As you may or may not know after Guernsey County was settled by folks running a ferry over Wills Creek; the Beatty family bought the rights to the land surrounding Cambridge and then traveled here to take over the ferry business and map out a town. In 1803 when John Beatty came to Cambridge he brought with him a slave who had worked for him in Fredrick, Maryland named Tobey Beatty. As it turns out Tobey was somewhat lucky for his masters acquisition and emigration to this new land, which was in a free state. John granted his freedom as a result. My imagination fills with scenarios thinking of John Beatty breaking this news, “Well Tobey, I can’t keep you no more here in Ohio, you’re a free man now.” This being 1803 way before the Civil War or any major abolishment movements to free the slaves, Tobey must have felt something like a man walking out of jail today after being exonerated from death row. He must have been overwhelmed with happiness knowing–he and only he–would be in control of his own destiny. Unfortunately where and what Tobey did following this has been lost to history. We have no records of what he went on to do with his life.
Likewise another African American named Charles Mewson helped John Hall–a “prominent Quaker”–build a cabin east of what would become Quaker City. Charles would have also been a freeman as Quakers were categorically against slavery. This would have also been a site to behold. Charles and John chopping away at the trees, carrying, stacking, sawing, hammering away at the taboo’s of the time, sweating side by side working effortlessly on the frontier together. Charles destiny is also lost to history. What we can say without a doubt is that African Americans were here building Cambridge and the surrounding area as it was being founded and before Guernsey County was established in 1810. We’re talking about the presidential administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and we have African Americans participating in building our communities.
In 1810 the area had grew enough in population to consider itself a county and because Ohio was a part of the Northwest Ordinance which said, “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in said territory,” it was against the law to own slaves. This doesn’t mean slaves could run here and just be free, numerous different laws did things to try and prevent slaves from running here and people from protecting them. Despite this, brave Guernsey County residents established stations on the Underground Railroad and still many free blacks came and settled in the outliers of the county where they could find employment. They lived in rural areas like Spencer, Center, and Wills Township, including what’s now known as Four Mile Hill between Cambridge, Lore City, and Old Washington. As employment opportunities changed throughout the years many began moving in closer to the county seat of Cambridge. Farming was listed as the most common job of our early black settlers when the U.S. began asking for occupations on the 1850 census.
Cumberland would become home to many of these early settlers. I will leave you with a vibrant, vivid description of an African American family of Guernsey County provided by Mrs. May Belle Ransome that was published in a book called History of Early Cumberland by May Stranathan.
John, the oldest, lived on Water Street where he built a house. He was a tanner for many years, also a farmer, working for persons in Senecaville and Lore City. He had four children. The oldest, Charles, worked for the B. & O. Railroad for many years… Homer worked for the J.C. Bay Company and is an expert in fine woodwork. The only daughter Nellie, is married and lives in Pittsburgh. George Ransome, known as “Jeff,” and his wife Jennie were long residents of Cumberland. Jeff used to carry a little ladder and go from lamp post to lamp post and light the streets long before we had electricity.
All research credit belongs to the books “Guernsey County’s Black Pioneers, Patriots, and Persons” by Wayne L. Snider and “Stories of Guernsey County, Ohio” by William G. Wolfe.