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The decades preceding the Civil War were rife with fierce sectarian violence along the borders between slave and free states. The Ohio River was one such border. Here in the river towns of Ohio and Kentucky, abolitionists and slave chasers confronted each other during the "war before the war." Slave masters and bounty hunters chased runaway slaves from Kentucky into Ohio, hoping to catch their quarry before the slaves disappeared on the underground path to freedom. In the river town of Ripley, the slave hunters inevitably confronted John Rankin and his determined, courageous colleagues.
One of the early abolitionist leaders, Rankin began his career when he wrote a series of letters denouncing his brother's recent purchase of a slave in Virginia. The letters were collected and published as Letters on American Slavery and influenced William Lloyd Garrison, among others. Rankin, a Presbyterian minister and a farmer, bought property on a high hilltop overlooking Ripley and the Ohio River. His house was visible for miles into Kentucky, and he hung a lantern at night to help guide runaways. He and his fellow abolitionists, both black and white, formed the front line of freedom, and some of them paid a high price for it.
In 1838, abolitionist John B. Mahan, a colleague of Rankin's, was lured into a trap and transported to Kentucky for one of the most celebrated trials of the era. Charged with breaking Kentucky laws, even though he had not been in the state for nearly twenty years, he was imprisoned in a windowless cell for three months, shackled at his wrists and ankles. At his trial, slaveholders tried in vain to identify and break the Ripley line "conductors."
Another celebrated conductor on the Ripley line, John Parker, a former slave himself, was regarded as the most daring of the Ohio abolitionists. He made dozens of trips across the river into Kentucky to bring out slaves trying to escape, risking his life and his own freedom every time.
Ann Hagedorn moved to Ripley from her home in New York City to research and write this book. Ripley's historic area is little changed from antebellum days, and Rankin's house still stands high on the hill behind the town. With this enthralling and compelling book, she has restored John Rankin and the Ohio abolitionists to their proper place in American history as heroes of the Underground Railroad.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.62(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Ann Hagedorn, an award-winning author and journalist, has been a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and has written for other publications, including The Washington Post. She has taught writing at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Her previous books are Wild Ride, Ransom, and Beyond the River.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Eleven: Mobocracy
One hundred ninety-two delegates from antislavery societies throughout the state of Ohio journeyed to the village of Granville on April 25 and 26, 1836. Most entered the town on the very wide road known as Broadway. Past the dogwood trees that had just begun to display their pink-and-white splendor up and down Granville's main streets; past the stately houses where women and children stood in their yards to watch the reputed troublemakers, as if the ragtag troops from some distant army had invaded the town; and past the dozens of strangers from neighboring towns leaning against buildings and hitching posts, malingering and scheming, drinking and waiting. Many had never ventured farther than twenty-five miles from home, and now, in dedication to the cause they risked their lives to advance, they had traveled a hundred miles and more to this seemingly peaceful and innocent town.
Nestled among the ridges, spurs, and hollows of the hills rising above Raccoon Creek, the middle fork of the Licking River, Granville was situated at nearly the center of the state of Ohio: hence the choice of the town for this meeting of delegates from all parts of the state. By the spring of 1836, Granville was largely an antislavery town surrounded by small, intense enclaves of proslavery zealots. It was the home of two schools, the Granville Literary and Theological Institution for men, and, for women, the Granville Female Seminary. And there were several safe houses for fugitives, well known among those who worked in the underground movement. Passions had been aroused the year before, in both the academic and residential communities, when Theodore Weld passed through Granville on his statewide tour. Speaking for three nights in a row, he barbed the conscience of the town as he dodged a steady stream of rotten eggs. One of the nights, he spoke near an open window and was repeatedly covered with eggs. Each time, he would wipe the slush from his face and clothing and barely miss a beat.
Granville's roster of antislavery advocates expanded after Weld's tour, but most of the peace-loving citizens of this quiet village considered themselves to be antiabolitionists and wanted nothing to do with what they believed to be a fanatical movement. Although they did not condone slavery and, indeed, considered themselves antislavers they also did not know how to end it. Many favored gradual emancipation, and many more were advocates of colonization. And so, in November 1835, during the very same days when Rankin, Campbell, Gilliland, and others in Ripley were discussing how to shape their convictions into the context of a constitution for their new antislavery society, another group of men with a different set of values was meeting in Granville.
There, at the Methodist church, twenty-six leaders of the community, all considered men of conscience as well as property, discussed what they could do to discourage the now-imminent invasion of their town by hundreds of abolitionists. They compiled nine resolutions. And after reassuring each other that they ardently believed in freedom of speech, they wrote: "We consider discussions [that] from their nature tend to inflame the public mind to introduce discord and contention into neighborhoods, churches, and literary institutions, and put in jeopardy the lives and property of our fellow citizens to be at varience with all rules of moral duty and every suggestion of humanity." Although they condemned slavery as a menacing evil, they were critical of the abolitionists for scaring slaveholders into strengthening their opposition to emancipation. The measures of the abolitionists, they said, dangerously "strengthen and rivet the chains of the slaves and perpetuate their bondage."
Worse still, they agreed, the abolitionists should not use strident language such as "man stealers," nor should they suggest that Negroes could be educated and one day achieve a place of equality. Such beliefs were "utterly vain and delusive."
They praised the efforts of the American Colonization Society and approved its plans to transport free blacks from the U.S. to Africa, saying that "the unwillingness of the blacks of this country to emigrate to Africa is one of the strongest evidences of that degradation and imbecility which naturally results from their condition while resident among the whites." And on March 31, 1836, the Gazette of Newark, Ohio, published a proclamation signed by the mayor, village clerk, council members, and sixty-nine other citizens of Granville urging against the upcoming abolition convention.
By the morning of April 27, men from the towns and hamlets around Granville began to gather in the taverns, back alleys, and tree-lined streets of the town while the big barn north of town owned by Ashley Bancroft and dubbed by the abolitionists as the "Hall of Freedom" was coming alive with the spirit and sounds of solidarity. That the energy and passions of both groups would eventually collide seemed inevitable.
It was after the townsfolk had rejected all requests for space for the meeting that Bancroft, a thirty-seven-year-old carpenter and one of the leading abolitionists in the region, volunteered his barn, and even built a temporary addition to accommodate the expected masses. The barn was outside the jurisdiction of the mayor and village council, which meant that the delegates meeting there were not entitled to the privilege of police protection on their way to the assemblage, during it, or after it. Still, the delegation of so-called fanatics filed through the big double doors and side doors of the barn, one after another, tipping hats, shaking hands, putting faces to names. They came by the dozens, from as far as Cincinnati and Toledo, as close as Alexandria and Columbus. There were now 120 antislavery societies in Ohio, with the largest having a roster of 942 members in the town of Paint Valley, in Ross County, near Cleveland. The total enrollment of the state societies by the spring of 1836 was approximately ten thousand, out of a population of roughly 1.2 million people.
The list of delegates most, if not all, active in the Underground Railroad in their regions included: James Birney, the abolitionist editor and close friend of Rankin's who, on January 1, had issued the first edition of his new antislavery newspaper, The Philanthropist, out of New Richmond, Ohio, near Ripley; Rankin; John Isaac Mahan; Dr. Beck; Asa Mahan, formerly a Lane board member and now the president of Oberlin College; twenty-five others from that college and the town of Oberlin, including Lane Rebels Amos Dresser, Augustus Wattles, and James A. Thome; two students from the Granville Literary and Theological Institution who had become notorious for their oratorical speeches against slavery; and nineteen women, some of whom were students from the local women's academy and some delegates from antislavery societies.
On the first day of the convention, April 27, the delegates crowded the barn, finding space to sit in the hay mows, on high ladders, even on the rafters. More than one hundred spectators entered the barn, carefully watched by men assigned to guard the delegates, standing sentry at the doors of free speech and free assembly. For security, Bancroft placed a big chain across the large gate at the head of the trail leading to the barn from the road; this would require all members of the mob gathering in town to climb the fence, slowing them down and thus preventing a surprise attack on the barn. Others brought dozens of hoop poles from a local cooper's shop. By cutting each one in half, the group had an ample supply of sturdy cudgels, if necessary for self-defense. The poles were piled in a corner of the barn for all to see, and to serve as a reminder that the threat of interruptions and antiabolitionist violence was ever present.
The day commenced with a resolution from Birney "that in order to perpetuate our free institutions the subject of slavery ought to be fully discussed by the non-slaveholding states." James A. Thome delivered a speech titled "Appeal to the Females of Ohio" in which he beseeched women to stand equally with men in fighting for the rights of the oppressed and to break away from "that odious sentiment" that can shape a woman into nothing more than "a painted puppet or a gilded butterfly." James Dickey, who worked the underground with Rankin out of Greenfield, Ohio, proposed several resolutions, all of which passed.
The next morning began with the election of officers for the coming year. Alexander Campbell and James Gilliland were voted in as vice presidents; John B. Mahan and John Rankin were appointed the society's managers for Brown County. Birney and two other delegates recommended that $5,000 be raised over the next year, and as $10, $20, and $50 bills passed over heads in the crowd to the platform where Birney stood, a cry for more, for a goal of $10,000, replaced the $5,000 figure. Within minutes, the crowd raised $4,500. After the amount was announced, hundreds of men and women sang until the timbers shook, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
A series of resolutions followed. Then Rankin walked up the three steps to the wooden platform at the center of the barn. A light must have kindled in the depths of his eyes as he looked out onto the throng of hundreds of people united in a cause far larger than themselves. His speech focused on the obligation of the church to take a stand against slavery and began with a denunciation of every Biblical justification for slavery. From Exodus to Deuteronomy to James, he explained, the so-called slaves, which Southern-sympathizers and slaveholders were constantly noting in the Bible, were, in truth, servants. And the difference between slaves and servants was that the natural rights of servants are protected by law, whereas slaves have no such rights to be protected. The servitude in Israel was similar to apprenticeships in America, he said. It was voluntary; the servants were paid for their services; they could be held for no longer than their term of contract permitted; and they had a right to hold property. Slavery in America, he went on to say, was the essence of human oppression. And the spirit, genius, and intention of the Bible were utterly hostile to human oppression.
"The Scriptures represent all men as having sprung from one common parent all as 'made of one blood,' " said Rankin. "Consequently all are created equally free. Whatever rights the first man had, all his children must have. God created no slaves. He gave to all men the same original rights."
Those who uphold slavery, he said, are therefore committing a sin, and the church should take a strong position against it. And those churchgoers who hold slaves and advocate slavery, justifying their actions and beliefs with twisted interpretations of the Bible, should be excommunicated from the church and at the very least forbidden to take communion. It is the duty of the church to take a stand, he said, as applause filled the "Hall of Freedom."
Raising his voice to be heard above the din, he concluded, "Let the church universal as the army of the living God, come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty; let her voice be heard as the voice of many waters, proclaiming liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound and the poisonous fountains of death shall be dried up, the rivers of anguish shall cease to flow, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Union in this great work will prepare the church for the rising of millenial glory, when liberty shall be universal, and the song of redeeming love shall ascend from every tongue."
In unison, the crowd joined Rankin in saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men."
There was then a vote to furnish every minister in the state with a copy of Rankin's speech. Solidarity in the churches was essential, they all agreed. Asa Mahan announced a resolution "that the time has now come when it is the duty of the church to debar from her privileges all who persist in the sin of holding their fellow-men in the bondage of slavery." It was seconded, and the crowd cheered again. Jesse Holmes, of New Lisbon, Ohio, suggested that all antislavery advocates boycott the purchase of any items produced by slave labor. A cheer went up as someone seconded it. E. Judson of Milan, Ohio, shouted, "Resolved that slavery in its nature tends to dissolve the Union, corrupt public morals and destroy that sense of right and wrong, without which liberty soon degenerates into licentiousness." Cheers again. And then the meeting ended with a vote to forgive "the unkindness of that portion of our fellow-citizens which rendered it necessary to hold our meeting in so unusual a place."
Outside the barn and back in town, there was also an air of excitement, fueled by a barrel of local whiskey consumed by many of the men who had congregated on Granville's main streets, in loud anticipation of the moment when the Bancroft barn doors would open. These were mostly men trained in the local and regional militias, and so, though drunk for the most part, they began to march up and down Broadway, between Prospect and Green streets, moving their feet in response to the music of a fiddle. The music and the whiskey kept the crowd moving through town, sharpening the rough edges of their impatience as they waited for the Hall of Freedom "fanatics" to arrive.
Shortly after noon, the sentinels who stood strategically on the hills surrounding Granville, overlooking the town and the Bancroft barn, sent word down the hills and through the streets to leaders among the rabble, who then sent word to their cohorts that the barn doors had opened and soon the abolitionists would be moving through town. Among the crowd on foot, walking from the barn into town, were more than fifty women the nineteen delegates and at least thirty others from the local female academy. The boarding house where most of these women lived was on the other side of town from the Bancroft barn, so that they had to walk through the center of town. As the abolitionists moved closer to town, their own scouts reported that a mob had gathered. Knowing this, the crowd organized into a column four people wide, to place the women in the interior two columns. Burly men were at the rear and in the front of the column, and men ready to fight walked in the exterior columns. Also at the rear was a procession of men on horseback and in wagons and carriages. Many of the horses no longer had tails or manes, "bobbed" by members of the mob during the convention session that day.
As they walked in their column of fours, they were suddenly hit by a noisome barrage of rotten eggs: the mob's first act of aggression against them. Fetid eggs came hurtling out of the throng, landing on a dozen or more men and women, who neither slowed their pace nor appeared to be scared. Amid the hoots and curses of the egg-throwers, the abolitionists walked ever closer together as they proceeded through the town. The leaders of the column tried to steer the group away from the middle of the street and onto the boardwalk, near the storefronts. But then the mob began to close in around and behind the column, cutting off the men on horseback and in vehicles. Suddenly someone shouted, "Let's egg the squaws." A few of the women burst through the column of people and rushed into the stores, arms covering their eyes and heads as eggs fell upon them. Seconds later, a college student named Cone and a young lady whom he was escorting were pushed into a muddy ditch. Cone grabbed the woman and pushed her into the protective arms of a colleague. That done, he sought out his attacker and with one blow knocked him to the ground. Some witnesses said later that Cone had a stone in his hand to give the punch more power. The gates of violence now wide open, the vanguard of the column and a large portion of the mob dived into each other, swinging and punching, screaming and cursing. At one point, two from the rabble, reeking of whiskey, laid hands on two of the women. A workman nearby witnessed this and, dropping his tools, picked up several stones and began throwing them at the two men. He was joined by others, who disabled one of the men by hitting him hard in the shin. Soon the men released the women.
The column wound through town, safely delivering most of the women to their boarding house and returning to join the free-for-all. One abolitionist student from Oberlin, John Lewis, sought refuge in a nearby home as he was being chased by a man with a club. But when he ran up to an open door, just upon entry, the door shut in his face. He then collapsed on the steps. His attacker took advantage and pummeled him. Another member of the mob pulled the man off the young student, though by that time the boy was covered with blood. The mayor was conveniently out of town that day. When the village constable arrived to establish some sort of order, he was pulled off his horse, and then ran through the town seeking shelter. Chaos and violence were the order of the day.
The horsemen at the end of the procession dismounted in front of the home of Ashley Bancroft's brother, planning to help wherever they could. Among them was James G. Birney, whom a town administrator sought out and asked to leave town. Birney told him that the meeting had adjourned and everyone just wanted to go home. The citizen cursed a time or two and said, "You have periled the peace of our village long enough." Birney remounted his newly bobbed horse. The other horsemen quickly mounted their steeds, gave the horses' flanks swift kicks, moved ahead of Birney, and then galloped away without looking back. Birney, meanwhile, sat on his horse and walked him through the center of town, the horse snorting loudly as it tried to resist Birney's tugging on the reins, wanting to catch up with the other horses, letting loose with a loud whinny every few steps, expressing Birney's own defiance through a prideful prance. High above the throng, Birney entered the flood tide of chaos without a hint of fear, never picking up speed, moving solidly, forcibly ahead, as the rabble-rousers moved to each side of his horse, as if he were parting the waters of the Red Sea. Eggs and stones hurtled through the air around him, though none hit him or his horse. He held the horse back and refused to let him go until he had reached a turn in the road at the very end of town; then he loosened the reins and gave the animal's flanks a swift kick.
Thome later wrote to Theodore Weld, "When I saw Birney egged out of town by a mob and no man or Christian or magistrate to punish the indignity, I could stand no more. I wept."
No firearms were used, and no one was critically injured, though one member of the mob, the Newark paper reported, suffered a knife wound. The "hen's argument against emancipation," better known as egg-throwing and many of them were rotten in this case was the worst part of the riot; thousands of eggs flew through the air that day like a meteorite shower upon the little Ohio town. The next day, abolitionists in the Granville area met at a stone schoolhouse in the Welsh Hills. There were no interruptions, but there were new recruits. In the days ahead, shame filled the town, and those who had never considered abolitionism found themselves espousing it, some with images branded upon their memories of Birney riding alone through the angry masses. There were also new additions to the Underground Railroad, and the town soon became a busy stop branching out in two directions going north.
On the long three-day trip back to Ripley, Rankin rode with fellow abolitionists from Brown County but said very little. His thoughts drifted to his newborn son and his eagerness for the miles to be fewer and the distance shorter. He must have thought about the recent rains, torrential in nature, and whether the river was rising too high. Were the creeks flooding yet? Would the fields be too wet to plant the corn next month? And was there enough money to buy cattle to fatten over the summer and sell in the fall? He surely thought too about his congregation, some of whom, he sensed, might be turning against him for his ardent views and for his time away from the church. And he likely began to think about the mobs and to worry. His devotion to God and his wife's devotion to him would never allow him to abandon the cause. It was he, among other early abolitionists, who had helped to stir the air that was bringing this storm. But should he now, for the sake of his family and his own health, try to avoid its fury? A rhetorical question, he knew, but one that had occurred to him more frequently in recent days, as if he sensed that, in the months ahead, his life, his health, and the lives of his friends and his family would be seriously threatened. The birth of the "mobocracy," those people nationwide who were rising up against abolitionists, was exposing the harsh reality of the slavery conflict. That the abolition movement had become powerful enough to threaten the slavocracy to take action of a violent nature was both a good and a bad sign. That some of its advocates might not survive the battle ahead was a thought that most, like Rankin, tried not to contemplate. Slavery was a sin and must be destroyed, whatever the cost. Nothing would stop him, or Birney, or Gilliland, or Weld, or his son Lowry, or the others who were now marching forward.
On May 14, Garrison's Liberator ran the following report from Augustus Wattles: "Granville, Ohio, April 28, 1836. Dear Brother Garrison, I seize a moment amidst the bustle of adjournment to inform you of the result of our Anniversary. We met in a barn, about half a mile out of the village, which had been fitted up for the occasion. One hundred and twenty Societies were reported. Two hundred delegates present. A resolution passed to raise ten thousand dollars this year for Anti-Slavery purposes, four thousand five hundred of which were pledged on the spot. The Executive Committee are located in Cincinnati. What will be effected this year remains to be seen."
Roughly two months later, the mobocracy struck at the heart of the abolitionist community in Cincinnati, James G. Birney's press. A few weeks before the Granville convention, Birney had moved the presses of The Philanthropist to Cincinnati, a town of forty thousand people. The town officials were habitually worried about the spread of "fanatics" like Birney; if Cincinnati became known as an abolitionist center, then its Southern trade and its plans for improvements such as a new railroad to Charleston would suffer. An antislavery newspaper, if allowed to profit and grow, might attract more abolitionists to the town and even convert the citizenry. Birney was viewed as a menace, and his press as an evil force that must be eliminated. Shortly after Birney moved the press into town, there was a riot in which a mob burned down a tenement building occupied by African Americans. The flames attracted a huge crowd, and the threat of more violence seemed imminent.
The humidity was high on the night of July 12 in Cincinnati, and so were tempers. Twenty men, carrying a plank and a ladder, met at the door of Birney's printer, a man named Achilles Pugh. The leaders of the group a trustee of Lane Seminary; a steamboat builder from New York; the owner of a large and prosperous paper mill; the owner of a hat-and-cap store; and the son of one of the city fathers climbed through a window on the roof of the building, shredded what had been put together for the next issue of The Philanthropist, tore the press apart, and carried parts of it out of the building. The next day, they circulated a leaflet throughout town that said that the destruction of the press the night before was merely a warning.
But Birney and the Cincinnati Anti-Slavery Society were unstoppable. Pugh was given $2,000 to repair his press, and three days later, he resumed printing.
The next edition of The Philanthropist was issued on July 15. Two days later, a handbill signed "Old Kentucky" hit the streets; it offered $100 for the "fugitive of justice James G. Birney." On the 23rd, a public meeting was called to decide whether the city could permit the publication of the paper. At least a thousand citizens attended. Among the resolutions passed was one stating that nothing would prevent violence except the discontinuation of The Philanthropist. This was the antiabolitionist strategy of blaming the abolitionists for instigating the violence of the proslavery masses. Citizens at the gathering appointed a committee to inform the abolitionists about the public sentiment of the town. And on July 30, the committee reported that it had failed to persuade the abolitionists to surrender. That evening, the mob assembled, led by some of the same citizens who had broken into Pugh's offices a few weeks prior. Their plan was to destroy the press, and their support came from editors of mainstream presses, civic leaders, officials of the state, wealthy merchants, and other members of the property-owning class. At midnight, they broke into Pugh's shop, dismantled the press, threw the type into the street, and then proceeded to Pugh's home, the home of another abolitionist, and finally to Birney's, where they found only his son. After stopping at the office of a doctor, who was an abolitionist, to dump the contents of his office into the street, they returned to Pugh's office and dragged all the press equipment out into the street, down to the banks of the river, and into the water. Pausing at a hotel for something to drink, they continued their rampage, despite pleas from the mayor to stop. They moved into the black community and shattered windows, chopped up furniture, and scared the residents out of their beds at 3 a.m. Mob actions continued for the next two nights, threatening and terrifying every black person and anyone who had shown sympathy to the antislavery cause. In the aftermath, the abolitionists were blamed for inciting such violence by their very presence in the town.
On August 11, the Ripley Anti-Slavery Society met at Red Oak Church to "take into consideration the alarming state of things occasioned by the spirit of mobocracy that is abroad in the land and especially the late proceedings of the mob at Cincinnati."
The group voted on several resolutions. Among them:
Resolved that we view the origin of this disgraceful affair to have had its rise in the nature and system of slavery. As slavery was first established by violence and continued by force, mobocracy is only one of the ways in which it exhibits its legitimate results and develops its true character....
Resolved that we do not view the getting up of the late mob in Cincinnati to be the act and doing of the honest industrious, and labouring class of our fellow citizens; but the deliberate working of a few wealthy aristocrats combined with a few Orlean traders and principle mechanicks who are interested in trade with slaveholders. A few of those two classes appear to have been the prime movers and instigaters of the mob, the former appear to be tired of our institutions and wish a change, the latter it seems are willing to barter their birth right freedom of speech and of the press; and become the service minions of the Southern slaveholder for money.
They then resolved that the mayor and civil authorities in Cincinnati had behaved passively, which was a "dereliction of official duty." They pledged themselves to aid in the re-establishment of The Philanthropist. And they called on citizens of Ohio who valued their Constitution and the laws of their nation to crush the mobocracy and all of its supporters "be they high or low, rich or poor."
After the unanimous adoption of the resolutions and agreement to send them to several newspapers to make the public aware, pledges were taken to send money to re-establish the press, raising $156.50 immediately. Gilliland and Campbell led the meeting. Rankin was on the road.
Copyright © 2002 by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach
Table of Contents
|Preface: A Double Life||1|
|Part I||The War Before the War||5|
|1.||The Kindling and the Spark||7|
|2.||Visions and Ideals||16|
|3.||On the Wings of His Words||25|
|4.||River of Anguish||36|
|5.||"My Dear Brother"||43|
|6.||The Lantern in the Window||51|
|8.||Speak Truth to Power||65|
|13.||Two Abductions and a Murder||123|
|14.||Waves Break on Either Shore||135|
|17.||"The Matter Is Highly Mysterious"||153|
|18.||Exposing the Chain||166|
|19.||"These Men Are Dangerous"||180|
|20.||The Unappeasable Spirit||184|
|Part III||Midnight Assassins||199|
|21.||A New Season||201|
|22.||Double or Nothing||208|
|23.||By Fire and Sword||215|
|24.||"Thus Have I Been Attacked"||219|
|25.||"A Victim of the Slave Power"||226|
|27.||With Spur and Rein||238|
|Part IV||Beyond the River||249|
|30.||The Quickening Flow||259|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This wonderful work of non-fiction was just named one of 25 Notable Books of 2004 by the American Library Association. A panel of judges compiles this annual list of 25 very good, very readable and very important books. Beyond the River deserves this lofty honor. The book is a beautifully written and painstakingly researched account of some of the abolitionist hereoes who helped usher escaping slaves to freedom in Ripley, Ohio in the years leading up to the Civil War. It brings to life the personalities, the passions and the emotions that ran rampant during this turbulent time in our nation's history.
As a child growing up in Cincinnati, I often heard vague stories about the Underground Railroad, about houses along the Ohio River's edge which had secret cellars and tunnels, about some of the men and women who worked to set the slaves free. In photographs, the freedom fighters appeared old and desiccated to my child's eye, making it difficult to imagine the heroic and dangerous lives they led. This book vividly brings those heroes to life in this 'War Before the War' by focusing primarily on a tiny corner of the world (Ripley, Ohio) and an abolitionist leader, John Rankin. The research is so extensive that at times, one might feel bogged down by details but then again, it was those details (especially some of the cold, hard economic ones) which made the story so real and immediate, and demonstrated the power and control the Southern states had over the nation. For example, a major concern for slavers was the fact that every escaped slave represented a loss of 'capital' and they wanted somebody to pay for that. So, when the Suspension Bridge was proposed across the Ohio River between Covington and Cincinnati, it was stipulated that the bridge's owners would be financially liable for any slaves using it as a means of escape. By the way, Cincinnati is the home of the soon-to-open National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.