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Underground Railroad conductor remembered

Underground Railroad conductor remembered
Underground Railroad conductor remembered
Students from Payneville and Battletown Elementary schools in Meade County (Ky.) sing musical selections containing messages of peace, hope and love at the Leora Brown School.

A historic marker dedication ceremony was held Saturday for the marker along Chestnut Street honoring Underground Railroad conductor and freed slave Oswell Wright. The ceremony began with a luncheon at the Leora Brown School and comments from some of the people who made the marker possible.
Jeannie Regan-Dinius, with the Indiana Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, gave a condensed version of Wright’s historical significance.
Wright was a resident of Corydon around 1849 and gained recognition in what Regan-Dinius called the ‘Bell-Wright Incident.’
Charles, a blacksmith slave from Brandenburg, escaped with the help of Wright and two other Harrison County men, David and Charles Bell. Charles’ owner, Henry Ditto, didn’t give up on finding Charles, though, and put an ad in a local newspaper, the Louisville Daily Journal, for any news about Charles’ escape and a reward for his return. Two men responded to the ad and, with them, Ditto planned his revenge on Wright. Eventually the Bells and Wright were arrested after the Kentuckians enlisted their help under the pretense of helping Charles’ wife escape.
‘We’d probably call that entrapment,’ Regan-Dinius said.
They were taken to the Brandenburg jail, where the Bells escaped less than a year after being arrested. However, Wright did not leave the jail during the escape.
‘No one agrees why he did not escape,’ Regan-Dinius said.
Wright was ultimately convicted of his crime of helping a slave escape, and he spent time in the Kentucky Penitentiary before eventually returning to Corydon. He is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Corydon.
Regan-Dinius said it’s great to know ‘what one Hoosier did to help someone he probably didn’t know.’
Jeremy Hackerd, historical marker program manager with the Indiana Historical Bureau, played a big part in getting the marker placed in Corydon.
‘You can’t help but trip over these markers in downtown Corydon,’ he said. ‘They’re all over the place.’
He said the IHB gets many applications for historical markers each year, but they were particularly excited to get Brown’s application because of Wright’s status as an Underground Railroad conductor.
Hackerd said the common misconception is that conductors were mainly white. He also said that he hopes the marker will be, what he calls, ‘accidental education.’
‘People who don’t know about the Underground Railroad, Oswell Wright or the cultural makeup of this town at the time, this gets them interested in the Underground Railroad and this (period of) time,’ he said.
Thomas Hendrickson, an Indianapolis Underground Railroad researcher, also spoke to the audience about what stories like Oswell Wright’s do for the understanding of the time period. Generally, he said, people were friendlier to escaped slaves than to free African Americans.
Two Meade County, Ky., elementary schools, Battletown and Payneville, also made the trip to the Leora Brown School to sing five songs, each with a message of peace, love and hope.
After lunch, the crowd moved to the marker, which sits in front of the home of Faye Stauth, at 417 E. Chestnut St. Records indicate Wright once owned all of Lot 128, which later was been split into two lots.
Fred Cammack, Corydon town council president, thanked Stauth for her participation in allowing the marker to be placed on her property. Cammack also thanked Shirley Posley and Jackie Byrum, cousins of Brown, who donated the Frank Scott house across the street from the Leora Brown School, which could eventually be used as a visitors’ center.
‘I also really wanted to thank Maxine,’ Cammack said. ‘No one else in town does the research or the action that she does.’
Karolyn Mangeot spoke on behalf of Community Unity regarding their donation to the marker project.
‘We were delighted to get a chance to donate,’ she said.
Mangeot told the crowd that CU was started as a result of a Ku Klux Klan rally that ‘fizzled’ in Corydon because the residents here ‘respect diversity, encourage it.’ She hoped the marker would be one more token of that sentiment.
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