1826 Enslaved Revolt on Ohio River
On September 17, 1826 in Bourbon County, KY, Edward Stone and his nephew Howard Stone, traders of enslaved people, were among five white men killed by the 75 or so enslaved being taken down river aboard a flatboat. Edward Stone had kept his enslaved in Bourbon County, chained and shackled beneath his house. In September 1826, a group of the enslaved were marched to Mason County, KY, where they were taken aboard the flatboat headed to the Mississippi slave market.
David Cobb of Lexington, KY and James Gray were hired to convey the crew down the Ohio River. The boat stopped in Louisville, KY, where a white man named Davis boarded the boat. Davis was from Natchez, MS or Paris, KY, depending on which account you read. The boat had gone about another 100 miles when the enslaved revolted and killed the five white men and threw their bodies overboard. The 75 enslaved, males and females of various ages, attempted to escape into Indiana, which had become a state in 1816 with a constitution that prohibited enslavement [read more at IN.gov], though there were both free Blacks and enslaved in the state.
There were also active Underground Railroad stations in Indiana [read more at IN.gov], two of which were along the Ohio River bordering Kentucky and near Breckinridge County, KY. In 1824, Indiana passed one of the earliest forms of a fugitive slave law [read more at IN.gov]. The enslaved who had escaped from the flatboat were fugitives, "property" that could be reclaimed. Fifty-six of the enslaved were captured and returned to Kentucky to be lodged in the Hardinsburg [Breckinridge County] jail. A Baltimore newspaper reported that some of the enslaved were brought to Maryland and sold.
Three of the enslaved supposedly admitted taking part in the revolt. Nothing is known or has ever been written about the 19 enslaved who escaped, nor has it been acknowledged that there were enslaved on the flatboat who made their way to freedom. "...[T]he balance separated, and as yet have not been heard of."- - [source: "To the editor: Hardinsburg, Sept. 19, 1826," Richmond Enquirer, 10/17/1826, p. 4].
A possibility that has not been discussed in the literature suggests there may have been a prepared plan for the enslaved to escape into Indiana and make their way further north via the Underground Railroad. Reading, writing, and knowledge of maps would not have been necessary in order for the enslaved to have known about Underground Railroad stations on the Indiana border; messages and codes were passed between the enslaved in the form of songs and quilts and other non-written methods. The focus of the newspapers during the time of the revolt and later written histories centers on the killing of the five white men, the capture of the 56 enslaved, and the subsequent trial and executions.
Five of the captured enslaved were hanged: their names, the only names given to any of the enslaved in the newspapers, were Jo, Duke, Resin, Stephen, and Wesley [source: If We Must Die, by E. R. Taylor, p. 162]. One other enslaved person named Roseberry's Jim is mentioned in the Village Register newspaper article "The Negro Trial," dated 11/14/1826. According to the article, five of the enslaved were hanged; forty-seven were sold; the remainder was brought back to Bourbon County. One of the enslaved was a mulatto boy named Louis (or Lewis) who was not for sale: he was Edward Stone's body servant and had tried to save Stone's life, but he too was beaten during the revolt [source: "To the editor: Hardinsburg, Sept. 19, 1826," Richmond Enquirer, 10/17/1826, p. 4].
Four months after the revolt, Louis (or Lewis) was given his freedom by Stone's widow in January 1827. According to author J. W. Coleman, he remained in Kentucky on the land and in the house he was given near the Edward Stone house in Bourbon County [source: Slavery Times in Kentucky, by J. Winston Coleman, pp. 174-176].
Edward Stone was one of the first traders of enslaved people to openly advertise his intentions of selling enslaved people to Deep South markets. Much of what has been written about the day of his death contains varying and sometimes conflicting details, as well as name variations for the men who were killed and various accounts as to how the day unfolded.
For additional information see "Horrible Massacre" in the column headed "Louisville, Ken. Sept. 23" in the Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 10/7/1826, p. 2; "The Louisville, Kentucky, paper...," Norwich Courier, 10/11/1826, p. 2; Speculators and Slaves, by M. Tadman; I've Got a Home in Glory Land, by K. S. Frost, Chapter 3 - On Jordan's Bank; Black Heritage Sites, pp. 110-111, by N. C. Curtis; and Encyclopedia of the Underground Railroad, by J. Blain Hudson. See also the Ancestry.com website Edward Stone, by N. A. Bristow; and the blog entry Edward Stone's Demise, by T. Talbott.