by Sandra Merville Hart
My husband and I recently joined a group of author friends for a fun day of learning about the Underground Railroad in Ripley, Ohio.
We started out with lunch at the Cohearts Riverhouse. This restaurant is on Front Street, which borders the Ohio River. Friendly staff, a cozy atmosphere, and good food made for a wonderful experience.
Next, we went about a half mile to John Rankin House. John Rankin, a Presbyterian minister, built his home high on a hill. He kept a lantern lit in his front home where it was visible across the Ohio River to the slave state of Kentucky.
Rankin, his wife, and his children helped hundreds of escaped slaves, escorting them on their way to that next station on the Underground Railroad. Although there were many times when sheriffs and slave catchers sneaked onto the Rankin homestead in the middle of the night, accompanied by gunfire, in pursuit of fugitives, no one was ever caught. None of the family members were killed and all of the fugitives made it safely to the next station.
We were all impressed by the success and sacrifices of the entire Rankin family as we traveled less than half a mile to the Parker House, a man equally as inspiring.
John P. Parker was born into slavery and was sold away from his mother. He ended up at a doctor’s home where the doctor’s sons taught him how to read. John ran away repeatedly but was always caught. Eventually he was sold to a woman who agreed to allow him to buy his freedom for $1,800. He accomplished this and bought his freedom in less than 2 years.
He eventually ended up in Ripley, Ohio. John’s hatred of slavery spurred him to take many trips into Kentucky at night to help fugitives to freedom—journeys filled with danger for, if caught, John would have been hung.
Docent Dewey Scott made the story come alive in his presentation.
We learned a lot that afternoon at both museums. The Rankin and Parker families are an inspiration.
I found this whole afternoon especially inspiring because one of the characters in Byway to Danger, Book 3 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series, has a station on the Underground Railroad in Richmond.
“John P. Parker House,” National Park Service, 2022/08/08
“John Rankin House,” Ohio History Connection, 2022/08/08 https://www.ohiohistory.org/visit/browse-historical-sites/john-rankin-house/.