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Escape of Caroline, 1847
Location: 4783 E. County Road 280 North, Kingston (Decatur County, Indiana)
Installed: 2008 Indiana Historical Bureau, Decatur County Freedom Trails Association, and the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology; IDNR
Caroline and her four children escaped Kentucky slave owner October 31, 1847; they crossed Ohio River near Madison. After passing near here, Fugit Township black and white residents hid family close to Clarksburg. While hidden, family seized by a white resident, but escaped before owner claimed them. Residents separated family to avoid another capture.
Family members safely escorted from Decatur County and reunited in Union County. Family reached Canada. The Underground Railroad refers to a widespread network of diverse people in the nineteenth century who aided slaves escaping to freedom from the southern U.S.
African American, Underground Railroad, Women
Escape of Caroline (1)
Caroline and her four children escaped Kentucky slave owner October 31, 1847; they crossed Ohio River near Madison. (2) After passing near here, Fugit Township black and white residents hid family close to Clarksburg. (3) While hidden, family seized by a white resident, (4) but escaped before owner claimed them. (5) Residents separated family to avoid another capture. (6)
Family members safely escorted from Decatur County and reunited in Union County. (7) Family reached Canada. (8) The Underground Railroad refers to a widespread network of diverse people in the nineteenth century who aided slaves escaping to freedom from the southern U.S.
1. According to later court testimony, Caroline was a slave owned by Kentuckian George Ray. "The Fugitive Slave Case," Decatur Clarion, April 7, 1849 (B060012) and Indiana Supreme Court, Appeals Decided, November Term 1852, State of Indiana v. Luther A. Donnell, Record Group 8, Judiciary, Box 82, Drawer 208, Indiana State Archives, Archives and Records Administration (B060021).
2. State of Indiana v. Luther A. Donnell (B060021) and "The Fugitive Slave Case," Decatur Clarion, April 7, 1849 (B060012). George Ray, Caroline's owner, printed an advertisement offering a $500 reward. This advertisement was entered as evidence in the criminal trial in Decatur Circuit Court. "Ranaway from the subscriber, living in Trimble Co. Kentucky on the 31st of October  . . . a negro woman named Caroline . . . two Girls and two Boys, the eldest a girl Francis, 12 years old . . . John near 7 years old . . . Amanda, 4 years old . . . Henry two years old."
According to William M. Hamilton, a participant in Caroline's escape, a man named Waggoner, from Madison, escorted Caroline and her children to Douglas McCoy in Decatur County, Indiana. They arrived at about 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. on November 1, 1847. William McCoy Hamilton, "Personal Recollections of a Rescue Case," published in, Atlas of Decatur County Indiana (Chicago, 1882), 14-15, available at, Indiana County History microfilm Reel 6, No. 24, Indiana State Library (B060018).
3. White residents who assisted Caroline and her children in Decatur County included Douglas McCoy, Cyrus Hamilton, and William M. Hamilton, Luther Donnell, and Robert Hamilton. "Personal Recollections of a Rescue Case," (B060018). Deed records confirm that these people lived in Decatur County at this time.
Black residents who assisted Caroline and her children in Decatur County included a man named Parnell, Jane Speed, and several unnamed residents of the black settlement located to the east of Clarksburg. Ibid. (B060018). Deed records confirm that these people lived in Decatur County at this time.
The black and mulatto population in the settlement extended from Fugit Township in Decatur County to Salt Creek and Posey Townships in Franklin County. U.S. Census figures show the growth and decline in the number of the African American residents in Decatur County and in Franklin County.
|County / Year >||1830||1840||1850||1860|
Historical Census Browser at http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/ (accessed February 19, 2007) (B060315).
According to historian Emma Lou Thornborough, there were three different groups of African-Americans who settled in Indiana. The first group consisted of free persons in the states they came from. The second group consisted of recently freed slaves. The third group consisted of fugitive slaves. Emma Lou Thornborough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900 (Indianapolis, 1957), 33.
The passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and 1851 Indiana Constitution are generally cited as the reasons the population declined.
4. Caroline and her children were waiting in an outlying building on the property of Jane Speed. Speed's neighbor, Woodson Clark, discovered the family, hid them, and notified the slave owner that he had captured the fugitives. There was a $500 reward for their return. Decatur Clarion, April 7, 1849 (B060012); Free Territory Sentinel, October 17, 1849 (B060063); and Justice John McLean, Western Law Journal, 1, no. 12 (September 1849), ProQuest, American Periodicals Series Online, 1740-1900 (accessed February 7, 2006, through Indiana University-Bloomington Web site) (B060022).
5. In his testimony at both the criminal trial in Greensburg and the civil trial in Indianapolis, Richard Clark, son of Woodson Clark, indicated that he saw Luther Donnell and William Hamilton remove Caroline and her children from their place of captivity and head toward the black settlement. Decatur Clarion, April 7, 1849 (B060012) and McLean, Western Law Journal, 530-31 (B060022).
According to Luther Donnell, residents of the black settlement found Caroline and her children and took them to Franklin County for safekeeping. Free Territory Sentinel, October 17, 1849 (B060063).
William Hamilton, in his reminiscence published in 1882, stated that he, Donnell, Robert A. Hamilton, and some residents from the black settlement searched the farms of Clark's sons. Having no luck, Donnell and William Hamilton returned to Donnell's home. Soon after daylight, one of the other search parties reported to Donnell that they had found Caroline and her children and hidden them in a ravine on the Bull Fork of Salt Creek in Franklin County. Hamilton, "Personal Recollections of a Rescue Case," 15 (B060018).
6. Hamilton, 15 (B060018). A couple from the black settlement took two of Caroline's children to William Beard in Union County, Indiana. Blacks from the settlement disguised Caroline as a man and escorted her through Clarksburg to meet Luther Donnell and William Hamilton. Other black residents carried Caroline's remaining two children around Clarksburg, also meeting Donnell and Hamilton.
7. Ibid. (B060018). Caroline and two of her children were moved to Luther's brother's (Thomas) farm one mile west of Spring Hill. At 10:00 P.M. (November 2 or 3, 1847), Luther Donnell, William Hamilton, John R. Donnell, and Lowery Donnell took Caroline and two of her children in a closed carriage to William Beard in Union County where the entire family was reunited.
The events described on this marker eventually led to the Indiana Supreme Court case Donnell v. State, 1852. Please see the Historical Marker for Donnell v. State for more information.