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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 33 -- The Abolitionist Movement.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 32 -- A Visit With Grandfather.

The importation of Negro slaves from Africa into America first began when a Dutch ship arrived at Jamestown, Virginia, in August 1619. Some of the colonies attempted to prohibit the traffic, enacting laws against it, but these were vetoed by their respective governors, many of whom were appointed by the Crown. England, acting with a view to national gain and mercantile profit, forced slavery upon their "plantations," as the colonies were called. Slaves were captured along the coast of Africa, brought to America and sold, the trade at times becoming immensely profitable. The barbarous and inhumane treatment of these poor persons in their capture and transportation by cruel, piratical captains and owners of vessels was in many cases terrible beyond belief. Slaves were confined in overcrowded holds of vessels, many such cargoes arriving depleted to less than one-half the original number of captives, the balance having died from suffocation, starvation, lack of water, and disease.

Despite the preferences of England and those who profited from the traffic in slaves, support for the trade gradually began dying out on its own because of an overproduction of goods requiring slave laborers. The lack of need for more such laborers, together with a growing philanthropic and more civilized sentiment about slavery itself, grew particularly rapidly in the northern states. By 1792 all those states had abolished the slave trade, and likewise had freed former slaves by a process of gradual emancipation. Slavery was also perceptibly dying out in the other states. Then in 1792, the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, by which the preparation of cotton for market was enormously facilitated, threw the process into reverse, creating somewhat of a revolution in the tendency towards emancipation.

At the expense of advancing civilization, humanity, religion, and decency, the lure of profits overcame the driving instinct. The supporters of slavery, in both the North and South, after first apologizing for it, began to defend it, and in the campaign of 1860 even urged that it was a Divine institution recognized by the Bible. As a consequence of the enormous profits arising from slavery and the slave trade after the invention of the cotton gin, the number of slaves increased in the United States from 689,000 in 1790, to 3,944,000 in 1860. The United States became the cotton producer for the world, immense fortunes were rapidly built up, and the cotton planters of the South became wealthy beyond words. In order to perpetuate slavery, they even obtained a three-fifths representation for slaves as part of their apportionment of inhabitants, thereby increasing their proportion of congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, and secured the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) were America's first "Abolitionists." The Germantown Quakers drew up a memorial against slavery in 1688, and at the Boston town meeting in 1701. John Woolman and other Quakers preached against slavery, and this sentiment was increasing at the time of the introduction of the cotton gin. From 1792 until 1830, however, the cause of emancipation languished. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 provided that the territory west of the Mississippi and north of latitude thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes, should not be open to slavery, except in the case of Missouri, which was then -- as a compromise measure -- admitted as a slave state. The Ordinance of 1787 had forbidden slavery northwest of the Ohio River. The slave owners, however, demanding more new territory for their system, forced the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico. This new territory was not only thrown open to slavery, but the Missouri Compromise measure was repealed by the "Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854," thereby extending slavery into all the territories. This repeal was sustained in the case of a slave named Dred Scott by the Supreme Court of the United States. In a decision rendered by Judge Taney, the Court proclaimed the doctrine that "a Negro has no rights which a white man is bound to respect."

In 1830 the Abolitionist movement took on new life under the leadership of William Loyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, John G. Whittier, Edmund Quincy, Samuel J. May, William Jay, and others. In 1833 they formed the American Antislavery Society. This society nominated and presented candidates in the presidential elections of 1840 and 1844, under the name of the Liberty Party. These joined the Freesoilers in 1848, and the Republican party in 1856. From 1833 to 1860 the abolition of slavery was debated with unremitting zeal and bitter discussion. In 1841 Horace Greeley issued the first number of the New York Tribune, which he edited and owned until his death. Its stance was first Whig, then Antislavery Whig, then Republican. It had employed upon its staff the most eminent men and writers of its day, advocated the most radical views on the slavery question, denounced the system as "a crime against humanity and a league with hell." For a time, it kept at the head of one of its most prominent columns this paraphrase of the national anthem: "The Star Spangled Banner, how long shall it wave; O'er the land of the Thief and the home of the Slave?"

Greeley's Tribune became the most popular and influential newspaper in America. The Democrats in power refused to permit it to go through the mails, and subscribers were compelled to obtain it by express. Clubs were formed throughout the country and the Tribune was sent in large or small packages by express to certain points, and there distributed to the subscribers. I well remember as a boy of taking weekly turns with other neighbor boys in riding to the express office at Wheeling and Bridgeport for copies of it, bringing them back to the tavern, and subsequently to the Tollgate, there to be distributed to the subscribers -- Joseph Chandler, William Brown, Doctor Pratt, Jacob Davis, Isaac Ashton, our father, and others. This elaborate process was required because of the pro-slavery sentiment then held by those in control of our national government which, despite the fact that these upright, law-abiding citizens were contributing by taxation toward upkeep of this very same mail system, denied them use of it to distribute an anti-slavery newspaper.

The Underground Railroad in Ohio

All these noble Abolitionists were men of honor, and their names will shine with resplendent glory through all history. In order that their memory may be perpetuated and remembered with respect and veneration so far as I can contribute to that end, I list the names of a few Abolitionists as I recall them: in Bridgeport and vicinity were John K. Newland, Rev. David Trueman, Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, Ebenezer Rhodes, Alexander Brannum, William Alexander, Samuel Junkins, William Holloway, Joseph Chandler, William Brown, Jacob Davis, Dr. Daniel Pratt, Isaac Ashton, and Mr. Patterson. Reverend Trueman presided at the first Methodist meeting held in Bellaire, Ohio. He was a strong, manly character and his book of poems revealed much literary ability.

In Martins Ferry and vicinity, Joel Wood, Benjamin Hoyle, Captain Richard Crawford, Joseph Hargrave, Isaac Branson, Joseph Long, James Hammond, James Bane, Dr. William Millhouse, Elijah Woods, Ebenezer Martin, Jacob Van Pelt, Joshua Steel, Isaac Parker, and James H. Drennen were among the noted Abolitionists. Drennan was one of the most fearless and outspoken, a man of education and ability, with persuasive, argumentative qualities, a man of influence. He was one of the most incisive talkers and writers I ever knew. He owned and edited the Ohio Valley News until his death in 1896, and was father of Lycurgus J.C. and Eugene J.A. Drennen, attorneys-at-law, and grandfather to the Robinson brothers, the subsequent owners of that paper.

In the vicinity of Colerain and Mt. Pleasant were Joshua Cope, Joshua Maule, Dr. Caleb Cope, Charles Wright, Dr. Caleb Bracken, Elasha Bracken, William Millhouse, Nathan Starbuck, Jacob Fox, Isaac Vickers, Isaac Loyd, Elwood Radcliff, Hon. Jonathan Updegraff, Rev. David Updegraff, Solomon Bracken, Dr. Benjamin Mitchell, Kenworthy Hoge, William Sharon, Ellis Dungan, Isaac White, Charles Wright, the Theakers, and others. Of course, it goes without saying, all the "Friends" (Quakers) were Abolitionists. Among the homes of those Abolitionists, most noted as stations on the Underground Railroad, were the following: Joel Wood's house in Martins Ferry; Jacob Van Pelt's on the hill overlooking that city; Joshua Cope's at the head of Glens Run, Charles Wright's (subsequently the Elisha Bracken stone and frame house near Jobetown), the William Millhouse home just northwest of Colerain, Isaac Vickers' house some three miles east of Mt. Pleasant on the pike, Isaac Loyd's house on Little Short Creek, and Reverend Benjamin Mitchell, just east of Mt. Pleasant. William Robinson's house at Trenton was the next station in the State Road after leaving that of William Millhouse.

On the lower story of the Millhouse mansion, by the side of the large projecting chimney, was a deep clothes closet with added headroom above. Boards were tightly nailed in to form the top of the closet, and from there to the ceiling the space between had been lathed in and plastered over. In the room above and immediately over the space, the flooring was movable, and when open, exposed a small recess in which two or three persons could sit. The space was ventilated by a few holes drilled through to the outside. When the flooring was replaced, a carpet on the floor covered it, and on top of this was placed a large, broad, old-fashioned bureau. At one time a party in pursuit of a runaway slave surrounded the Charles Wright (later the Linley Bracken) house, and demanded the right to search it. This was refused by Wright unless a search warrant could be produced, which they accomplished when one of the pursuers went more than a mile to a Justice of the Peace. This took a considerable time, during which the fugitive, who was really not at the Wright mansion, was taken to the Millhouse place for concealment. The searching party was afterward diverted to Mt. Pleasant, and needless to say they never found their property.

After leaving Mt. Pleasant, the favored destination of all fugitives was Oberlin, Ohio, the Mecca of all their hopes. Many friendly stations existed in between, of course. The people of Oberlin and vicinity were intensely antislavery, and no slave reaching it was ever permitted to be returned to bondage. An attempt was once made by a slaveowner to recapture his slave in Oberlin; he was not only compelled to abandon his plan, he barely escaped with his life. In this instance a Congressman led the rescuers. They had and still have fine schools at Oberlin, to which African-Americans were freely admitted. Many fine black teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scholars have been turned out from the educational institutions of that city.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 34 -- Martins Ferry High School.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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