Freedmen Bureau Schools

This article was published in the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, 2009, University Press of Kentucky.

Freedmen’s Bureau Schools. Before the Civil War, free people of color residing in Ky. could with great difficulty obtain basic reading and writing skills through subscription schools sponsored by their churches or by leaving Ky. to attend schools in states north of the Ohio River. In some urban areas of Ky. church pastors taught in the subscription schools; however, in the state’s rural areas such educational opportunities rarely existed.

Slaves had even more difficulty learning how to read and write. Very few slave owners in Ky. permitted their slaves to learn to read the Bible, as this practice was frowned upon both by social custom and by various local ordinances. In Bracken Co. in Ky., during the mid-1830s, a slave owner named Jack Tabb taught his slaves to read and “figger” because this suited Tabb’s interests. However, Tabb’s actions were quite unusual. Most slave owners feared that slaves, if taught to write, would forge “permission to move” slips and escape to the North. Such fears were particularly acute for those holding slaves in the river counties of Northern Kentucky. Eventually, one of Tabb’s slaves, Arnold Gragston, did just that, leaving Ky. with his entire family for Canada.

At the end of the Civil War, the nation faced the fact that there were nearly four million illiterate freedmen, with almost 250,000 of these living in Ky. In the massive confusion following the war’s end, federal and state governments focused on reestablishing political and economic stability rather educating the free blacks and former slaves who lacked a basic education. Rebuilding the railroads and transportations systems were instead among the war-scarred nation’s first priorities. The Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress sought legislation that would redistribute land from Confederate officials and military leaders to former slaves and provide welfare assistance and jobs for freedmen. Over strong objections and a veto by President Andrew Johnson (1865–1869), Congress enacted legislation establishing the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in mid-1865 (Freedmen’s Bureau). Part of its mission was to create a system of education for former slaves.

Initially, Ky. was not covered under this legislation. However, the Ky. General Assembly’s failure to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, to eliminate the slave codes, and to provide for the education of former slaves caught the attention of Major Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, the Freedmen’s Bureau administrator in Tenn. Fisk’s January 1866 report to Washington, D.C., detailing Kentucky’s intransigence, led to the establishment of a Freedmen’s Bureau in Ky., an action seen by Ky. lawmakers as treating their state as conquered territory.

Northern abolitionists, working chiefly through the American Missionary Association (AMA) and Western Freedmen Aid Commission (WFAC), poured money as well as preachers and teachers into the South from 1865–1867. In Ky., these benevolent societies established schools at Covington and then eventually across the rest of the state.

Appointed as Chaplain and Chief Superintendent of Freedmen’s Bureau Schools, Rev. T. K. Noble (working under Major Gen. Jeff C. Davis, the Freedmen’s Bureau’s Assistant Commissioner for Ky.), began the arduous task of supervising the education of 250,000 former slaves; Noble’s priority throughout his tenure as superintendent was to educate the 37,000 freed school-aged children in Ky. In December 1865, Ky. had only eighteen schools educating African Americans—nine subscription schools and nine schools funded through the AMA and WFAC.

The federal government funded the Freedmen’s Bureau’s staff salaries, some limited construction funds for schools, part of the teachers’ transportation costs, and a small portion of the teachers’ salaries at the Freedmen’s Bureau schools. The bulk of funding for these schools in Ky. was supposed to come from taxes paid by freedmen. Since few African Americans owned property in 1866, the taxes collected were miniscule. For several years, the Ky. General Assembly insisted that freedmen paupers should receive the bulk of taxes paid by freedmen, leaving very little money for the schools operated by the Freedmen’s Bureau. As a result, the Freedmen’s Bureau schools were financed only partly by a shoestring budget from the federal government. Religious and abolitionist sources financed some Freedmen’s Bureau schools, many of the teacher salaries, and even some teacher training. Tuition fees from freedmen themselves defrayed costs of buildings and some of the teachers’ salaries. Freedmen, especially in the rural areas, had little access to cash, and therefore most contributions were in kind such as donating labor in constructing the schools and by using their church buildings as schools. Had it not been for the financial resources from AMA, WFAC, and the Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist missionary associations, the educational effort at the Freeman’s Bureau schools would have failed quickly.

Reverend Noble established three regional districts in Ky.—Louisville, Lexington, and Paducah—and began appointing district superintendents whose task it was to educate black citizens. The Freedman Bureau’s first statistical report on progress at these schools, by Jesse Duns, was submitted to Washington, D.C. in June 1866; only slight gains had been realized in the first six months, and these were mainly in the urban areas. There were eighteen schools in Louisville and Lexington and seven in the rest of the state, serving 80 adults and 2,800 children. Most of these schools operated only three months each year. Moreover, it was reported that operational budgets at these schools were extremely small.

The task in Ky. was so monumental that Noble decided to allow the abolitionists to concentrate on developing freedmen schools in the state while Noble, in turn, would focus on developing community-based initiatives and support for educating freedmen. Accordingly, Noble encouraged the AMA, a longtime supporter of Berea College, the WFAC, an early supporter of efforts in Covington, and the Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist missionary societies to continue working on developing the freedmen schools statewide. By design, the Freedmen’s Bureau thereafter focused its limited resources on sharing some expenses of freedmen churches in order to open their buildings for day and night subscription schools, paying for teacher transportation and funding school buildings where necessary.

One critical shortage–the lack of qualified teachers—was solved initially by using abolitionist agencies to recruit young black and white teachers from the North, many from Oberlin College at Yellow Springs in Ohio, and from New England and N.Y. Kentuckians disliked the idea of former slaves learning to read and write and despised these abolitionist teachers from the North. Noble’s monthly reports detail examples of these teachers being harassed and terrorized by local citizens. Noble placed a high priority on establishing African-American teacher training and certification at two locations, and with the aid of AMA and WFAC, the new Ely Normal School in Louisville was launched with forty teacher certification candidates by December 1868; the same resources funded Berea College in Berea, Ky., that had space for 150 students, half of them white.

Colored School Idlewild Boone Co KY Scheben Library
Colored School Idlewild Boone Co KY Scheben Library Similar to early Freedmen’s Bureau schools.

The second critical shortage was the lack of buildings that could be used as schools for the freedmen’s children. Most of the earliest schools were housed in African-American churches or in buildings described as shacks. Noble lobbied hard to use the meager Freedmen’s Bureau funds to build new school buildings. Among the earliest schoolhouses built in Northern Kentucky were: a 30 by 60 foot wooden structure at Washington, Ky., in Mason Co., completed in April 1867; and an 18 by 30 foot schoolhouse costing $200 at Warsaw, Ky., in Gallatin Co., completed in mid-1868.

In the schoolhouse construction program, either the Freedmen’s Bureau or the local freedmen trustees acquired titles to the land. Under contract with local freedmen trustees, the Freedmen’s Bureau supplied the lumber, nails, and other materials while local freemen provided free labor. The Freedmen’s Bureau schools were simple structures, no more than rectangular boxes, but at a time when there were few rural common schools for whites, these schoolhouses were treasured by freedmen and despised by many whites. As such, they were often the target of reprisals by night riders, some of whom belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.

In October 1868, reporting on fall classes, the Freedmen’s Bureau maintained 135 day schools, 1 night school, 6 white teachers, and 144 black teachers, with 6,022 students enrolled. However, there were “outrages:” such as the church schoolhouse operated by the Freedmen’s Bureau in Germantown, Ky., Mason Co., which had been burned down by arsonists. By 1869, Ben Runkle, Noble’s replacement as superintendent in Ky., reported substantial gains, with a total of 248 schools operating. Thirteen schools, newly constructed with Freedmen’s Bureau funds, were completed.

In Northern Kentucky, the Freedmen’s Bureau activity was uneven. Augusta, Covington, Maysville, and Washington were quick to embrace the education of freedmen. But the river counties of Boone and Carroll, and inland in the heavily Confederate strongholds of Grant and Owen Cos. there was little interest and often violent hostility. In 1870 in Boone Co., for example, there was only one freedmen school operating at Caladonia, now Petersburg, Ky.

In some Ky. counties, great losses of the slave population immediately prior to and during the Civil War combined with antipathy to create a general indifference toward educating former slaves. Across the Ohio River at Madison, Ind., the Freemen’s Bureau funded a school in fall 1868 so that freedmen’s children from Carroll and Trimble Cos. in Ky. could be educated. Hundreds of former slaves from these and other Ky. counties fled into Ind. and Ohio. The small A.M.E. church school at Hanover, Ind., funded in part by the Freedmen’s Bureau, taught seventy-five students while another seventy per year were being taught in Madison’s black churches. At the same time, the large influx of former slaves out of Northern Kentucky into Cincinnati, Ohio, was being prompted as much by the promise of access to education as to the promise of wage jobs. Boone and Kenton Cos. in Northern Kentucky experienced 60% reductions in their African-American populations between 1850 and 1870.

Ky.’s state funding of black schooling remained a chronic problem throughout the five years, 1865–1869, that the Freedmen’s Bureau schools were operating in the state. And later during the 1870s, once Confederates supporters had taken control of the Ky. political structure, funding for the freedmen’s schools essentially ceased. Ultimately, Northern abolitionists had no sustaining interest in further occupying the South. In January 1869, the Freedmen’s Bureau was ordered closed and by April 1869 its schools in Ky. were left, forsaken and still unfunded.

Many of the black churches continued educating former slaves in subscription programs in spite of the lack of cash and blatant hostility toward their activities among whites. Clearly, the Freemen’s Bureau had made a start in the task of educating former slaves. More than 10,750 black children had received at least three months of schooling, about a third of what was needed. Additionally, more than one hundred buildings usable as schools had been designated for freedmen; and a small, but eager, cadre of newly trained black teachers had graduated from Berea College and the Ely Normal School in Louisville.

One of the most important steps that the Freedmen’s Bureau accomplished was their aid, working with AMA and WFAC, in forming a statewide convention of black educators. The first meeting in 1867 in Lexington petitioned the Ky. General Assembly for support for black schools; the second meeting in Louisville was a three-day conference that featured distinguished national and state speakers. Attended by Covington African-American leaders Jacob Price and Isaac Black, the conference’s resolutions petitioned the Ky. General Assembly to add the African-American population to the common school system. The resolutions denoted that the Freedmen’s Bureau was leaving the state, and therefore it was even more critical for the state to take responsibility.

Cities such as Covington and Newport, Ky., that had charters from the state legislature, were able to take advantage of their respective mayor’s and city council’s authority to fund their black schools through taxes and then sinking funds, much drawn from the white school system. However, it was 1874 before the state legislature acted to include African-American children in the common schools system.

In April 1875, the first of the checks funding segregated black common schools in Ky. were sent from state government in Frankfort to Campbell, Carroll, Kenton, and Pendleton counties. . The Freedmen’s Bureau had established 18 schools in Northern Kentucky with space for 443 students. By 1900, under the common school program, there were 54 schools in Northern Kentucky dedicated to educating 3,959 black students, the descendants of former slaves.

Bentley, George R. The History of the Freedmen’s Bureau, New York: Octagon Books, 1970.

Cover Letters and Narrative Reports, Rev. T. K. Noble, Chaplain and Chief Superintendent Freedmen Schools, State of Kentucky to Rev. J. W. Alvord, General Superintendent, Washington, D. C., July 8, 1867, October 1, 1867, January 1, 1868, March 8, 1868, April 1, 1868, May 1, 1868, January 13, 1869.

Marrs, Elijah Preston. “Autobiography of Elijah P. Marrs,” from Documenting the American South at University of North Carolina. Ledger, Superintendent of Schools of Kentucky (Colored), 1875–1885, Kentucky State Archives.

Narrative Reports from Ben R. Runkle, Louisville, KY, to Brig. Gen. E. Whittlesey, Washington, D. C., July 20, 1869.

Reports to Superintendent of Public Instruction, January 3,1839—January 3, 1849, Kentucky State Archives.

Statistical Report, Freedmen’s Bureau–State of Kentucky, December 1868, February 1869.

Turley-Adams, Alicestyne. Rosenwald Schools in Kentucky, Frankfort: Kentucky Heritage Council and African-American Heritage Commission, 1997. Webb, Ross A. “The Past is Never Dead, It’s Not Even Past,” Benjamin P. Runkle and the Freedmen’s Bureau in Kentucky, 1866–1870, in Donald G. Nieman, ed. The Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Freedom, II, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1994.

Wilson, George D. A Century of Negro Education in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville” University of Louisville, 1986, from original Works Progress Administration and Louisville Municipal College, ca. 1935.

Freedmen’s Schools in Northern Kentucky



County Town Date Sponsor Teacher* Note
Mason Wash-  ington July 1867 Freedmen’s Bureau Building 30×60 Wood
Mason Mays-        ville Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Amanda Perkins
Mason Mays-        ville Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Avene Casey
Mason Mays-        ville Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Mary E.   Wilson
Mason Wash-  ington Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Elizabeth Wilkerson
Bracken Augusta Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau
  1. M. White
Pendle-  ton Brandy-  wine Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Mary  Southgate
Pendle-  ton Fal-  mouth Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Ellen Kinny
Kenton Coving-      ton Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau
  1. C. Wilmot
Kenton Coving-      ton Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Ellen N.   Leavitt
Kenton Coving-      ton Apr 1868 Freedmen’s Bureau Richard Singer
Bracken Augusta Dec 1868 Church & School Jeptha Griffin—c 13 male, 15 female
Camp-  bell New-  port Dec 1868 Alex Howard Alex Howard—c 26 male, 16 female
Camp-  bell New-  port Dec 1868 Mary Williams Mary Williams—c 12 male, 13 female
Camp-  bell New-  port Dec 1868 Henry Graham Julia Warner—c 8 male, 9 female
Kenton Coving-      ton Dec 1868 Church
  1. E. Willis—c

Eliza Skillman—w

44 male, 45 female
Mason Mays-       ville Dec 1868 Church Amanda Perkins—cGreen Casey—cThird unintelligible 39 male, 47 female
Mason Wash-  ington Dec 1868 School Marcia    Dunlap—c 20 male, 21 female
Pendle- ton Fal- mouth Dec 1868 Church Ellen M. H. Southgate—c 10 male, 6 female
Gallatin Warsaw Jan 1869 Freedmen’s Bureau Building 18×30 $200
Bracken German- town Jan 1869 Freedmen’s Bureau Freedmen’s Church and School burned
Boone Cale-    donia Feb 1869 School Joshua    Kendall—c 18 male, 18 female
Bracken Augusta Feb 1869 Church Unreported 12 male, 15 female
Pendle-  ton Fal- mouth Feb 1869 Church Ellen M. Southgate 9 male, 4 female
Camp-   bell New-  port Feb 1869 Henry Graham School Mary    Warmus—w 12 male, 13 female
Camp-  bell New-  port Feb 1869 Closed
Kenton Coving-    ton Feb 1869 Church
  1. C. Wilmot—w

Eliza Skillman—c

56 male, 48 female
Kenton Coving-    ton Feb 1869 Church
  1. C. Wilmot—w (night)
17 male, 12 female
Kenton Union     Hall Feb 1869 School William A. Patterson—c 20 male, 15 female
Mason Mays-     ville Feb 1869 Church Amanda Perkins—cGreen       Carey—cMary Nelson—c 50 male, 52 female
Mason May- slick Feb 1869 School Emma Gardner—c 25 male, 27 female
Mason Wash- ington Feb 1869 Church Narcissa Dunlap—c 20 male, 20 female
Pendle-  ton Brandy-  wine Feb 1869 School Mary South- gate—c 6 male, 6 female

* Note c—colored, w—white


Diane Perrine Coon


Abolitionists in Northern Kentucky

The following article was published in the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky, 2009, University Press of Kentucky.

Abolitionists. The term abolitionists refers to those in the antebellum U.S. who wished to “abolish” slavery completely. In this way, abolitionists differed from other antislavery proponents such as “emancipationists,” who supported gradual emancipation of slaves with compensation to their owners, and colonizationists, who promoted sending freed slaves to Africa.

The religious base for early abolitionism came directly from Quakers such as Arnold Buffin, Elihu Embree, and Charles Osborne and was well established by 1830. The evangelical basis for national abolitionism began in 1833 with the founding of the American Antislavery Society by William Lloyd Garrison, Lewis and Arthur Tappan, and Thomas Weld among many others. Disagreements emerged among these abolitionists relating to the constitutional framework of the U.S. and how it pertained to slavery. Garrison and others argued that the U.S. Constitution favored slavery and must be overthrown through civil disobedience; James G. Birney and many others argued that political action by amending the U.S. Constitution would achieve the ends of eliminating slavery. Garrison was adamantly against political action believing it would diffuse the religious and moral foundation of the antislavery movement. The Liberty Party ran Birney as an antislavery candidate for president in 1840 and 1844 and Gerrit Smith in 1848, but by then the emerging Free Soil Party had absorbed most of the antislavery abolitionists. Those abolitionists favoring direct action against slavery encouraged boycotting southern goods and services, aiding runaway slaves through the Underground Railroad, and running antislavery candidates for state and national offices. The Tappan brothers were credited with much of the financing of the Underground Railroad and for helping to place its agents along the Ohio River. By the mid-1850s, the American Missionary Association had begun direct confrontation on the issue of slavery by placing colporteurs throughout the South, by bringing Bibles to slaves, and by distributing antislavery tract materials to slave owners and yeomen farmers.

Southern slaveholders retaliated against abolitionists by employing their political power in the U.S. Congress and by direct action to mount posses, pay for detectives, extend the patroller system, and increase the rewards for returning runaway slaves. Once the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was passed, Ky. slave owners vigorously challenged Underground Railroad operators in federal courts, winning either large judgments or having large fines levied against these operators for the slave owner’s lost slave properties. In 1849, slaveholders in Ky. won a huge political battle, sending an overwhelming majority of delegates to the Kentucky Constitutional Convention and in the Ky. Legislature that rolled back whatever antislavery legislation and protection free blacks had achieved over the previous fifty years. The abolitionists in Ky. were defeated, demoralized, and in disarray. John G. Fee’s autobiography cites many cases where pro-slavery mobs targeted the remaining few white abolitionists in Ky. and drove many of them out of state.

To abolitionists in the North, by the 1850s moderate tactics had not worked; slave states had aggressively expanded slavery into Tex., Ark., Mo., and threatened to bring it to Kans. The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery north of longitude 36°30,’ thereby opening up all federal territories to the possibility of slavery. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, abolitionists could no longer trust that the U.S. Congress would rectify the matter of slavery. Likewise, they lost hope in the U.S. Supreme Court which, in the 1857 Dred Scott decision (Scott v. Sandford), declared the Missouri Compromise invalid, made any Congressional attempts to prohibit slavery in the territories unconstitutional, and regarded slaves as property protected by the U.S. . Constitution. With seemingly no recourse left to legislative or judicial action, the war of words erupted into armed aggression. John Brown’s antislavery raids in Kans. and his attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. in October 1859, were the first large-scale overt abolitionist confrontations and helped to divide the nation’s opinion on slavery into opposing camps.

Passive support to aid runaway slaves now became active tactics, emboldening even more slaves to escape from the South. From 1836 to 1840, antislavery societies espousing political, economic, and direct action against the institution of slavery spread throughout Ohio and Ind. Slave losses from the river counties of Ky. and the state’s Bluegrass region mounted significantly during the late 1840s and 1850s. Each time a Ky. posse went into Mich., Ind., or Ohio to retrieve runaway slaves, angry abolitionists determined to wrest the evil from the nation met them. Furthermore, abolitionist “agitators” from these and other Northern states began reaching down into Ky. with greater frequency.

In his 2005 book, Bound for Canaan, Fergus Bordewich points to the 1852 death of Isaac Tatum Hooper in New York City, N.Y., as the end of the early period of the abolitionist movement, a period characterized as being one in which humble and religious friends of fugitives simply were aiding other human beings. In Northern Kentucky, one might mark the watershed of this change to 1847, when armed mobs rebuffed the slave catcher Francis Troutman and his Carroll Co., Ky. posse at Marshall, Mich.; or when the Reverend Benjamin Sebastian and George W. Brazier’s posse from Boone Co., Ky., was confronted at Cass Co., Mich., and summarily dispatched from the state. Further marking these changes were the dramatic incursions of Elijah Anderson and John Fairfield in Ky. into Boone Co. taking dozens of slaves out of this county.

Northern abolitionists who used aggressive strategies sometimes used military terms and tactics. They also sent spies and colporteurs into the South deliberately to confront slaveholders and they routinely accosted any “southern kidnappers” coming into northern antislavery states to capture runaway slaves. The new contemporary popular faces of the abolitionist movement included the talented black orator Frederick Douglass and the soon notorious John Brown.

The continuous uproar from antagonistic abolitionist tactics was not received well in Ky. Conservative antislavery leaders and even Cassius Clay disavowed both this period’s abolitionist leaders and their tactics. The few abolitionists remaining in Ky. were easily targeted for reprisal. John G. Fee and his tiny coterie living in Madison, Lewis, and Bracken counties during the 1850s were particularly vulnerable, because they acted openly and confronted deeply-held local prejudices. Even across the Ohio River in Ripley, Ohio, a number of leading citizens were opposed to the overt abolitionist actives of such locals as Rev. John Rankin and John Parker.

According to an overwhelming majority of Ky.’s citizens, the despised abolitionists were agitators from the North, people who interfered with Ky.’s states rights, who enticed and stole slaves from decent, law abiding citizens, and who broke national, state, and local laws. According to most newspapers in Ky., it was these abolitionists who confronted Ky. posses lawfully trying to retrieve “lost slave property” in Ind., Mich., and Ohio. It was also these zealot abolitionists who persisted in destroying the national unity of the Methodist Episcopal and the Presbyterian denominations by their activities. Moreover, it was these radical abolitionists who forced President Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865) to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 and to accept Negro troops to fight for the Union. Kentuckians may not have been united on many issues during these difficult times, but they were, generally speaking, united in their abhorrence for the white abolitionists.

Ky.’s abolitionists who were white were easy to spot and few in numbers. On the other hand, Ky.’s abolitionists who were black were numerous and concentrated into the state’s large urban areas–Louisville, Lexington, Frankfort, Northern Kentucky, and across the river in Cincinnati, Ohio. They were also congregated in small separate rural slave churches and were spread out geographically as individuals still in bondage across the hundreds of plantations in the north central and Bluegrass regions of Ky. Although black preachers were suspected of abolitionist leanings, and isolated free blacks certainly were among the first to be accused of aiding fugitive slaves, few slave owners actually thought their own slaves might be abolitionists who were providing direct help to runaway slaves.

As their slave losses mounted, slave owners in Ky. took action against the abolitionists in their midst and also crossed the Ohio River. Bounties were set for people like John Carr, John Fairfield, the Reverend Charles Ide, and other white abolitionists active in the Underground Railroad.

Author Ann Hagedorn tells of several attacks on abolitionists in Brown Co., Ohio, led by Mason Co., Ky., slave owner Col. Edward Towers. In late fall 1844, his posse inflicted more than one hundred lashes of the whip on Harbor Hurley, a longtime free black at Sardinia, Ohio, attacked and killed Robert Miller, lynched a runaway slave, attacked Absalom King and several who were helping to defend him, and burned Miller and King’s homes. The Georgetown, Ohio, sheriff appeared unable to stop the marauding Kentuckians.

The most celebrated attacks by Ky. slave owners were associated with a secretive organization of slave owners established in Covington, Ky., in 1846, modeled after the Western Horsemen’s Association set up in the western U.S. to deal with horse thieves. A spy calling himself Carpenter was hired and sent to Mich. to find runaway slaves from Northern Kentucky. This spy came back with detailed reports that supplied names, places where slaves were hiding, and the names of plantations where they had been enslaved. Based on this information, in December 1846 young Lexington attorney Francis Townsend along with David Giltner, the son of a central Ky. slave holding family, William Franklin Ford, James S. Lee, and several other Kentuckians traveled to Marshall, Mich., to recapture the Adam Crosswhite family, slave runaways from the Giltner Plantation. The invaders from Ky., however, were turned away by an armed mob, arrested, and subsequently fined for having disturbed the peace.

George W. Brazier, a slave jobber, and Benjamin Stevens from Boone Co. in Ky. mounted a posse to recapture as many as fifty runaway slaves identified by a spy known as Carpenter who was sent to Cass Co., Mich. This posse too was met by armed men, arrested, fined and escorted out of the state.

Cassius M. Clay was a dramatic and significant figure in Ky.’s antislavery movement, not only for editing The Lexington True American, but also for his public speeches and frequent bouts with pro-slavery advocates in Ky. Although Clay was feted and applauded as an antislavery Southerner at Abolitionist Society meetings in New York City, he clearly favored gradual emancipation with monetary recompense to slave owners. Of all the colorful episodes in Clay’s experiences, none was more lasting than the 600 acres of land he assigned in Madison Co., Ky., to John G. Fee to start the northern emigrant community of Berea. This community, along with Camp Nelson in Jessamine Co., became the nexus for true abolitionist sentiment and actions in Ky.

Clay and Fee could not remain united in their thinking for long; Fee was disappointed by Clay’s political expediency, and Clay felt that Fee’s radicalism mixing feminism and anti-caste sentiments with antislavery beliefs actually damaged the antislavery case in Ky. The break between the two Ky.-born abolitionists was public and painful. Fee believed that Clay’s denunciation of him led directly to harassment and mob actions to evict the abolitionists from Madison Co. in 1859, however, it is more likely that Berea College with its Oberlin, Ohio, trained teachers as northern abolitionists, and because white and black men and women were being educated together at the college, was enough to create a pro-slavery furor in Berea, with or without Cassius M. Clay’s approval or disapproval. After all, Fee’s closest associates in Bracken and Lewis counties in Ky. were driven out by pro-slavery mobs about the same time, and Clay had nothing to do with those cases. Simultaneously, abolitionist societies, such as the American Missionary Association and particularly the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission at Cincinnati, continued to provide immediate supplies and relief materials to former slaves. Additionally, clothing, building materials, and even garden tools and seeds were being sent to assist free blacks who had remained in the South.

Also active in these sorts of activities were sectarian agencies such as the Baptist Home Missionary Society, the Episcopal Missionary Society, and the Methodist Home Missionary Society. In July 1864, a convention at Indianapolis, Ind., cited the following agencies as cooperating to provide direct aid to freedmen–the Cleveland (Ohio) Freedmen’s Aid Commission, the Contraband Relief Commission at Cincinnati, the Friends’ Aid Committee of Richmond, Ind., the Indiana Freemen’s Aid Commission at Indianapolis, the North-Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission at Chicago, Ill., the Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission at Cincinnati, and the Western Sanitary Commission at St. Louis, Mo. Even following the Civil War, efforts were made to improve the lot of blacks remaining in the South as many of the Freedmen’s Bureau Schools became completely dependent on teachers recruited and paid by abolitionist groups, such as these.



Black Abolitionists of Northern Kentucky Active on the Ohio River

Place Name Date(s) Activities
Madison Elijah Anderson 1838–46 Conductor, Organizer (200 aided)
Lawrenceburg Elijah Anderson 1846–56 Conductor, Organizer (800 aided)
Madison George De Baptiste 1838–1845 Conductor, Organizer (180 aided)
Madison John Carter 1838–1860 Organizer, Conductor, and Recruiter
Madison Griffin Booth, George Evans, and John Lott 1830–1846 Conductors, safe houses
Milton, Ky. Peter Scott 1840–1850 Local agent, Organizer
Eagle Hollow, Ind. Reverend Chapman Harris 1845–1860 Conductor, Manager River Crossings
Hunters Bottom, Ky. Richard Daly 1845–1856 River Crossing to Eagle Hollow
  1. Hanover, Ind.
John R. Forcen,Simon Gray, and

Mason Thompson

1840–1860 Conductors
Coopers Bottom, Ky. Freeman Anderson 1850s Slave in place, river crossings to S. Hanover
Carrollton, Ky. Wheeling Gaunt and Samuel Lightfoot 1840s, 1850s Safe houses
Warsaw, Ky. John Brookngs and Lewis Hamilton, 1838–1861 Gallatin Co. grand jury
Rising Sun, Ind. Rabbit Hash, Ky. Samuel Barkshire, Joseph Edington, and William Thompson 1840–1850s Safe houses, Thompson a conductor from Clarksburg Ind.
Covington, Ky. John R. Bradley 1830–1860 Lane Seminary debates
Cincinnati, Ohio John Malvin 1830s Aided Susan Hall and 8 children
Cincinnati ,Ohio Henry Boyd 1820–1860 Safe House and organizer
Cincinnati, Ohio Framces Scroggins, Williams Watson, and John Woodson 1830–1840s Safe House and conductor
Cincinnati, Ohio John Mercer Langston and Major James Wilkerson 1830s-1840s Organizer, defender against mobs
Cincinnati, Ohio Rev. Allen E. Graham 1840s Union Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, columnist for the Palladium of Liberty
Cincinnati, Ohio Joseph Carter Corbin 1850–1860s Editor, The Colored Citizen, Cincinnati; graduate Ohio University, later president University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Felicity, Ohio Will Sleet 1840–1850s Leader of Free Black community aiding fugitive slaves
Red Oak, Ohio Harbor Hurley and George Williams 1844      1856 100 lashes given by Mason Co., Ky., posse in Ind. unprovoked; Williams jailed in Ky. penitentiary and died, forced confession
Ripley, Ohio Aunt Polly Jackson, Rhoda Jones, Uncle Billy Marshall, and John P. Parker 1840–1850s Maysville, Ky., Crossings to Ripley, Ohio
Bracken Co., Ky. Arnold Gragston and Julett Miles 1850s Conductor, Crossing to Ripley, Ohio; Julett a woman jailed at Frankfort, Ky., for trying to get her children to freedom visited by Fee.


White Abolitionists of Northern Kentucky Active along the Ohio River

Place Name Date(s) Activities
Eagle Hollow Charles Almond, John Carr, John and Samuel Ledgerwood, Charlie Lutz, Jared Ryker, John Taylor, and William Woolen 1839–1861 Organizer, conductor, safe houses
Carroll, Trimble, Gallatin, and Franklin William Phelps and George Whitehead American Antislavery Society agents from Wheeling, W.Va.
Carrollton, Ky. Alex Fuller and the William Lee family 1850s Organizer, conductor
Lamb, Ind. George C. Ash, Captain Hildreth, William and John Shaw, and Thomas Wright 1840s-1861 Ferrymen, safe houses
Vevay, Ind. Rev. James Duncan and Stephen Stevens 1824–1830 Founders of the Liberty Party in Ind.
Vevay Ind. Stephen Girard and John and Stephen H. Pavy 1830–1861 Organizer, safe house, conductors
Warsaw,  Sugar Creek ,Ky.,and Patriot, Ind. Alex and Duncan Fuller and Daniel and Johnathan Howe 1840s, 1850s River crossings and safe houses
Florence and Quercus Grove Indiana Rev. Alexander Sebastian 1840s-1861 River crossings and safe houses, antislavery churches
Switzerland and Dearborn counties Ind. Rev. Charles Ide and Orthaniel H. Reed 1840s Organizer, bounty set for his capture by slave owners
Aurora, Ind. Daniel Bartholomew, Dr. Myron Harding, John Hope, John Milburn, the Harding, Shockley, and Shattuck families, and William Wymandon 1835–1861 Station Master at Aurora, Ind., managed three major routes, safe houses
Manchester, Ind. John Angevin, John and Ralph Collier, Joseph Hall, Thomas and John Hansell, and Seth Platt 1835–1861 Safe houses, conductors
Guilford and Lawrenceburg, Ind. Henry Beecher, Rev. John Clarke, Martin C. Ewbank, Benjamin Metcalf, and Thomas Smith 1835–1850 Organizer, co-founder of Indiana Antislavery Society, safe houses, members of Dearborn Co. Antislavery Society
Covington, Ky. Thomas Carneal and Rev. Joseph Cabell Harrison 1850s Political activist, safe house
Newport, Ky. William Shreve Bailey 1839–1850s Newspaper editor
Cincinnati, Ohio Harriet Beecher, Salmon P. Chase, Levi and Catherine Coffin, Mark Campbell McMaken, Calvin Stowe, Zebulon Strong,, Theodore Weld, Samuel and Sally Wilson 1830–1850 Student, Author, Teacher, Activists, safe house, Free Store, political leader, railroad guide
Cincinnati, Ohio James G. Birney and Cassius M. Clay 1840s-1850s Newspaper editors
Cincinnati, Ohio John G. Fee, William Hamilton, Thomas Metcalfe, and the Ky. delegates April 1854 Antislavery convention focused on repeal of 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and repudiation of Kansas-Nebraska bill, Hamilton editor of the Patriot, Metcalfe former governor
Cincinnati, Ohio Rev. D. H. Allen, Rev. C. B. Boynton, Levi Coffin, Edward Harwood, Rev. C. Kingsley, J. F. Larkin, James B. Luplton, Rev. G. M. Maxwell, William P. Nixon, Rev. Adam Poe, Rev. R. H. Pollock, Richard B. Pullan, M. Sawyer, Hon. Bellamy Storer, Rev. H. M. Storrs, Dr. J. Taft, Rev. M. L. P. Thompson, Rev. John M. Walden, and Dr. J. P. Walker 1850–1860s Western Freedmen’s Aid Commission, relief materials—clothing, supplies, tools, school supplies, and teachers, industrial arts schools,
Pendleton Co., Ky. to Clermont Co., Ohio Rev. Silas Chase, Andrew Coombs, Arthur Fee, Oliver P. S. Fee, Robert Fee, Thomas Fee, Nelson Gibson, Dr. Mathew Givson, Joseph Parrish, and Andrew Powell 1840–1850s Felicity, Ohio, station master and conductors; Moscow, Ohio, safe houses and conductors
Bracken Co., Ky. James B. Cripps 1850s Delegate to Free Democratic convention in Pittsburgh, Pa., arrested for aiding fugitive slave falsely
Bracken Co., Covington, Mason Co., and Madison Co., Ky. John G. Fee, Mr. Fields, John D. Gregg and John Humlong at Bracken Co., Ky., Vincent Hamilton (John G. Fee’s father-in- law), Mr. Marsh in Madison and Garrard Co., Ky., Ham Rawlings, William Stapp, James Waters, and W. B. Wright 1840–1860 Organizer, antislavery churches and antislavery societies, major Ky. abolitionist and activist
Germantown, Ky.
  1. M. Mallett
1850s Teacher at school at Bethesda, Ky., driven out by pro-slavery forces
Augusta, Ky. Arthur Thome 1840–1850s Organizer, safe house
Sardinia, Ohio John B. Mahan 1840s Tricked by William Greathouse, tried in Ky. in Mason Co., jailed in Washington, Ky., organizer for Liberty Party and Philanthropist subscriptions, died of tuberculosis contracted in jail
Maysville, Ky.—Ripley Ohio Dr. Alfred Beasley, Dr. Alexander Campbell, Thomas Collins, Rev. James Gilliland, Archibald Leggett, Thomas McCaque, Dr. G. Norton, and Rev. John Rankin 1840s-1861 Organizer, safe houses, conductors, physicians
Washington, Ky. James A. Paxton 1830–1861 Safe house
Lewis Co., Ky. James S. Davis 1850s Cabin Creek, Ky., antislavery church.


Abolitionists from Other Regions and States

Active in Northern Kentucky

Place Name Date(s) Activities
Mason Co. Rev. Calvin Fairbanks and Delia Webster 1844 Escape of Lewis Hayden from Lexington, Ky; from Oberlin, Ohio, and Vt.
Boone Co., and other parts of Northern Kentucky John Fairfield Late 1840s Brought 28 out at one time, dare-devil exploits; from Va. and Mich.
Bracken Co. Edward James “Patrick” Doyle 1848 Aborted escape of 40 to 75 runaway slaves from Lexington, Ky., area; from Ireland, Bardstown and Danville, Ky.
Boone Co. Laura S. Haviland 1850s Disguised as free person of color, went into Boone Co., Ky., to get word to John White’s wife, from Adrian, Mich.
Trimble, Carroll, Gallatin, and Franklin counties William Phelps and George Whitefield 1840s Agents of American Antislavery Society, organizers establishing routes and safe houses, from Wheeling W.Va.
Bracken Co. Rev. Daniel Worth June 1853 Wesleyan minister from Ohio, active in AMA; joined John G. Fee in preaching in Bracken Co., Ky.
Lewis and Bracken Co. Rev. Edward Matthews 1850s Antislavery preacher from the Free Mission Baptists, preached with John G. Fee several times
Madison Co. Wiley Fisk 1850s Controversial preacher with AMA
Rockcastle Co.
  1. G. W. Parker
1853 Colporteur from AMA arrested falsely—charged with aiding fugitive slaves—to break up a protracted meeting of John G. Fee
Northern Kentucky William Haines and James West 1850s Colporteurs from AMA distributed antislavery literature and Bibles to slaves
Berea, Camp Nelson, Pulaski, Jackson, and Garrard counties John Burnham, George Candee, Dr. Chase of N.H., John G. Hanson, Roger Jones, Bros. Myers, Thomas E. Renfro, Bro. Richardson, John A. R. Rogers, Miss Tucker, and Otis B. Waters  1850–1860s Close allies, teachers, and companions of John G. Fee
Ohio River Valley Arnold Buffin andRev. Lewis Hicklin 1840 Buffin, president of American Antislavery Society and a Quaker, Hicklin a Methodist Protestant preacher and brother of Thomas Hicklin, a major Underground Railroad activist in Ind., both men associated with early organization of the routes from the Ohio River north to Levi Coffin and other Wayne Co., Ind., safe houses
Cabin Creek, Lewis Co. Francis Hawley 1852–1853 Antislavery Baptist minister came from Syracuse, N.Y., came to baptize John G. Fee and his wife in Cabin Creek, Ky. .


Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan. New York: Amistad, 2005.


Coon, Diane Perrine. “Early African American Congregations of North Central Kentucky,” Afro-American Journal of History and Genealogy, Spring, 2005.

_________________ “Southeastern Indiana’s Underground Railroad Routes and Operations,” U.S. Park Service and Indiana DNR, 1999.

Drummond, Dwight Lowell. Antislavery: The Crusade for Freedom in America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961.

Fee, John G. Autobiography of John G. Fee. Chicago: National Christian Association, 1891.


Griffler, Keith P. Front Line of Freedom, African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Hagedorn, Ann. Beyond the River. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Harrison, Lowell H. The Antislavery Movement in Kentucky. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1978.

Howard, Victor B. The Evangelical War against Slavery and Caste, the Life and Times of John G. Fee. Selinsgrove, Penn.: Susquehanna University Press, 1996.

Hudson, J. Blaine. Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky Borderland, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2002.

Kentucky Educational Television, Underground Railroad Educational Resources. “Westward Expansion and the Development of Abolitionist Thought,” available at, accessed on September 19, 2006.

LaRoche, Cheryl Jenifer. “On the Edge of Freedom: Free Black Communities, Archaeology, and the Underground Railroad,” Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 2006.

Martin, Asa Earl. “Pioneer Antislavery Press,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 2 (March 1916): 510–528.

Rabb, Kate Milner, ed. A Tour Through Indiana in 1840, The Diary of John Parsons of Petersburg, Virginia. New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1920.

Ripley, C. Peter, ed. The Black Abolitionist Papers, III, IV and V. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Tallant, Harold D. Evil Necessity, Slavery and Political Culture in Antebellum Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003.

Turner, Wallace B. “Abolitionism in Kentucky,” RKHS, 69 (October 1971): 319–338.


Diane Perrine Coon