Monday, October 22, 2007

Joe & Jemima Logan

This past Saturday, the 20th of October, I gave the following public lecture at the Twelfth Annual Ohio Underground Railroad Summit, sponsored by the Friends of Freedom Society, the Ohio Underground Railroad Association. The symposium was hosted by Shawnee State University in Portsmouth.

I'd like to thank Matt Matthews and Beverly Gray, the organizers of the summit, for inviting me to present some of my recent research on the Undergound Railroad of the Lower Scioto River Valley. Thanks also goes to the Shawnee State University Development Foundation that provided a grant to help finance my research for the presentation.

Rather than divide up the talk into separate short blog entries, I have posted the work in whole. Hopefully you'll find the story compelling enough to read it straight through. Thanks for reading and leaving comments. If anyone knows a descendant of the Logans of Adams County, please let me know. ~ ALF

Emancipating Jemima

The dogs of the neighborhood had come to fear Joe Smith. Joe was a twenty-something year-old slave in Granville County, North Carolina, a slave whose young wife and small child had been freed and removed to southern Ohio by their former owner, a Miss Jane Smith Williamson. Joe knew that when his master, a Mr. John G. Smith, discovered his flight, the other whites in the neighborhood would join with his master in trying to hunt him down. To thwart their success, Joe spent the weeks leading up to his escape in the summer of 1822, going house-to-house in the vicinity of his home plantation, beating and whipping the dogs of the neighborhood, hoping to instill fear in them, hoping that this would deter them from pursuing his tracks once he made his dash for freedom.

Joe’s destination was Adams County, Ohio. More specifically his destination was the village of Bentonville (located half-way between West Union – the county seat, on the old Zane’s Trace – and the town of Aberdeen on the Ohio River, opposite Maysville, Kentucky. Just outside Bentonville was an estate known as “The Beeches,” the farm of Jane Smith Williamson’s father, the place where Joe Logan’s wife and child now resided. The nineteen-year-old, Miss Williamson had come into the possession of Jemima and her two children through an inheritance – one of the children, however, died before Jane was able to travel to North Carolina to personally take possession of her slave property.

"The Beeches," the Williamson Farm, as it appeared in the 1880s.

Jane had inherited $300 from a relative in Granville County, North Carolina. Word had reached the Williamsons in Ohio that Jemima and her children might be sold to raise Jane’s $300 inheritance. Jane notified her North Carolina relatives that she would take possession of Jemima and her children in lieu of the cash. Jane’s plan was to take temporary legal possession of these three souls for the purpose of setting them free in Ohio. North Carolina law at the time forbade emancipation except for meritorious behavior, which had to be adjudged by a civil authority. Further restrictions on emancipation also applied in North Carolina, as well as some other states, which required emancipated slaves to leave the state on threat of re-enslavement. Emancipation and removal were bound together in North Carolina law.

In the early spring of 1821, when Jane had turned eighteen and reached the age of majority, she and her older brother, Thomas, traveled to their maternal grandmother’s plantation in North Carolina, where Jemima and her children had been living. Upon their arrival, they learned that one of Jemima’s children had recently died. Jane was also approached by Jemima’s husband, who was then known as Joseph Smith (only after running away to Ohio would Joe and Jemima take the sir name of Logan, perhaps a reference to the respected and feared Indian warrior of 18th-century Ohio). Joe begged the Williamsons to take him to Ohio with his wife and children.

When her uncle, John G. Smith, refused to give Joe to his niece and asked that she purchase his freedom, Jane and Thomas were unable to raise the money. John G. Smith, it turns out, was somewhat attached to his slave Joe, who was not only a favored slave, who appears to have served as his personal attendant, but was also a very valuable piece of property, who would have fetched a handsome price if sold into the interstate slave market.

The Williamsons, for some unknown reason, left with Jemima and her surviving child without giving Joe and Jemima the chance to say good-bye. One can only imagine how bittersweet the trip to Ohio was for the mourning mother Jemima, who was leaving behind not only her husband, but her friends and other family members. A life of freedom lay ahead, as she and the Williamsons, two strangers who had entered her life like the fates, road horseback over the Appalachian Mountains and then crossed the Ohio River – a river that African-Americans and many antislavery evangelical whites considered to be the American Jordan – whose northern shore was a Promised Land that flowed with milk and honey.

Meet the Williamsons

Jane Smith Williamson was an extraordinary young woman, who never married and spent the later part of her life working as a missionary to Native Americans in Minnesota. She was the daughter of William and Mary Webb (Jane) Smith Williamson. The Smiths and the Williamsons were both prominent slaveholding families in the backcountry of North and South Carolina. They were also Presbyterians.

William’s father – Thomas – had moved his family from North Carolina to the Spartanburg area of South Carolina following the Revolutionary War, in which both father and son had briefly served. In 1790, William Williamson graduated from the Presbyterian supported College of Hampden-Sydney in Virginia; he returned to his father’s cotton plantation in the upcountry of South Carolina. In April 1793, he entered the ministry and found a mentor in the Rev. William C. Davis, an antislavery Presbyterian pastor who was temporarily preaching at the Fairforest Church, near Spartanburg. In 1794, the Fairforest Church invited Williamson to become their settled minister and he was then officially ordained by Davis. In 1799, a year after the death of his first wife, William married Mary Webb Smith. This marriage only added to the slaveholdings of the Reverend, whose holdings had been previously augmented by the dowry of his first wife.

The young Reverend Williamson and a handful of other ministers ran into opposition to their antislavery preaching in the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina. Meanwhile, his new wife, Mary, had begun teaching their family’s slaves how to read and write in preparation for their emancipation. After a group of their neighbors threatened to have the Williamsons indicted for violating a South Carolina law that banned such education, the couple resolved to leave the South for Ohio, where William could openly preach his antislavery faith and where they could lawfully emancipate and educate their slaves.

The Williamsons came to Adams County, Ohio, in 1805, to escape the institution of slavery, to raise their young children in a society, where slavery did not pervert the morals of the people. Ultimately, the Williamsons freed twenty-seven slaves (the bulk of them in 1813, after the death of his father when he legally received them as an inheritance).

Among the slaves freed by the Williamsons in 1813 were two brothers -- Benjamin Franklin and John Newton Templeton. The later, John Newton, was the first African American to attend and graduate from Ohio University in Athens in 1828. The former and younger brother, Benjamin Franklin, first attended Ripley College, which was presided over by radical abolitionist John Rankin; after a violent attack by a racist thug in a Ripley alleyway, Benjamin transferred to the Presbyterian-supported, Hanover College, near Madison, Indiana; he would later join the Presbyterian ministry after graduating from Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. Without the original education and support provided by the Williamsons these two young men never would have achieved the greatness that they did.

By the time of Jemima and her child’s arrival in Ohio in 1821, William Williamson had recently resigned from his ministry at the West Union Presbyterian Church because of ill health. His health recovered and he would continue his ministry at the Presbyterian Church of Manchester, where he had also regularly preached since 1805. By the early 1820s, Williamson’s older children had begun to marry and marry well. His daughter Esther, for example, had just married Col. William Kirker, the son of former Ohio Governor Thomas Kirker.

Jane’s decision to take her inheritance in slaves in order to emancipate them undoubtedly met the approval of her father (her mother had died in 1815, when Jane was 12 years old). There is little doubt that her decision was predicated upon her father’s willingness to shelter and help Jemima and her children start a new life in Ohio. In the Spring of 1821, the freed mother and child would first make their home at “The Beeches.”

"The Beeches," as it appears to day on Cabin Creek Road, Adams County

As the fates would have it, Jemima and her child had fallen into the hands of a family of emancipators, whose home was one of the first stations on the yet to be named “underground railroad.” Indeed, the network of stations and the conductors of runaway slaves was only in its infancy. To a large extent, runaway slaves in the first decades of the nineteenth century were on their own.

Joe's Escape to Adams County

The story of Joe Logan’s escape to freedom in Ohio in 1822 is thus a window, however dark the glass, through which we can glimpse the dangerous flight of a runaway slave before the Underground Railroad had become a much more organized affair.

Plans and preparations for Joe’s flight to freedom were nearly a year in the making. In the summer of 1821, just a few months after Jemima and his child’s departure for Ohio, Joe accompanied his master, John G. Smith, on a visit to Ohio, which included a stay at “The Beeches,” where Joe was briefly reunited with his family. Before leaving Ohio, Joe promised Jemima that he would be back or he would die trying. Joe’s plan was to use his return trip to North Carolina as a means of charting his future route to freedom, befriending slaves along the way, basically setting up safe houses, so that when he finally did flee, he could make his way safely from Granville County, North Carolina to Adams County, Ohio, a trip of some 500 miles.

When Joe finally ran away, after terrorizing the slave-hunting dogs of his neighborhood, he made his way north, carrying a suit of finely made clothes, wrapped in a bundle, which his master had previously given him, and a hatchet as a weapon to fend off any man or animal that might track him down. His preliminary beatings of the dogs in the neighborhood of Smith’s plantation worked, with the dogs refusing their “accustomed duties.” However, on his way through western Virginia he had a number of encounters with the dogs of slave catchers.

In one instance, two dogs pursued Joe into a river, where man and beast then did battle, one by one. Taking each dog by the throat he was able to hold them underwater until they drowned. In a separate incident, Joe used his hatchet to kill two dogs, silencing their raucous barking before their handlers were able to track him down. At one point, two men on horseback pursued him and got close enough that they fired their guns, only to miss as Joe wove and dodged through the forest’s trees. By the time he made it to the Ohio River, he had abandoned his bundle of clothes and looked a bit ragged – he looked the part of a runaway slave.

He traveled at night, spending much of his time in water, following streams, to cover his tracks. Whenever he crossed a river he would study his crossing in daylight before swimming it at night. When unsure of his way he asked for directions “of slaves, of children, or of white men whom he met alone. He would inquire for a route, but would never take the one he inquired for, but would travel parallel with it and away from it.”

When he finally reached the banks of the Ohio, it was near the mouth of the Big Sandy River, at what was then known as Poage’s Settlement (modern-day Ashland, Kentucky). There he swam across the American Jordan to his Promised Land. While south of the river, Joe had traveled at night; now, on so-called “free soil,” he thought it safe to move about the roads in broad day light. Joe was headed west on what is now US 52, but was then the Gallipolis Pike. Just east of Portsmouth Joe ran into a couple of tough looking white guys who after speaking with him for a few minutes concluded that Joe was a fugitive slave. When they told him that they were going to take him to town and throw him in the Scioto County jail in hopes of obtaining a reward, Joe grabbed one of the men and threw him over a nearby fence. The other man decided that Joe wasn’t worth the trouble. In the end, the two would-be slave catchers ended up giving Joe directions to Bentonville, Adams County, directions that he did not directly follow; he detoured around Portsmouth, out of fear that the two men might gather a posse and track him down.

On the outskirts of Bentonville, Joe once again ran into trouble. A man, he later identified as a stone cutter, threatened to arrest him, but Joe vowed that he’d only be taken dead. Now, within a short walk of “the Beeches,” Joe decided to hideout one last night in the woods. The following day came the much longed for reunion. Jemima would be the first person he saw that hot and happy summer morning.

Enter Gen. David Bradford

For how long they continued to live at “The Beeches” is unknown, but, in time, he and Jemima and a once again growing family of now free-born children would move to the town of West Union, where Joe had found work as a hostler at Bradford’s Tavern (what is now the Olde Wayside Inn, where one can still stay the night in one of its five bedrooms and get a traditional home-cooked meal). David Bradford, who built his tavern in 1804, also ran a stage coach business, which operated along the old Zane’s Trace, between Aberdeen on the Ohio River and Chillicothe to the north-east.

The Bradford Tavern (built in 1804), as it appears to day in downtown West Union

Bradford, it should be noted, was one of the early Trustees of the Town of West Union and the long-serving treasurer of Adams County, having first filled the office in 1800. He held the post until 1832. He was known as General Bradford because he served as the Quartermaster General of the Second Division of the Ohio militia. Bradford was also a supporter of the West Union Presbyterian church, where the Rev. William Williamson had long-served as its minister.

The Black Laws of the Promised Land

The Promised Land that the Logans had found was far from perfect. Legal African-American residents were treated as second class citizens by the Ohio state constitution and its law code. And Joe was never a legal resident of Ohio. His open flaunting of the law is one of the more interesting aspects of his story. Only African Americans with legal papers proving their free status were allowed to settle in Ohio; they were to register with their county court clerk and were to have a $500 surety bond for good behavior signed by at least two other Ohio property owners. African Americans were denied the right to vote by the state constitution and for many years were even denied the right to testify against whites in criminal cases. To employ a runaway like Joe, if prosecuted, could end in a fine of up to $100, with the informer receiving half as a reward. Sheltering a fugitive slave or helping a fugitive settle illegally in Ohio, as the Williamsons and David Bradford had done, left such people susceptible to a fine of $100, with half of the fine again going to the informer. Ohio’s legislators designed the state’s black laws to discourage runaway slaves from coming into or staying in the state, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, the laws were meant to encourage private citizens to turn informer and help enforce the discriminatory restrictions through lucrative financial rewards.

Joe Logan’s, as well as David Bradford’s and, undoubtedly many others, open flaunting of these laws suggests two things: 1) popular support for the enforcement of these laws in certain communities, especially when those in government and church violated the laws, was not as strong as their existence in the law codes might indicate; and 2) financial interest in using the labor of illegal black immigrants also appears to have outweighed the threat of fines or the financial reward of turning informer. It may be that the experience of illegal runaway slaves in early nineteenth century Ohio is in some ways analogous to the current-day, open use and exploitation of illegal Mexican labor. White Ohioans have a long history of hiring and sheltering illegal immigrants.

It was these discriminatory laws, along with a federal law meant to facilitate the extradition of runaway slaves, which made it necessary to establish the “underground railroad” – had there been no black laws or a federal fugitive slave law, there would have been no need to go underground. There would have been little need to keep moving northward to Canada. The fact that Joe Logan stayed in Adams County, found work in Adams County, and, as we shall see, purchased land in Adams County, suggests that in some Ohio communities runaway African Americans – illegal immigrants --, if shielded by influential white friends and patrons, and if determined to fend off any attempt at capture, could maintain and establish a life of relative freedom.

Even with the patronage and support of men like David Bradford and the Rev. William Williamson, several attempts were made to capture and return Joe to his master in the South. Apparently, Joe’s owner showed little interest in forcing Joe back into servitude. According to Emmons B. Stivers, the co-author of an early history of Adams County, Joe had enemies in and about West Union, who would occasionally write a letter to John G. Smith in North Carolina and offer to capture Joe and return him to his rightful owner. Smith never accepted such offers, knowing that Joe would never be returned alive.

On numerous occasions, Joe made it clear “that if any attempt were made to recapture him, he would kill as many of his captors as he could, and would die himself, before he would be retaken.” To further deter any such attempt Joe “was in the habit of carrying a great club with him wherever he went, and it was well known that he would use it on dogs or men, as [the] occasion required.” Stivers also claimed that Joe eventually began telling people that he had purchased his freedom for $200, one-hundred of his own and one-hundred raised by his white friends. While such a purchase was possible, no record has come to light proving Joe’s claim and it can be reasonably assumed that Joe perpetuated this story to dissuade anyone from trying to re-enslave a legal free resident of Ohio. Joe’s claim may have also helped clear the way for his purchase of property in Adams County.

Rev. John Meek and the Logan Cabin

In 1841, nearly twenty years after fleeing slavery, for the sum of $100 Joe Logan purchased 26 and 3/4th acres of land on the outskirts of West Union; it had taken some time for the Logans to both save enough money and find a willing seller. The details of Joe’s purchase sheds further light on the network of white friends that helped the Logans maintain a residence in Adams County. The seller, it turns out, was the Rev. John Meek, a well-known and respected Methodist preacher who had been an early settler in Adams County.

The Methodist Rev. John Meek

Meek first came to Ohio in 1803 as an itinerant minister on the Scioto Circuit, as it was then called. Although not a radical abolitionist like Williamson, Meek preached an antislavery faith and actively supported the American Colonization Society, which had a chapter in Adams County. Notwithstanding his support of the removal (deportation) of the free black population of the United States back to Africa, Meek’s sale of land to the Logans suggests that he was willing to contract with an illegal immigrant and help a black family settle in Ohio. There also appears to have been a significant connection between the Meeks and Joe’s employer, David Bradford. The Meek and Bradford families, it turns out, were connected by the marriage of David Bradford’s grandson to the daughter of Rev. Meek.

The Adams County Recorder's Deed for the Logan's Property

Joe would build a one room cabin on his hillside farm, which only provided enough arable land for a small garden patch. Much of Logan’s property was taken up with a ravine, which included a number of hidden rock shelters. A spring also flowed from the rock, which provided the Logans with fresh water, but also turned the ravine into an excellent hiding place for fugitive slaves. The Logan’s cabin still stands today on Logan’s Lane, though it has been extensively added onto, virtually encasing and obscuring the original structure. The ravine has been recently backfilled, covering a number of the rock shelters and the spring that may have provided water to runaways still flows, though it now feeds a small pond. With a little imagination one can envision “Black Joe,” as the whites of West Union called him, leading a solitary man or woman, or small family of fugitive slaves up from the ravine to an awaiting horse-drawn cart for a quick dash to the next station on the Underground Railroad.

The Logans' Cabin, as it appears today, on Logan's Lane, West Union

Joe Logan would die in his mid-50s in 1849 from a case of lockjaw, which he contracted after an accidental shooting, which left a bullet lodged in the big toe of one of his feet. Jemima lived to be 85 years old, dying in 1885. A number of their children continued to live in Adams County, well into the twentieth century, though the original cabin has passed out of the descendants’ hands.

The story of Joe and Jemima Logan and the survival of three structures associated with their lives in southern Ohio – “The Beeches,” where Jemima first lived and where Joe first found shelter after escaping north of the Ohio River, the Bradford Tavern, where Joe found work and earned enough money to support a family and purchase land, and the Logan cabin, where this African American family made their home and helped other runaways to freedom – these buildings’ existence today is truly amazing. It is my hope that Joe and Jemima’s story and the buildings associated with their lives will be preserved and that their experience might help us all appreciate the plight of today’s illegal immigrants, who might not be fleeing slavery, but nevertheless look upon southern Ohio as a Promised Land of freedom.