By Cheryl Brown –
As the sun came up on the beautiful Ohio River in Maysville, KY, the Footsteps to Freedom group awoke in the French Quarters Hotel for breakfast on the river. They listened to Griot Jerry Gore, the descendant of Addison White, one freedom seeker who made it to freedom. This story of freedom can’t be told without telling the horrors that people endured. The coffles of slaves walking from one part of the city to the river to board boats to go to the deep south is a painful part of the story. This is to understand that freedom isn’t free. This is to give real life experiences to educators to better inspire their students.
There were also stories of courage in the community, courage of Whites and Blacks who risked all to help freedom seekers. In the National Underground Railroad Museum Bierbower House, the story is told of how enslaved Africans worked as slaves for the family that reportedly became conductors. The family was carriage makers and pottery makers. Today a jug with their signature commands a high price. This house is located on the edge of the Free Black community of Maysville.
Records show there were 200 free Blacks in this community and at the end of the Civil War there were 4,200 enslaved Blacks with 744 slave owners. The group then visited Phillip’s Folly another house that served as both a slave holding pen and later hiding place. The house sits on the corner in the downtown area and houses several artifacts, owned by Mr. Gore. There are original items that he says just came to him by way of various people. He has the door of the house where his famous relative was in an altercation that developed the Ohio court case where so much of his story is documented. As well as hundreds of other artifacts.
As we entered the Bierbower House, a bust of Rev. Elijah Green and his photo caught the attention of Juanita Kelly Dixon, a teacher at Bradley Elementary School in San Bernardino. She asked the question what is my great great-great grandfather’s picture doing on the wall. Green was a local hero who was born into enslavement, bought his and some of his family’s freedom and founded several churches in the state. In Maysville, he founded the Bethel Baptist Church, First Baptist Church in Paris, KY (still in operation), was the co-founder of the Sharpsburg Baptist Church, in Sharpsburg KY, Second Baptist Church in Mayslick, KY. and Mt. Pisgah Baptist, Lewisburgh KY. Some believe he was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but there is no written record of it even though he wrote his autobiography.
The visit by the Footsteps group brought out politicians and as always, Mason County Executive Judge Buddy Gallestein who greeted the crowd. Also on hand were Mayor, David Cartmell and State Representative Mike Denham. Moving on as to not get caught, the group moved in the simulation of the UGRR escape to Oberlin, Ohio. Debra Rose told the story about the little Dobbins slave child. The child named by the townspeople was very sick when he arrived in Oberlin with a woman who said his mother had died on the way to freedom and he was too sick to continue north with her. She left him with a local family and he died a few days later.
The story was so gripping that about 2000 community members showed up at his funeral at the First Church. He was given a decent burial in the cemetery and a huge headstone. It has become one of the community’s greatest stories.
The town was defined by its defiance of laws as they related to the enslavement of African people. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was the one that made the people of the town more resolute about helping freedom seekers.
They became known as the Town that Started the Civil War when a group of men, Black and White took John Price away from the slave catcher. Called the Oberlin Wellington Rescuers they went to jail for months for their actions but were let out when kidnapping charges were filed against the slave catcher. The group went on a walking tour of the area before dinner and rest at the Oberlin Inn.
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