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.


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

“John Rankin House,” Ohio History Connection, 2022/08/08


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.


“Fugitive Slave Act,” American Battlefield Trust, 2022/06/20

“Henry Box Brown,” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2022/06/20

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

Walls, Dr. Bryan. “Freedom Marker: Courage and Creativity,”, 2022/06/22

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.


“Fugitive Slave Act,” American Battlefield Trust, 2022/06/20

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

“Shadrach Minkins (d. 1875),” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2022/06/20

Underground Railroad Location Inspires an Author

Fellow author and friend, Bettie Boswell, shares historical inspiration for her debut novel. Welcome to Historical Nibbles, Bettie!

by Bettie Boswell

Setting is important to any story, and though my debut novel is a contemporary Christian romance, a historical backdrop plays a major role. My heroine in On Cue has written a musical involving her town’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, in order to save the local historical museum from financial ruin. One of the featured homes in the story was inspired by a real station on that road to freedom for many people escaping slavery, the Lathrop Home in Sylvania, Ohio.

For many years family lore claimed the home as part of a lesser used route to freedom in Canada but there was no actual proof until a renovation took place in the late 1930’s. The new construction uncovered a hidden room next to a brick oven in the basement of the Lathrop’s home. Lucian and Larissa Lathrop, the original home owners, held strong religious beliefs that led them to support the Underground Railroad despite laws that forbade their involvement. They along with their neighbors, David and Clarissa Harroun, helped the runaways by hiding them in that secret room or in the Harroun barn (now part of the Flower Hospital complex) and then made arrangements for the travelers to head north to Detroit where they could cross the river into Canada. David Harroun had a wagon with a false bottom so he could transport former slaves up and down the trail to freedom. There was a known slave catcher in the nearby Maumee area so the Sylvania families did face danger in their endeavors. Making the choice to save the life of a former slave proved their dedication to aide a fellow human.

In On Cue I renamed the home, Woodson House, but the spirit of the Lathrop house lives on as my inspiration.


Back Cover Blurb

When a college sweetheart used Ginny Cline’s dreams for his own glory, he stole her joy of composing music and her trust in men. Years later, encouraged by prayer and a chance to help the local museum, she dares to share her talents again. Unfortunately a financial backer forces her to place her music and trust into the hands of another man.

Theater professor Scott Hallmark’s summer camp benefactor coerces him into becoming the director of Ginny’s musical. The last thing he needs is another woman who uses him to get what they want, especially an amateur who has no idea what they are doing.

As Ginny’s interest in Scott grows, her confusion arises over Honey, a member of Scott’s praise band. Mix in a couple of dogs and quirky cast members for fun and frustration as the couple work together to discover that forgiveness and trust produce perfect harmony.


About Bettie

Bettie Boswell is an author, illustrator, composer, teacher of music and second graders, who lives with her minister husband and tuxedo kitty. She adores her two sons and her grandchildren. On Cue is her debut full length novel. She has published shorter works in anthologies, magazines, and the education market.

Civil War Women: Harriet Tubman, Union Spy

Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, Araminta Ross’s parents nicknamed her “Minty.” Minty later took her mother’s name, Harriet, to honor her.

At age twelve, she stepped between an overseer throwing a heavy object at a fugitive slave. It struck Harriet instead, breaking her skull. The injury caused headaches and narcolepsy that lasted all her life. She fell deeply asleep at random.

She married a free black man, John Tubman, around 1844.

Learning that she and two of her brothers were about to be sold, they escaped on September 17, 1849. Her brothers returned to the plantation, but Harriet pushed on, following safe houses on the Underground Railroad. She walked about 90 miles to freedom in Pennsylvania. Over the next few years, she rescued about 70 people, including her parents and other family members. Her husband had remarried and chose to stay in Maryland.

When the Civil War began, Harriet worked as cook, nurse, and laundress at Fort Monroe, Virginia. She assisted fugitive slaves there.

In May of 1862, soldiers and fugitives were dying of diseases when she arrived in Port Royal, South Carolina. Her knowledge of local roots helped significantly in treating their illnesses.

In 1863, Harriet, reporting directly to General David Hunter and General Rufus Saxton, commanded a team of espionage scouts searching for escape routes for slaves.

She found warehouses and ammunition and reported the locations to Colonel James Montgomery.

Late on June 2, 1863, Harriet led 150 black men, soldiers of 2nd South Carolina Battalion, on the Combahee River Raid. The surprise attack freed over 750 slaves.

After the war ended, Harriet and her family settled in Auburn, New York, and she continued to help folks in need.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Sources Editors. “Harriet Tubman,” A&E Television Networks, 2019/03/30

“Harriet Tubman,”, 2019/03/30

“Role in the Civil War,” Harriet Tubman Historical Society, 2019/03/30

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Harriet Tubman: American Abolitionist,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019/03/30