Richland Co., Ohio


Historical Information

- - - - - -

Uncle John Finney

Source:  THE MANSFIELD HERALD:  06 March 1884, Vol. 34, No. 16


Submitted by Amy


"Carp", Washington correspondent of the CLEVELAND LEADER, contributes to the Sunday's issue of that paper the following interesting and characteristic incident of Uncle John Finney, of Springfield Township, which occurred in the days when, to be an Abolitionist, was to place one-self in opposition to the government, and, in private life, to be socially ostracized.

The Hon. Ezra L. Stevens, noted as one of the conductors of the underground railroad and now chief clerk of the Indian Bureau here, is my authority for the following reminiscence.  

When the underground railroad was in full operation and the slave-holding detectives were most active in their efforts to convict and drag back to slavery every negro they could find, one of the most traveled lines of escape was through Ohio, and one of the chief stations was at Mansfield, in the central part of the State.  The negroes would be run across the river at Kentucky into Ohio, and north to Canada.  The confidential agent of the road at Mansfield was an old farmer of the United Presbyterian school.  I know him well, and he still lives in the country near Mansfield, where he is noted for his long prayers even unto this day.  They are not objected to, for the people remember how due of these long prayers saved six negroes from slavery and perhaps death.  

One time in those days a party of negro drivers came to Mansfield in search of a number of escaped slaves.  They were directed to go out to Uncle John Finney's, and as they had tracked the negroes to Mansfield, they were pretty sure they would find him there.  But when they appeared at the farm house, Mr. Finney told them he knew nothing about their negroes, and that they might search the place.  Breakfast was, however, smoking on the table, and he asked them to come in and take something to eat before they did so.  The Finneys, of Richland County, have long been noted for their good cooking, and the meal looked so appetizing as it smoked on the table, that the negro drivers could not resist.  They sat down to the table, and Uncle John said a long grace before both and after the meal.  

When at last the hot buckwheats, covered with country butter and maple molasses, had been devoured, and their stomachs were filled with good home-made sausages, as they were rising from the table, Uncle John said, "Now friends, it is our custom to have family prayers after breakfast, and I hope you will join with me this morning."  

The kidnappers could hardly refuse this invitation after the breakfast they had just eaten, and with the old man they adjourned to the sitting room, where Uncle John took a seat before the only window looking toward the barn, completely shutting out the view in that direction, and the family Bible was brought him.  All this time the very negroes these men were looking for were in the barn.  The moment Uncle John had gotten their pursuers to sit down at the table he had given a hint to his servant, who was in his confidence, to get the negroes off and he had succeeded in giving them a start at the time Uncle John brought the family into prayers.  It was all important that the negroes get a good start, and Uncle John, when he took the Bible opened it at the one hundred and nineteenth psalm, which has one hundred and seventy-six verses.  This he read through very slowly and solemnly, and then closing the old leathered covered Bible, he said "Friends, let us pray."  

All knelt and Uncle John's face was turned so that he alone could look out of the window.  As he prayed he kept his eyes open and he could see the negroes fleeing across the fields away in the distance.  As he went on praying he saw them grow smaller and smaller, and he kept up his praying until they were completely out of sight, and were as he knew in a new and safe hiding place.  

During all this time the unsuspecting slave holders were kept on their knees and when at the close of a full half hour they arose, Uncle John cordially showed them over his whole farm and through every building.  Of course they found nothing and whether they ever discovered now badly they were hoaxed, history fails to say.

<< Back to the Richland Co., Ohio Index