Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring / Summer of History - Civil War -150 Lake County, Ohio - The Incident of Lewis and Milton Clarke

As early as 1812 an abolition society had been formed in Ohio.  Several Underground Railroad routes from the South converged at Concord.  One came from Akron, Hudson and Chagrin Falls.  Another came from Ravenna through Warren.  From Warren a "road" ran through Parkman and Chardon.  A line of stations also ran from Warren into Madison Township.  In Concord Eber Howe kept wayfarers safe.  Phineas Root and Samuel Butler harbored runaways in Fairport.  Abolitionists like C.C. Jennings, Uri Seeley, Kimball, Merriman, and Winchester were also prominent names in the cause.  By 1838 the Reserve had an anti-slavery character more pronounced than any other territory  of similar size in the United States.  As mentioned earlier, The Rider Inn ( Painesville) and The Old Tavern (Unionville) were major safe havens for runaway slaves.  Here is the story of a local incident in Madison.

In August 1843, two Kentucky slaves, Milton and Lewis Clarke, spoke to an audience in what is now the Madison Post Office.  Lewis and Milton were born of a free black man but had spent twenty years in captivity as slaves.  The following day after their anti-slavery speeches, Milton was captured and beaten by four slave catchers.  Before he could be taken away, men from Madison, Painesville, and Unionville intervened.  Charging the slave catchers with assault, this delay allowed the Lake Countians time to arrange Clarke's escape before the case could go to trial.  A brief stay at the Unionville Tavern led to Clarke's escape and return to freedom.  Lewis and Milton Clarke continued lecturing in the North against slavery, and Lewis, who met Harriet Beecher Stowe, was later the real life inspiration for her character George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  The Clarke's did leave a book / journal of their experiences as a primary source of life in the American South.

The incident of Lewis and Milton Clarke reaffirmed the ardent local abolitionists vow that "no slaves shall be captured in Lake County."  Runaway slave Harvey Johnson (Rider's Inn in Painesville) remembered that incident and his Lake County experience and after the War returned to become the first black immigrant in the county.  He remained in Painesville until he died aged 102 .

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