A Brief History of Ripley, Ohio
Ripley is a small village situated on the banks of the Ohio Rivers. Colonel James Poage first named the town Staunton, after his birthplace, Staunton, Virginia. Poage moved from Kentucky to Ohio like many other of Ripley’s future residents. He owned land in the Northwest Territory through a government claim he received when Poage was an acting surveyor of the lands. Staunton became the location for his new homestead after he freed his own slaves. Others followed Poage to his burgeoning village. In 1803, Alexander Campbell, a doctor and migrated to the village from Kentucky after freeing his slaves. Following Campbell, James Gilliland, a South Carolina Presbyterian clergyman migrated to the Staunton vicinity in 1805. Over the next several years, many of Gilliland’s former congregational members from the South followed him to homestead in Ripley and nearby Red Oak Village. When the founding fathers attempted to incorporate the village of Staunton in 1816, they found that the name had already
been claimed by a town north of Dayton, Ohio. The founders decided to change the town's name from Staunton to Ripley in honor of General Eleazer W. Ripley, a hero of the War of 1812.  An appropriate name for the town considering it was part of Brown County. Brown County derived its name from General Jacob Brown. Brown and Ripley both served as commanding officers at the battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls, New York. 
Adam Lowry Rankin described Ripley during the early 1820s as a small town overlooking the banks of the Ohio River. “The majority of the inhabitants were openly immoral. Infidelity, atheism, and drunkenness had the ascendance. Presbyterianism, Christianity, and the new pastor [his father John Rankin] were openly cursed in the streets. The coffee houses, as the liquor saloons were then called, quadrupled in number the other places of business, and dominated the public sentiment. Fighting and shooting in the streets was not an unusual occurrence. Theft was a common cause of complaint and men were accused of selling their wives’ clothes for whiskey.”  Clearly, by Adam Rankin’s assessment, the need for religious and moral chastisement were in order for the early residents of Ripley.
However, by the 1830s Ripley altered dramatically due to the expansion of businesses, migration of families from the East and South, and the influence of religious organizations. “No drinking shops [are] seen, and no distilleries are found within its borders. It is far in advance in morals and politics of any other towns in Southern Ohio: and its influence cannot but be beneficial.”  By 1837, 's population had grown to around 700 individuals. Accordingly, with this population growth came the expansion of commerce, manufacturing, industry, and social advancement groups. In Warren Jenkins Traveler's Guide, he listed Ripley as having "1 foundry, 7 varied mills, 2 tanneries, 11 different stores, a college, 2 churches and a temperance society consisting of 300 members."  This trend of growth and prosperity continued for numerous decades. No longer were there the prominence of “coffee houses,” instead Ripley became a affluent river town with economic ties nationally.
It would have been hard for the business owners to openly support the town’s abolitionists for their economic success was intimately tied to the South and slavery. For example, pork packing was one of the premier industries in Ripley which shipped via steamship to New Orleans. Slave owners feed their slaves pork, not beef.  Southerner’s considered pork to be “high in energy and best for working people” thus provide the slave with cost effective protein that would give a higher work ratio.  In addition, Invariably, economics and slavery had a symbiotic relationship that was quite evident even in the Ohio River Valley.
1. Ann Hagedorn, Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2002), 9.
2. C. B. Galbreath, History of Ohio, Vol.2 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1925), 176.
3. Ann Hagedorn, Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2002), 10.
4. Henry Howe, Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. I (Columbus, Ohio: Henry Howe & Sons, 1888), 337. See: Charles J. Peterson, The Military Heroes of the War of 1812: With A Narrative of the War, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, William A. Leary, 1849), 159-166.
5. C. B. Galbreath, History of Ohio, Vol.1 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1925),299.;Charles J. Peterson, The Military Heroes of the War of 1812: With A Narrative of the War, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia, William A. Leary, 1849),141-158.
6. Michael Speer, ed., “Autobiography of Adam Lowry Rankin,” Ohio History, Vol. 79, page 23. http:llpublications.ohiohistory.org. .
7. "Some Facts about Ripley, Ohio," Ohio State Journal, Columbus, Ohio, June, 3, 1857. www.newbank.com.
8. Warren Jenkins, The Ohio Gazetteer and Traveler's Guide (Columbus, OH.: Isaac N. Whiting, 1837), 383.
9. John P. Parker, His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad, ed. Stuart Seely Sprague (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996), 98. Vol. 79, page 23. http:llpublications.ohiohistory.org.
10. Sam Hillard, “Hog meat and Cornpone: Food Habits in the Ante-Bellum South,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 113, No. 1, (1969), 4.
Borderlander of Light
By: Donna B. Jacobson, University of Connecticut
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