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100 Years Ago

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John Randolph Slaves

Leonard U. Hill, the late Piqua historian, in his article published in the Cincinnati Historical Society newsletter of July 1965, describes the venerable John Randolph as being among the "First Gentlemen" of colonial Virginia. Randolph (1773-1833), boasting the Indian princess Pocahontas as one of his ancestors, was elected to Congress in 1799, where he soon became the Democratic party leader.  He disagreed with Thomas Jefferson frequently, opposed the declaration of war in 1812 against Great Britain, and vigorously argued against the expansion of slavery into the new state of Missouri. He also opposed President Andrew Jackson on the nullification question (Randolph was in favor of nullification), a political theory, based on states’ rights, that allows individual states to suspend federal laws within their boundaries. Although there are proponents of nullification today, the last time Federal law was nullified was at the outset of the Civil War when South Carolina, followed by other southern states, seceded from the Union.

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John Randolph

Randolph served in the U.S. Senate from 1825 to 1827, and in 1830 he was appointed minister to Russia.  John Randolph, politician, statesman and owner of a 6,000 acre plantation and hundreds of slaves, was an emancipationist who died in 1833 leaving three wills, two of which manumitted (freed) his slaves. The earliest will, dated 1819, specified, "I give and bequeath to all my slaves their freedom, heartily regretting that I have ever been the owner of one."

Other provisions set aside $8,000 for transporting and settling his freed slaves in another state or territory of the United States. Each former slave above the age of 40 was to receive no less than 10 acres of land in this new place. Codicils of 1826, 1828, and 1831 were added, with the 1828 supplement reading, "Being in great extremity, but in my perfect senses, I write this codicil to my will in the possession of my friend, Wm. Leigh (Leigh was Randolph’s cousin), of Halifax, esquire to declare that will is my sole last will and testament, and that if any other be found of subsequent date whether will or codicil, I do hereby revoke the same."

His final will written in 1832 upon his return from Russia, in Europe, directed that the bulk of his slaves be sold. Upon his death bed it is reputed that his final thoughts, after never being married, were about his slaves, their welfare, and that they should be manumitted.

Claiming that John was insane, his brother contested the will and kept the slaves. It would be thirteen years before the courts would reach their decision to accept the "instrument of writing...the codicil whereto bears date the 5th day of December 1821...the codicil...1821...the codicil...of January 1826 the four codicils bearing date the 6th date of May 1828...and the codicil bearing date the 26th day of August 1831...Therefore it is ordered that the said several instruments of writing be recorded as the true last will and testament of the said John Randolph of Roanoke deceased."

William Leigh began the process of carrying out the will’s dictates by traveling to Mercer County in western Ohio to arrange for the settlement of the newly freed slaves. According to Leonard Hill and Helen Gilmore, (a Rossville, Ohio, historian), William Leigh, on behalf of the Randolph will dictates, had bought about 3,200 acres of fertile land in Mercer County for over $6,000. It is possible that Leigh was aware of the black settlement of Carthagena, Mercer County, that had been established by a Quaker, Augustus Wattles, in the 1830s.

Some of the land purchased was close to Carthagena, however, the bulk of it was in the Celina vicinity. Before returning to Virginia, Leigh contracted with Joseph Plunkett of Mercer County, to attend to the interests of the new arrivals and to ensure their settlement. It was June 10, 1846, when 383 former slaves urged their horses, four to a wagon, pulling sixteen wagons loaded with everything they owned, to head west toward the free state of Ohio. Their ages ranged from a little baby less than 12 months to Granny Hannah who was reputed to have been over 100 years old. They were led by Mr. Cardwell, wagon master, whom Leigh had retained to assist the former slaves in their long journey, and to oversee their successful settlement in Ohio.

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Carthagena in 1935

Cardwell probably had in his possession the extremely valuable certificate of their freedom, which stated, "...A true list and description of the Negroes and mulatto emancipated by the will of John Randolph of Roanoke, dec’d, recorded in the General Court of Virginia, made out from the general book of registers of free Negroes and Mulatoes(sic)...approved by the said court the 4th day of May 1846.

The document listed all their given names (a few had surnames listed; most took them at a later date), and their complexion, height and age. According to Gilmore, "They examined them from head to toe and wrote down any marks you had on you...made you feel like you was cattle or pigs. Every slave had a number."

Written on the 12 page list of former slaves, numbered 215 to 596, was No. 514 - Shadrach, who would take White as a surname (later known as Buddie Shang) and make Sidney his home, and No. 421 - Carter who would choose Lee as his surname, settle in New Bern, located outside Sidney on Hardin-Wapak Road at Schenk Road, and produce an offspring that would lead to the birth of James P. Humphrey, Sidney’s first black mayor.

According to Humphrey, a Frank Brown settled in Sidney in the Fair Road area. Also listed was Rial, known later as Jimmie Jeems Rial (shown at right) an ancestor of Helen Gilmore. NOTE: A slave did not have a last name until free. When freed, he/she often took the name of his/her master, residence or of some famous person of that time.

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Jimmie Jeems Rial

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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