Black History Month: Underground Railroad Lore
Marla Toncray, assistant director of the Maysville-Mason County Tourism Commission, was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in Knoxville, Tennessee's News Sentinel. In the interview she discusses Maysville's Underground Railroad history and its present place as one of four communities on the Freedom Trail, a driving tour linking sites in Kentucky and Ohio that were major stops for escaping slaves heading to Canada.
From the article:
"In Washington (Ky.), slave owners and abolitionists lived next door to each other. There was tension, needless to say," Toncray says. Washington, a pioneer village with log cabins dating to the 1790s, is now a historic district in the city of Maysville.
In 1833, Harriet Beecher Stowe visited Marshall Key at his home in Washington. Stowe was the private teacher of Key's daughter, Elizabeth. According to the local history, Stowe witnessed a slave auction on Washington Courthouse lawn. The ardent abolitionist placed the scene into her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The Key home is now the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum.
Nearby, a white frame house holds photographs, period furniture and documents related to Albert Sidney Johnston. The Confederate general spent his childhood in the two-story house. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and joined the Confederate army, where he reached the rank of supreme commander in the west. He died at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.
The Paxton Inn was a safe house for the Underground Railroad. Oral histories indicate escaping slaves were hidden on a narrow staircase next to the kitchen fireplace. At the Bierbower House, slaves escaped detection under false floors. Conductors, the people who assisted the freedom seekers, put lights in the windows as signals for safe passage.