Slavery's Borderland: Freedom and Bondage along the Ohio River

By Matthew Salafia | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Fugitive Slaves and the Borderland

In the 1850s Richard Daly enjoyed considerable freedom for a man in bondage. Daly lived in Trimble County, Kentucky, on a plantation along the Ohio River owned by two brothers, Samuel and George Ferrin. He worked on the farm and regularly attended the market in Madison, across the river in the nominally free state of Indiana. He married Kitty, a house servant from a neighboring plantation, and they had four children before Kitty died in childbirth at the age of twenty. Daly protected his family the best he could and visited his children nightly. According to Daly’s later description, in the 1850s he yearned to be free, but he also recognized that despite his enslaved status he still enjoyed some opportunities and autonomy. Daly understood that he could obtain freedom whenever he wanted, but he later claimed that he never thought about running away. He did not accept the legitimacy of slavery, nor was he satisfied with his enslaved status; by his own estimate he helped thirty slaves escape from bondage. However, Daly did not believe that the uncertain status he would hold in the “free” states was necessarily better. More important, his affection for his family overshadowed the advantages of freedom. Bondage conditioned his life, but love motivated him. He loved his family more than he wanted freedom. Only when “Mrs. Hoaglin,” the woman who owned Daly’s children, decided to give his daughter Mary to her own daughter in Louisville did he decide to escape slavery. For Daly, who had not considered escape before, running away or “stealing” his freedom and the freedom of his children became the only way he could keep his family intact. In 1857 the devoted father escaped to Canada with his four children.1

Daly’s story provides a window into how personal considerations and the geographic border between slavery and freedom complicated the decisions of African Americans in the Ohio River Valley. The boundary between

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