Digging up history

State grant launches new
Henry Bibb Heritage Trail Project

Archaelogical dig planned in August

Staff Report

(August 2005) – Meetings held July 19-20 marked the start of an elaborate new project by the Oldham County History Center to create an education program to honor Henry Bibb (1815-1854), a prominent abolitionist who endured and overcame slavery to become the first black editor of a newspaper in Canada.

August 2005 KY Cover

Sketch of Henry Bibb,
by Donna Hoehl

The group first met in La Grange to discuss the National Henry Bibb Heritage Trail Project. Since this story covers three Kentucky counties – Oldham, Trimble and Henry – and goes from the Deep South to Canada, it is a big project and the first Underground Railroad trail the National Park Service is considering.
Those attending this meeting were Barbara Tagger and Diane Miller of the National Park Service, Michelle Gammon of the Rivers Institute of Hanover College, Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens and Carl Westmoreland from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
History Center Executive Director Nancy Theiss moderated, historian Diane Coon presented the parameters for the trail, Jeannie Krinebrink, project archaeologist, gave the archaeology oversight.
Bibb escaped from Trimble County and eventually made his way to freedom in Canada where he wrote “The Life & Adventures of Henry Bibb,” published in 1849. He accurately recalls names, distances and places so that the book is currently used as a reference to locate sites.
The Oldham County History Center was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Kentucky Heritage Council to conduct a feasibility study that investigates the various options for developing this program. The project will explore the possibility of creating a National Henry Bibb Trail, which will follow Bibb’s journeys beginning in Kentucky and ending in Canada as well as develop an educational package that examines slavery as an experience by Bibb. In addition, the project will include the contributions and achievements of the African American people to the society and government of the United States during the 19th Century.
Robert Young of Bedford located the Old Bedford Road across the Young family farm. In the 1840s, his family owned and operated a general store. They kept a ledger of transactions that Young brought to the meeting. There is mention of a woman who fits the description of Malinda Bibb in that ledger. People in Henry County already found records for the sale of Henry and his mother.
The Rivers Institute at Hanover College is interested in creating an Underground Railroad experience that would involve a river crossing from Preston Plantation in Trimble County to Hanover, Ind., and finally ending at Eleutherian College in Lancaster, north of Madison.
Just such a crossing took place May 21 with of group of more than 30 people.
High school students from the Cincinnati area who were training with the Freedom Center took part with representatives from Madison Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Jefferson County Historical Society and the HAQ Center for Cross-Cultural Education at Hanover College. Professor Ted Farrell led the group through the day’s events.
The Rivers Institute, in conjunction with the Freedom Center, plans to make this tour an annual event. Between the Henry Bibb Trail in Kentucky and the Rivers Institute interest in developing sites in Indiana, it would seem a two-day tour would be required to cover this area, group members say.
The main objective for the KHC grant, meanwhile, is to conduct an archeological investigation at the Gatewood Plantation, located outside of Bedford in Trimble County. This investigation is the first of its kind that explores the possibility of an educational program around Bibb’s life in the United States. Bibb has already been designated in Canada as an important historical figure.
The grant will conduct two archaeological investigations at the Gatewood Site under Kreinbrink’s direction. The first investigation will be at 8:30 to 3 p.m. on Aug. 27 and is open to all members of the historical societies in Trimble, Oldham and Henry counties through advanced registration. The second investigation will be during the second week of September and will be open to high school students and teachers from several targeted schools.
Coon is the principal historian for this grant. The Oldham County History Center will be directing the educational projects. The next meeting will be held Oct. 26.

• For more information, call Nancy Theiss or Devin Oak at the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.

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