The Beacon on the Hill

High atop the bluff above Ripley, Ohio, stands the John Rankin House with its front windows looking out over the Ohio River Valley into Kentucky.

A lantern placed in this window at night beckoned people fleeing slavery.

The out-buildings are no longer extant: barns and sheds that sheltered fugitives until they could be safely passed to another “station” further north. But standing here, looking north across the hills of Brown County, I could easily imagine Henry Martyn Huggins’s story about how his father and uncles came to Rankin’s house after the sun went down to offer fugitives safe passage under the false bottom of a wagon they had constructed for that very purpose.

They were Alexander Huggins’s brothers –the family of the man I traveled to Ohio to find.

They were”Mr. H[uggins]’s brothers and cousin near Sardinia” with whom the three Dakota young men spent a year in Ohio in 1842-43. (p. 13-14 of A Thrilling Narrative.)

They were the brothers who sheltered Alexander in their homes –Underground Railroad stations in Clay Township, Highland County, Ohio –in 1857-58, until he could be sent to the Columbus Lunatic Asylum.

That was the year, the family stories say, slavery drove Alexander Huggins insane.

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