Richard Daly, Underground Railroad Conductor, Escape to Canada

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

 

Richard Daly line drawing from Detroit Sunday News-Tribune Jul 22, 1894Daly, Richard (date and place of birth unknown), The birthplace and birth date of Richard Daly, like those of many Ky. slaves, are unknown, but he was still alive in 1894 in Windsor, Canada, when interviewed by a reporter for a Detroit, Mich., newspaper. Richard Daly’s four children were born between 1840 and 1850 in Hunter’s Bottom, in Carroll Co., Ky. His oldest girl, Mary, was listed as being age seventeen in the 1860 Detroit census.

In the 1850s, Richard, his brother, Joe Daly, and Tom Owen were slaves owned by Samuel Fearn Sr. at Hunter’s Bottom, Ky. The Fearn family came to Ky. from Buckingham Co., Va. In 1803, Samuel Fearn (1766–1828) and his oldest son George (1796–1869) came to Hunter’s Bottom, a ten-mile stretch of Ohio River bottomland between Canip and Locust creeks. The Fearns had first moved to Bourbon Co. in Ky., but encountering some kind of land interference issues there, proceeded north.

Samuel Fearn, the family’s fourth child, was born at Hunter’s Bottom in 1806 and married Elizabeth Owen in 1826. George and Samuel Fearn together owned about 1,000 acres along the banks of the Ohio River, straddling the Carroll and Trimble county line, but Samuel Fearn’s main income came from his gristmill and packet steamship businesses in Milton, on the Ky. side of the Ohio River opposite Madison, Ind. He also purchased timberland in Jackson Co., Ind., on the White River. George Fearn speculated in land along the wharf area in Madison and along the Ind. shoreline on the east side of Madison. The two Fearn brothers were quite wealthy.

Sam Fearn's home c. 1910 Hunters Bottom
Sam Fearn’s plantation house at Hunter’s Bottom, Kentucky

Samuel Fearn had three slaves; his brother George, a bachelor, owned four or five slaves. The Fearn family history states that George Fearn had become an ardent Methodist and emancipated all of his slaves in his will. George was so pro-Union and so openly opposed to slavery that horses were stolen from his farm in a targeted attack by Confederate raiders during the Civil War.

In his 1894 interview, Richard Daly referred to Samuel and George Fearn as “kind,” and it appeared that Richard had many advantages over other slaves in the region. He lived in a brick house behind the main Samuel Fearn homestead and was permitted to take produce to market in Madison, in order to earn money to purchase his freedom. In fact, Samuel Fearn had set an extremely low purchase price, $100, for Richard’s freedom , with comparable prices for slaves of Richard’s age and ability rising well above $800-$900. Richard claimed that by 1856 he had already saved $100 “in his pocket.” Fearn, like many of the Hunter’s Bottom slave owners, allowed frequent conjugal visits by Richard to his wife Kitty, a house servant owned by Moses Hoagland who lived east of the Fearns along the Ohio River toward Carrollton, Ky. Richard and Kitty had four living children that by law and custom were owned by Moses Hoagland.

Eagle Hollow Vertical
Eagle Hollow on Indiana side of Ohio River

But the most unusual fact about Richard Daly was that he had worked actively in the Underground Railroad (UGRR) for some years. He stated that he had ferried thirty fugitive slaves across the Ohio River before 1856. He would meet the fugitive slaves two miles above Milton and row them across in his small boat. During the 1850s, this route through Eagle Hollow in Carroll Co., Ky., was one of the most active crossing points on the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Ky. Richard’s method of signaling his friend, a white leader of the UGRR (probably John Carr) was also highly unusual. Richard said that he would row into the middle of the Ohio River and shoot a revolver in the air. The UGRR agent would then shoot his revolver in response. By the time Richard arrived at the Ind. shore, his white friend would be ready and take charge of the runaways.

It was well known that Samuel Fearn enjoyed hunting and had several hunting dogs always running through the house and farm. But for a slave to have access to a revolver and ammunition is remarkable. Further, the sound of gunshots in the middle of the Ohio River at night carried to both shores. If the Indiana UGRR agent heard it, the Fearns would have heard it also. Therefore, it has been suggested locally that the Fearn brothers were tacitly, if not actively, approving Richard’s aiding of runaway slaves.

Richard said that he was happy in his circumstances and had no plans to escape, but then his wife Kitty unexpectedly died. Richard was concerned about his children and asked Mrs. Hoagland (Sarah Payne of Lexington, Ky.) to keep them in Hunter’s Bottom, and she agreed. However, a short time later, the Hoagland daughter married a doctor and moved to Louisville and asked for Mary, the oldest Daly girl, to go with her permanently. When Richard learned his family was to be separated, he went that same night to pick up all four children. They crossed the Ohio River and took the Madison UGRR route north through Ind. Richard said that they rode horses northward successively accompanied by two sets of UGRR agents, one from dark to midnight and another from midnight to dawn. The Daly family slept in various farmhouses until they reached Mich. There, they boarded the Michigan Central Railroad to Detroit, and then crossed over the ferry to Windsor, Canada.

In Canada, Richard worked feeding cattle for a man named Hiram Walker, an exporter of livestock to Great Britain from a farm located along the Detroit River. Daly said that he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean several times with these shipments. At some point, Richard married a second time. In 1894, three of the children who escaped with him were living in Detroit, and one child had died in Windsor.

Fearn Hill enhanced, hunters bottom
George Fearn’s Fearn Hill Plantation at Hunter’s Bottom Kentucky

Apparently Joe Daly and Tom Owen continued to live with Samuel Fearn at Hunter’s Bottom even after the Thirteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution freed all slaves. When George Fearn died in 1869 he left Fearn Hill, his antebellum home, to his nephew, George Fearn. The emancipation clause was still in George’s will, but it was moot since his slaves were already free by law.

Blassingame, John W. ed. Slave Testimony. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Coon, Diane Perrine, “Southeastern Indiana’s Underground Railroad Routes and Operations,” TM, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and “Chapman Harris and the St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Madison, Indiana,” for University of Louisville graduate program.

Emma McClaran Fearn family Bible in possession of Larry Douglas Smith of Louisville, Ky.

Smith, Larry Douglas, “The Fearns of Hunters Bottom, Kentucky,” TM at Kentucky Historical Society.

Interview with Richard Daly, 1894, Detroit Sunday News Tribune, Michigan State Library Newspaper Project.

Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 1864 Census.

Diane Perrine Coon