An Afternoon in Ripley, Ohio

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.

Sources

“John P. Parker House,” National Park Service, 2022/08/08

https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/oh2.htm.

“John Rankin House,” Ohio History Connection, 2022/08/08 https://www.ohiohistory.org/visit/browse-historical-sites/john-rankin-house/.

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Henry “Box” Brown

by Sandra Merville Hart

Henry “Box” Brown earned his unusual nickname in a surprising way. Wishing to escape slavery in a Richmond tobacco factory, Brown mailed himself to Philadelphia.

Brown’s wife, Nancy, was also enslaved by Samuel Cottrell and lived with their children on an adjacent plantation. Brown developed skills at the factory that enabled him to earn money. Cottrell charged Brown $50 a year to not sell his family. Brown paid it but Cottrell sold his pregnant wife and three children anyway in 1848.

His grief spurred him to escape. Brown, a Christian, sang in the choir at the First African Baptist Church. He prayed for guidance about his escape and the answer came to get in a box and mail himself.

Brown turned to James Caesar Anthony Smith, a free black choir friend, for help. James knew a white sympathizer, Samuel Alexander Smith, who agreed to help for a price. Samuel arranged for Henry to be shipped via Adams Express Company to James Miller McKim of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society who also participated in the Underground Railroad.

On March 23, 1849, Henry traveled in a 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 ½ feet deep wooden box labeled “Dry Goods” and “This Side Up.” The box was lined with coarse wool cloth. With one air hole cut into the box, a few biscuits and water, Henry traveled by train on the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad to a steamboat on the Potomac River.

His box was turned upside down and Henry felt like he wasn’t going to survive the trip. Then two men who needed a seat turned his box the right way to sit on it, possibly saving Henry’s life.

When he finally arrived 26-27 hours later, four men opened his box. Henry recited a psalm about waiting patiently on the Lord. Then he sang the psalm, which touched the men who helped him.

Instead of keeping his escape methods to himself, as Frederick Douglass suggested, Henry began speaking to audiences about his experiences two months later. He also performed for them the psalm he had sung. The Narrative of Henry Box Brown written by Charles Stearns was published in 1849, and Brown and Stearns sold them at lectures.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring slaves to be returned to their owners even when in a free state, passed on September 18th, and Henry feared he’d be captured and taken back to Richmond. He fled to England with Smith.

Henry lived there for 25 years. During those years he performed for audiences as a mesmerist. When he returned to the United States with his wife and daughter, he also performed as a magician.

Henry “Box” Brown is remembered for the creative way he escaped to the North, inspired by the prayers of a man of faith.

Brown and others inspired me in my writing. 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.

Sources

“Fugitive Slave Act,” American Battlefield Trust, 2022/06/20 https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/fugitive-slave-act#.

“Henry Box Brown,” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2022/06/20 https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/brown-henry-box-1815-or-1816-1897/.

Newby-Alexander, PHD, Cassandra L. Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad, History Press, 2017.

Walls, Dr. Bryan. “Freedom Marker: Courage and Creativity,” PBS.org, 2022/06/22 https://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/stories-freedom/henry-box-brown/.

Shadrach Minkins, Fugitive

by Sandra Merville Hart

Shadrach Minkins was about twenty-eight years old when he escaped slavery in the home of John DeBree in Norfolk, Virginia, in May of 1850. It’s likely that a schooner took him. He arrived in Boston that same month. Shadrach went by the name of Frederick while there.

Not long after his arrival, Minkins spotted William H. Parks, a white man who had worked with him in Norfolk. Instead of turning him in, Parks gave him a job. Then Minkins was hired by upscale restaurant, Cornhill Coffee House and Tavern, where he waited tables.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring slaves to be returned to their owners even when in a free state, passed on September 18th, and this eventually affects Minkins.

Many citizens were outraged by the law, including folks in Boston. In October, a community of African Americans established the League of Freedom to rescue fugitives. Another group, The Committee of Vigilance and Safety, was formed by mostly white citizens with the same goal.

John DeBree hired a slave catcher John Caphart to bring Minkins back to Norfolk. Caphart, a man known for his violent history, arrived in Boston on February 12, 1851. Minkins was arrested at the Cornhill Coffee House and Tavern three days later and taken to the courthouse.

Six lawyers offered to represent Minkins. One helped him write his name.

Between 100 – 150 people, many of them black, crowded the courtroom within thirty minutes. Hundreds more gathered outside. A charge of about twenty black men broke through the outer and inner doors and took Minton away.

His rescuers hid him in various locations, including the home of Reverend Joseph C. Lovejoy. Minton made it to Leominster and then traveled along the Underground Railroad. He arrived in La Praire, Quebec, Canada four days later.

Minton wrote a letter thanking his friends in Boston. He signed the letter as Frederick Minton.

His story has a happy ending. He met and married Mary, an Irish woman, and they had four children. Minton returned to his former name of Shadrach Minton. In Old Montreal, he owned barbershops, inns, and restaurants.

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.

Sources

“Fugitive Slave Act,” American Battlefield Trust, 2022/06/20 https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/fugitive-slave-act#.

Newby-Alexander, PHD, Cassandra L. Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad, History Press, 2017.

“Rescued from the Fangs of the Slave Hunter: The Case of Shadrach Minkins,” National Park Service, 2022/06/20 https://www.nps.gov/articles/-rescued-from-the-fangs-of-the-slave-hunter-the-case-of-shadrach-minkins.htm.

“Shadrach Minkins (d. 1875),” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2022/06/20 https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/minkins-shadrach-d-1875/#timeline.

Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

This book by Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, PhD gives some historical background of slavery in Virginia. Much of the book gives accounts of folks who escaped slavery and how they accomplished it.

The author shows that many of the freedom seekers escaped on small vessels and steamships on Virginia’s tidal rivers like the James, York, and the Potomac.

I found this book informative, well-organized, and well-researched. Lots of helpful facts were included, such as laws and the years they were passed. For example, free blacks were able to purchase the freedom of relatives after the passage of a 1782 law.

The discussion of the Underground Railroad was helpful as were the charts, photos, maps, and sketches.

The Underground Railroad is a topic in Byway to Danger, Book 3 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series.

Recommended for those desiring to learn more about the history of slavery.

Amazon

The Richmond Slave Trade by Jack Trammell

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

The Economic Backbone of the Old Dominion

This book deals with a dark part of American history. For that reason, it isn’t an easy read.

The author traces the history of slavery in America. By 1671, there were 6,000 white indentured servants and 2,000 black slaves in Virginia.

I learned a lot in reading this book. For example, a Virginia law passed in 1806 gave newly freed slaves one year to leave the state or risk being automatically placed back into bondage for life.

The author included charts, photos, maps, and sketches to enhance readers’ understanding of information given.

The Underground Railroad is a topic in Byway to Danger, Book 3 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series.

Recommended for those desiring to learn more about the history of slavery.

Amazon

Transcontinental Railroad

by Sandra Merville Hart

Asa Whitney, a New York merchant, planted the idea of a transcontinental railroad when he petitioned Congress for federal funding of a sixty-mile strip in 1845, but it wasn’t until Theodore D. Judah caught the vision that things began to happen. Judah believed the Donner Pass was the perfect area for the railroad to pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and, as the engineer of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, he wanted to build it.

He brought Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins in on the project, leading to the establishment of Central Pacific Railroad Company of California.

Congress passed the first Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862. It stated the Union Pacific was to start in Omaha, Nebraska, and build toward the west. The Central Pacific started in Sacramento, California, and built toward the east to meet them roughly halfway.

The second Pacific Railway Act (July 2, 1864) doubled the land grants to 12,800 acres for every mile of track built. They also received $48,000 in government bonds for each mile. This increased the competition between the two companies.

The Civil War hampered Union Pacific’s efforts to build. Though they began in December of 1863, little was accomplished for the remaining two years of the war.

The western team began about a month before. Sadly, the man who had laid so much groundwork for the project didn’t see it to completion. Judah died of yellow fever in November of 1863, shortly after Central Pacific pounded the first spikes.  

The Sierra Nevada mountains slowed Central Pacific’s progress. They hired Chinese workers for this grueling task. Nine tunnels were blasted the mountains in order for the track to be laid.

Once the war ended, the Union Pacific made progress westward across the prairie. Civil War veterans and Irish immigrants had to cope with attacks from Native Americans. Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe were among the attacking tribes.

Union Pacific workers had their own difficulties to contend with—the Rockies. Even with these obstacles, the group from the east was in Wyoming in the summer of 1867, and had laid almost four times the miles of track as the western team.

Once Central Pacific made it to the other side of the Sierra Mountains in June, they made significant progress.

The competition was on now. Unfortunately, the workmanship suffered and some the sections were later rebuilt.

In March of 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant told the two companies to agree on a meeting point. They chose Promontory, Utah. A symbolic gold spike was driven in a special “Golden Spike Ceremony” on May 10, 1869. It linked both railroads, marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The hero in my novel, Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1 of my “Spies of the Civil War” series, dreams of participating in building the Transcontinental Railroad. The fictional Union officer hopes that the war doesn’t last so long that he misses his opportunity. As you read in this article, Civil War veterans were used to build the railroad after the war ended. I was thrilled to use such an important part of our history in the story.

 

Sources

“Central Pacific Railroad,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2022/02/22 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Central-Pacific-Railroad.

History.com Editors. “Transcontinental Railroad,” History.com, 2022/02/22 https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad.

“Pacific Railway Acts,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2022/02/22 https://www.britannica.com/event/Pacific-Railway-Acts.

“The Transcontinental Railroad,” Library of Congress, 2022/02/26 https://www.loc.gov/collections/railroad-maps-1828-to-1900/articles-and-essays/history-of-railroads-and-maps/the-transcontinental-railroad/.

“Transcontinental Railroad,” History.net, 2020/06/19 https://www.historynet.com/transcontinental-railroad.

“Union Pacific Railroad Company, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2022/02/22 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Central-Pacific-Railroad.

Laying the Groundwork for the Transcontinental Railroad

by Sandra Merville Hart

Asa Whitney, a New York merchant, wanted a railroad that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. His goal was to make trade with China easier after returning from a trip to China in 1844.

In 1845, Whitney petitioned Congress for federal funding of a sixty-mile strip and proposed that land be granted as wages for workers. He didn’t give up when his request was denied. In 1849 he published Project for a Railroad, which outlined possible routes. Congress didn’t accept his ideas, but their interest was growing.

Whitney continued to talk about his dream and the public noticed. A transcontinental railroad brought many benefits. Train travel for passengers was faster and safer than stagecoaches and wagon trains. Mail delivery would be accomplished more quickly. Goods from the east could reach western customers in a timely manner. There were many merits to building it.

Others made proposals but Congressmen didn’t agree on the eastern terminus. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis sent four men to lead the exploration of potential routes for the transcontinental railroad. They learned that any of them worked. The least expensive was the route along the 32nd parallel.

Because routes along the South didn’t please Northern Congressmen and vice versa, debates continued.

Whitney stopped lobbying for the railroad in 1851, but a new champion came along in 1860. Theodore D. Judah believed the Donner Pass was the perfect area for the railroad to navigate through the Sierra Nevada mountains. As the engineer of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, he wanted to build the new railroad.

He brought Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins in on the project, leading to the establishment of Central Pacific Railroad Company of California.

Judah traveled to Washington City (as Washington DC was then called) where he talked with Congress. President Abraham Lincoln backed the idea and the first Pacific Railway Act went into effect on July 1, 1862. It stated the Union Pacific was to start in Omaha, Nebraska, and build toward the west. The Central Pacific started in Sacramento, California, and built toward the east to meet them roughly halfway.

It was a long journey of many years and several key people to make the decisions laying the groundwork for the Transcontinental Railroad, not the least of whom were Asa Whitney and Theodore Judah.

The hero in my novel, Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1 of my “Spies of the Civil War” series, dreams of participating in building the Transcontinental Railroad. The fictional Union officer hopes that the war doesn’t last so long that he misses his opportunity. I was thrilled to use such an important part of our history in the story.  

Sources

“Asa Whitney,” Wikipedia, 2022/02/26 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asa_Whitney.

History.com Editors. “Transcontinental Railroad,” History.com, 2022/02/22 https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad.

“Pacific Railway Acts,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2022/02/22 https://www.britannica.com/event/Pacific-Railway-Acts.

“The Beginnings of American Railroads and Mapping,” Library of Congress, 2022/02/26 https://www.loc.gov/collections/railroad-maps-1828-to-1900/articles-and-essays/history-of-railroads-and-maps/the-beginnings-of-american-railroads-and-mapping/.

“The Transcontinental Railroad,” Library of Congress, 2022/02/26 https://www.loc.gov/collections/railroad-maps-1828-to-1900/articles-and-essays/history-of-railroads-and-maps/the-transcontinental-railroad/.

“Transcontinental Railroad,” History.net, 2020/06/19 https://www.historynet.com/transcontinental-railroad.

Grasshopper Weather

by Sandra Merville Hart

I recently read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her family moved to Minnesota when she was seven and first stayed in a sod house built into the creek bank. The details of everyday life in the 1870s fascinated me.

The Ingalls family was very poor. They had moved into the sod house too late to plant crops so finances were tight. Laura’s pa put all his hopes on next year’s crop, which promised to be a bountiful one. She dreamed of having all the things they’d done without and eating candy daily.

There was no snow by Thanksgiving of that year. Days were still warm though the nights were chilly. No rain. No more frost. Pa learned that the old-timers called it “grasshopper weather” but no one explained what that meant.

An unusually dry, hot, sunny summer followed. Plump wheat promised a beautiful crop. Pa planned to pay for the farmhouse he’d borrowed the money to build with the bountiful wheat.

Sunshine dimmed at lunchtime a couple of days before the planned harvest. A coming storm blackened the sky. No, not a normal storm. What was it?

Glittering thin snowflake-like matter blocked the sun. No wind. Then brown grasshoppers dropped to the ground, falling on Laura’s head and arms like hail. When she beat at them, they clung to her skin.

Grasshoppers by the millions ate the wheat crop, prairie grasses, leaves, cornstalks, and every vegetable in the garden. Though all windows were shut, brown grasshoppers came inside the house each time someone entered it.

Laura’s family endured a nightmare.

It’s estimated that one trillion Rocky Mountain locusts descended on the Great Plains in 1874, covering an area around 2,000,000 square miles and causing much devastation.

When large groups of grasshoppers swarm, they’re called locusts. In one day, these swarms can fly as far as 100 miles.

Locusts returned in smaller numbers some years but became extinct early in the 1900s. The arrival of farmers who plowed the prairie grass to grow crops changed the habitat, which many experts believe caused the extinction.   

Sources

“Grasshoppers in On the Banks of Plum Creek.” Study.com, 12 April 2017, study.com/academy/lesson/grasshoppers-in-on-the-banks-of-plum-creek.html.

Nuwer, Rachel. “When Weather Changes, Grasshopper Turns Locust,” The New York Times, 2021/09/29 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/09/science/when-weather-changes-grasshopper-turns-locust.html.

Wheeler, John. “Weather Talk: Grasshopper plagues are gone with the wind,” AGWEEK, 2021/09/29 https://www.agweek.com/news/weather/4324688-weather-talk-grasshopper-plagues-are-gone-wind.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek, HarperTrophy, 1971.

Summer Kitchens in the 1800s

Cindy Ervin Huff, fellow author in “The Cowboys,” has a new historical romance book release that I loved! Welcome back to Historical Nibbles, Cindy!

by Cindy Ervin Huff

In my newest Release Rescuing Her Heart, Delilah James wants to start a bakery to provide for herself by baking in her employer Genny Holt’s kitchen and sending baked goods to the mercantile in town. Genny persuades her husband to build a summer kitchen for baking and canning in the sweltering heat.

This was not unusual request, considering there were no air conditioners or fans in the 1870s. Many families had some sort of summer kitchen.

Some women did all the cooking for the day in the morning, so the house could cool off before evening. Then the cold food was eaten throughout the day.

For the wealthy, it comprised a brick building in the back of the house near the main kitchen. They did all the cooking and canning in the summer kitchen throughout the warm months. Middle-class families might have a summer porch for cooking or a small, roofed area out back with a stove. Others resorted to building a campfire away from the house to keep the heat out of their homes.

My heroine Delilah James helps Genny Holt do canning and baking in a summer kitchen built by Lonnie and Jed Holt. The ranch has a large garden and some of what is canned, along with the baked goods, are sold in town.

They furnished the summer kitchen with a preparation table, a stove and shelves. Utensils, pots and pans came from the main kitchen.

I am so grateful for air-conditioning so I can cook in comfort throughout the summer!

About Cindy

Cindy Ervin Huff is an Award-winning author of Historical and Contemporary Romance. She loves infusing hope into her stories of broken people. She addicted to reading and chocolate. Her idea of a vacation is visiting historical sites and an ideal date with her hubby of almost fifty years would be live theater.

Visit her at her blog.

Rescuing Her Heart

As her husband’s evil deeds haunt a mail-order bride from the grave, can she learn to trust again and open her heart to true love? Jed has his own nightmares from a POW camp and understands Delilah better than she knows herself. Can two broken people form a forever bond?

First Telegraphed Message from a Hot Air Balloon Happened During the Civil War

by Sandra Merville Hart

Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe’s test flight on April 19, 1861, from Cincinnati didn’t go as planned. Instead of landing in the Chesapeake Bay area, winds took his balloon south to South Carolina. He was arrested as a possible spy. He was released after being recognized by a local citizen. What started out as a catastrophe ended with Lowe and his balloon on a northbound train to Cincinnati.

Lowe was now determined that he and his balloons would serve the Union army. He took his balloon Enterprise to Washington D.C.

The Columbia Armory occupied the area where the National Air and Space Museum now stand. It was on this spot, in sight of the White House where President Abraham Lincoln lived, that Lowe launched the Enterprise with American Telegraph Company representatives on June 17, 1861.

They ascended to a height of 500 feet. Lowe telegraphed a message to President Lincoln from the air that he could see 50 miles from his position.

President Lincoln met with Lowe that evening in the White House. Though Lowe wasn’t the only aeronaut hoping to serve the army, he had convinced Lincoln that reconnaissance from the balloon would help his generals. Lowe became the chief aeronaut in the U.S. Army Balloon Corps.

Several Federal officers ascended in these balloons, including John Reynolds, Joe Hooker, George McClellan, Fitz John Porter, Baldy Smith, John Sedgwick, and George Custer.

Sources

“Civil War Ballooning,” American Battlefield Trust, 2021/02/05 https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-ballooning.

“Civil War Ballooning,” Smithsonian National Space & Air Museum, 2021/02/05 https://airandspace.si.edu/learn/highlighted-topics-/flight/civil-war-ballooning.

Clifford, Command Sergeant Major James, USA-Ret. “Balloon Operations in the Peninsula Campaign,” The Army Historical Foundation, 2021/02/05 https://armyhistory.org/balloon-operations-in-the-peninsula-campaign/.

Fanton, Ben. “Gas Balloons: View from Above the Civil War Battlefield,” History.net, 2021/02/05 https://www.historynet.com/gas-balloons-view-from-above-the-civil-war-battlefield.htm.

Gould, Kevin. “Balloon Corps,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2021/02/05 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Balloon-Corps.

Mortimer, Gavin. Double Death: The True Story of Pryce Lewis, the Civil War’s Most Daring Spy, Walker & Company, 2010.

“Thaddeus S.C. Lowe,” Wikipedia, 2021/02/05  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thaddeus_S._C._Lowe.