WESTPORT, Ky. (August 2004) Henry Walton Bibb entered the
world a slave and left it as an abolitionist. The chronicle of his
flight to freedom via the Underground Railroad has made his story
one of the most famous slave escapes ever documented.
Bibb is to be the topic of a presentation by Diane Perrine Coon at
6 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Westport General Store. The Kentucky Humanities
Council, the Oldham County Public Library and the Oldham County History
Center are sponsoring this event.
Bibb was born on May 10, 1815, to a slave mother, Mildred Jackson,
in Shelby County, Ky., on a plantation owned by Willard Gatewood.
Bibb was the eldest of seven slave sons, whom were all sold to different
owners. He was reared in Shelby, Henry, Oldham and Trimble counties.
Although his father was State Sen. James Bibb, he was claimed as the
property of David White, Esq. While still young, he was taken from
his mother and hired out to labor for various people. His wages afforded
an education for Harriet White, David Whites daughter and Bibbs
But Bibb was able to garner an education for himself by sitting in
on Harriets lessons, said Oldham County History Center executive
director Nancy Theiss. The History Center currently features an exhibit
on the counties African American Heritage that includes information
on Bibb. The exhibit will run through Labor Day Weekend and portrays
various aspects of the African American culture, including the Under
ground Railroad, artwork from children in Nigeria and the slave trade.
Coon has provided two of the displays for this exhibit, which depict
Bibbs trail to freedom through Oldham and surrounding counties.
The History Center staff hopes to team with historical societies in
Henry and Trimble counties to apply for a national grant to document
the Henry Bibb Trail, said Coon. This would be a neat way to
tell the Underground Rail-road story in this area, she said.
Bibb was no stranger to the cruel side of slavery, having received
stripes to degrade and keep him in subordination.
Bibb book cover.
I can truly say, that I drank deeply of the bitter cup of suffering
and woe, wrote Bibb in his autobiography, Narrative of
the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave. In
Coons opinion, Bibbs book was second only to Uncle
Bibb was extremely accurate in his book, said Coon. His
precise documentation lends a strong element of credence to
the story. Coon said that many slave stories are so general
that the slave may not know what river they crossed or what road they
traveled. Bibb was good at reading the environment, she
In 1833, Bibb married a mulatto slave named Malinda. They had one
daughter, Mary Frances. Yearning to provide a better existence for
his family, Bibb successfully fled to Detroit in 1842. He never found
his wife and daughter, and he eventually married free black Mary Miles
Bibb published his slave narrative in 1850, and it instantly be-came
a best seller. Bibb had begun to lecture on slavery several years
earlier, accompanying Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown.
He was articulate and popular among abolitionist circles, said Coon.
While on a lecture tour for the Liberty Party in Michigan, Bibb met
his second wife. They fled to Canada, where Bibb became a fixture
in the Ontario community until his death in 1854 at age 39. He is
credited with creating Voice of the Fugitive, the first black newspaper
Theiss said she found it important to highlight the African American
community of Oldham County because during Bibbs lifetime, one-third
of the population was comprised of the African American culture. Theiss
said that, historically, the African American community was one of
the first predominant cultures in the area and contributed greatly
to the economic success of the county.
Coon hopes to stimulate interest in the establishment of the Henry
Bibb Trail through her program. The history of the Underground Railroad
is the greatest American adventure story yet untold, she
Reservations are recommended for this program. The
cost for the lecture and the following dinner are $15 for members,
and $18 for non-members. To make reservations or for more information
contact Theiss at (502) 222-0826.