Kentucky slaves’ journey through the Underground Railroad

Kentucky slaves’ journey through the Underground Railroad

TOURISM NOTE:  The following article appears in print online and aired as a segment on Moments That Matter on WHAS 11 on Monday, February 7, 2022. The segment highlighted the Oldham County History Center’s contribution to preserving Oldham County’s stories of the Underground Railroad in honor of Black History Month. Oldham County’s Underground Railroad Tour includes stories about the James and Amanda Mount family, early slaveholders in Oldham County, who lived in what is today the J.C. Barnett Library & Archives Building on the Oldham County History Center campus in La Grange, KY.      

‘These people made great sacrifices’ | How slaves used Kentucky to fight their way to freedom

Although the horrors of slavery can be tough to learn, the fight for freedom was instrumental in shaping our world today.

Author: Alden German (WHAS), Courtney Hayden
Published:  5:41 PM EST, February 7, 2022

Kentucky slaves’ journey to freedom came through the Underground Railroad.

OLDHAM COUNTY, Ky. — The Underground Railroad was considered a slave’s first step in the journey to freedom. Kentucky was a hotbed for slavery in the mid-1800s before the Civil War, but it wasn’t until the 1830s that the Underground Railroad became more of an organized network.

Nancy Stearns Theiss is the director of the Oldham County History Center in La Grange. It’s a museum today, but it used to be the home of James and Amanda Mount, who were very involved in the slave trade. James Mount worked as the local slave jailer.

“While the slave owners were relaxing comfortably, their slaves were secretly planning their escape, making this home, in particular, a very important part of Kentucky’s Underground Railroad,” Theiss said.

The Mount family has troves of original documents from the mid-1800s, including newspaper advertisements. When slaves escaped from their plantation, the Mounts used the paper to find the runaways.

“She hired bounty hunters to go after ‘two negro slaves who left to join the Union,'” Theiss said.

Ad for runaway slave from Oldham County. Photo courtesy of the Oldham County History Center.

Credit: Oldham County History Center

An excerpt from a newspaper in the 1800s announcing the escape of slaves from an Oldham County slave owner.

The shrinking size of the printing press made it much easier for people to place bounties on runaways in addition to placing advertisements searching for large quantities of human labor.

It’s unknown how many Underground Railroad locations there were in Kentucky – the state didn’t keep good records. The Ohio River, however, was the point to cross for runaways. It was also the Mason-Dixon Line: states north of it were free, making Kentucky, in a way, a gateway to freedom.

“There were all kinds of escapes people would use. People would jump on steamboats, people would use railroads, even the canals that were built up in Cincinnati. people would follow canals trying to get north to freedom,” Theiss said.

Although the horrors of slavery can be tough to learn, the fight for freedom was instrumental in shaping our world today.

“These people made great sacrifices for us to be able to live the way we do today,” Theiss said. “If we forget these people then we don’t do justice to all of the sacrifices they made for us and we don’t appreciate where we live.”

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.