Historical Markers

Oldham Co. History Center plans National Park dedication events

Two local sites have been approved for designations

LA GRANGE, Ky. (July 2016) – One-time slave Henry Bibb left behind a far reaching legacy. It is one that can be discovered at the Oldham County History Center, along with many slavery documents that have recently caught the eye of the National Park Service.
Earlier this year, the History Center received two designations on the National Parks Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. The program seeks to validate the efforts of local and regional organizations and make it easier for them to share expertise related to the Underground Railroad.
The first site to be accepted was the Henry Bibb

Photo provided

Students work on the archaeological dig at the Gatewood Plantation in Bedford, Ky.

Escapes/Gatewood Plantation Archaeology Site. Although it now lies in Trimble County, the plantation once lay in Oldham County before Trimble County became a county in 1836.
At one time the farm was the property of slave owner William Gatewood. It was actually the site of much slave activity. Two escape attempts were made from this site on the Underground Railroad by Bibb when he was a slave.
The historical materials contained at the J.C. Barnett Library & Archives, owned by the Oldham County Historical Society in La Grange, have also been placed on the Network to Freedom program. Holdings include family letters, slave indentures, court documents, tax records, receipts, post-Civil War African American marriage bonds, personal papers from the slave-holding Mount family, slave narratives, and Oldham County African American cemeteries.
Many of these documents pertain to slavery and the Underground Railroad, topics that  were deeply embedded in the county’s rich history. The collections housed at the History Center document the capture and punishment of many slaves who tried to attain freedom via the Underground Railroad.
A Dedication Ceremony will take place at both sites in July. Activities will be from 11 a.m. -1:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, at the Gatewood Plantation site in Bedford, Ky. Noon is the official dedication time.
The following day, on Saturday, July 16, a ceremony will be held at noon at the J.C. Barnett Library & Archive, 106 N. Second Ave. Activities will take place during Oldham County Day.
“The reason we did the program was because it recognized efforts of enslaved people from Oldham County who contributed to the success of what Oldham County is today,” said Nancy Stearns Theiss, executive director of the History Center. “The desire to be a part of a democracy highlights how courage overcame the hardships and sacrifices that were made in order to achieve the human ideal of freedom of choice.” 
Bibb was one of the most famous freedom seekers from the Oldham County area. He made his first attempt to escape on Dec. 25, 1837, when he crossed the Ohio River at Bedford, Ky., landing at Madison, Ind., a distance of 13.7 miles. He took a steamer to Cincinnati, intent on going to Canada. Bibb made a return trip to Bedford for his wife, Malinda, and daughter, Mary Frances, in May 1838.
After being caught and thrown into a Louisville prison, he and his family were sold to the slave markets in Louisville and eventually down the Ohio River (the same river many slaves crossed to find freedom) to the slave markets of New Orleans. Having made several attempts at freedom, he finally succeeded in escaping to Canada but without his family.
Materials related to his enslavement and escapes are available at the Archives, such as his narratives and artifacts found while conducting archaeological digs at the Gatewood Plantation site. Bibb’s escapes and descriptions of the places he lived are recorded in “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bib, An American Slave,” published in 1849.
William Gatewood (Oct. 7, 1776-Jan. 23, 1840) and Millie Wright Gatewood (1779-1862) owned Gatewood Plantation at the time of Bibb’s enslavement (1815-1842). The pair had come from Amhearst County, Va., where they had owned 146 acres on the Buffalo River. They settled in Kentucky and established the Gatewood Plantation on about 400 acres, according to the 1840 Trimble County census record.
Oldham County slave owners James Mount and Amanda Railey Mount originally owned the circa 1840 Archives building and left behind many documents connecting them to slavery and the Underground Railroad. Additional holdings indicate the buying and selling of slaves, and capture of slaves trying to escape on the Underground Railroad.
“It is our mission as a community History Center to highlight the achievements of the people of our county who make the world a better place to live and be models for future generations,” said Theiss. “We hope to continue to recognize the efforts of people from our county that strive to do good from our early history through the generations.”

• For more information and directions, call the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.

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