SCHS Header
Link to Homepage
Link to About Us page
Link to Staff & Board page
Link to Ross Center page
Link to Exhibits page
Link to Events Calendar page
Link to Archives page
Link to Online Store
Link to Membership page
Link to Volunteer page
Link to Contact Us page
Historical photo show 100 years ago header

100 Years Ago

Black History
Civil War
Gold Rush
Law and Order

Randolph Slaves Come to Ohio

After a journey of nearly 500 miles, the slaves arrived in Charleston on June 18. They had traveled through Virginia, crossing the Greenbrier River through Lewisburg, the Sewel Mountain over Hawks Nest, around the Kanawba Fall, down the east bank of that river and onto Charleston. They boarded a steamer on the Kanawha River and sailed on to the Ohio River and the city of Cincinnati. They entered the city on July 1, 1846, with accounts of their arrival appearing in the July 2 edition of the local newspapers. "The Gazette" account berates their benefactor John Randolph, perhaps unjustly, for his presumed hypocrisy, and provides an insight into the humanitarian contradictions of whites in non-slave states. The entire account appears below:

"John Randolph, by will, gave freedom to his slaves, and provided the means for their settlement in Ohio. Yesterday they passed through our city on their way to the settlements purchased for them in the interior. The troop was a large one. There appeared to be some three hundred [383] in it. It is composed of people of all ages and all sizes, and attracted no little attention."

In themselves, as they marched along, they bore testimony against Slavery. Their master had enjoyed the benefit of their services while he lived. For him they toiled. They worked daily, year in and year out; but the sweat of their face was spent for another, and not for themselves. Was this just? Death drew nigh; he felt its approach; and when told he must pass away, he summoned all his energy, as he remembered his slaves, and the various contradictory wills he had made with regard to them, and, also, what they had done for him, and said to the Physician by his side, "Remember, they are free. He would be just to them ere he met his God. He dares not die with the iniquity of human bondage resting upon his soul.

Well—they are free! The boon of mankind is theirs. But are they prepared to enjoy it? Their old master had means enough out of their labor to prepare them all for this step. He could travel in foreign lands; sport and spend freely on the race course; scatter profusely, or hold closely the money made by them, as fitful gleams of generosity, or hard gripings of avarice, seized and controlled him. For self, he would do as whim or caprice directed; but for them, in the way of enlightenment, he did nothing [editor’s note: sources indicate that Randolph took great interest in the educating and care of his slaves]. And it was not till life’s doings were spread out before him, and all of the past was concentrated in the brief hour of death, that he had the courage to declare orally that they should enjoy, untaught and unprepared as they were, what God meant should be common to all his creatures —freedom!

And now the poor creatures are among us! — Why should this be? We have nothing to do with Slavery, and it is neither our interest, nor our duty, to add to the ignorance of our State, in any way. Let us recall, in part, this remark. —This emigration of John Randolph's Negroes proves that we have something to do with slavery. And evidently, the people of Virginia think so too. —For whenever their eyes get opened, because they hear the call of death, or know it is nigh, the first step is, to free their slaves, that they may lull the unquiet knawings [sic] of conscience —the next to send them to Ohio, that they may be free! We have already several colored settlements among us. —And pray, why does not Virginia and Kentucky retain their freed blacks? What right have they to be pouring in upon us their helpless, new made free? We have very much fear that the common objection made in the Slave States, that we, as Free States, having nothing to do with Slavery, will turn out, on examination, to be eminently untrue, in more respects than one."

After boarding Miami & Erie Canal barges on Main Street in Cincinnati, they began their journey north to Mercer County. Arriving in Dayton, the local newspaper reported some of the former slaves’ apprehension about their destination and the mood prevalent in Mercer County with these words. "They are a fine looking company of blacks. Some of them regretted being compelled to leave Virginia, where they would much rather have remained, and anticipated an unfavorable reception in Mercer County. Since the arrangements for settling the Randolph blacks in that county have been in progress, a great deal of opposition has been manifested by the citizens, and meetings have been held in the various parts, at which resolutions were passed to take measures to prevent these Negroes from coming into the area. We have no idea that they will be permitted to remain in Mercer County."

Signs of racism followed them north through Tippecanoe (Tipp City) and Troy before their arrival in Piqua, where the Town Marshal refused to allow them to disembark to quench their thirsts, ostensibly, because of a water shortage, and insisted that they move on. It is believed that compassionate individuals in the Johnston Farm area of the canal allowed the party to drink from a spring on the property.

Continuing north on the canal, the barges moved into Shelby County, passing through the locks at Lockington on to Berlin (Ft. Loramie) where they were not allowed to land, and their final destination New Bremen, Mercer County (Auglaize County was not created until 1848), where the promised land, detailed in Randolph’s will, was waiting for them. Upon their arrival in New Bremen, they disembarked, made camp, and wagonmaster Cardwell contacted the local residents who, by now, had, in a mass meeting, determined a course of action unfavorable to the Randolph group. Cardwell’s humanitarian plea for the blacks, their rights, and the various resolutions he proposed to resolve the problem were rejected.

That same evening, a mob of whites, fully armed with guns and bayonets, surrounded the camp; reading three resolutions that included the following, "Resolved, That we will not live among Negroes; as we have settled here first, we have fully determined that we will resist the settlement of blacks and mulattoes in this county to the full extent of our means, the bayonet not excepted." Taking Cardwell into custody, they forced him, on the next morning, to charter two canal boats to remove the blacks from their county. With an armed citizen escort, the boats—with their occupant’s dreams and aspirations shattered, replaced by uncertain futures—left Mercer County.

They eventually disembarked close to Piqua (an area that became Rossville, a Randolph slave community) in Miami County where charitable whites brought them food. They also later located in Sidney, Troy and West Milton and in other small communities like Hanktown and Marshalltown. An editorial in the Sidney newspaper, "Aurora", condemned the Mercer County residents for selling land to the Negroes, receiving wages for constructing buildings and pocketing "a large amount of money for provisions not two weeks before the arrival of the poor creatures whom they so unjustly treated."

Within a few days of stopping near Rossville, the contingent headed for Sidney and Shelby County, as reported in the Piqua newspaper, "As we noticed last week (July 18) an effort, which it was thought would be successful, was made to settle them in Shelby County, but like the previous attempt in Mercer it failed. They were driven away by threatened violence. About one-third of them, we understand, remained in Sidney, intending to scatter and to find homes wherever they can." Leonard Hill’s Randolph article adds that Shelby County did eventually become the final resting place for "Old Quasha," 90 years of age, who once had been Randolph’s head wagoner.

In a subsequent trial involving the former slaves’ land in Mercer County, testimony by Clem Clay (former slave) indicated that the group went first to Carey’s Plantation, believed to have been in the Berlin (Ft. Loramie) area. A piece in the July 14, 1893, edition of "The Sidney Journal", recounts their reception in Berlin and states, "In July of 1846 quite a commotion was caused in the village by the arrival of a boat carrying as passengers...about 100 Randolph slaves, just set free. The boat passed up to the vicinity of Berlin but were not allowed to land. A mob received them with sticks and was the exclamation of one of the old Negroes that he guessed his master [referring to Randolph] was his best friend, after all."

Clay goes on to tell about their visit to Sidney, the mob that gathered, and, as reported in the "Piqua Register", threatened violence. To avert a confrontation, Guy Kelsey, local businessman (grocer and wholesale liquors) who was also Clinton Township treasurer in 1846, and Joseph Cummins, a co-partner in the platting of Pulaski (a settlement in Van Buren Township close to Rumley), and a later Clinton Township overseer/trustee, and other citizens, met in a Sidney hotel to discuss the issue. It was decided to allow a number of the former slaves to stay in Sidney, and that, in Clay’s words, "Well, a good class of white people took some on the farm and some around to the dwelling houses...some settled around Sidney...and the rest came to Piqua."

It is also known that a number of them settled in Rumley, a black community (whites also lived there), that had been platted in 1837 northeast of McCartyville in Van Buren Township of Shelby County.

The rest of the Randolph slave family, as Clay mentioned, left for Piqua, and then for Troy, and villages in western Miami County where they were employed by Quakers sympathetic to their plight. Piqua and Troy, at the time, already had a few black residents, and Troy had a separate black school. The slaves hired themselves out as hands on neighboring farms, doing odd jobs and picking up work as it came along. The freed slaves with construction skills helped build a variety of structures, including several homes still standing in Piqua. The 1850 U.S. Census indicates figures for black citizens (many were probably from the Randolph party) as: Piqua and Springcreek Township 67; Troy 33; Covington and Newberry Township 39, Newton with Pleasant Hill 36; and Union with West Milton 91.

Beginning on December 16, 1846, Joseph Plunkett, the man William Leigh trusted to represent the freed slaves interests, began to sell the unclaimed land. Helen Gilmore has found evidence that when the former slaves inquired about the land that was rightfully theirs, it had been flooded by water temporarily released from Grand Lake St. Marys. Over a seven year period, Plunkett sold all the land for a total of over $7,700. Gilmore also states that the treacherous Plunkett, in selling the land, forged the name of William Leigh.

rossvillemap.gif (10204 bytes)

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


[ Back to Black History Index ]

Article Footer
SCHS footer Link to Home page Link to About Us Information Link to the Ross Center Information Link to our Events Calendar Information Link to our Archives Information Link to our Online Store / Products Information Link to our Membership Information Link to our Volunteering Information Link to our Contact Information Link to Staff & Board Information Link to our Current & Upcoming Exhibits Information Link to our Donation Information