reveals era of Underground Railroad
speakers part of program
from local archaeology dig
Helen E. McKinney
(November 2009) Doug Denne believes there
is a vast number of stories that havent been told about the Underground
Railroad and related events in the area. So convinced is he that these
oral histories will die if not properly preserved, he has created an
exhibit on anti-slavery initiatives in Jefferson County, Ind., before
the Civil War.
by Cristina Evans
exhibit contains many books,
clippings and documents.
One facet of the exhibit is about Henry Bibb,
said Denne, Archivist and Curator of Rare Books for Hanover College.
Bedford was the last place Bibb was a slave.
Bibbs story is important in putting a local spin on the Under-ground
Railroad and understanding how slavery affected this area. Bibb was
a slave until he escaped north to Cincinnati on Christmas Day in 1837.
From there, he traveled to Perrysburg, Ohio, and returned to Bedford
the next spring to free his wife and daughter. The family was caught
and thrown into a workhouse in Louisville.
Two years later came another chance for freedom. He eventually wound
up in Detroit and began sharing his story at conventions and through
newspaper columns, becoming a popular antislavery speaker. He settled
in Canada with a second wife, Mary Miles, and became Canadas first
black newspaper editor.
Denne was part of a public dig that took place Sept. 19 at the Gatewood
Plantation in Bedford. Six students from Hanover College participated
in the dig, as well as John Smith, who has taught English for more than
30 years at Hanover College. In his role of teaching an African American
literary course, Smith was drawn to the project as well.
Were just scratching the surface on the stuff thats
out there, said Denne. The exhibit is titled, Get Me to
the Promised Land! Jefferson County and the Struggle to Abolish Slavery,
and is currently on display until Dec. 18 on the second floor of the
Duggan Library at Hanover College.
Denne said he wants to display exhibits that will cater
to the community. Exhibits are a way to get the word out on what we
have in our repository that people can research.
In addition to the Henry Bibb project being an on-going project for
Hanover College, it is also an on-going project for the Oldham County
History Center in La Grange, Ky. The History Center participated in
the dig and lent some artifacts for the exhibit.
Nancy Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center,
will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, at Hanover College. I
will talk about the Henry Bibb Project and all of the research we have
done that authenticates his story and the places he visited or lived,
Earlier that day, at 4 p.m., archaeologist Jeannine Kreinbrink will
speak and lead a session on the cleaning of artifacts. Kreinbrink is
the leading expert in our region for pre-Civil War sites, said
The type of artifacts found at the Gatewood site date to the early 19th
century and include pottery shards, nails and glass. The site was occupied
by several families over a span of 200 years.
The items lent by the History Center for the Get Me to the Promised
Land! exhibit include some original documents on William Gatewood,
who enslaved Bibb, said Theiss. Gatewood was a Justice of the Peace
for Oldham County before Trimble County was formed in 1836.
We have documents with Gatewoods signature as Justice of
the Peace, plus he was indicted for hiring out one of his slaves, Mahala,
Denne said a grant was written two years ago and funding received from
the Community Foundation of Madison-Jefferson County to get this project
Bibbs story is just one of many that would go unheard were it
not for people like Denne and Theiss. The significance of the
dig at the Gatewood site is that it contributes to our knowledge of
slavery in our area prior to the Civil War and it contributes to Henry
Bibbs history as a very important figure in the abolition and
separatist movement of the early 19th century, Theiss said.
Getting these stories out is really important, said Denne. Because the
Underground Railroad was secretive, not a lot of documentation exists
to tell the whole story.
Denne said he hopes this exhibit will spur people to view it and get
involved in uncovering what stories do exist and preserve them for future
generations. The exhibit contains local and national slavery era documents,
such as a signed copy of Uncle Toms Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe,
a copy of the Frederick Douglas slave narrative, a first edition of
Levi Coffins narratives and Bibbs 1849 narratives.
Get Me to the Promised Land! will be followed by an exhibit
on modern slavery titled, Invisible: Slavery Today. This
traveling exhibit from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
in Cincinnati will be on display from January through February 2010.
The current exhibit is free. If teachers bring students to see
it, well pay for busing and student lunches, Denne said.
For more information, contact Doug Denne
at (812) 866-7181 or visit: http://library.hanover.edu/home.html.
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