could lead to national
Underground Railroad trail
historians present findings
from former slaves home
BEDFORD, Ky. (November 2005) Students, historians
and archeologists convened Oct. 26 to present the findings of recent
research on escaped Trimble County slave Henry Bibb at a luncheon at
the Morgan Community Center in Bedford.
by Levi King
Nancy Theiss (left)
speaks with Trimble County teacher
Karen Long (middle) and Alicestyne Adams
of the Underground Railroad
The Oldham County Historical Society received a $5,000
grant from the Kentucky Heritage Council earlier this year to determine
the feasibility of establishing a National Henry Bibb Heritage Trail
and placing Bibb-related sites on the National Register of Historic
Places, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, or both.
The Network to Freedom consists of stations, points of escape or rendezvous
pertaining to the Underground Railroad. Both programs are administered
by the National Park Service, and attaining either designation would
bring attention to the research and assist with protecting the sites.
Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County Historical Society,
coordinated the research efforts.
Henry Walton Bibb, an African American slave, was born in 1813 or 1814
and eventually sold to Bedford plantation owner William Gatewood, who
also owned Bibbs wife, Malinda. Bibb escaped from the Gatewood
plantation to Madison, Ind., and made his way north to Sandwich, a free
community in Ontario. Bibb tried to buy the freedom of Malinda and their
daughter, Mary Frances, but Gatewood refused.
Bibb became a central figure in the abolitionist movement, lecturing
around Ohio and Michigan, publishing his autobiography and founding
and editing The Voice of the Fugitive, an anti-slavery newspaper.
Bibb died in 1854.
Middletown, Ky., based researcher Diane Coon and Bedford historian Robert
Young presented information on the Gatewood property, other plantations
where Bibb worked, and his likely escape path. Coon informed the group
that an architect from the Kentucky Heritage Council had visited the
Gatewood house, built in 1808, and assured her that it could be easily
and inexpensively stabilized.
Coon also announced that Afua Cooper, a Ph.D. student at the University
of Toronto, had discovered the location of Bibbs grave while researching
her dissertation. Cooper plans to publish a book on Bibb next year.
by Levi King
in 1808, the Gatewood House
near Bedford could become
the interpretive center for the proposed
National Henry Bibb Heritage Trail.
Jeannine Krinebrink, the project archeologist, discussed
August and September digs at the Gatewood site. Krinebrink and volunteers
conducted surface collections and a one-meter square test dig.
They plotted a grid around the house, plowed the land and sifted through
the soil, collecting and logging the locations of artifacts.
The collections turned up 1,052 items, which were later cleaned and
cataloged by volunteers. Only 49 of the artifacts were securely dated
before the Civil War. Of these, 28 were nails and the rest were ceramic
and glass fragments and clay marbles. While the number of fragments
was lower than expected, this was a good yield, Krinebrink
said. The distribution of nails is very interesting, she
added, explaining that it could help determine here previous structures
The distribution of artifacts will be vital in determining site boundaries,
which the researchers and landowners must do before applying for the
National Register and Network to Freedom. Coon, Krinebrink and Theiss
expressed their gratitude for the cooperation of current Gatewood owner,
Glenn Fisher. A full time farmer and director of the Bedford Loan and
Deposit Bank, the retired military colonel said he was thrilled
to be a part of history.
Ive owned the place since the 1960s, and I didnt have
the first clue about the historical significance until Diane called
me last year, he said.
Trimble County High School teacher Karen Long explained that she incorporated
Bibbs narrative into a unit on small town life for her sophomore
English students. Long and her students took part in the Sept. 15 dig.
When the grant came through, it was like Christmas. We were very
excited to get involved, she said.
Two of Longs students, Jessica Harbolt and Julianne Adams, said
that after reading and discussing the book, students took on creative
projects, producing a video segment, writing historical newspaper articles,
and sending letters to Hollywood producers suggesting a film on Bibb.
We always say that nothing ever happens in Trimble County,
Adams said. But when we read the book, it was like Wow this
actually happened here.
Coon set the course for the projects Winter Studies.
The researchers will conduct more excavations and compare new aerial
photographs with past surveys to determine site boundaries before applying
for Network to Freedom in January.
Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens stated his enthusiasm at
the projects support and potential. The only thing that
stops this project is the lack of resources, but when we bring together
this diverse a group, with this much energy and focus we wont
let that stop us, well beat the doors down until its done,
For more information on the project, visit:
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