Rankin House – Ripley, OH

During the Christmas holiday, my husband and I drove to Cincinnati, OH to visit family. Since I was unable to visit the Rankin House during my last trip in October 2010, I decided to trek the hour drive to Ripley, OH and visit the home on Liberty Hill.

Rankin House

From my readings, I had been able to imagine the house, on the Ohio River and the Kentucky bank. I saw sketches of the house and visited websites¹ and links to the Rankin house. What I was not prepared for was 1) how small the house actually is and, 2) how far away the house is from the Ohio River. (At least 100 wooden steps once you were past the path from the river.) Located on Liberty Hill, the house sheltered 2000 fugitive slaves making their way to freedom in Canada and was “a beckoning symbol of freedom that could be seen for many miles along the river.”²

The river was much narrower then – approximately 150 yards compared to the over 600 yards (p.214) from the Kentucky bank to the Ripley, Ohio bank. This was due to dredging of the river in the late 1800s and early 1900s as well as the lock and dam system put in place for the boat commerce.

View from river (telephoto lens)

As a Presbyterian minister, Rankin’s sermons “reiterated three basic principles: that all men were created equal, that God had ‘made of one blood all nations of men,’ and that every man ought to either do his own work or pay the man who does it for him.” (p.192) Although he never personally helped advance the fugitive slaves as a conductor (p. 207) (his sons generally did that), he was instrumental in developing three pillars of the Underground Railroad. The first consisted of antislavery Presbyterian ministers, the second included politicized white abolitionists (Ohio Anti-Slavery Society) and African-Americans were the third pillar. (p198-199)

If there was a light emanating, it was safe to cross. The Rankin website indicates that the light was either a lantern or a candle. Standing at the Ohio River, looking up at the house, I could barely make out the door or windows, let alone see if a candle was burning. However, at night, it might be a different view. On the other hand, perhaps he, or one of his 13 children, was at a location closer to the river. The Rankin house sent the fugitive slaves and their conductors north and westward, and many passed through the Coffin house in Fountain City, Ind.

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¹ “Rankin House.” Ohio History Central, accessed January 3, 2011. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=3098.

² Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan. The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005), 190.

Photo gallery link: Cole Furniture. http://www.colefurniture.com/gallery/rankin_house_ripley.htm (3 January 2011).

Published in: on January 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm  Comments (4)  

Products from non-slave labor

National Historic Landmark sign for Coffin House

When I visited the Coffin House in Fountain City, Indiana, the sign signifying the house as a historical site stated that Levi Coffin sold in his store only goods NOT made by slave labor. With the 2010 unemployment situation in the United States, I wonder how many retailers would follow this type of example and not sell products from China?

The economic times in the 21st century are much different from the 19th century. We are now a global society. We depend upon imports and exports not just to and from China. We depend on trading our goods and services to a much wider audience than those in the 19th century. But what about moral and ethical principles in business? In ourselves?

As consumers, we are programmed to find the lowest cost on products. (Thank you Wal-Mart, K-Mart and others.) We have also become a disposable society. Sure, we recycle our newspapers and plastic bottles, but the newest cell phone on the market is obsolete before the year is over.

When I was at the unemployment office, I noticed just about everyone had a cell phone. Most had phones that could access the web, games, and a host of other applications. Granted we need to be able to be contacted, especially by potential employers. However, as I sat and waited for my turn, I began to wonder about the wages we are paid in the US, to buy the things we “must” have – cell phones, cars, etc. and how we feel the “hardship” of unemployment.

Then I started thinking about China – the human rights violations, their labor practices, the workers’ wages– pennies per day to our dollars per hour. But what drives manufacturing companies to look to lowering their costs on their products so they can complete in the marketplace? We do – the consumers.

Therefore, I guess it isn’t fair to ask the retailers not to buy products made from 21st century slave labor when we continue to demand lower prices on newer products. Then again, our demands need to change. It is a vicious circle, but just like the bonds that confined many Negroes to slavery in the 19th century, we need to change what we value.

Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm  Comments (1)  

United States’ slave trade

In the early days of our country, I thought most of the transatlantic trips of slave trading were made to the United States. However, the United States received only a fraction of the slaves.

…the United States imported only about 6 percent of the slaves…¹

but that still is over 600,000 Africans!

According to Bordewich, “During the entire span of the transatlantic slave trade, the vast majority of slaves, perhaps as much as 85 percent were taken to Brazil, the various European colonies in the Caribbean, and Spanish South America. The British colonies of North America and the United States imported only about 6 percent of the between ten and eleven million slaves that were brought from Africa. More than 40 percent of all slaves sold in North America were imported through Charleston, South Carolina.”¹

On the plantations the slaves were treated like tools. However, the manual labor they provided came at a price. “To return maximum value to their owners, slaves, like expensive tools, had to be properly maintained. They had to be fed, clothed, housed, and kept in work.”²

Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves - Library of Congress

Trying to stop the slave trade but the slave population continues to grow

In 1807, Jefferson signed in to law a bill that the 9th Congress passed – the Act to Prohibited the Importation of Slaves³ that would take effect
January 1, 1808. (Click here to read the document in text form.) “The total number of slaves swelled due to natural increase from just under 900,000 in 1800 to about 1.2 million in 1810, to slightly more than 2 million in 1830…and would double again by the outbreak of the Civil War.4

Even with the natural increase in slave population, there was little enforcement of the Act. According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture website “Africans continued to be deported to the United States until 1860.”5 This website is extremely interesting which highlights essays, timelines as well as images, maps and events regarding the slave trade around the world.

¹Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan. The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005), 20.

²Ibid., 23.

³Paul Finkelman,  “Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves.” Schlager Group. accessed November 29, 2010. http://www.milestonedocuments.com/documents/view/act-to-prohibit-the-importation-of-slaves.

4 Bordewich, Bound for Canaan, 43.

5 New York Public Library, accessed November 29, 2010. http://abolition.nypl.org/.

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 11:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Amazing Grace and the slave scale

One of the best things about research is finding information about something you know, but didn’t know. While reading Bound for Canaan¹ I learned the song, “Amazing Grace” was written by Rev. John Newton (1725-1807), a reformed slave captain. Perhaps seeing the slaves lay “close to each other, like books upon a shelf…cramped, in irons for the most part” (p. 19) and God’s grace made him evaluate his ways (and livelihood) and finally view the slaves as human beings, not just as product. (For he was once blind but now can see…)

This song also makes me think about how the slaves sang negro spirituals – looking to God for salvation, praising his word. While searching on YouTube for an appropriate version, I came across ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister and world-renowned vocal artist, Wintley Phipps’ explanation and version of “Amazing Grace.” He explains that negro spirituals use the pentatonic scale (the five notes on the piano keyboard) – the black keys!

Here is Mr. Phipps’ YouTube version of “Amazing Grace.”²

And the lyrics to the song:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.³

¹Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan. The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2005).

²“Wintley Phipps and Amazing Grace” [Video]. January 4, 2007, accessed November 27, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMF_24cQqT0.

³John Newton, Constitution Society, accessed November 29, 2010. http://www.constitution.org/col/amazing_grace.htm.

lay “close to each other, like books upon a shelf…cramped, are likewise in irons for the most part…
Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm  Comments (4)  

False bottom wagon – Levi Coffin house

When I read stories of how fugitive slaves were transported to the next station in false bottom wagons, MY mental image of that false bottom was changed when I saw the wagon at the Coffin house. One immediately thinks that the floor was lowered to accommodate the “cargo.” However, it was raised to give the illusion that there were more bags of grain being carried.

The fugitive slaves would lie down side by side in the wagon. Saundra Jackson, curator of the Levi Coffin House (see 11-17-2010 entry)  described that seven people were transported at a time this way. When I looked at the space, I thought maybe three adults at most would fit.

False bottom wagon where fugitives would hide while being transported

What is also neat about this photograph is that after visiting the Coffin House, I came upon the chapter in Bound for Canaan by Bordewich had almost the exact photo!

Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 5:58 pm  Comments (6)  

Levi Coffin House

Levi Coffin House front entrance also showing side entrance

On my journey to learn more about the Underground Railroad in western Pennsylvania, I stopped at the Coffin House in Fountain City, Indiana in October. It is a pretty fascinating museum, but only opened certain times in the spring to fall months. I was in luck that a tour was being conducted for Indiana University – East (near Indianapolis). I caught the tail end of the tour when they were headed to the barn, but was then given a private tour by Saundra Jackson.

One way the fugitive slaves were directed/transported to the Coffin house was from the Rankin home in Ripley, Ohio.

Although the Coffin House is  National Landmark, it is maintained and operated by the Levi Coffin House Association. Access the Levi Coffin House website here.

Below is a slide show from inside the house as well as the barn.

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Anti-slavery and equality

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010 I viewed the traveling exhibit Liberty on the Border at the Center for History in South Bend, IN. This exhibit explores the Civil War years as well as the years prior and after the war. Its focus was primarily on the Ohio-Kentucky border with the Ohio River being the dividing line – for North and South, for free and slave states. This area is in the proximity (give or take a few river miles!) of my research in Pennsylvania.

Although the pre-war part of the exhibit was small, it was nevertheless interesting. One exhibit had this statement -a statement that truly sums up many of the feelings towards blacks as viewed from a white perspective.

Many who wanted to end slavery did not think blacks and whites were equal. Hating slavery was not always the same as believing in equality.

Fugitive slaves that made it to free states didn’t necessarily have a great life. Or a safe one at that.

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm  Comments (4)  

On The Underground Railroad poem

My research has led me in different directions, much like a map with different routes to take. On one of the “paths” I took during this journey, I found was a poem by Frances C. Taylor. This is from her book, The Trackless Trail Leads On.¹ Ms. Taylor writes about the Underground Railroad in Kennett Square, Chester county and surrounding communities in eastern Pennsylvania. Kennett Square “is the city known as the hub of the Underground Railroad activity in the important Chester county.”²

On The Underground Railroad

On and on in the dead of night
The weary slave seeks
Freedom through flight.
His clothes are tattered,
His feet are bare;
They bleed from frostbite.
Does no one care?

He follows the Star
With a hope that shines
As dark, through the night,
The trail he finds.
“The Underground Railroad”-
He’s heard its name
This railroad to freedom
Is not in vain.

“As God as my witness,
I’ll follow the Star
O’er the Underground Railroad
Though I know it’s far
To Canada’s shores.
But I’ll then be free
With manumission papers
Issued to me.

Many hands have guided
These weary feet
From station to station
May I repeat –
The conductors that guided me
Have been led by God
By a faith
That is free.”

The Underground Railroad continues to evoke imagery in many forms. Stories, family lore even poems like this one.

¹Frances C. Taylor,  The Trackless Trail Leads On, “On The Underground Railroad,” (Privately published, 1995.)

²James A. McGowan, Station master on the Underground Railroad: the life and letters of Thomas Garrett, accessed October 29, 2010. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2005.)

Published in: on October 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm  Comments (2)  

UGRR site in Roscoe, PA

The Monongahela Valley Area
Underground Railroad sites

Latta Stone House -1 Star*

The Latta Stone House circa 1900

Located on Mt. Tabor Road, in a city originally called Lucyville, the Latta Stone House is what started me on this journey.  The Stockdale family built this house in 1805. Legend had it that Allen Stockdale built it, but my genealogical research has Allen born in 1802.¹ I am not sure which Stockdale built it, but I have documents proving my great great grandfather O.D Latta purchased the house and land in 1869. It stayed in our family until 1980, after my grandfather died and his estate settled.

Professor Mainwaring’s site analysis describes it as a poorly documented Underground Railroad site with the only reference in an article by Mary Herron in The Washington Observer,² October 29, 1937. Herron’s article describes what I heard as a child growing up and visiting my relatives.  My Aunt Dee Dee’s (Mary Margaret Chester) bedroom was upstairs in the southwest corner of the house. Her closet, the only bedroom with a full-length closet, contained a false ceiling that led the only way into the attic. As a child, my brother and sisters were told how this house was part of the Underground Railroad. We were then lifted up into the attic to see where the slaves hid. I remember how it was pitch black up there. A fugitive slave could hide in plain sight.

Latta Stone House in the winter circa 1960s

Who actually lived in the house during the 1850s? Were they were pro- or anti-slavery? Throughout my research I have been unable to determine who legally owned or lived in the house from 1830 – 1863.  I know Allen Stockdale died in 1845, but I’m not sure he lived there. This also brings up the notion that all of this could have been a myth.

But if it was a myth, why? Was it to make the house more saleable? Was it to elevate the social status of the occupants? All I have is family lore, no documented facts. But it wasn’t a hotel with a registry. Records were not kept on who passed through the area needing help. The only tie I can draw is that area Quakers helped fugitive slaves. Thomas Stockdale, Allen’s father, was a Quaker but was banished from the local meeting group shortly after his arrival to the area in the late 1700s.

Latta Stone House circa 1977 from Mt. Tabor Rd.

I also wonder why Professor Mainwaring gives the Latta Stone House only one star and the Shutterly House three stars. Could it be that the Latta Stone House is situated in an area where no other reported Underground Railroad activity was made? The Shutterly House was a few blocks from the Job Johnson Hotel, a documented site, so was it elevated in plausibility? I think the Latta Stone House as an Underground Railroad site is possible being so close (four blocks) to the Monongahela River, but couldn’t you say that about other houses in the area…?

*1 North Star: Probability of site being a stop is low. Evidence is very slim and not very good. Local oral traditions may be the only source.

¹Department of Commerce. Census of Population and Housing, 1810. (Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1810.)

²Mary Herron, “Latta Stone House Is Most Perfect Virginia Type Mansion In The Area, ” (The Washington Observer, October 29, 1937.)

UGRR sites in California, PA

The Monongahela Valley Area
Underground Railroad sites

California, PA sites – 3 Stars*

My recent visit to the Washington County (PA) area was in October. I had my trusty guide, Pat Trimble driving me to various sites listed in Professor Thomas Mainwaring’s document as well as introducing me to other people in the area and across the river into Fayette County (PA).

The first site I’ll discuss is in California, PA also known to local residents as Little California. (Washington, PA is also known as Little Washington as not to confuse it with the nation’s capital.)

Job Johnson Hotel – 3 Stars*

This site is no longer standing. It was named for one of the founders of California, but was torn down in the 20th century for another building.  Built on the Corner of Wood and First streets, it was situated very close to the Monongahela River which enabled fugitive slaves to be hidden at the hotel and then taken to Washington, PA.

According to Crumrine, “ with S.S. Rothwell and a very few others on this side of the county, [Johnson] always stood ready to lend a helping hand to those of sable hue who, traveling via the ‘Underground Railway,’ sought freedom in Canada.”¹

Lewis Shutterly House -3 stars*

Shutterly House - Front and side

Located at 800 Park St in California, PA. Professor Mainwaring site analysis states there is not much documentation for this site. However, a caption of the house in the California, Pennsylvania states “that the house is believed to have been an Underground Station.” ²

Shutterly House - Wooden addition

The house is still standing and I was able to talk with the resident, Janet Giovanardi. She told me she had lived in this house since she was 12 years old. When I asked her her age, I wasn’t given an answer in years, just that she had lived there for many years.

Ms. Janet Giovanardi

If I had to guess, I would put Ms. Giavanardi in her late seventies or early eighties. Of course, she could be older. Ms. Giavanardi indicated that her parents as well as her grandparents had lived here. She stated that when she is gone, it will go to her son.

When asked about the history of the home and its ties to Underground Railroad activities, she didn’t remember “anything about that.” She was more concerned about telling me she had termites that needed to be exterminated.

Window on the wooden addition

I asked her about the addition (that was inhabitable) and she didn’t remember it not always being there. “My son keeps telling me to tear it down, maybe I should,” she lamented. If she was concerned about the expense of exterminating termites, I’m sure the expense of tearing an addition off the existing house would trouble her more.

As I traveled home, I wondered why Ms. Giovanardi never heard stories about the house’s activities in regards to the Underground Railroad. I think about the Latta Stone House reputation for having helped hide fugitive slaves. The house came into our family in 1869 but the stories were handed down to each generation. But here at the Shutterly house, the current resident is a descendant of the people that supposedly helped fugitive slaves when taking them to the Job Johnson Hotel was too dangerous.

My other thoughts ran to not discussing these types of clandestine activities with children living in the house for fear they might tell someone and the those activities would be exposed to the authorities. One of those children had to be Ms. Giovanardi parent, if the dates line up correctly. I wonder if I would be able to trace who lived in the house using US censuses and not knowing the individuals last names, only the address.

Back door of Shutterly House - A Doorway to Freedom?

I also wonder if Ms. Giovanardi’s grandparents would be the Shutterlys. The 1860 census³ indicates Lewis Shutterly was married, had 3 children and was a coal merchant. Mr. Shutterly died in 1869.

10/29/11 UPDATE: I have been unable to find a phone number for Ms. Giovanardi for a follow up conversation.

*3 North Stars:
Preponderance of evidence suggest that the site was a stop. Some details or stories exist about the site, but the evidence is second-hand.

¹Boyd Crumrine,  History of Washington County, Pennsylvania: with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men. (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts and Co., 1882. pg 629.)

²Thomas Mainwaring, “Abandoned Tracks, The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania.” unpublished document, (Washington Jefferson College, Washington, PA, 2010.)

³Department of Commerce. Census of Population and Housing, 1860. (Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census, 1860.)