Hoosier Farmer Gave Costly Help to A Fleeing Slave and Her Children
(info supplied by the Indianapolis Star http://www2.indystar.com/library/factfiles/history/black_history/)
It was a crisp autumn night when a woman finally began the journey she had often dreamed about: She set out to flee the bondage of slavery. Caroline, the 30-year-old slave of Trimble County, Ky., resident George Ray, had long worried about the potential consequences of an escape. Her own fate wasn't the only consideration - she had two daughters and two sons.
But late on the night of Oct. 31, 1847, she decided a chance for freedom was worth the risk. So Caroline, identified in historical records only by her first name, rounded up her children and rushed off on an Underground Railroad trek that would end in Indiana.
Black and white escorts accompanied them on the Oct. 31 1847, journey that took Caroline and her children - Frances, 12; John, 7; Amanda, 4; and Henry, 2 - to a southern Decatur County farm. They were later taken by white anti-slavery activists to the Peyton-Speed farm in Greenbriar Settlement near the Decatur-Franklin county line.
Ray issued a "fugitive slave notice" and posted a $500 reward for the family's return. Caroline and her children were having breakfast the next morning when they were captured by Woodson Clark, the white former Virginian who founded Clarksburg. He locked the family in a fodder house on his adjacent property for more than 12 hours.
When farmer Buford Peyton learned the family was missing, he got fellow anti-slavery advocate Luther Donnell to obtain a warrant to search Clark's home. Caroline and her children were rescued from the fodder house the night of Nov. 1, and Donnell helped the family over a fence while carrying young Henry in his arms.
It was an act that resulted in the state charging Donnell with "aiding Negroes to escape." A Decatur County Circuit Court convicted Donnell in 1848, a verdict the Indiana Supreme Court later overturned. Caroline's former owner subsequently sued Donnell for damages, winning a $1,500 judgment and court costs. Despite what he had been through, Donnell was cheered years later by a letter he received."Caroline wrote to me expressing her great thankfulness for my assistance," he recalled. "She and her family reached Canada safely."
Decatur County has two land marks portraying the great act of Luther Donnell. One land marker is at the Decatur County Courthouse http://www.in.gov/history/markers/543.htm and the other is located in Kingston where Caroline and her children were found. http://www.in.gov/history/markers/556.htm
You can also visit http://www.SoutheastIndianaTrailstoFreedom.com to find out more information on Luther Donnell and Caroline. You can also visit the Decatur County Courthouse, a newly designated Network to Freedom site. In the mid-1800’s the courthouse was the site of the State of Indiana v. Luther Donnell. Donnell was a conductor on the Underground Railroad which was sued by a slaveowner for loss of property. While in Greensburg stop by the Decatur County Historical Society Museum (812.663.2764) to view a portrait if Luther Donnell donated by his descendants. Call ahead to make tour guide available. Museum hours vary. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom Driving Tours. (info supplied by “Greensburg/Decatur County Tourism” for more info see their website at http://www.visitgreensburg.com/upload/English%20version.pdf)