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George Wilson Story, part One

George Wilson Story, part One

Submitted by Betty Webb
The Ironton  Tribune
7 Aug. 1938

Editor’s Note: This is the first of three articles on Theodore [George] Wilson, colored, whose life became so much a part of this section of the country that it is aptly included in the History of Lawrence County which Mr. R.C. Hall has been preparing for The Tribune. The second article will appear next Sunday.

George Wilson was a native of Virginia, having been born in the year 1827. He was born in slavery and was owned for a time by a man named Bailey who lived in the eastern part of the state. But when he was about eight years of age, he was sold to Mr. Fredrick Beuhring, who lived in Cabell County in what is now West Virginia. That of course was long before the division of the “Old Dominion” and Virginia extended to the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers.
It was then quite customary, at least in certain localities, for the slaves to take the name of their master and so Mr. Wilson became commonly known as George Beuhring. He went by this name until after the Civil War or at least until he secured his freedom just previous to that war.

It appears that slavery did not press as heavily upon its subjects in Virginia as it did in the far south. Particularly was this true of western Virginia which later became West Virginia. And it appears that Mr. Wilson led as happy a life as could be expected for one not entirely a free man. But no matter how paternalistic and philanthropic servitude may be it is still servitude and few people who have ever experienced it that did not embrace the first opportunity to free themselves. So it was with Mr. Wilson. Meanwhile, however he had taken on the responsibilities of a wife and family and naturally he was as anxious – even more anxious perhaps – to provide for their future freedom and happiness than he was for his own. George Wilson married Dorcas Franklin, who had been in the western part of Virginia, i.e., what is now West Virginia, and like her husband was a slave. The following children were born to this union: Selena, Louisa, Albert, Arthur, Benjamin, Georgia, Theodore, Marcellus, Jonathan, Julias, Charlotte, and Nancy. Of these, five boys and three girls experienced slavery.

Mr. Beuhring must have been a farsighted businessman, and perhaps a more humane one too than the average slaveholder of his day. He probably realized it was better for himself and his slaves to permit them a certain amount of freedom of action. It not only contributed to their contentment but to his financial gain as well. So he permitted Mr. Wilson to have some time to work for himself and even permitted him to receive pay for his labor for others. In this way Mr. Wilson was able to lay aside a little cash for the comfort of his family and in preparation for the day of freedom which he doubtless saw ahead.

The farsightedness of Mr. Beuhring was further shown by a proposition he made to Mr. Wilson just before the outbreak of the Civil War. That was the chance he gave to the latter to secure his freedom by purchase. In other words, he offered Mr. Wilson the opportunity to ” buy himself ” as was the expression descriptive of an agreement between master and slave by which the latter was to receive his or her freedom upon the performance of a certain amount of work or the paying of a certain amount of money to be earned by working for the owner some one else. In this case, Mr. Beuhring agreed to manumit, i.e., make out papers of freedom for Mr. Wilson upon the latter’s payment of six hundred dollars. Or rather Mr. Wilson was to pay three hundred dollars in cash and the rest when and if he became financially able to do so. However, he gave his note for the deferred payment and set about to earn the money necessary to meet it. He earned a large part of the amount he paid by working on the construction of the old suspension bridge over the Guyandotte River at Guyandotte, West Virginia.

The Civil War came on, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and all the slaves were freed by these acts the constitutional amendments following in their wake. Naturally the things freed Mr. Wilson of his legal obligation to complete his payment for his freedom. But George Wilson was a man of his word. He believed that a contract was a contract and morally binding on those who made it and so he insisted on paying the rest of the amount – every cent he had agreed to pay. Such was the high standard of Christian character, morality and honesty set by George Wilson and carefully followed by his descendants.

After securing his freedom, he came to Lawrence County, Ohio, crossing the Ohio River at what is now Tenth Street, Huntington, West Virginia. and going to Fayette Township, then to Union, and finally settling near Rome in Rome Township. After coming to Rome Township Mr. Wilson rented seven acres of land from Mr. L.D. Morrison and established his house near the settlement known as Rome. He was a hard working and accommodating man and soon, found plenty of work to do. He began to garden his small tract of land and particularly raise melons, but during the winter and his spare time he added to his small income by handling coal for various persons in the community. By this time all his children had succeeded in getting out of Dixie, as the country south of the Ohio River was generally known to such folks, and their father was anxious that they gain an education. In fact he himself lamented the fact that he had had no such opportunity and determined to remedy that defect. He did learn to read and spell but writing proved to be to much for one of his years and disposition. But he wanted so much to learn to sign his name that he even began to go to school with his children. However he could stand it but a few days and relinquished the matter of education to his children.

After some time at Rome George Wilson bought the seven acres of Mr. Morrison and then added to it by purchasing two and twenty – two hundredths of an acres from what was known as the T. A. Walton tract. He also bought fourteen acres from the Kimble tract, as it was then known. This gave him a nice tract of land for the purposes of small farming and market gardening. Mr. George Wilson was not only a man of thrift and industry but religious as well, and many evidences of his fine Christian character were recognized by his white neighbors. As he was of the Methodist persuasion and had no church of his own in the neighborhood, he was taken under the watch care of the old Rome Methodist Episcopal Church of which he became a faithful attendant. We have heard older folks tell many times how he used to sit in the rear of the church and listening attentively to the services and on Communion Day, after the regular members had taken the Sacrament, the minister would extend the invitation to others and he would reverently advance to the altar for the Sacrament. After the Ebenezer church was established at Huntington, West Virginia he moved his membership there. His wife passed away in 1868, after which he married Mrs. Laura Wyatt. They had two children, Elmer and Ellsworth.

Who Killed Andrew Boggs

(by John G. Wilson)
No. 45.
From: Folklore and Legends

Submitted by: Sharon M. Kouns

Ironton Register, Thursday, May 21, 1896

For the Register.

About sixty years ago there moved to what is now called Macedonia, a colored man named Andrew Boggs or Box, as the people called him. He came from North Carolina and had the blood of three races in his veins white, black and red. His wife was almost white. He was a man of enterprise, attended strictly to his own affairs and soon succeeded in accumulating some property, both land and chattel. He was noted for his good horses and cows, keeping them in the best of order. He was a very stern man, speaking but seldom, and then only when his business relations demanded, all of which tended to make him enemies. His credit was good and his word was his bond.

After he had lived here for several years and was well acquainted with the citizens of this township, he mysteriously disappeared. Nothing was thought of it for several days, until his folks were questioned and they could give no account of him. He was not wont to make anyone a confident and went and came without the knowledge of any. They only knew that he was gone but where they could not tell.

After a few weeks and just after a hard rain, his body was found lodged in the willows just below town. Burlington was the county seat then, so the Coroner was notified and the body was hauled up to the Courthouse, where it was recognized by one of our merchants who was well acquainted with him, and with whom he dealt. On examination, it was found that he had been murdered. His head bore the marks of a pick or mattock, and his skull had been broken by the same in many places. The verdict of the Coroner’s jury was that he had been murdered by parties unknown. Warrants were issued for several of the family, as suspicion was aroused on account of their not making inquiry about him. They were arrested and brought to town and the trial began. The prisoners were guarded by armed men, and much excitement prevailed. I was quite a lad but remember that one witness, an old hunter testifying to the kind of blood which was found on the bottom of his Bogg’s wagon, he the hunter, said, that he had killed many deer and had skinned them on his cabin floor, and that there was a very decided difference between animal and human blood; that the animal blood left a different stain from that of human blood and could be washed out, but that human blood could not be washed out; and that in his opinion the blood stains in the wagon were made by human blood. There were indications of the bottom of the wagon being washed to get rid of the stain but like the stain on Macbeth’s hand it would not out.

Examination, also, showed that the clothing of the dead man was covered with creek soil which indicated that he had been buried in the creek bank and had been washed out and into the Ohio river by the hard rain.

The prisoners on examination said that the stains in the wagon were made by hogs which they had killed and hauled in the wagon; and as to the killing of the old man, they knew nothing about it. As it was before the war when this trial took place, the evidence of a colored person had very little weight, and there were people who were ready to convict on the slightest evidence, but fortunately for them there were others who were more reasonable and they had a fair trial. It developed that there had been two strange white men in the neighborhood who were gamblers and very bad men, and they were trying to play a game on the man Boggs, in offering to sell him counterfeit money that would pass; and an old citizen who told me the circumstances said that Boggs informed him of their attempt to induce him to give them $150 for $300 and that he had met them by appointment and that he had his money ready, and that they had a small wooden box, the kind axes are shipped in, but he required them to open the box before he would part with his money. Upon their refusal, he pulled a pistol and made one of them open the box, which revealed as its contents, a lot of scrap iron packed in sawdust. He thereupon threatened them and charged them with acting falsely. Soon after they disappeared and it was not long until he too was missing, and nothing was heard of him until his body was found.

No evidence being offered of a convicting nature, the prisoners were released and who killed Andrew Boggs remains a mystery to this day. My informant said that Boggs had mentioned to him, about the men and their wanting to exchange the money, two dollars for one, and he was advised to draw them on to see what kind of money they had or whether it was a trick. There had been some counterfeit money passed and the authorities were wanting a clue, and when their trick was explored by Boggs nothing more was thought of it, until the body was found, when it was surmised that someone had killed him for his money as he carried it most all the time on his person; but time rolled on and the mystery has never been cleared up. Most all of those who were living here at the time have passed away. G.

How Some Runaway Slaves Weren’t Caught

(by John G. Wilson)
No. 31. From: Folklore and Legends

Submitted by: Sharon M. Kouns

Ironton Register, Thursday, February 06, 1896

For the Register.

About the year 1856, when Ironton was in her infancy, there came word to Burlington, that some half dozen slaves had escaped from Kentucky, and that they would cross, it was supposed at or near Ironton. We had at that time several citizens, both in and near our little town, who were willing to apprehend those who were escaping from bondage. They were soon equipped and as soon as night came on, were on their way to Ironton to stop the poor fugitives for the sake of a few paltry dollars. They were three in number and mounted on their horses rode swiftly down the river road towards the town.

They had received sure word that the slaves would cross that night, about where the East Ironton grade now is, then a woodyard kept to sell wood to steamboats, which burned wood for fuel. The wood was piled in long rows or ricks on the top of the bank and was sold to the brickyards as well as the boats. The three men hunters arrived about 10 o’clock, and after placing one of them (who was my informant) on the top of one of the long ricks of wood, near where a road was, which descended to the river told him, that they would go down into the town and find out all they could, as to whether those who were, also, of like feelings as themselves knew about the runaways. The one left made up his mind that stopping men who were escaping from bondage, was not the easiest thing and that he did not think, on the whole that it was exactly right; and sitting up there in the cool frosty night, his blood got cool and he resolved that if they came he would let them go by unchallenged, and so, with that conclusion, he stretched himself out on the woodpile to await results.

His comrades had told him to keep strict watch, and when he saw them come across the river, to await them at the road and take them into custody and hold them until they returned; that they would be back soon. He said he waited very impatiently for several hours, but neither his comrades nor the runaways made their appearance, and he was about to go and get his horse and ride home, when he thought he heard the faint echo of the oars, in the rowlock of a skiff, putting off from the Kentucky shore. His heart beat rapidly as he saw the boat coming near and when it pulled to the shores, he saw five stalwart blacks get out of the boat, while the 6th who was probably a white man, though he could not tell, rowed his boat back to the other shore. The slaves came up the bank slowly and were evidently looking for someone but they did not pause but came on and passed within a few yards of where he was concealed. He said they were powerful men, in the prime of life, and each one had a large club on his shoulder. They passed on as silent as ghosts and he drew a long breath when they disappeared in the darkness.

About an hour passed by when his comrades came back; the dawn was beginning to mark the approach of day. They wanted to know if he had seen anything; he told them what he had seen when they expressed great surprise that he did not stop them. He said he endured their talk and brag as they told what they would have done had they been there, when he said that he could stand it no longer, but told them that they were a parcel of fools or idiots to think that he was fool enough to try and stop five men armed with clubs, fleeing from bondage, and that they went to town on purpose to escape having trouble if the slaves should come; and as far as he himself was concerned he was glad that they had got away and he was done forever hunting runaways. He said they stormed awhile, but took good care to go home with him and to not follow those who were fleeing.

Afterward it was ascertained that the same band was stopped at the bridge near Getaway, and those who stopped them were badly used up, one having his jaw almost broken and another knocked senseless by the clubs of the runaways. However they escaped and made their way to Canada, the land of refuge for the slave. My informant said he came home with the determination that those who wanted to might hunt runaway slaves but as far as for him he was out of the business.

Burlington Ohio Jail Restoration

A group of Burlington residents became involved in restoring the crumbling Lawrence County Jail in late 2000. These people knew if something was not done, this building would be destroyed, along with the history surrounding the jail. The Jail was built in 1847 and is the only government office left standing in the town of Burlington, Ohio.

A Committee was quickly formed, and plans made for the Jail to become a museum honoring our ‘Underground Railroad History’. This was one of the routes in Lawrence County, Ohio that has been documented as being part of the Underground Railroad. That route ran from the banks of the Ohio River, through Macedonia Church, up through Poke Patch, and onto Northern Ohio. The Underground Museum would house the Burlington-originated J. Dillon pottery collection, which has already been committed by one resident.

The old Lawrence County Jail in Burlington, Ohio is surrounding by historical sites such as the Burlington 37 cemetery, Macedonia Church, Riverside park, and the old Johnston House. Future plans are hopeful that a Genealogy Library being proposed by Briggs Lawrence County Public Library will happen.

This Museum will provide a historical and cultural attraction for individuals, families, school, civic and church groups, as well as other organizations. This will be an opportunity for out children and future generations never to forget the trials, tribulations and triumphs of those early settlers who founded Burlington.

Facts About the Burlington Jail

  • Lawrence County’s first county seat was established at Burlington in 1817.
  • The same year the old Log and Frame Jail was built in Burlington, the next year the courthouse was built next to the jail.
  • After a jail breakout occurred in the summer of 1846, the County Commissioners agreed to accept bids for construction of a new stone jail. Before the bids were accepted, an inmate set fire to the old log jail which increased the need to finish the jail. John Sperry won the bid and finished the stone jail in 1847.
  • In 1852, Lawrence County’s county seat was moved to Ironton and the jail and courthouse was abandoned. The Commissioners turned the Jail over and from there it exchanged several different people’s hands before the Historical Jail Committee was formed in late 2001.


Just a Few Supporters of this Project:
  • -Dale Burcham
  • -Judge Walton
  • -Judge David Payne
  • -Sue Deeds
  • -Ted Strickland
  • -Lawrence County Commissioners

What You Can Do To Help Restore the Jail
  • Volunteer your services and time to help with any physical assistance. Email Dave Milem for additional information!
  • Offer to serve on the Historical Jail Committee which oversees the development of the Musem on this historical site. Email Dave Milem for additional information!
  • Make a monetary donation, no matter how large or small, to help restore the Jail to the dream of becoming an Underground Railroad Museum for Burlington. The Lawrence County Commissioners already have the land rights to the land adjourning the Jail property. The Jail Committee have already received enough donations to make the down payment on the jail property. Email Dave Milem for additional information!
  • The real challenge will be the restoration and renovation work needed to complete this project. We are asking the help of everyone who is wanting to see this dream come true. Restoration of this Historical Jail will enrich everyone, including our children who will be able to take field trips to see what our heritage was like in the early days of Ohio’s beginnings. It will be surrounded by other historical sites such as the Burlington 37 Cemetery, Macedonia Church, Riverside Park (which was undoubtly an area the slaves came ashore when escaping the slavery of the southern states), and the old Johnston House.Email Dave Milem for additional information!


Fugitive Slave Case of Polly Negro

On Tuesday of last week, Deputy US Marshal Roadarnour, of Ironton, arrested a young man and woman, brother and sister fugitive slaves from Floyd Co, KY. The fugitives were under the guidance of Jim Ditcher, a free mulatto, who has lived about Ironton for several years, and as they were about to get aboard of the cars a Washington Switch, on the Scioto and Hocking Valley Railroad. Roadarmour, who was on board with the owner of the fugitives, laid hands on them, and took them back to Kentucky. Jim Ditcher made good his escape at “2:40?? Time” and has not since been heard of hereabouts.

The mother of these fugitives left with them and remains in this county, the owner not choosing to take her back, on account of her advanced years. The reclaimed fugitives are cousins of the famous Polly Negroes, who right to freedom has been in litigation now for some ten years, between Ohio and Virginia.

December 16, 1860, Ironton Register