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[History] OHIO- Beyond the River
Beyond the River: A True Story of the Underground Railroad
From Publishers Weekly
Although the title suggests otherwise, this book could serve as a biography of John Rankin, one of Ohio's most active "conductors" on the Underground Railroad. Rankin (1793-1886), a Presbyterian minister and abolitionist in Ripley, where the Ohio River separated the free state of Ohio from the slave state of Kentucky, was equally well-known among the enslaved and their enslavers. To runaway blacks, Rankin's house was a gateway to freedom atop Ripley's highest hill. To slaveholders in Kentucky, Rankin was a formidable force in the borderland war with Ripley, that "abolitionist hellhole," on the other side of the river.
One of the earliest leaders in the antislavery movement, Rankin published his Letters on American Slavery in 1823, which became standard reading for American antislavery advocates. Hagedorn (Ransom: The Untold Story of International Kidnapping) brings to life the story of Rankin, his family, free blacks and the other forgotten heroes on the front line who assisted hundreds of blacks on the trek to freedom. Rankin's story is inspiring, but often not as captivating as those of the other heroes who are secondary characters here.
The author brilliantly chronicles threats of midnight assassins, riots in Cincinnati and a pivotal trial in Kentucky in the 1830s, and a slave woman's nighttime escape across the icy river with her two-year-old (and the woman's risky return across the Ohio three years later to rescue her daughter and seven grandchildren from a Kentucky slaveholder). Hagedorn's decision to relocate to Ripley during the book's completion no doubt inspired her immediate and vivid prose, bringing these historical figures to a wider audience.
The town of Ripley, located on the Ohio River between the slave state of Kentucky and the free state of Ohio, was the site of clashes between abolitionists and slave hunters long before the start of the Civil War. Hagedorn brings to life lesser-known activists in the abolitionist movement who led double lives in a small town torn up over the issue of slavery. She focuses on the Reverend John Rankin, spurred by religious fervor to become a leading abolitionist, helping escaped slaves travel on to Canada during the early 1820s.
Using historical documents, newspapers, and letters, Hagedorn captures a fervent era, when the Missouri Compromise, the invention of the cotton gin, and growing slave revolts all set the stage for roiling debate on slavery. Rankin and his family were part of a network of abolitionists that included Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Parker, a free black man who ventured south to guide slaves to freedom. Readers interested in the history of the abolitionist movement in the U.S. will appreciate this look at unsung heroes of the era. Vanessa Bush
Staughton Lyndauthor of Intellectual Origins of American RadicalismHistory worth remembering is likely to have been made by men and women who cared about ideals and took risks for them. Nothing in the history of the United States more closely approaches this notion of history worth remembering than the Underground Railroad.
Beyond the River brings to brilliant life the dramatic story of the forgotten heroes of the Ripley, Ohio, line of the Underground Railroad.
The decades preceding the Civil War were rife with fierce sectarian violence along the borders between slave and free states. The Ohio River was one such border. Here in the river towns of Ohio and Kentucky, abolitionists and slave chasers confronted each other during the "war before the war." Slave masters and bounty hunters chased runaway slaves from Kentucky into Ohio, hoping to catch their quarry before the slaves disappeared on the underground path to freedom. In the river town of Ripley, the slave hunters inevitably confronted John Rankin and his determined, courageous colleagues.
One of the early abolitionist leaders, Rankin began his career when he wrote a series of letters denouncing his brother's recent purchase of a slave in Virginia. The letters were collected and published as Letters on American Slavery and influenced William Lloyd Garrison, among others. Rankin, a Presbyterian minister and a farmer, bought property on a high hilltop overlooking Ripley and the Ohio River. His house was visible for miles into Kentucky, and he hung a lantern at night to help guide runaways. He and his fellow abolitionists, both black and white, formed the front line of freedom, and some of them paid a high price for it.
In 1838, abolitionist John B. Mahan, a colleague of Rankin's, was lured into a trap and transported to Kentucky for one of the most celebrated trials of the era. Charged with breaking Kentucky laws, even though he had not been in the state for nearly twenty years, he was imprisoned in a windowless cell for three months, shackled at his wrists and ankles. At his trial, slaveholders tried in vain to identify and break the Ripley line "conductors."
Another celebrated conductor on the Ripley line, John Parker, a former slave himself, was regarded as the most daring of the Ohio abolitionists. He made dozens of trips across the river into Kentucky to bring out slaves trying to escape, risking his life and his own freedom every time.
Ann Hagedorn moved to Ripley from her home in New York City to research and write this book. Ripley's historic area is little changed from antebellum days, and Rankin's house still stands high on the hill behind the town. With this enthralling and compelling book, she has restored John Rankin and the Ohio abolitionists to their proper place in American history as heroes of the Underground Railroad.
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