The Randolph Freedpeople Part Four: Arrival

The Randolph Freedpeople Part Four: Arrival


Posted March 8, 2017
Topics: Settlement & StatehoodAfrican American History

Part Four: Arrival.

On June 10th, 1846, a group of 383 recently freed people left the Roanoke Plantation in Virginia for Mercer County, Ohio. Their former captor had willed to them their emancipation and a large sum of money that was used to buy 3,200 acres of land in the free state. Now they were faced with a new challenge: to make the nearly 500 mile journey to Ohio.


The Randolph Freedpeople had traveled the majority of the trip on foot, camping in tents by the roadside. When they reached Kanawa in present-day West Virginia, they boarded a steamboat that took them to Cincinnati. Local newspapers, like the Cincinnati Gazette, described the procession of weary travelers as they walked through the Public Square to the Miami & Erie Canal and onward to their final destination.

The refugees had nearly made it to their new home when they faced animosity. According to newspaper accounts and oral histories, thirst took hold near Piqua and they attempted to dock. The town marshal stopped them, telling them there was a water shortage and urged them to move on. However, there were at least a few allies within the existing community. John Johnston, a famed Indian Agent and farmer, is supposed to have brought them much needed refreshment. When they finally reached New Bremen, they faced overwhelming aggression. A group of white settlers met them at the riverbank. In the days leading up to their impending arrival, the residents of Mercer County had organized and were determined to prevent the Randolph Freedpeople from claiming their land. The group informed Mr. Cardwell that they were to leave by ten o’clock the next morning. Desperately, Cardwell attempted to stave off the angry citizens until Judge Leigh arrived. He offered to be placed in jail and would post $1,000 as bond to ensure their safety, but the crowd refused. Furthermore, they explained the freedpeople would receive no compensation for the loss of land. To ensure their message was taken seriously, they came armed, at the very least to intimidate. Some accounts suggest the freedpeople were beaten with stones.1

A black and white photo of a woman wearing a bonnet.

The oldest photograph in the Rossville Collection. From NAAMCC, NAM MSS 2012.

A black and white postcard with a landscape image of a canal lock and a man standing to the right.

Postcard featuring an old lock on the Miami & Erie Canal in Troy, Ohio. From NAAMCC, NAM MSS 2012.

In response to the arrival of the Randolph Freedpeople, the citizens of Mercer County put forth resolutions for their removal, one of which read, “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 country to the full extent of our means, the bayonet not excepted.”2 In spite of the danger they faced, the emancipated people pressed on. They boarded the canal boats and headed back towards Piqua, unsure of their fate. The Aurora reports that they made their way to the Johnston Farm, where they had experienced small kindnesses days before. A letter from Johnston held by Wright State Special Collections and Archives supports this claim. Thankfully, local Quakers formed a committee of men and women to assist them. They located white families to hire the refugees, exchanging much needed income and provisions for their labor. Although this hardly made up for the crimes committed against them, the communities they founded were fairly successful.

Although many of these details come from newspapers and oral histories recorded well after their initial migration, minutes from the West Branch church verify the basic details of this account. They wrote that a large group of people who were formerly enslaved by John Randolph arrived in Mercer County and were forced back to settle in Piqua and nearby communities. These documents are preserved in the Friends Collection at Earlham College’s Lilly Library in Richmond, Indiana.

1.Trudy Krisher, “Surviving Freedom in Mercer County,” TheMagazine, Dayton Daily News, February 3, 1985.
2.American Colonization Society, Annual Report of the American Colonization Society. vol 19-32

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