Ripley contained some of the largest pork packing facilities in Ohio. The major market for hogs was in the form of salt pork. In the South, salt pork was in great demand therefore packed pork became one of the major products in the Ohio River Valley. John P. Parker, a former slave,abolitionist, and prominent resident of Ripley in 1845 described the seasonal and dependent relationship between the farmers,merchants, manufacturers, and the Ohio River, “All winter long thefarmer and his family were busily engaged making pork and four barrels, and tobacco hogsheads. These were brought to town either on sleighs or byfour-to-six-horse teams. At times the farmers killed [and] packed their own hogs.” After the farmers brought their wares to the wholesalers, most of the items were place on flatboats and sent down river towards the South.
Based on calculated census figures, approximately every southerner, including slaves potentially consumed about three hundred pounds of pork annually. “Slave field hands were commonly allotted three pounds per week or slightly more than one hundred and fifty pound per year.”  Ripley’s pork packing industry grew exponentially in conjunction with the slave population.In the 1820s, farmers usually slaughtered their own livestock and brought the carcasses to market. However by 1843, the farmers found it more economical to bring live hogs and let the packing firms prepare them for market and shipping. By 1846, the pork packing tonnage in Ripley was only second to Cincinnati.
Built in Pittsburgh, The New Orleans was only “100 tons burden, propelled by a stern paddle wheel and had two masts.” In October, 1811 the New Orleans began it maiden voyage from Pittsburgh and completed her journey 14 days later in New Orleans. This was the beginning of the Ohio River steamboat traffic.
Steamboats became one of the main modes of transportation from the East to the lower southern states. Entrepreneurs in Ripley realized the need for more boats and by 1827 began manufacturing
steamboats to accommodate the growing migration of individuals and families.  Although it remained a small portion of Ripley's industrial base, steamboat manufacturing produced ships on a regular basis.
Additionally, as steamboats began to regularly travel the Ohio River back and forth to the Southern states, they provided another means of escape for slaves. Slaves could stow away in the lower cargo decks of the ships and remain unnoticed until they felt safe enough to disembark in a free State.
Although Ripley never became a hub for steamboat manufacturing, the docks in Ripley were utilized extensively for cargo and passenger freight. The growth in steamboat manufacturing correlated with the expansion of the pork packing business as well as immigration patterns. Considering the railroad was built on the Kentucky side of the Ohio river, steamboat trade became one of the only means of transporting goods to the South for Ripley's commercial businesses.
John P. Parker a former slave, abolitionist, was the owner of one of the larger foundries in Ripley. An inventor who held several patents as well as a prominent businessman, Parker established the Phoenix Foundry and eventually, the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company. The Phoenix Foundry was located on Front Street in Ripley next to Parker's residence. He employed over 25 men in his foundry, which molded and built Parker’s patented “Portable Screwpress”.
Additionally, the foundry built “soil pulverizers,” another of Parker’s inventions. Parker's work included "repair of steam engines" in addition to "castings for mills and threshing machines." The Phoenix Foundry manufactured items and even inventions which complimented the agricultural aspects of the region.
Tobacco became one of the most important crops for the farmers in Ripley. During the early decades of the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for southeastern Ohio tobacco farmers to hire slaves from Kentucky to assist in planting, harvesting and preparing the product for shipping. Ohio tobacco growers initially cultivated
broad leaf tobacco used in wrapping cigars. By the 1840s, Ohio tobacco farmers became a premier source for tobacco leaves.
By the mid 1860s George Webb of Brown County, Ohio accidentally engineered a hybrid tobacco plant fromthe Red Burley which he named White Burley because of the whitish coloration of the leaves. Ripley and other towns in Brown County found this type of tobacco grew remarkably well in the limestone soil of the Ohio River Valley. White Burley became a major cash crop since this specific type of tobacco seemed to thrive in this one region.
1. Clarence H. Danhof, Change in Agriculture: The Northern United States, 1820-1870 (Harvard University Press, 1966), 36-37.
2. A hogshead is an English unit of measuring usually liquids stored in a barrel. For example, one hogshead of wine would equal approximately 63 gallons of spirits. See: William Waterson, A Cyclopeadia of Commerce, Mercantile Law, Finance, Commercial Geography and Navigation (London: H. G. Bohn, 1844), 367.
3. 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.
4. John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery (Chapel Hill, NC.: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 63.
5. C. B. Galbreath, History of Ohio, Vol.1 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1925), 300.
6. William Chauncy Langdon, Everyday Things in American Life: 1776-1879 (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1941), 110, 300.
7. C. B. Galbreath, History of Ohio, Vol.1 (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1925), 300.
8. Louis C. Hunter, Steamboats on the Western Rivers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 1949), 107.
9. Ira Berlin, Generation of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,2003), 241.
10. Louis Weeks, “John P. Parker: Black Abolitionist Entrepreneur, 1827-1900,” Ohio History, Vol. 80, http://publications.ohiohistory.org/. (Accessed May 28, 2009).
11. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 231.
12. E. R. Billings, Tobacco: Its History, Varieties, Culture, Manufacture and Commerce (Hartford, CT.: American Publishing Company, 1875), 328-331.
13. J. B. Killebrew and Herbert Myrick, Tobacco Leaf: Its Culture and Cure, Marketing and Manufacture (New York: Orange Judd Company, 1910), 13-14.
Borderlander of Light
By: Donna B. Jacobson, University of Connecticut
All rights reserved.