PIQUA — Two local figures joined forces on Wednesday afternoon at Edison State Community College, talking to students and community members about the freed Randolph slaves who settled in Rossville in Springcreek Township in the 1830’s.
Larry Hamilton — a local historian, former educator at Piqua schools, and owner of the Randolph and McCullock Freedom Struggle Complex on Main Street in Piqua — discussed the pre-Civil War story of John Randolph, who freed over 300 slaves from the Roanoke Plantation in Virginia.
Hamilton discussed how Randolph attempted to provide with 2,000 acres of rich farmland in area near New Bremen, which was in Mercer County at that time.
“Ohio was pretty much a pro-slavery state,” Hamilton said. Hamilton said that, after Ohio joined the Union and became a state, representatives voted on whether or not they wanted to be a slave state, and it was one vote that kept Ohio a free state.
While Ohio was a free state, that did not stop the locals from greeting the freed people with hostility.
The freed, former slaves traveled across Virginia, down the Ohio River and up the canal by boat to the land that had been given to them.
“They came and of course at most places … there were people who were not exactly welcoming,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton recounted how the freed people stopped at Lock 9 in downtown Piqua to try and get water to drink from the well, but the local sheriff at the time turned them away. Some locals, though, went ahead of the freed people and met them at Johnston Farm, where they gave them something to drink at the farm’s spring house.
Their final destination was supposed to be in Mercer County, where they were threatened and forced to leave the area. Hamilton later showed a law that Mercer County townships passed around that time that prohibited all black people from living in or being in the county, a law that Hamilton said was ethnic cleansing.
The freed people returned to Johnston Farm and camped there until they were allowed to settle outside of Piqua in the unincorporated area of Rossville.
Hamilton showed a picture of the a former school house at the site, a school house that Piqua City Commissioner Kris Lee remembered as still being in Rossville when he lived in Rossville in his early childhood.
Lee — a descendant from those freed, former slaves — grew up in Rossville until he was six years old. He recounted how he did not have an indoor bathroom and, instead, used an outhouse. His house also had dirt floors, but as a kid, he said he enjoyed playing in the nearby fields and swimming in a nearby quarry.
“As a kid, it was great,” Lee said.
After he was he was six, his family moved into the city of Piqua, but for the entire time he was growing up, his parents always encouraged him that he could do or be whatever he wanted — that he could achieve anything that he wanted to achieve.
It was through education that Lee found those opportunities to achieve.
Lee has a long list of academic achievements, including two associate degrees — one from Edison State in paralegal studies, and one from Wright State in communication, an MBA from Bluffton University, and an MA in Organizational Management from Bluffton. He has served 27 years on the Piqua Police Department and 14 years teaching at Edison State, with nine years in the Edison State Law Enforcement Academy.
Lee has passed that same mindset toward achievement and education on to his kids and family. Lee and his wife are raising five children plus a niece and a nephew. He has spent years coaching area teams in basketball, tennis, and soccer, and has served on the parish council at St. Marys.
Lee said that when he became a member of law enforcement — first serving as an auxiliary officer in Bradford before later joining the Piqua Police Department — he fulfilled a goal.
“The Randolph slaves couldn’t do that,” Lee, now a sergeant with the Anna Police Department, said.
Lee also talked about how he came to be on the Piqua City Commission as he did not originally plan on running for the open seat until the sitting commissioner’s petition to be on the ballot was not approved.
“I said I guess I’ll put my name in and apply for it,” Lee said, who ended up receiving over 80 percent of the vote while running against four other candidates. “I believe in servant leadership … You got to give back.”
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org