Friday, June 16, 2000

Clermont studies slave 'conductors'

By Walt Schaefer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BATAVIA — Names are surfacing of Clermont County residents who were “conductors” for escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s.

        A committee, chaired by local historian Gary Knepp, is trying to find out more about these people as the group continues to uncover a vast history of Underground Railroad activity in the county.

        The Underground Railroad Project was launched last year by the Clermont County Convention Center and Visitors Bureau and the Clermont County Bicentennial Committee. It is sponsored by the county commissioners.

        The Underground Railroad was a network of trails and safe houses operated by a clandestine group of abolitionists to help Southern slaves reach freedom in the North and Canada.

        The county is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, and interest in the Underground Railroad is strong. The Cincinnati-based National Underground Railroad Freedom Center plans to create an Underground Railroad museum on the downtown Cincinnati riverfront. And the National Park Service is developing a National Underground Railroad Freedom Trail.

        For years, historians have wondered why the Underground Railroad — steeped in the histories of Hamilton and Brown, Warren and Clinton counties — was hardly a footnote in Clermont County.

        “That is why we are trying to find out all we can this year. Clermont has been a hole in the middle of the map,” said Mr. Knepp, a Batavia lawyer and a board member of the Ohio Civil War Museum at Camp Dennison in Symmes Township. “We have identified 17 key people who we know were very active on the (Underground) Railroad in the county,” Mr. Knepp said.

        Among them were Dr. John G. Rogers, a New Richmond physician. He was the physician at the birth of Ulysses S. Grant, destined to be commander of the Union Army in the Civil War and 16th President of the United States. Grant was born at Point Pleasant in Clermont County.

        “We know that Dr. Rogers was a member of the Clermont County Antislavery Society, and we have a story in the American Medical Journal about him that said he was a member of the Liberty Chieftains of New Richmond, an active group on the Underground Railroad,” Mr. Knepp said. “Dr. Rogers married the daughter of U.S. Sen. Thomas Morris of Bethel, Clermont County, who was among the early (abolitionist) leaders in Congress. We also are interested in Dr. Rogers' son-in-law, Jacob Eversole.”

        Also of interest are Charles B. Huber, of Williamsburg, thought to be a key leader of the Railroad.

        Dowty Utter, a state senator from Washington Township, is of interest because an incident in his life, involving a decision to help an escaping slave instead of complying with the law, is thought to be the basis of an incident in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mr. Knepp said.

        Information also is being sought about other abolitionists from the county including: Robert, Thomas and Spencer Fee, Charles B. Huber, Leavitt Thaxter Pease, Spencer Peterson, Oliver Perry, Mathew and Nelson Gibson, the Rev. Isaac Brown, Dr. Silas Chase, Ezekiel South, the Rev. James Poage, Benjamin Rice and Andrew Combs.


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