Petticoat Abolitionist

Historical Marker # 1099 in Trimble County notes the work of abolitionist Delia Webster.

Born in Vermont and educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, Delia Webster was tried, convicted, and jailed in Kentucky for helping slaves run away from Lexington in 1844.

After serving time in prison, Webster was determined to continue her antislavery efforts. In the winter of 1852, she bought a farm in Trimble County on a hill overlooking the Ohio River. When area slave owners reported that a significant number of their slaves were missing, Webster quickly became a suspect. In February 1854, a community meeting in Bedford passed a resolution stating, "Whereas it is known that Miss Delia A. Webster had recently run off numerous slaves from Trimble county, therefore resolved that it is the will and determination of the citizens of said county that Miss Delia A. Webster leave the State." Unwilling to part with her farm, which was apparently used to shelter escaped slaves, she was arrested. After what she called "a mock trial," she was placed in the Trimble County Jail in Bedford. It proved to be a brief imprisonment. Released on a technicality, she returned to her farm.

In June 1854, she was indicted on an issue related to the 1844 Lexington escapes. This time, Webster avoided arrest by fleeing across the Ohio River to Indiana. After hiding in various locations around Madison, Indiana, Webster was captured and tried there for the 1844 charges. Acquitted, by 1855 she had returned to New England. Four years later, she moved back to Madison.

Webster apparently never risked reentering Kentucky. Instead, she lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, Madison, Indiana, and, after the Civil War, in Iowa, where she died in 1904.

Images

Webster's 1844 Account

Webster's 1844 Account

The title page of the book Delia Webster wrote describing her court trial for attempting to assist Lexington, Kentucky fugitive Lewis Hayden and his family in 1844, is shown here. Courtesy of the Library of Congress View File Details Page

Trimble County Courthouse

Trimble County Courthouse

This mid-20th century postcard shows the 1884 Trimble County courthouse in Bedford, Kentucky. The previous courthouse, built in 1837, was replaced by the 1884 structure and was where in 1854 Delia Webster faced "a score of witnesses and three attorneys" and had a "mock trial" as she labeled it. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad

"The Underground Railroad" painted by Charles Webster in 1893 depicts what was likely a common scene along the fugitive network, however, many slaves often made escapes without the assistance of whites. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Calvin Fairbank

Calvin Fairbank

Calvin Fairbank, pictured here, with the assistance of Delia Webster helped slave Lewis Hayden and his family escape from Lexington, Kentucky, in 1844. Fairbank served five years in the Kentucky State Penitentiary before being pardoned by Gov. John J. Crittenden in 1849. Arrested again in 1851 in Louisville for fugitive assistance, he remained in prison until 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Milton, Kentucky Riverfront

Milton, Kentucky Riverfront

This early 20th century photograph shows the riverfront at Milton in Trimble County, Kentucky, which is directly across the Ohio River from Madison, Indiana. This location was a major crossing point for fugitive slaves in the antebellum years. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Tim Talbott, “Petticoat Abolitionist,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed May 23, 2017, http://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/178.

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