BY CAMERON McWHIRTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Officials with Kentucky's historic preservation agency have determined a Boone County farm definitely was the site where famous runaway slave Margaret Garner worked -- but they still aren't sure whether two buildings standing on the property date to the 1850s, when Ms. Garner lived there.
Margaret Garner's home? She would have worked in the old cook house on the Gaines farm in Boone County - if it really dates to 1856.
(Tony Jones photo)
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"It's a very interesting site," said Richard Jett, who examines historic sites for the Kentucky Heritage Council, the state agency focusing on historic preservation. "The main building in question is still one that we have more questions than answers. The jury is still out."
The Enquirer reported Oct. 2 that Joanne Caputo, 43, who is researching a book on the Garner case, determined that the Boone County farm called Maplewood was where Ms. Garner was a slave. She said she thought two old buildings -- a large two-room building and an apparent smokehouse -- came from the period.
This week, state officials visited the property, now owned by Cincinnati businessman George Budig. Mr. Budig is cooperating fully with the council's research.
Mr. Jett said preliminary review indicates the larger of the two buildings was probably a dwelling, not a kitchen house, but it may have come from the 1850s. It clearly came from the last century, he said. But its dilapidated state and unique architecture leave many questions.
"It's very unusual in its construction," he said. "Regardless of whether Garner worked there, it's definitely worthy of preservation." The council plans to send a team of experts to the farm before winter sets in. "We really need to do a more extensive documentary analysis, but we are all intrigued," he said.
Ms. Caputo was thrilled by the council's interest.
"That's my dream come true," she said. "To have awareness and to begin to do something about it to honor the land."
The Garner story was perhaps the most infamous runaway slave case in pre-Civil War America and sparked angry debate throughout the North and South. It began in January 1856, when Ms. Garner, her husband, children and other slaves ran away from their masters. They fled over the frozen Ohio River to hide in the house of a freed slave in Cincinnati.
Slave catchers, hot on their trail, surrounded the houses and demanded their "property" -- Ms. Garner, her four children and her husband.
Gripping a knife, Ms. Garner, then 23, shouted that she would rather see her children die than be returned to slavery.
As the white men burst in, she killed her 3-year-old daughter before she was subdued.
Abolitionists in the city argued in court to have her tried in Ohio for murder -- but as a free woman. Her owners argued she was their property and should be returned to Kentucky as a slave.
She became a heroine among those opposed to slavery, but she lost her case and was sent back to her master, Archibald Gaines, who owned the farm in Boone County. She was later shipped south and died of typhoid fever in 1858.
Documentation that Ms. Garner lived at Maplewood includes a state historic marker on the road identifying the land as that of John Gaines, who later sold the land to his brother Archibald; the property transfers by the Gaines family; newspaper accounts of Margaret Garner's trial; a bill of sale of the slaves recorded at the trial; nearby church records; and numerous accounts by witnesses at the trial that Ms. Garner lived and worked on the farm.
Toni Morrison in 1987 published a popular Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved, inspired by Ms. Garner's tragedy, and a movie version starring Oprah Winfrey is being released this month.