Becoming the Randolph Freed People

Becoming the Randolph Freed People

 

Ohio may have seemed like a potential refuge for the Randolph Freedpeople, considering that it was the first state from the Northwest Territory to prohibit slavery and a number of Black settlements were already established.[2] However, severe anti-Black legislation worked to effectively uphold the institution.  On January 5th, 1804, Elias Langham and Nathaniel Massie, Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate respectively, created an act designed to limit the actions of Black people in the North.  These so called “Black Laws” demanded that any Person of Color caught without freed papers would be sent to the South, regardless of whether they had ever been enslaved before.  Furthermore, those papers had to be recorded by the Clerk of Courts in the Ohio county in which they resided.  This also required a fee of twelve and a half cents per family, costly for those who had spent much of their lives toiling for free.[3]  Ultimately, Ohio’s opposition to slavery did not represent pro-Black advocacy.

Leigh selected Mercer County as the location for the Randolph Settlement for two reasons.  First, it was sparsely settled.   It was also near to several communities of free Blacks.  In addition to purchasing the land, he also made arrangements to hire local whites to build homes for his newly freed charges.[4]  Furthermore, he hired a Mr. Cardwell, or Caldwell depending on the source, to guide them to their new territory. They set out on June 10th, 1846.[5]  The caravan included sixteen wagons carrying furniture, food, and cooking utensils, while most of the freedpeople walked alongside.  With babies bound to their breasts, the Randolph People covered hundreds of miles on foot.  They also brought along tents in which they camped by the road every night.[6]  Overcoming many hardships along the way, they were said to have filled the night air with the same songs that protected them against darkness of slavery during their time at Roanoke.[7]  

Their trip was long, arduous, and covered a wide variety of terrain.  From Roanoke they headed to the Natural Bridge, through the Valley of Virginia and up to Lewisburg, in present day West Virginia. When they reached Point Pleasant on the Ohio River, they boarded flat boats that took them up through Cincinnati to the Miami Erie Canal.  Fountain Randolph, who was born on the plantation, recalled how their songs transformed to cheers of joy as they neared their destination.[8]  Local papers described the scene a little differently, “In front of our office and occupying the center of the street for half a square, was a crowd of negroes, men, women, and children, like a drove of sheep coming to market.  They were dressed in coarse cottons.”[9]  The Cincinnati Gazette mirrored the sentiments of many local white residents, “And now, the poor creatures are among us! Why should this be?” The paper protested against the evils of slavery, but argued that the North had little responsibility to take in these new migrants.  Freedpeople were viewed as a liability.  This attitude would confront the travelers throughout their journey as they walked down Main Street from the Public Landing and continued up the Miami Erie Canal.

A postcard from the NAAMCC Rossville Museum Archives Collection (NAM MSS 2012)


[1] As with many details of this story, accounts vary as to the exact amount of acreage.  While many newspapers report 2,000, the plaintiff’s brief in Moton v. Kessens suggests 3,200.
[2] Henry Noble Sherwood, The Settlement of the John Randolph Slaves in Ohio, pg 41, presented at the 5th annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1912.
[3] An Act to regulate black and mulatto persons.  Elias Langham, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nathaniel Massie, Speaker of the Senate, pg 335-336. January 5, 1804.
[4] “Famous Slave Case Now Up” Piqua Daily Call, August 31st, 1916.
[5] In some newspaper accounts, such as the article, “Freed Slaves’ Journey to Ohio Filled with Many Problems” appearing in the June 12, 1985 edition of Echoes of the Miami Valley, Caldwell is described as a “white man.”  In Henry Noble Sherwood’s article, “The Settlement of the John Randolph Slaves in Ohio,” he is a “noted negro driver.”  His race is not specified in Frank Matthias’ “John Randolph’s Freedmen: The Thwarting of a Will” but he is listed as “Caldwell” and a hired driver.
[6] “Whole Caravan of Slaves Move to Ohio,” History of The Randolph Slaves: and Other Colored People Who Came to Mercer, Shelby, and Miami County. Comp. Roy E. Lacy. Nd.
[7] Henry Noble Sherwood, The Settlement of the John Randolph Slaves in Ohio, pg 43, presented at the 5th annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1912.
[8] “Blind Negro, Age 81, Tells Vividly of Early Slave Days,” Piqua Daily Call, July 14, 1913.
[9] Henry Noble Sherwood, The Settlement of the John Randolph Slaves in Ohio, pg 45, presented at the 5th annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1912.

 

Posted February 28, 2017
Topics: Settlement & StatehoodHistoric PreservationAfrican American History

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