In July 15th & 16th, 2016, the Oldham County History Center celebrated its dedication into the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The Bibb Escapes/Gatewood Plantation received a “site” designation and the J. C. Barnett Library & Archives of the Oldham County History Center received a “facility” designation. “We are the only facility site designation in Kentucky” said Dr. Nancy Theiss, Executive Director of the Oldham County Historical Society. “Both of these designations will allow us to act as a tourism attraction for those interested in the Underground Railroad and learning about the freedom seekers in Kentucky and the Underground Railroad conductors who at great risk, sought to abolish the institution of slavery,” stated Theiss.
Dr. Afua Cooper addressed the crowd at the dedication of the J. C. Barnett Library & Archives at the Oldham County History Center to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Dr. Cooper is the James Robinson Johnston Chair for Black Canadian Studies at the University of Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her PhD concentrated on the life of Henry Bibb and his contributions to the abolitionist movement. Her book The Hanging of Anelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal is a national bestseller.
Henry Bibb (1815-1854) was a prominent abolitionist who endured and overcame slavery to become the first black editor of a newspaper in Canada. Mr. Bibb has already been designated in Canada as a prominent and important historical figure. Henry Walton Bibb was born a slave. His father was white although his identity was not positively known. Bibb was separated from his mother at a very young age and hired out to other slave owners for most of his childhood. Always yearning for his freedom, he made his first escape from slavery in 1842. He was recaptured and escaped, recaptured and escaped over and over; but he never gave up on his desire to be a man in control of his own destiny. His exhibit can be viewed and experienced at the Oldham County History Center museum. His adventures can be researched further in “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave,” written by himself.
The Bibb Escapes/Gatewood Plantation site is where the Oldham County Historical Society has conducted archaeology investigations since 2005. William H. Gatewood owned Henry Bibb and this was his final escape from Kentucky before he, his wife and daughter, were sent to the Louisville slave jails and then further shipped to the New Orleans Slave market by slave trader, William Garrison. Since 2005 the Oldham County History Center has conducted four public digs and an annual Archaeological Institute for High School Students on the Gatewood Plantation site. Over 400 people have participated in the archaeology investigations at the Gatewood site under the sponsorship of the Oldham County History Center on this private property. Jeannine Kreinbrink has been the lead archaeologist that oversees these investigations. On July 16, 2016, The National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom included the Bibb Escapes/Gatewood Plantation as a site on the program.
The J.C. Barnett Library and Archives is a restored 1840s “Kentucky Four Square” house. The Archives building holds a vast collection of documents, genealogical records, photographs, a family name database and a library of regional and local history materials, including extensive family files. The building also serves as the administrative office for the Oldham County Historical Society. The Archives building was originally owned by James Mount (March 15, 1796-October 17, 1864, son of John Mount and Lydia Jennings) and Amanda Malvina Railey Mount (July 22, 1810-January 12, 1888, daughter of John Railey and Elizabeth Randolph). Amanda’s nephew, Amos G. Mount, sent letters to his aunt and uncle that described events during his service as a Union soldier in Company B of the 6th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry U.S. during the Civil War. James Mount had been appointed guardian of his nephew after Amos’ father died. The history center has preserved this collection of letters which detail what Amos saw from different camps and battlefields. Peyton Samuel Head, benefactor of the history center, lived in this house until he renovated the house next door (now the museum) and made it the family’s permanent home. A Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory described the house as the oldest building on the square and one of the oldest in town. It was prominent for having a three-door façade.
Delia Webster (left in photo) earned quite a reputation as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She had a passion for aiding Freedom Seekers who wanted a better life, even if it meant risking her own. An incident occurred in 1844 which made her a household name. She and Rev. Calvin Fairbank plotted to aid Lewis Hayden and his family to escape slavery. Their plot worked for the Haydens, but Delia and Fairbank were caught and tried separately. For his part, Fairbank received 15 years. Delia was convicted of “slave stealing” and sentenced to two years of hard labor in the state penitentiary. Her case attracted national attention as no one wanted to see a woman imprisoned. But this still did not stop her from aiding Freedom Seekers upon her release. Re-enactments are at times conducted at the Oldham County History Center.