THE UNDERGROUND RAILROADOne of the most interesting topics of the early history of Gibson county, and one which has never been written, is the "underground railroad." which passed through the county from south to north in the days before and during the Civil war. The underground railroad, in brief terms, was an avenue of escape, a system of "stations."' or friends, extending from the slave states into Canada. A negro was transported from one station to another under the protection of the different station masters, who incurred great risks and many narrow brushes with death, in their desire to serve the cause of abolition. Not only from the slave owners in pursuit did the runaways and the station masters have to fear, but from a class of Northerners termed "wolves." who. in order to gain the reward offered for the return of escaped Negroes, would endeavor to apprehend the fleeing men. There were many avenues of escape running during the fifties and sixties, and many and diverse were the methods used to smuggle the Negroes to the Canadian line. Once in that neutral territory, they were safe from pursuit. One of these lines extended through Gibson county, and there were two stations known to have existed here, the principal one being three miles northwest of the city of Princeton, just below a big hill, at the home of David Stormont: the other station being in the Carithers neighborhood east of Princeton, the home of John Carithers. There was also another small relay station one mile west of Patoka. kept by David Hull.
In the history of the underground railroad, written just after the war by William Still, a colored anti-slavery worker, reference is made to the station kept by David Stormont. It is in the story of Seth Concklin. who nobly sacrificed his life to aid the wife and kindred of Peter Still, a slave who had bought his own freedom, but whose dearest possessions were yet in bondage, to escape by the underground railroad route. The plan proposed by Concklin was a hazardous one, and he undertook to execute it alone, with consequent failure. He and his charges were captured after they had proceeded as far north as Vincennes. Indiana, twenty-five miles north of Princeton. To William Still several letters were written by Concklin during his attempt to escape with Peter Still's wife and relatives. One of these missives refers directly to David Stormont, although the letter has the name written as "Stormon."
The letter follows:
"Princeton, Gibson County. Ind.. Feb. 18. 1851.
"To Wm. Still:—The plan is to go to Canada, on the Wabash, opposite Detroit. There are four routes to Canada. One through Illinois, commencing above and below Alton: one through to north Indiana, and the Cincinnati route, being the largest route in the United States.
"I intended to have gone through Pennsylvania, but the risk going up the Ohio river has caused me to go to Canada. Steamboat traveling is universally condemned; though many go in boats, consequently many get lost. Going in a skiff is new. and is approved of in my case. After I arrive at the mouth of the Tennessee river. I will go up the Ohio seventy-five miles, to the mouth of the Wabash, then up the Wabash, forty-four miles to New Harmony, where I shall go ashore by night, and go thirteen miles east, to Charles Grier, a farmer (colored man), who will entertain us, and next night convey us sixteen miles to David Stormon. near Princeton, who will take the command, and I will be released.
"'David Stormon estimates the expenses from his house to Canada at forty dollars, without which, no sure protection will be given. They might be instructed concerning the course, and beg their way through without any money. If you wish to do what should be done, you will send me fifty dollars, in a letter, to Princeton. Gibson county. Indiana as it arrive there by the 5th of March. Eight days should be estimated for a letter to arrive from Philadelphia.'"The money to be State Bank of Ohio, or State Bank, or Northern Bank of Kentucky, or any other eastern bank Send no notes larger than twenty dollars.
"One half of my time has been used in Irving to find persons to assist, when I may arrive on the Ohio river, in which I have failed, except Stormon.
"Having no letter of introduction to Stormon from any source, on which I could fully rely. I traveled two hundred miles around, to find out his stability. I have found many Abolitionists, nearly all who have made propositions, which themselves would not comply with, and nobody else would. Already I have traveled over three thousand miles. Two thousand and four hundred by steamboat, two hundred by railroad, one hundred by stage, four hundred on foot, forty-eight in a skiff.
"I have yet five hundred miles to go to the plantation, to commence operations. I have been two weeks on the decks of steamboats, three nights out, two of which I got perfectly wet If I had had paper money, as McKim desired, it would have been destroyed. I have not been entertained gratis at any place except Stormon's. I had one hundred and twenty-six dollars when I left Philadelphia, one hundred from you, twenty-six mine.
"Telegraphed to station at Evansville. thirty-three miles from Stormon's. and at Vincennes, twenty-five miles from Stormon's. The Wabash route is considered the safest route. No one has ever been lost from Stormon's to Canada. Some have been lost between Stormon's and the Ohio. The wolves have never suspected Stormon, Your asking aid in money for a case properly belonging east of Ohio, is detested. If you have sent money to Cincinnati, you should recall it. I will have no opportunity to use it.
"Seth Concklin. Princeton. Gibson County. Ind."
However, as has been stated before, the worthy Concklin failed in his mission to get his Negroes to the Canadian line. Concklin was placed in jail, whereupon he wrote to David Stormont to get funds for bail. A report afterward circulated, and found to be reasonably true, was to the effect that a man was found drowned, with his hands and feet in chains and his skull fractured. This was Seth Concklin.
In his book, "Looking Back from the Sunset Land," Rev. N. R. Johnston has written a very interesting narrative of his observation of Seth Concklin and his party. He writes;
"In fulfillment of presbyterial appointments I was at Princeton preaching two or three Sabbaths the latter part of March and the first of April. Early in the week before my last Sabbath there. Mr. David Stormont came to my lodging place (Elder Robert Stormont's) and told me that Seth Concklin and the four escaped slaves were at his house, having recently arrived safely from Alabama. Of course I accepted Mr. Stormont's invitation to ride with him to see his guests. They all were well, though tired and sleepy, and all were anxious about their safety as they knew that though they were now in a free state they were not free from the danger of being captured and taken back to slavery again. They had arrived the night before, having been conducted by the colored man. Charles Grier. Mr. Concklin gave me a warm welcome and was somewhat cheerful. With the others I soon became acquainted, though the two sons and the young daughter were reserved and diffident, having had no other school than the slave plantation. Mrs. Still. 'Aunt Vina.' was quite free in conversation. She was manifestly a woman of great natural ability and of rare common sense. I spent the day and the the boatman to stop. He did not obey the order, but rowed on the more stoutly. The fellows on shore then tired guns at the boat, but the God of the oppressed preserved those in the skiff from harm. Passing out into the Ohio and thereon up to the mouth of the Wabash, they rowed up this stream to New Harmony, and then carried out their plan as written in the letter to William Still.
"The night that I lodged at Mr. Stormont's Mr. Concklin and I slept in the same room and conversed until a late hour about things in which we both were interested, and we were not forgetful that the house might be surrounded at any hour of the night by a posse of pursuers of fugitive slaves.
"That was probably the last time that Seth Concklin ever slept on an ordinary bed. The next day duty called me away and I bade good-bye to the fugitives and their faithful friend and guide. Shortly after they were all on the highway towards Canada.
"What happened after their departure from Mr. Stormont's was not known except from unreliable reports from published telegrams and from Seth Concklin's letter to David Stormont. written after Concklin had been lodged in prison. Probably the reader may understand the situation at this time if I here copy a brief extract from a letter I wrote from Evansville. Indiana, to William Still under the date of March 31. 1851.
"I think it was twenty-three miles above Vincennes. Indiana, where they were seized by a party of men and lodged in jail. Telegraphic dispatches were sent all through the South. I have since learned that the marshal of Evansville received a dispatch from Tuscumbia to look out for them. By some means he and the master, so says report, went to Vincennes and claimed the fugitives, chained Mr. Concklin and hurried all off. As soon as he was cast into prison Mr. Concklin wrote to David Stormont at Princeton to find bail. As soon as he received the letter and could get away, two of us were about setting off to render all possible aid when we were told they all had passed south a few hours before, through Princeton. Mr. Concklin in chains. What kind of process was had, if any. I know not. I immediately came down to this place and learned that they had been put on a steamboat at three p. m. I did not arrive until six. Now all hopes of their recovery are gone.'
"After the letter from which this is extracted was written, additional facts were learned that threw some light on the dark tragedies. I communicated some of them to William Still, and this letter also he published in his book which came out nearly twenty years afterwards. I did not hear of the capture of the fugitives until Mr. Stormont came into town and informed me of the sad intelligence. This was sometime on Saturday. Nothing could be done for the prisoners until after the Sabbath, when I was expected to preach. Besides. Mr. Concklin's letter had said that the trial was fixed for Thursday of the week following. Accordingly we made arrangements to go to Vincennes as soon as the Sabbath was over, that we might do all in our power to rescue the captives.
"Early on Monday morning Mr. Stormont and I were seated in the buggy and the lines in his hand, ready to set out from Princeton on our errand of rescue as we tried to hope, when a friend came hurriedly to inform us that we need not go as. on the day before. the captured party had all been taken through the town, going south in charge of the United States marshal from Evansville. and accompanied by the slave owner. McKiernon. from Alabama. Afterwards, the following facts were learned. The telegram that had been sent from Evansville into the South had been read by McKiernon, who hastened to go for his chattels. Taking the United States officer with him from Evansville. he hurried to Vincennes and claimed his slaves. They were given up to him and into the possession of the marshal without any trial whatever. The law was obeyed to the letter and the persons surrendered 'on the claim of him to whom such service or labor is due.' Concklin was handcuffed by the marshal and put into the stage coach with the colored people, and behind the coach rode in their own carriage the slave owner and the marshal. They left Vincennes on Sabbath morning and reached Princeton in time for dinner. While the master was in the hotel eating, the prisoners were retained in the stage under guard and without food: and then they all hurriedly drove on to Evansville.
"As I was expected to preach in St. Louis the next Sabbath and as I believed it my duty to do everything possible to prevent the dragging of the fugitives back into bonds, and if possible to save poor Concklin from chains, and from the awful fate which seemed to await him if carried into Alabama by the bloodhounds who had caught him. I hastened to take the morning stage for Evansville in the hope that I might reach the city before the departure of the captives and their captors. It was my purpose to hasten to employ an attorney and have writs issued for the release of the captives who had been brought away from Vincennes without any trial whatever. But I was too late. Three hours before my arrival all the party had departed by steamboat for Paducah. a town at the mouth of the Tennessee river. That same night I took the first steamer going down the river, and still hoping that during the short time that Miller was guarded by McKiernon. the master, the latter had struck the hated man a fatal blow on the head, and then had thrown him overboard and that to avoid suspicion in the morning he had told the marshal that while on guard he had fallen asleep and that on awakening he had discovered that Miller was gone. Any of these reports might have been true, as Miller was kept upon the hurricane deck where no other person was at night except his guard. But after learning all I could and after the friends of Seth Concklin in Philadelphia had sent a deputation to Paducah to ascertain all possible as to his death and burial. I regarded the last opinion as the most plausible. The following facts led to this belief. It was said, but upon what authority 1 do not remember, that McKiernon had promised to pay the United States marshal one thousand dollars on condition that he would return the fugitives and the man Miller at South Florence. Alabama. As at Paducah Miller was found dead, and as the four slaves were in the possession of the master in his own state, he had no more need of the marshal, who now returned to Evansville. Report said moreover that McKiernon and the marshal had quarreled about the money promised, the former refusing to pay because Miller had not been returned according to contract; this probably had not been written. Then the supposition was inferred that in order to have revenge upon the man who had taken away his property, and to get rid of the payment of the one thousand dollars, he had taken a bludgeon or something and had struck the fatal blow on the head of Miller, and then threw him overboard, expecting to escape detection as all were fast asleep and none could testify to the facts which would condemn the murderer."
Were all of the experiences of David Stormont available for publication, they would form a chain of thrilling narrative with true dramatic quality. But, unfortunately, many of these incidents have been lost, and there remain but few scattering tales regarding the days when Stormont kept a station house, and relayed runaway Negroes toward the north.
The log home of David Stormont was continually watched by suspicious slave owners who had come North in pursuit of their Negroes, and also the wolves, the Christian wolves as they were called, hovered near the Stormont premises to get damaging evidence against the station keeper. When returning from church Stormont was often conscious of men following him at a discreet distance. And it was well for the men that they should observe discretion in their movements, as it was the habit of Daniel Stormont to carry a gun along with his Bible when be went to church, and could use one as readily as the other. Mrs. Stormont kept a tea-kettle of boiling water at hand constantly, with which she intended to blind anybody who attempted to enter their home.
While wandering about in the woods nearby one day David Stormont stepped over the brow of a hill and perceived in the valley below* a group of men. Southerners, with their horses picketed near them. Their close proximity to his home could mean but one thing—that his house was being watched at night, if not even in danger of an open attack. Hurrying home, he apprised his wife of the danger, and the two made preparations to resist. All through the night Stormont sat at an open window, with his guns at hand, and his wife with him to load them as fast as he tired. No attack was made, but the howling and barking of the dogs on the outskirts of his farm all night was evidence conclusive that men prowled around all through the night hours.
Slave hunters frequently stopped at Stormont's and inquired as to his help to runaways. He replied invariably that he would "clothe the naked, and feed the hungry." Indeed he did this and more. To obtain provisions and clothes for the Negroes without arousing suspicion was a delicate task. A pair of shoes one place, trousers at another, and small purchases of foodstuffs at different stores was the only way he could be reasonably safe from exposure. He always sent his visitors to Vincennes. with instructions to look for Sugar Loaf Hill, where the next station might l>e found. Often Mr. Stormont kept the slaves at his home for several days, and when he did he let them work on his acres. One time several Negroes were working in the fields when their master passed by the road running alongside, and at another time two Negroes were in Stormont's back yard, when the master called at Stormont's front door for a drink of water. Often spies came, generally one or two colored men and one white man. pretending that they were escaped from the South. Stormont was a man of strong intuition and deep insight into characters: deception was an open book to him: and it was seldom or never that these spies were successful in learning anything of him.
To men of Stormont's type there is clue much consideration for the brave and charitable part they played in the drama of those times. They received no remuneration for their services, only the knowledge that they were serving a noble cause. The work was dangerous, but not too dangerous for them to undertake, willingly and energetically. time, he pointed out a route which he thought most likely they would follow. He pointed to Wheeling (Kirksville) as the place where he thought they would try to cross the Patoka river, and said that he would go to that point with the five men selected and watch that bridge.
"He authorized the two men if they could find any reliable persons to guard the Columbia bridge, for them to do so, as it might be possible that they would go that way, telling the two men good bye, he asked them to be prompt and report at the time named.
"That the reader may understand, I will state that the slave-hunting bullies had made themselves so obnoxious to man)' good people in and around Princeton, that this bogus slave hunt was inaugurated to teach them a needed lesson. The pretended slave owner was none other than an anti-slavery spy, and he had five confederates who were well acquainted with the country and the people. The ones selected to guard the Wheeling bridge were the most offensive ones in that business, the anti-slavery confederates had eight heavy bombs made at Kratz & Heilman's factory in Evansville. which would hold about three pounds of powder, each with a screw attachment so that a time fuse could be put into the powder.
"As soon as it was dark the five men, carrying the bombs, started two hours ahead of the brave negro catchers. The first two bombs were placed near the side of the road in a deep hollow about two and a half miles northeast of Princeton, the next two were placed about three-fourths of a mile from the Wheeling bridge, and the other four, two on each side of the bridge about sixty or seventy yards away. A man was left at each station to fire the fuse at the proper time, and the extra man nearly a hundred yards from the bridge down the river to command an imaginary battalion. These bombs were the real thing for a great noise.
"At four o'clock the two men were on hand and had the names of three men who would go out and watch the Columbia bridge: also said that the other men of their party would be ready at any time set for the start. The slave-owner said that he did not care to see the three men who were to go to the Columbia bridge, as he thought they had but little chance of success, and he authorized the two men to see that they went, and for them and the other three of their party to meet him on the north side of the seminary at one hour after night and they would go to the Wheeling bridge.
"The party all assembled on time and then took the Wheeling road to the northeast for the bridge. There had been an agreed signal between the pretended slave owner and his confederates with the bombs, so he could locate their places, and when the bridge-watching party got to the deep hollow, Indian creek, a deep, loud voice some way to one side said. "Who goes there?" The men stopped and listened for some time, but nothing more was heard. The leader turned to his posse and said. "Did you let it be known that we were going on this hunt?" They all said that they had not. He rode around and called several times, but there was no response.
"They then rode ahead and after passing several miles came to where the second station was located, when from out of the woods to one side of the road, in a deep sounding voice, came the second challenge. 'Who goes there?" The party stepped and the leader said in a loud voice. "Who are you. that you demand who we are?" He waited for some time, but there was no more sound heard. The leader, after locating the place well, turned to his men and asked if they thought it could be possible that the abolitionists would attempt to defeat their plans. They all said they did not think they had any idea of their movements. The leader said it was strange indeed that they should have been twice stopped by such an unearthly sound.
"They rode on in silence to the bridge, crossed over it and went on watch on the north side, keeping their horses close at hand so they could mount, if they needed to. in a moment, as the slave-owner told them the slaves would run and that there were two desperate characters in the lot. The brave slave-owner had them watch closely. He would walk up and down both banks of the river, pretending to be watching everything. Finally he came running up the bank and said. "Boys, get on your horses. I am certain there is something going on. I heard a noise as of men slipping through the brush." At this time one of his confederates called out. 'Halt! Dismount: let two men hold the horses; get into line. Shoulder arms!" At this time one of the bombs near the horses went off. The leader called. 'Get over the bridge, boys: the abolitionists will blow it down." At this another bomb exploded near them. This put the horses in a fearful panic and they went across the bridge at a great gait.
"Soon the two bombs on the south side exploded. The men were on the go and it was a half mile before the leader could stop them. Shaming them for such cowardice, they stopped and listened, and hearing nothing, marched on to where the last voice was heard as they went to the bridge, and were listening there when the two bombs at this point were exploded within a few feet of them. After this there was no more halt, and the man who fired the two bombs at Indian creek said he could not tell that they went any faster, as they were at top speed when they got to him. The leader tried to keep up. calling to them to stop. They did not heed him, for they had seen and heard enough for one night and ran all the way back to Princeton. "In 1865 a captain of the One Hundred and Forty-third Indiana Regiment, who for years after the war lived at and near Francisco. Indiana, and later moved west, while seated on the capitol steps, at Nashville. Tennessee, gave me the data for the above story. He said he was never so thoroughly frightened in his whole life as when the big bombs commenced to go off: it sounded as though the infernal regions had broken loose. Who the five men were who had charge of the bombs he never could learn, but always believed that they lived in the Stormont and Carithers neighborhood northeast of Princeton. There is one fact certain, as he expressed it. it broke him of 'sucking eggs", and if any of the other four men ever attempted to catch a runaway negro afterwards, l.e never heard of it."
KIDNAPPING CASES.The following extracts are taken also from Colonel Cockrum's "Pioneer History of Indiana":
In the fall and winter of 1863 I had the misfortune to be an inmate of Libby prison hospital with a wound made by a minie ball through my hip. There were at that time about one thousand Federal officers, from the rank of brigadier-general down to second lieutenant, in that prison. Among that number was Col. W. McMackin. of the Twenty-first Illinois, the regiment with which General Grant went into service. He learned where I lived and that the town of Princeton was near my home, and in talking together he related to me this strange story which took place some twenty-five years before:
He said he had gone to Princeton. Indiana, to meet Hiram Hunter, and had been there for quite a time doing some school work in the old brick seminary which stood on the hill, under Hunter or some other persons whom Hunter assigned to give him lessons in theology. During the time he was there he went out with the ministers to different churches in the country surrounding Princeton and heard the old ministers preach. At one time he attended a camp meeting some miles southwest of Princeton. There were many preachers and thousands of persons in attendance. While attending one of these meetings eight or ten miles southwest of Princeton there was a lengthy service at night and during the time the meeting was going on there was some rain and quite a flurry of wind. After the meeting was over Rev. Hiram Hunter, who was in attendance, was invited by a gentleman who lived near to go home with him to spend the night. The Colonel, through Hunter, was also invited. They were all on horseback and Mr. Knowlton (no doubt Knowles) had his wife on the same horse back of him. They had gone some distance from the church when they found the road completely blocked by the top of a tree which had fallen. They all dismounted and crept around the tree top. On coming to the road on the other side they found a covered wagon which was stopped by the blockade. On coming up to it a man was seen standing in the road. Mr. Hunter was in front and asked the man how he came there with a covered wagon at such a time at night. The man answered him by saying that it was none of his business. Mr. Hunter was a determined man and it did not take much of this sort of thing to raise his anger. He said. "I spoke to you as a gentleman and your answer shows that you are an ill-bred cur. I am now satisfied that there is something wrong about you, and before we go any farther we will investigate." At this point another man appeared, who had been cutting a road around the other side of the tree and demanded to know what the trouble was. Mr. Hunter told him that there was no trouble, but they thought there was something wrong and intended to know what it was. At this the man with the axe said that the first man who attempted to lay hands on the wagon would lose his life. As quick as thought one of the stalwart sons of Mr. Knowlton. who were with the camp-meeting party, caught the axe and wrenched it out of the threatening fellow's hand. The other man attempted to aid his partner, when the senior Mr. Knowlton laid him on his back in the road. The two boys tied the man they had and the father and Mr. Hunter drew the arms of the man who was knocked down behind his hack, and Mr. McMackin tied them hard and fast with his handkerchief. The night was cloudy, but there was a moon, and it was not very dark. The timber was so very thick on each side of the narrow road that they could not see to any advantage. Matches at that time were not in general use. Mr. Knowlton told one of his sons to take his mother home, mid bring back some material to make a torch. The young man was soon back with flint, steel and punk, and in short time they had a flaming torch. In the wagon they found a negro man and woman with their hands tied, fastened to a cross piece under the bottom of the wagon and a rope was tied in each of their mouths. They were soon liberated, but it was some time before they could stand or talk. They said they lived in Illinois, some miles west of Vincennes. Indiana, and they had been tied ever since the latter part of the night before and had been gagged most of the time. They further said that they had crossed the Wabash at Mt. Carmel on the ferry; that they were free Negroes and that these two men had come to their cabin the night before, after they had gone to bed, pretending to be lost, and asked the privilege of feeding their team near the house, saying they would sleep in their wagon, but if the negro woman would get them a good supper they would give her a silver dollar. She did so. Sometime after midnight they knocked at the door, saying they were cold in the wagon, and asking permission to lie on the floor. The door was opened and they caught and tied and put them in the wagon, nearly twenty-four hours before they were liberated.
The wagon was turned: the two kidnappers were made to walk behind it, guided by Hunter and Knowlton. One of the boys drove the team and they were soon home. After getting into the house they had an informal examination. The two Negroes told the same story that they did at the wagon. The man knocked down was the first interrogated. He was very insolent and said he would make it dear business to them for stopping him and meddling with his property; that the two Negroes were his. and he had a description of them which he showed. He said they had run away from southern Kentucky about two years before. The other kidnapper would not say anything. The stories of the Negroes were believed, and it was decided to hold the men until morning and take all of them to Princeton where legal proceedings would be brought.
The first cabin of this family was standing in the yard. A pallet was made down on the floor, and the kidnappers were put on it. There were no windows and but one door which was fastened with a rope on the outside. The boys volunteered to occupy a room not more than ten feet away and guard the door. Somehow these outlaws untied each other and got out at the top of a wide, low chimney and made a break for the stables to get the horses, but the boys with their guns foiled them in this and they made a rush for the woods nearby, and thus escaped. That was the last these people ever heard of them. The next morning it was decided that air. Knowlton and a neighbor would take the Negroes back to their home. The two men were well mounted and armed with long rifles, as everybody was in those days. They soon got started, the Negroes driving the wagon. When they arrived in the neighborhood where the Negroes lived, they learned that the team and wagon had been stolen about three miles north of their cabin, and that the negro family had lived in that neighborhood for more than twenty years.
A BLUFF THAT FAILED TO WORKAbout the year 1851 an old negro man named Stephenson came to see the author's father, who was largely interested in farming, to have him keep his boys, one fourteen, one twelve and the other ten years old, for him until he could make arrangements to start for Liberia. This my father agreed to do. It was spring time and the boys, helped with the work. Things went on that season and the old man had no chance to get away and work was well under way for the second season. Old man Stephenson had come to this country from South Carolina with Dr. Samuel McCullough about the middle of the forties. He was a free man. but married a slave and bought her freedom. They lived in the same neighborhood for years until his wife died. One evening, just as the work was over for the day. the colored boys were doing up the work around the barn. Two men rode up to the front of the house and called to the author's father, who was sitting on the porch, saying that they wanted to see him. They told him they had a description of three colored boys who were born in South Carolina who were slaves, and had called to see him about it. as they had learned he had three colored boys working for him.
These two fellows, no doubt had a confederate in the neighborhood who had given them a perfect description of the boys. My father talked to them a while, not having the least idea who they were, and evidently they did not know him or they would have been the last fellows to come there on such a mission. He excused himself to go into the house for something. They waited for him to return, which he did with his bear gun. "Old Vicksburg." in his hands.
They commenced to plead with him to let there he no difficulty. He told them that there was not the slightest danger of any trouble. He wanted them to see what sort of a machine he guarded the boys with, and said to them. "Do you see that little house?" pointing to a room in our yard. "The three boys sleep there, and if they are disturbed I will kill fifteen such worthless vagabonds as you are before you get them, fugitive law or any other law. And I want to say before I get mad that you had better go for you may get into danger." He cocked the big gun and said. "I feel it coming on—go and go quick."
They took him at his word and they went in a hurry. He waited until they had gone about seventy-five yards away when he turned loose on them, intending to shoot well above their heads. At the crack of that monster gun they lay down on their horses" necks and made as good time as did the best mounted F. F. V. when Sheridan's cavalry was after them. The boys remained with us for nearly three years before they gut away to Liberia, and that was the last we ever heard of the men hunting for them.
HOW REUBE OBTAINED HIS FREEDOM-TREACHEROUSLY KIDNAPPEDIn 1817 William Barrett moved to this state from Tennessee, and settled in what is now southwestern Columbia township. Gibson county. Indiana. He had formerly lived in the state of South Carolina and moved from there to Tennessee in 1S04.
Some years after they reached Indiana a negro man named Reube, who had formerly been a slave of Mrs. Jacob Sanders, but had been freed for having saved his master's life, came on from South Carolina with a relinquishment paper for Mrs. Barrett to sign for her part of her lather's estate. Reube remained for nearly a year; the winter weather was too cold for him and he had determined to go back before another winter set in. John W. Barrett, a son of William, at that time a large gawky boy of about eighteen years old, and six feet eight inches tail, went with Reube on many fishing and hunting adventures. When it came time for Reube to start back. John took him over to Princeton and led the horse which he had ridden back home. Reube intended to go from there to Myansville with the first passing team that went that way.
The act which gave Reube his freedom was a heroic one. There was a maniac in that section of South Carolina, who at times became very desperate and was kept in confinement in such a place as the authorities had for that purpose. He was very sly and cunning, and stepping up back of Mr. Sanders pinioned his hands behind him and threw him on the ground, and with a large knife attempted to cut his throat. Reube being in the garden nearby, saw his master's peril and running up behind the maniac, struck him at the butt of his ear with a hoe and felled him to the ground. Mr. Sanders said, "Reube, from this day on you are a free man and I will at once make out your free papers." He told him to stay on the place if he wanted to, for as long a time as suited him, and he would pay him for all the work he did. The papers were made out and in giving him his freedom, a full history was given, and it was recorded. To make it certain that no one would disturb Reube, Mr. Sanders had a full history of the case engraved on a gold plate; also had a gold chain attached to the gold plate that went around his neck, so that it was easy at any time, if the patrol stopped him. to show the certificate on the plate. Mr. Barrett's family heard nothing of Reube for two or three years. Finally Mr. Sanders wrote to his niece, Mrs. Barrett, asking her why Reube did not come back. I n 1832 Col James \V. Cockrum bought the steamboat "Nile," and intended to run her up the Yazoo river and other small rivers to bring the cot-ton out and carry it to New Orleans. John \Y. Barrett, a brother-in-law, was made clerk of the boat and had charge of the freight. At one landing on the Yazoo river there was a large quantity of cotton to be loaded and the planters were still delivering from their farms. Young Barrett was on the deck tallying as the mate and deck hands were putting the cargo aboard when a colored man came near and said, "Mr. Barrett, don't you know me? I am Reube. who hunted with you in Indiana. Don't let on you know me.'' Barrett did know him and was greatly surprised at thus meeting him. Finally he got a chance and told Reube to roll a bale of cotton behind the cabin stairs. Reube told him that his master was on the bank and it was not safe for them to be seen talking together. The planter whom Reube called his master had a large amount of cotton and was watching the count of the bales and his slaves were helping to load it in order that they might finish before night. During the loading Barrett had several chances to say a word to Reube. There was a wood yard some miles below where the boat would stop to take on wood. Reube said he would be down there when the boat came, as it would be some hours after night, and when the boat was rounded to Reube was ready to load wood as soon as it was measured. Barrett watched his chance and took Reube down in the hold and secreted him there and looked after him. They got to New Orleans, unloaded the cotton, and took on a lot of government freight for the upper Arkansas river to one of the military outposts. Reube was still in hiding, no one but the clerk being aware of his presence on board.
While they were unloading the government freight. Barrett went to the commander of the fort and told the history of Reube and all about his being kidnapped and being sold into slavery to a Mississippi planter on the Yazoo river. As fortune would have it, the commander was a New England man and felt indignant at the outrageous treatment the poor negro had received, and assured Barrett that he would keep him in his employ at good wages until he had opportunity to send him back to South Carolina, which he did. About a year afterward the Barrett family received a letter from Mr. Sanders telling of Reube's arrival home. John W. Barrett told me in 1854. the last time he was ever in Indiana, that after he left Reube at Princeton, he had no opportunity to get away to Evansville until about the middle of the next day. He was making inquiry of some people if they knew of any teams which were going to Evansville. Reube was very fond of showing his gold certificate of freedom; finally two men told him they were going to Evansville that evening, but they could not get away before the middle of the afternoon and made an agreement that he could go with them by cooking for them on the road and after they got there. Reube readily agreed to this since they told him that they had some thought of going to Tennessee.
They finally started, and after staying a day or so at Evansville. which was then only a small place, they started on the Tennessee trip. They made it convenient to go west in Tennessee and on to Memphis. They told Reube. to whom they had been very kind, that in a day or so they would go to North Carolina, and in doing so would pass near his home if he wanted to go with them, but the next place they went to was the Yazoo river. There they took Reube's gold plate and papers from him and sold him to the planter with whom Barrett found him.
MONTGOMERY TO THE RESCUE.Harvey Montgomery was the seventh child of Judge Isaac Montgomery, l was a young boy when I knew him best and he was my ideal of an upright Christian gentleman. He lived with his father at his home two miles southeast of Oakland City. Indiana, until he married. He then settled on a quarter section, just north of his father, where he spent his life. At one time Harvey and Joseph, who was the third child of Judge Montgomery, and a hand working for them named McDeeman. had two loads of produce, venison, hams, hides and bear bacon, which they were taking to Robert Stockwell at Princeton. Joseph at that time lived on what was afterward the Ridley farm, about one-half mile west of his fathers. He was a very large man and was known far and near as one of the strongest men, physically, who ever lived in that section.
As they were getting within about two miles of Princeton, and after climbing a hill, they stopped to let their ox teams rest, when they heard a loud noise as of men in a wrangle. Joseph and McDeeman left Harvey with the teams and. taking their guns, went to find out what the noise was about. When they got to the parties making the noise, they found two Negroes handcuffed together and a white man beating one of the Negroes with a heavy stick.
Montgomery, who was fearless as strong, with McDeeman. rushed up to the place where the trouble was and asked the man with the club what in "hades" he meant by beating the man with such a bludgeon. There were two white men and one of them became very insulting, telling Montgomery they were heating their own property and it was none of his business. One of the Negroes cried out. "Oh. that is Mr. Montgomery. Don't you know me? I am Pete who kept your camp at the Bear's den."
Montgomery did know him. The bully had the club drawn back to hit Pete, when Montgomery leapt like a panther and hit the fellow at the butt of the ear and completely knocked him out. At this, the other kidnapper started to draw a large knife, when McDeeman. who was a full fledged Irishman, raised his gun and said. "On your worthless life don't move your hand. If you so much as bat your eye. I will shoot it out of your head." They took the key away from them, freed the Negroes, put the hand-cuffs on the kidnappers, gave the two Negroes the clubs and marched the two men up to the wagons and on into Princeton. Montgomery tried to have the kidnappers put into jail until court would set. The old justice before whom they brought their proceedings was thoroughly in sympathy with slavery, and he virtually there made the same decision that Chief Justice Taney did thirty years afterward. It was as follows :
"There is no evidence that the two men kidnapped the Negroes, except the statement made by the Negroes. The evidence of a negro has no force in court. which could affect a white man."
They were set at liberty. They were so much elated over being freed from the charge that they proceeded to till up with whisky and hunted up Montgomery and raised a quarrel with him. but he gave both of them such a thrashing that they were glad to get away.
ANOTHER KIDNAPPING OUTRAGE.In 1822 two negro men came to what is now the city of Princeton hunting for work. They hired by Gen. William Embree to work on a farm two or three miles west of Princeton that he owned. They were good hands and worked on the same farm for two years. living in a small log cabin and doing their own culinary work. One of the men could read and write and often borrowed books to read from people in Princeton. When the work season was over they put in most of their time in hunting for game which was very abundant.
The summer's work for the second year was over and the men were gone hunting. One morning late in the summer some one found tacked on the cabin door a short note saying they had gone to the Ohio river to cut cord wood until the corn would do to gather, and this was the last time they were ever seen on the farm.
Some years later General Embree was in the city of New Orleans and found these two men working on the levee rolling freight. They told him that two men whom they had seen several times in Princeton, came to their cabin early in the evening and handcuffed them and by daylight the next morning they were at the Ohio river, which they crossed on a raft into Kentucky, going down to Henderson. After waiting a few days a boat came and they were carried to New Orleans where they were sold into slavery.
Mr. Embree went to a lawyer and told his story and had proceedings brought to liberate the two Negroes. The investigation developed that they were sold into slavery to James Lockwell by two men named Absalom Towel and Thomas Slaven and they had for more than three years been the property of Lockwell. As no complaint had been made during that time, the judge refused to release them.
As before stated, the foregoing kidnapping stories are from Colonel Cock rum's Pioneer History of Indiana. They are reproduced in this publication for the purpose of preserving in a history of Gibson county a record of outrages incident to slavery, perpetrated under the law. and sanctioned by the courts of those states. These stories might be multiplied by the score not only in Gibson county but in almost every county in the state. Under the decision of the highest court a Negro had no rights that a white man was was bound to respect, not even the right of personal possession of himself after he had paid the price. The crimes that were committed under the operation of the fugitive slave law. crimes against justice and humanity and sanctioned by courts, higher and lower, is a stain upon the pages of the nation's history, a stain that required the blood of multiplied thousands of her best citizens to erase, in the resulting civil war. Some of these crimes were committed in Gibson county, and her citizens, in some measure, were ready to give consent and encouragement to them. In a much larger measure was demanded the blood of some of the best of her sons, as a requital for the sins of the fathers.
Source: History of Gibson County, Indiana: her people, industries and institutions. Indianapolis, Ind.: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1914.
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