Reign of Terror at The South: Exiles from Kentucky (1860)

This article on the expulsion of anti-slavery Americans from Kentucky was part of a longer selection of coverage expulsions of people from other southern states including Alabama and Mississippi. It appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard on January 14, 1860.

From The Cincinnati Gazette, Dec. 31.

TWELVE families, embracing in all thirty-nine persons, arrived in this city at eight o’clock last evening, from Berea, Madison County, Kentucky, whence they were forced to move on account of entertaining anti-slavery views and opinions. The entire party took rooms at the Dennison House, the heads of families registering their names as follows: T. A. R. Rogers, John Smith, John G. Harrison, Jas. I. Davis, John F. Boughton, Swinglehurst Life, T. E. E. Hayes, G. W. Parker, W. F. Tony, C. W. Griffin and T. D. Reed.

Most of the number are natives of the State, and several were born and reared in the county which they were required by the authorities to leave. The greater part are young men, but there are others far past three score years and ten; these, added to children in arms and defenceless women, comprise the list that have for the past two weeks created such dread to that part of Kentucky geographically described as Madison County. In connection with the above list should appear the name of the Rev. John G. Fee, a native of Kentucky, and whose father is and has always been a large slaveholder.

The reverend gentleman founded several anti-slavery institutions in Madison County, which induced the slaveholding citizens, about two weeks ago, to notify Mr. Fee that he must leave the State. He did so, and is at present, with his companions, in this city. The full particulars of the whole matter will be found appended. The party, with whom our reporter had a lengthy conversation, had no definite object in view; bereft of their homes and firesides, they are driven ruthlessly into a strange State, among strange people, to seek new homes and new firesides, and all for the reason of a difference of opinion and its honest expression.

National Anti-Slavery Standard was the official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, an abolitionist society founded in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison and Arthur Tappan to spread their movement across the nation with printed materials. Frederick Douglass was a key leader of this society and often addressed meetings at its New York City headquarters.


Calling on the party at their rooms, at the Dennison House, we found them quietly seated together. Among their number were seven or eight young men, from eighteen to thirty years of age, about an equal number of ladies, several children, two or three of whom were babes in arms, and Mr. John Smith, a native of Kentucky, a patriarch of nearly four score, and his equally aged wife. They seemed neither joyous nor disconsolate. Believing they had acted in accordance with the laws of religion and humanity, they were ready to suffer all things, and awaited the future without fear, though ignorant of what it might bring forth. They are from the humble walks of life, and the most of their property has been left behind them, as in their hurried departure they had hardly opportunity to collect their wearing apparel.


Madison County, from which these exiles have just arrived, lies east of the centre of Kentucky, and in 1850 had a total population of 15,727, of which 5,393 were slaves and 64 free colored. The settlement of Berea, for some time past, has been a centre for anti-slavery men, Rev. John G. Fee, as delegate of the American Missionary Union, having organized several Churches on strict anti-slavery principles. A seminary, in which anti-slavery doctrines were taught, was also established about a year since, and at the time of the outbreak at Harper’s Ferry was in successful operation. It is here proper to remark that both Mr. Fee and his associates have constantly disavowed all desire to interfere with slavery or to bring about its destruction by any except moral means. Regarding it as contrary to the teachings of the New Testament, they believed Scriptural truth the best refutation of its claims.

On various occasions the people of Berea have been subjected to attacks. Mob law, vituperation and legal processes have in turn been tried in vain. They have zealously maintained their right to attempt to modify the institutions of their native State by peaceful means, and persecution seemed measurably to have subsided, when the events of the 17th of October called into new life the suspicion with which they had been viewed. On the 10th of December, a meeting was held at Richmond, the capital of Madison County, at which it was resolved to hold another meeting on the 17th, to consider the propriety of removing Revs. Messrs. Fee and Rogers, and others associated with them—first, because their association was of an incendiary character; second, because their principles were at war with the best interests of the community, and their position destructive to all organized society. A Committee on Resolutions was also appointed.

Pursuant to adjournment, the second meeting was held on the 17th, in the court-house at Richmond. The committee appointed at the last meeting reported through R. R. Stone an address and resolutions, in which, after stating that every plan for emancipation that had as yet been suggested involved insuperable objections, and that the Bereans acted as abolition emissaries, and believed in a higher law and a baptism of fire and blood, it is asserted that one of their number (meaning Mr. Fee) had lately proclaimed publicly in New York his sympathy for John Brown—asserting that Browns were needed in Kentucky. The address goes on to say that the obnoxious persons had established a school free for all colors—a district school, drawing its regular quota from the public treasury, thus using the money of the public for the public destruction; a church excluding all who upheld slavery; erected machinery, built a town—the position of which, in a strategic point of view, either for stampedes or insurrections, is faultless—having a post-office with an abolition postmaster, and a regular mail loaded with incendiary documents. The town was reported, also, to be constantly increasing by accessions of Northern men.

The resolutions, which were adopted, provide for the appointment of a committee of “sixty-five discreet, sensible men, such as the whole community may confide in,” to remove J. G. Fee, J. A. R. Rogers, and “so many of their associates as, in their best judgment, the peace and safety of society may require”—this duty to be discharged as “deliberately and humanely as may be, but firmly and most effectually.” The committee having been appointed, letters were read from Mr. Fee at Pittsburg, and Mr. Rogers at Berea. The former has already been published. It emphatically denies all sympathy, either expressed or intended, with Brown’s course. He had said that John Browns were needed “not in the manner of action, but in the spirit of consecration.” He claims that he and his associates had acted in the spirit of the Bible and of the Declaration of Independence.

Mr. Rogers’s letter, which is addressed to the editors of the Messenger, invites strangers and those prejudiced against the Bereans to visit their town and examine their institutions. It concludes thus:

It is universally known that some of us, in common with Washington and a host of others, whom we all delight to honor, believe that slavery is a moral and political evil—that it is the duty and privilege of those holding slaves to free them at the earliest consistent moment, and in such a way as to promote the general good; and that complexion is not the true test for the regard or privileges that should be extended to a man. We believe, too, that moral and political means only should be used to remove slavery. Insurrection finds no favor here. Brother Fee never has and, if his true words be known, I doubt not, does not now give the least countenance to the use of force in hastening the end of slavery. Hoping that our confidence may be fully and intelligently placed in Him, who was once despised, but is now exalted to be a Prince and Savior, I am yours most respectfully,


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