The purpose of this section is not to analyze the overall history of slavery in the United States. Rather, it is to explore the definition of slavery as interpreted by varied individuals in Ripley, Ohio. What experiences did they encounter to change their ideologies from slave owners to abolitionists? Due to Ripley’s close proximately to Kentucky and slaveholders, how did this influence the residents of Ripley? What did they read in the local newspapers regarding slavery?
To answer these questions, presented are varied primary documented eye-witness narratives from Rankin and his son, Adam Lowry Rankin. These oral histories described what the Rankin family members saw while residing in Ripley and traveling in the South.
"[Slavery] permits the slaveholder to bind his fellowman, strip him naked, and whip him on the bare skin, with the keenest whips that art can invent, and that just so long as the most vengeful passion may dictate, provided the life is spared ! Hence many poor slaves are stripped naked, stretched and tied across barrels, or large logs, and tortured with the keenest lashes, during hours and even whole days, until their flesh is mangled to the very bones. Others are stripped and hung up by the arms, their feet are tied together, and the end of a heavy piece of timber is put between their legs in order to stretch their bodies, and so prepare them for the torturing lash-and in this situation they are often whipped until their bodies are covered with blood and mangled flesh, and in order to add the greatest keenness to their sufferings, their wounds are washed with liquid salt! And some of the miserable creatures are permitted to hang in that position until they actually expire; some die under the lash, others linger about for some time, and at length die of their wounds, and many survive, and endure again similar torture. These bloody scenes are constantly exhibited in every slave-holding country-thousands of whips are every day stained in African blood ! Even the poor females are not permitted to escape these shocking cruelties."
Excerpt from a Letter of Rev. John Rankin, of Ripley Ohio, to the Editor of the Philanthropist
RIPLEY, Feb. 20, 1839: " Some time since, a member of the Presbyterian Church of Ebenezer, Brown county, Ohio, landed his boat at a point on the Mississippi. He some disturbance among the colored people on the bank. He stepped up, to see what was the matter. A black man was stretched naked on the ground; his hands were tied to a stake, and one held each foot. He was doomed to receive fifty lashes; but by the time the overseer had given him twenty-five with his great whip, the blood was standing round the wretched victim in little puddles. It appeared just as if it had rained blood - Another observer stepped up, and advised to defer the other twenty-five to another time, lest the slave might die; and he was released, to receivethe balance when he should have so recruited as to be able to bear it and live. The offense was, coming one hour too late to work."
"Everyone was anxious to see the big steamboat which was named Uncle Sam. . . [In December 1834] the steamer referred to lay at our town wharf, and I went with the others to visit her and examine her construction. As I enjoyed working on the cabin of a new steamer, I visited that part of the vessel first, then, after a careful inspection, visited the lower deck, and on going aft of the engine room an unexpected scene came to view. Two groups of slaves, about twenty-five in each, were chained to the sides of the deck, the men on my left and the women on my right.
No seat or bed was provided; they were compelled to use the deck floor. When I came on the scene, some were sitting as best they could on the floor, others were lying down, and some were standing. It was an unpleasant picture. The men were of sullen countenance, and the women appeared to be stricken with a hopeless grief. Farther from me at my right at the extreme end of the long chain was a woman,
young, not more than twenty. She had a pretty face; it might with propriety be called beautiful. She had long, fine, wavy shiny black hair put up with care and taste, and she was as white as any woman of my acquaintance, requiring the closest scrutiny to detect the least touch of African blood. I said to myself, 'Can it be possible that she is a slave, bound for a Southern slave mart to stand on the auction block and be knocked down by some brutal auctioneer to the highest bidder?
Yes, that handcuff and chain proclaim that she is a slave, a young woman, beautiful in feature and form that has no more rights of person and soul than the beasts of the field.
As I leaned against a stanchion for support, I asked myself why let all my sympathies be expended upon that one woman. Were the women, her companions
in slavery, though they be of a darker hue than she, any less the daughters of the Lord Almighty?
Yet, I might have gone away with my dislike of slavery a little more intensified and nothing more had I not caught a fragment of a conversation between two men who were approaching. "The words I heard were, 'Ain't she a beauty!' The men passed by me, scarcely noting my presence, and stopped in front of the woman I have just described. One of the men was coarse and hard featured. He carried in his hand a small rawhide cane which could be used in the place of the common 'rawhide.' He was the owner of the slave and had the usual characteristics of the 'negro trader,' fond of whiskey, rough, profane and unchaste in conversation, brutal, and passionate in disposition. They were a class of men that were a product of slavery, dreaded by the slaves and despised by the slaveholders. He wore heavy woolen clothes, the trousers loosely pushed into the tops of cowhide boots with heavy soles. His hair was worn long in regulation style and was topped by the broad-brimmed hat of the Southern'Overseer.' The other was a tall, well-dressed young man, not bad in feature, passably good looking, with a little outcropping of the sensual. Under proper influence she might be an honorable, moral man who would command the respect of the good. I gathered from the conversation that he was a single man, engaged in some business in New Orleans, and the son of a Southern planter. His conversation was free of profanity and obscenity. As far as the circumstances would admit, I inferred from the first part of the conversation that he had some conscience about the propriety of the business in hand, the purchase of the woman.
I decided not to leave my post but to watch the transaction. The trader used the vilest language, proposing the woman as a mistress for the young man and insisting she was worth more than he asked, $2500, and swearing he could get $3000 for her in New Orleans. He knew young men, he said, who would jump to get such a well-made and good looking woman as she was.
All the time she had her face covered with her hands and was crying as if her heart would break. The other women were crying also, and more than one man muttered curses, and I saw clenched fists and angry eyes, all showing how helpless they felt to protect the woman. As the trader, with an oath, said, 'No more of that, you black sons of ---,' he struck the woman on the shoulder and ordered her to take her hands from her face and stop her crying or he would half kill her.She obeyed, and after a little more talk the young man offered $2000. This was rejected at this stage of the proceedings, and the trader played what might be called the last card in his game of debauchery. He asked the young man if he was the only occupant of his stateroom, receiving an affirmative reply. He then said, 'How fortunate. You have to go to your room by the door that opens on the deck, and no one will be the wiser, and you can have a splendid time. It will cost you nothing. I have paid her passage and bond.' The young man was evidently tempted but shook his head. The trader then ordered the woman to unfasten the front of her dress. She declined, but a stroke on the shoulder brought a reluctant obedience; a second expedited the work. When done, her hands lingered, but pushing them away he exposed her bosom to view and induced the young man to feel of her breast, then of her thighs. By this time the young man was carried to the point of yielding, and, the money paid, the woman relieved of her chain, followed her new master to his room.
Michael Speer, ed.,
“Autobiography of Adam Lowry Rankin,”
Ohio History, Volume 79 (Winter, 1970), 28-30.
Borderlander of Light
By: Donna B. Jacobson, University of Connecticut
All rights reserved.