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Bus tour planned to highlight area Underground Railroad sites

Overnight trip organized by Oldham Co. History Center

LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2018) – Delia Webster (1817-1904) has the reputation of being the first woman imprisoned for assisting freedom seekers. This “petticoat abolitionist” risked her life on many occasions to help others escape the bonds of slavery and find a better life, far away from their Kentucky masters.
Webster created quite a sensation during the antebellum period with her attempts to whisk slaves across the Ohio River to safety. She bought a 600-acre farm in Trimble County in 1852, directly across the river from Madison, Ind. She described the property as lying “on the brow of the hill” and “overlooking Madison, Indiana,” in several deed descriptions. 
Everyone became familiar with her name when she was tried, convicted and jailed for helping freedom seeker Lewis Hayden and his family flee Lexington, Ky., in 1844 through use of the Underground Railroad. Her accomplice was Calvin Fairbank, another well-known Underground Rail-road conductor.
After her move to Trimble County, neighbors suspected her when a significant number of slaves turned up missing. She was arrested in March 1854 and accused by Sherriff John W. Coleman of enticing freedom Seekers from Trimble County to run away on the Underground Railroad.

Photo provided

Erika Wardlow portrays Underground Railroad operator Delia Webster, who lived in Trimble County, Ky.

A “mock trial” ensued, and she was released on a technicality in April 8, 1854.
Webster continued her abolitionist work while living in Madison for a time. Before buying her farm in Trimble County, Webster moved to Madison in spring 1849 after suffering a severe attack of bronchitis. As she was probably well aware of, Madison was a known center of Underground Railroad activity in the area.
At the time she moved there, Madison was experiencing its period of greatest growth. From her new location, she stated that she “frequently visited different portions of Kentucky.” She claimed to have been received cordially with respect everywhere she went. It was here that “the Underground Railroad was well established, with a station every 10 miles,” according to Paul Runyon, author of a definitive biography about Webster.
Webster continued to work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, living in Indiana and Kentucky, until the end of the Civil War. She devoted a large part of her life to helping others attain freedom.
During the antebellum period through the Civil War period of history, Kentucky was a border state in every sense of the word. Whether you were for or against slavery, it was an issue in practically every household on both sides of the river.
In an effort to better educate people as to the connections to the Underground Railroad in this area, the Oldham County History Center will offer an Underground Railroad Bus Tour on Sept. 18-20. The route will stop at sites along the Ohio River that attest to the determination and will of the freedom seekers and conductors who sacrificed their lives for the democracy we freely enjoy today.
A large percentage of the research done at the Oldham County History Center by staff and volunteers revolves around the antebellum period of history and sites relating to the
Underground Railroad. For this reason, the History Center has decided to offer this new tour that will highlight the sites and people who contributed to this incredible network and risked their lives to ensure the freedom of others.
The Underground Railroad has many ties to Oldham County. The tour will begin at the Oldham County History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., La Grange, Ky., which was designated as a site for the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.
The J.C. Barnett Library & Archives building received an historical marker earlier this year in April to mark its link to one of Oldham County’s founding families, the Mounts. James and Amanda Railey Mount were believed to be the original owners of what is now the Archives building. A prominent family during the antebellum years, the Mounts were also slave owners.
The Archives houses many documents relating to slavery.
Traveling out of Oldham County, the tour will head into Trimble County, where participants will have the opportunity to meet Delia Webster and learn more about her life. Webster is often portrayed by History Center volunteer Erika Wardlow.
Henry Bibb was a slave-turned-abolitionist who once lived on the Gatewood Plantation, also located in Trimble County. He escaped to freedom in Canada and wrote an autobiographical account of his life.
After spending the first night of the tour at Belterra Casino, participants will visit the National Underground Freedom Center in Cincinnati. There, they will be introduced to professional archaeologist Jeannine Kreinbrink, who heads all public archaeology digs at the Gatewood Plantation site.
Kreinbrink was instrumental in directing the deconstruction and reconstruction of the slave pen barn, the centerpiece exhibit at the Freedom Center. From there the tour will head to Ripley, Ohio, a site that was a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity and inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The second night of the tour will be spent in Lexington, Ky., before visiting the Camp Nelson Heritage Center. As one of the largest encampments and supply stations during the Civil War, Camp Nelson was home to thousands of African American Union soldiers.
Cost for the two-night, three-day tour is $525 per person. Included in the cost are all accommodations and travel, admissions to all facilities, and Tuesday night dinner, breakfasts and lunch at Camp Nelson.

• For more information or to make reservations contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826.

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