The maps listed in this section correlate to the town of Ripley from the period of its establishment in the early nineteenth century, through to the late nineteenth century. Next to each map is a short description as well as specific details to examine. Chronologically ordered, the maps show the geography, topography, roads, and waterways surrounding Ripley. These are important for they represent why Ripley became a chosen location for runaway slaves, abolitionist activities, and slave-hunters.
Ripley was ideally located for slaves seeking harbor from slave catchers. The town is approximately 56 miles east of Cincinnati. Ripley is directly across the Ohio River from Mason County, Kentucky and slave country. Eleven miles southeast down the Ohio was Maysville, Kentucky. Maysville was a bustling town from the late eighteenth century to early twentieth century. The rapid growth of Maysville was due to its central locality of the Ohio River traffic from the North and the Maysville Turnpike, which lead to south to Lexington.
Examining the terrain surrounding Ripley, there are only a limited few main routes to travel in any direction. The Ohio River and Mason County, Kentucky is to the South, Cincinnati to the west and Columbus, Ohio to the north. However to travel, individuals had to pass through small villages, over treacherous hilly terrain and wade through swamps on either side of the Ohio River. One main advantage to slaves traveling through Mason County toward Ripley was the absence of any main towns from the county seat, Maysville to the banks of the Ohio River opposite Ripley. Additionally, the river becomes rather narrow near Ripley making crossing a slightly easier accomplishment.
*The map pictured above is what Ripley looked like during the late nineteenth century. When examining the zoomed map, note the name of the streets, location of manufacturing facilities, as well as individual residents. Unfortunately, Rev. John Rankin had already left the town by the time this map was created, thus his property is not located in any section. In addition to the map, Wiggens and Weaver's Ohio River Directory for 1871-1872 can be accessed to correlate businesses in Ripley with those on the map. See pages 290-299.
This map was engraved prior to the establishment of Ripley. The towns of Maysville and Washington are included on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Using those towns as a point of reference, Ripley’s eventual location would be northwest toward the mouth of Eagle Creek. There is only one major land route traveling from Maysville to Chilecothe. This road was known as Zane's Trace. Built in 1796 and named after its builder Ebenezer Zane, the Trace connected Wheeling, West Virginia [then Virginia] to Maysville [then Limestone] Kentucky.
Notice that the region is designated as “Virginian Domain” and not as the State of Ohio. This point is relevant for it substantiates historical accounts of individuals migrating from Virginia to this region in order to free their slaves. These included the founder of Ripley, James Poage from Augusta County, VA who received land in the Ohio Valley region as settlement for his surveying of the Northwestern region.
Expansion of transportation routes and various towns appeared in this map. Ripley was large enough in population to be noted as a village. The topographer located Ripley between Red Oak Creek and Straight Creek.
Across the Ohio River, Maysville became designated as a larger town. Maysville’s expansion was due to an increase in steamboat travel along the Ohio River and the beginning of western migration.
Note that this map included the topography of the region. Looking specifically at Ripley and Brown County, it becomes quite clear the hilly terrain and high embankments on the riverfront. Additionally, this map showed that transportation expanded with Ripley gaining access to western and eastern overland routes.
By 1833, Ripley was still a small town demographically, however it was one of the primary locations for runaway slaves seeking sanctuary. Notice the numerous roads leading to northern Ohio as well as main tributaries on land and by steamboat that traveling to Cincinnati. Additionally, because of Ripley’s location across the river from Kentucky, a slave holding state, once a runaway forged the Ohio River, Ripley’s active abolitionists easily transported the fugitives northward.
Of further interest is the road leading from Maysville toward Lexington, Kentucky. Initially known as Limestone Road, it became political fodder when the citizens of Kentucky requested federal funds to expand and improve it during the 1820s. Then President Andrew Jackson vetoed the bill for the funds, which caused the creation of numerous limited liability corporations who funded the Maysville Turnpike. The turnpike was eventually completed in 1835 and became the central road for North or South bound travelers.
This map was selected because it represents a good example of the agricultural condition in Brown County where Ripley is situated. Ripley is not designated on this specific map; please use Georgetown and Eagle Creek to locate the general vicinity of Ripley.
Represented on the map are soil conditions, types of animal breeding, and major crops produced in a specific region. According to the key, the soil in Ripley was a combination of native soil, drift, and alluvium. These mixtures of soils are important for they are rich in chemical composition and are quite fertile for crop growth. By 1872, burley tobacco became a staple for Ripley’s farmers for they learned that this specific crop grew abundantly in the soil.
The map also indicated the type of livestock breed in the region. Cows, horses and swine were the favorite for local farmers. Historically, horse and swine breeding in Ripley date back to the early 1840s. In the case of swine, this livestock was an integral to the pork-packing facilities of early Ripley.
Above is an aerial map area of Ripley, Ohio. Notice the location and topography surrounding John Rankin's home. There are several features which should be considered regarding these aforementioned points.
These specific reasons show why Ripley's location became one of the most best vantage points for crossing the Ohio River.
Borderlander of Light
By: Donna B. Jacobson, University of Connecticut
All rights reserved.