VERSAILLES, Ind. (June 2004) On Saturday, May 15, Ripley County,
Ind., dedicated two Indiana Freedom Trails historic markers, launched
two heritage Underground Railroad automobile tours, and opened a room
in the Ripley County Historical Societys Museum Annex dedicated
to Stephen Selwyn Harding, noted abolitionist and leader in the region
and nations anti-slavery political movements. This activity
is the first phase in a major project to develop a comprehensive approach
to tell the Underground Railroad story in this county of Indiana.
descendants pose after the ceremony.
Five different Underground Railroad routes came through Ripley County
in the 1840-1860 period. Several hundred fugitive slaves crossing
the Ohio River in Aurora, Rising Sun, Patriot, Vevay, Lamb, and Madison,
reached freedom through the aid of black and white abolitionists in
The celebration began with the dedication of an Indiana State Freedom
Trails Historic Marker on the courthouse lawn next to the cannon in
Versailles, Ind., and the opening of the Harding room in the Ripley
County Museum Annex. Featured gospel singer, Petronia (Mrs. Lester)
Bulmar of Louisville performed several Underground Railroad songs
as part of the opening program.
The event also kicked off the grand opening of a guided automobile
tour from Versailles to Old Milan, Ind., Hardings home, which
was Station No. 7 on the Underground Route from Aurora through Napoleon,
Ind., and up to the Levi Coffin site in Wayne County, Ind.
Harding was an attorney in Versailles and an early abolitionist famous
in the region for his anti-slavery oratory often in the face of intensely
hostile opposition. He made unsuccessful runs as an anti-slavery candidate
for Lt. Governor of Indiana on the Liberty Party ticket in 1842 and
1846, was one of four delegates from Indiana to the founding of the
Free Soil Party at Buffalo, N.Y., in 1846, and during the 1850s led
the disaffected Whigs, Free Soil and anti-slavery Democrats into the
creation of the Indiana Republican party that helped nominate Abraham
Lincoln for president in 1860. Harding was appointed Governor of the
Utah Territory in March 1862 by Lincoln and in 1863 as Chief Justice
of the Colorado and Utah Supreme Court and as District Judge of Colorados
Third Judicial District.
A second Indiana State Freedom Trails Historic Marker was dedicated
at the Union Flat Rock Baptist Church on Flat Rock Road in northwestern
Ripley County. Featured at this program was the Gospel Choir of the
First Baptist Church of Eminence, Ky., accompanied by their pastor,
the Rev. Charles Duncan Jr. and pastor emeritus, Rev. Dr. W. H. Goatley.
Eminence sits along one of the secret fugitive slave trails leading
from the interior of Kentucky through the Madison, Ind., Underground
Railroad. Also taking part in the program was the Jennings County,
Ind., High School Jazz Band and Color Guard and the high school choir.
This marker honors the charter members of Union Freewill Baptist Church
that formed an anti-slavery congregation in 1843 and with the leadership
of its first deacon, Harvey Marshall, aided runaway slaves for nearly
20 years. More than 100 slaves made it to freedom through the aid
of the Charles Hull, Joseph Judd, Daniel Adams families and other
early members of Union Church. The marker also honors the Freewill
Baptist denomination as an early and consistent public voice working
to eradicate institutional slavery in this nation.
This is the biggest thing thats ever happened at Flat
Rock, said Mary Hughes a descendent of one of the charter members.
The Union Church is located in a lovely and peaceful valley between
Zenas and Napoleon, in a section so remote that the nearest store
is five miles away. Many of the descendants of the early abolitionists
are still living in the region today, and a rich oral history has
emerged about the Underground Railroad activities of their ancestors.
It is one of the few places in Indiana where runaway slaves attended
church services and revivals at Union Church in spite of slave-catchers
living in the area. The stories tell of several times when the sheriff
or the federal marshall would come out to Flat Rock, but each time
the local people could hide the runaway slaves effectively, chiefly
because they were warned ahead of time by someone highly placed in
the Ripley County political establishment at Versailles.
Tours of the historic church and cemetery were given as part of the
ceremonies. Additionally, the event marked the opening of a guided
automobile tour leading from Versailles to Flat Rock and returning
to Versailles by way of Napoleon and Osgood. Tour maps, brochures,
and Audio CDs are available at the Ripley County Tourism Bureau and
the Ripley County Historical Society Archives in Versailles. The Audio
CD through sound effects and first person narratives introduces visitors
to the people and incidents of the Underground Railroad at each of
10 tour stops along the way.
Research and materials to support the Underground Railroad programs
were funded in part by the Rising Sun Regional Foundation.
A third tour from Versailles to Cross Plains outlining
events in the southern section of Ripley County will be open by June
15, and three more tours are planned to open this summer.
The Indiana Freedom Trails markers are a joint project of the Indiana
Historical Bureau that controls the documentation and placement of
Indiana roadside heritage markers and the Freedom Trails project of
the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation
and Archaeology. The markers look like regular Indiana state markers,
but they have an additional Underground Railroad insignia of a runaway
slave and the North Star, designed by Anitra Larae Donahue who won
a statewide competition. The Freedom Trails project aims to identify
and mark Underground Railroad sites in each county in Indiana and
eventually develop a map linking all the sites. The Freedom Trails
project, in turn, is linked both to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati
and also to the Network to Freedom program of the U.S. Park Service.
An important part of the Ripley County Underground Railroad project
is the development of educational materials for use in the classrooms
that are based on real historic figures, authentic sites, and real
events in the countys history. The first educational package,
for elementary and middle school classes, is being tested in 2004-2005.
First responses show that the children are much more interested and
involved when the Underground Railroad story is told from a local
perspective. A curriculum for high school students based on research
documents, letters, public and church minutes compiled as part of
the overall Underground Railroad project will be available for the
fall term. The program also includes local Boy Scout troops, the Southeastern
Career Center and the Ripley County Tourism Bureau.
More than 100 people in the county have been involved directly in
the Underground Railroad project. Among the most active is Helen Einhaus
of Osgood, Ind., the designated Ripley County Historian.
Louisvilles Diane Perrine Coon, a historian who specializes
in the history of the Ohio River Valley, has been responsible for
research and development of core materials and has served as the project
director for the Ripley County Underground Railroad program. She is
a native of Cincinnati and graduated from Cornell University, received
an MBA from Rider College in New Jersey and has done post-graduate
work in history at the University of Louisville.