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Underground Railroad Research Forum

Re: Piatt of Ohio
In Response To: Re: Piatt of Ohio ()

Hi Hillary,
Thanks for your posting. 1st, the lawn jockey comes from Seibert's 1951 Ohio UGRR book. He inserted an image of a lawn jockey that sat outside the Piatt home. He calls it a "mannequin." From that image, it appears, "Jocko" the enslaved boy of George Washington sprang forth in the 1960s. If Siebert had never included that statue in his book, I don't believe we would have the lawn-jockey-as-UGRR-signal myth today (or the Jocko story). This is in addition to the fact that the jockey statue was not manufactured until after the Civil War, so it could never have been used for the UGRR. Also, the statue in front of the Piatt home was a version manufactured in the 1920s/1930s. 2nd, I am eager to hear more about your research into the extended Piatt family when you are ready to share it. Some families (especially along the Mason Dixon line) were divided between slave owning, nonslave owning, and abolitionist, like the Piatts, bear the same contours as you have found. While we can't know everything about that family, or any family for that matter, we do know that the primary sources from the 1850s event appear to be incontrovertible. Siebert's interviews in the 1890s with survivors of the event (black and white), and newspaper clippings from the time period make it pretty clear that the Piatt's were on the wrong side of that moral divide and supported their slaveowning relatives. The mystery to me is, however, that Siebert, fifty-five years later, ignored his own earlier primary first person research (and his published report in his first UGRR book), to retell the story making the Piatt's the heroes in his 1951 volume. The black heroes are completely erased. Old age? Entrenched racism as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to take shape? The primary sources for his first book on this particular event/story are held at Harvard. The sources for the 1951 book are, I presume, are in the Ohio Archives collection, but after going through the finding aid I cannot pinpoint where that information is. He interviewed a Piatt relative at that time, whose daughter says he made the story up. So, where does that leave us? Too many counterfactual pieces of evidence to support the Piatts as abolitionists and the lawn jockey story. I think more research into the black community in West Liberty and nearby would yield more interesting information, too. Best,

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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