the friend of the slave.  About 1846, H. L. Preston, residing in Columbiana county, Ohio, came into our neighborhood (Port Soakum, near Dudley station on the C. & M. railroad) and was employed to teach our school.  Soon afterward, it became known he was a prominent anti-slavery man and he had the manhood to declare his sentiments in public.  An effort was made to have him discharged, but it failed.  My father and Gilman Dudley were directors and both anti-slavery men.  Mr. Preston was announced to lecture on the subject of slavery at our school house one evening.  A mob came, led by a Methodist class leader, all full of whisky, and with them their best and only arguments, rotten eggs, scandalous and blasphemous language.  The mob took possession by force and besmeared the school room, books and many ladies with rotten eggs, Mr. Preston receiving more than his share.  This outrageous conduct made the cause of freedom many friends.  During the same winter I made an appointment, through Isaac Lund, for Mr. Preston to lecture at Macksburg; there he was again assaulted by a mob throwing rotten eggs at him while he was speaking.  One of the eggs hit him on the shirt bosom.  He went on with his speech, remarking that the arguments used against him were not very pleasant, but as they (the mob) had no better ones to offer he would pardon them."

The writer remembers well Mr. H. L. Preston, the abolition lecturer mentioned by Judge Gibbs.  About that time (1846) he came to our village, Middle Creek, then in "Dark Monroe," and lectured in my father's tobacco packing house.  I was about twelve years old at that time.  I remember distinctly there was some opposition to his lecturing, but there was no mob violence indulged in.  The next day he lectured at Harrietsville, and we all felt sure that he would be mobbed there, as that town and vicinity were in those days considered rough.  The only person who disturbed the speaker was an old man, named Maiden, a noted fox hunter.  Mr. Preston was an elegant speaker.  Some years after that, the Hon. W. P. Cutler had a joint discussion with H. L. Preston on the subject of slavery.  At that time Mr. Cutler was a Whig and the Whigs and Abolitionists did not quite agree in those days, but in about ten years thereafter (1856) they stood upon the same platform.

I remember one of Mr. Cutler's jokes and will relate it.  In ante-bellum days in Ohio, a person could not vote unless he had a preponderance of white blood in his veins.  Mr. Cutler was one of the judges of the election in Warren township, when a gentleman of color presented himself at the polls to vote.  Mr. Cutler looked him intently in the face for a minute and then remarked to the man of color:  "You are a little too dark to vote; I am the standard in Warren."


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