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First Freedom Seekers in Boone County History

By Hillary Delaney

In 1799, Boone County was in her infancy, having been newly separated from Campbell County by the Kentucky legislature in 1798. The first meeting of the county court was held June 17th, 1799, officially establishing Boone County. The population of early settlers numbered at about 1,500, and the yearly tax list showed a total of 269 enslaved people living within the newly-drawn boundaries of the county. In mid-October, it was discovered that the enslaved population of the county had been reduced by three. The average temperature for the area during this time a year can range from the mid-forties to the mid-sixties (Fahrenheit,) and it stays fairly dry, the risk of flooding is low, and the river sometimes drops in level. Conditions were favorable for a family in search of freedom, and a young family of three did just that; an escape with several moving parts, requiring some coordination. The farm of Benjamin Craig, located on the waters of the Ohio River near present-day Taylorsport, was the departure point for a man named Frank, and a three-year-old girl, Ginne. On his own, Frank fit the profile of a typical freedom-seeker: young, healthy and male. Frank was about 25 years old, stood at five feet, six inches tall and had a “pleasant countenance.” Frank was talkative, and had often posed as a Baptist preacher. Even with Frank’s youth and intellectual advantage, a successful escape was difficult to achieve. It would be all the more difficult with a small child. Other than her age, little is known about Ginne. Presumably born into enslavement, she was certainly accustomed to peril and the rules imposed on her by others, but she was barely out of infancy at the time of the attempt to obtain freedom. Even the calmest and most well-behaved three-year old would be tested by what would have been asked of her: silence, sleep deprivation, hunger, fear and cold nighttime weather. Frank and Ginne slipped away on October 14th. Three days later, on the outskirts of Petersburg, Elijah Hogan discovered that one of his enslaved people was also missing; a young woman, about 23 years old, had vanished from Hogan’s property. Her name was Phillis; she was Franks wife and possibly the mother of little Ginne. Phillis had a fair complexion and a slim, tall build, nearly five inches taller than her husband, making them a recognizable pair, particularly traveling with a young child. It was suspected that Frank was waiting for Phillis in Cincinnati, at a pre-determined meeting place, and that the family would head for Detroit. There was a small community of free African Americans in Cincinnati at the time of the escapes, but this would have been the obvious place for slave hunters to look for Frank, Ginne and Phillis. Nonetheless, Cincinati’s free African American communities contributed to the Underground Railroad effort in a gargantuan way over the course of many decades. Often, anti-slavery whites would hide freedom seekers, at their own peril, but in 1799, there was not a well-established network yet formed in the developing town. This small family would have had to rely on whomever could help them. A reward advertisement was placed by the slaveholders, who offered $25 for their return, but there’s no indication in the records the reward was ever claimed.

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first_freedom_seekers.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/03 18:42 by