Black History Month: Filing for freedom

By Beth Mitchell - For the News Journal

What are manumission, emancipation, and abolition, and what do these words have to do with Clinton County, Ohio?

The American Heritage dictionary provides the answers. Emancipation is the freeing of slaves through government action. Abolition is government action ending all slavery. Manumission takes place when masters/owners voluntarily free their slaves.

To understand the full meaning, we must think of the pre-Civil War era to take a look at the rules and regulations during that period.

Early in the history of the United States, slavery was a very contentious issue. Some persons of color were designated as free blacks, but how can we prove that many years later?

There were individuals who made their entire income by capturing runaway slaves and returning them to their owner to receive a bounty for their return. Some persons of color were kidnapped and taken to the South to be sold as slaves without notice.

Some citizens of Ohio were very active in a coordinated “escape system” for slaves, and the process became known as the Underground Railroad. A Clinton County Anti-slavery Society was formed and a record of one quarterly meeting was printed in the Clinton Republican published December 10, 1842.

The Quakers, or Society of Friends, were very involved with this system. Three Clinton County residents will be addressed later in this document: Aaron Betts, David Bailey and George Carter.

It should be noted that each state allowing slavery had their own set of laws.

When slavery was legal any free black had to produce “papers” to prove their freedom. In some states these papers had be carried at all times to prove the individual was truly free. The person holding “papers” here in Ohio was required to file the information in the Common Pleas Court.

Some of the “papers” in some states required a number of signatures to prove worthiness and the documents were prepared by an attorney. It could be rather lengthy and very expensive.

Other documents could be a very brief statement of a small paragraph written by the owner or his representative stating the freedom given the person of color.

The first is for an individual known as Dick Price. The process was begun in November 1837 in Franklin County, Tennessee. Another court session was held the 5th day of February, 1838. The case was to be continued. The information to this point required three large ledger sheets.

On the next page Dick Price had 48 court-approved signatures preceded by the following paragraph. “Dick Price having lived in this place for several years and behaved himself in such a manner that no charge has been made against him for honesty of misbehavior we therefore feel free to recommend him amongst whom he may settle as an industrious negro punctual in his dealings and honest.”

This case used a total of five ledger pages to provide required information when being filed in Clinton County Common Pleas Court.

The following document was written by one Samuel Dwiggins. “Know all men by these presents that I Samuel Dwiggins of Guilford County, North Carolina from motives of benevolence and humanity have manumitted and do hereby manumit and set free from slavery my colored girl, Margaret Dwiggins (all have adopted the name of the man who set them free) aged about twenty-four years. I do hereby release unto the said Margaret all my right to her person and to any labor from her and to any property she may afterward acquire. In witness whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and affirmed my seal this first day of June 1860.” Witnesses: Mark Peelle, John Carter, and Wm. Pelle. Signed by: Samuel Dwiggins.

Be it noted that those freed persons are placed with the consent of Dwiggins on the premises of William Peelle in Wilson Township, Clinton County, Ohio. There were three other persons freed by Samuel Dwiggins on the same date.

Who was Samuel Gist and what was his relationship to Clinton County?

Samuel Gist was a resident of England who had become very wealthy and had huge land holdings in several counties in Virginia. He owned hundreds of slaves and when he made his final will he chose to free his slaves upon his death and establish settlements in Ohio. The settlements became known as Gist Settlements.

One settlement was established in Highland County near New Vienna. There were also at least two settlements to be established in Brown County.

Over the years there had been accusations that the finances of the Highland County settlement had not been managed properly by the authorities and the land could be seized for taxes not paid.

William F. Wickham, an attorney of Richmond, Virginia and a trustee of the Gist funds, traveled to Ohio “to choose someone who was trustworthy and would disburse money from the trust fund to be set up for the Brown County settlements”.

On November 25, 1846 a draft was made on the bank in Richmond, Virginia and was deposited in the bank of Xenia, Ohio.

The person chosen to disburse these funds was David Bailey, a Quaker and resident of Clinton County. George Carter, also a resident of Clinton County, was present for the transfer of funds and was named a trustee of the account.

It would appear from documents filed in Testamentary Book Two in Clinton County that Aaron Betts, a Quaker living in Clinton County was entrusted by Mr. Bailey as the person who transported funds and other necessities from Clinton County to the Brown County settlements.

Mr. Bailey’s entire accounting for the expenditures are documented and the records may be found at the Clinton County Genealogical Society located in the Clinton County History Center.

This article, submitted by the Clinton County Historical Society, was written by researcher and Genealogy Library volunteer Beth Mitchell.

By Beth Mitchell

For the News Journal