Slave Escapes from Bracken County
Theodore Hamilton, an aristocratic gentleman, a slaveholder, was in the transfer business in New Orleans for many years, and among his belongings was a Negro slave named Ed Mofford.
Ed was a very capable fellow, whom Theodore took with him on all occasions, whether traveling in this country or in Europe. Along about the year 1855, Mr. Hamilton came back from Louisiana to Bracken County and located at Augusta, and it came to pass that Mr. Hamilton died, and his brother, Vincent Hamilton, was made administrator of the estate.
Ed had been trained by his master to serve in the elite and aristocratic circles of southern society, to dispense that magnificent grace that was the wonder and desire of the world to imitate. He was very valuable property. Altogether too valuable to risk holding a slave in a border state.
The widow and other Theodore Hamilton heirs decided to put Ed on the auction block and sell him. Negotiations were commenced immediately to make this an accomplished fact. Mrs. Theodore Hamilton was driven over to Brooksville to the Bracken County courthouse in the family chaise. Ed Mofford in the box with the driver; they drove up to the courthouse yard gate that led up to the jail and at the gate, by pre-arrangement, stood the sheriff.
Ed jumped down from his seat in the box to open the chaise and help his mistress alight, and as he did so, the sheriff took him by his coat collar and said, “Ed, you are my prisoner.”
Ed, turning, looked the sheriff in the eye, and taking in the situation, he sprang backward, disengaging himself by leaving the sheriff holding his greatcoat, which they always wore on state occasions, while he made tracks down the pike.
And, here in the twinkling was staged a drama that seldom falls to the lot of man to see. Angels looking down from the heavenly blue were amazed at the wonderful spectacle that was opened before them. On the afternoon of that day, Mrs. Vincent Hamilton (Betsy Gregg), came out of her living room and hall with her sewing in hand and seated herself on the porch intent on drinking in the beauties of the sunshine.
Ed Mofford appeared in the yard, running up the porch steps saying, “Miss Betsy, save me! Save me! They are after me!”
Mrs. Hamilton, without moving from her chair, motioned Ed to go up the hall stairs. Almost immediately, a man came up the porch steps following Ed and asked if she had seen anything of Ed Mofford that he was running away. She asked the man if he had been to the barn, and she suggested that he look there.
As soon as the man was gone, she took Ed from the stairs and into the dining room, there raising a trap door. Ed was shielded from the slave-hunters gathering and searching the farm buildings, running hither and thither across the barn-yard, searching every nook and corner.
The same evening, Mrs. Theodore Hamilton was driven out to this home and took tea with the family, in the same hewed log dining room, under the floor of which, Ed was hiding. The happenings of the day were talked over; the one upper-most thought was, “Where is Ed Mofford?”
A fortnight later, two men rode into an unfrequented and obscure place along the Ohio River. One of the men dismounted and went down to the riverbank. The remaining horseman heard the low dip of oars, as a canoe was speeding across the river.
Mr. Vincent Hamilton came into the living room that night and said to Betsy, “Do you know what has become of Ed Mofford?”
She looked at him inquiringly and said, “Vincent, ask no questions.”
A young Englishman, William E. Lincoln, resided at the Hamilton home at the time that Ed Mofford occupied the dining room hatch. He was taken into Betsy’s confidence, and he looked after Ed’s comforts and arranged on the U.G.R.R. for Ed’s transportation and took him to the place of rendezvous.
The abolitionist conspirators were thrown into a paroxysm of anxiety, when it leaked out that the young man had told the secret to his admiring lady friend.
Letter written by John f. Gregg to William J. Hutchings of Genoa, Ohio, August, 1929. Located in Berea College Special collections, Berea, Kentucky.
For further information concerning conductors and abolitionists in Bracken County, contact Augusta Tourism at 606-756-2181.