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Henry Bibb – A determination for freedom for all

In 1835, Henry Bibb made his first escape attempt several years earlier. He was hired by Mr. Vires, who lived on a nearby farm in Newcastle, Kentucky. Although he hoped to reach Canada with great ease, Bibb was captured in less than twenty-four hours. He was then whipped and placed in isolation. However, determined to obtain his freedom, Bibb planned and executed another escape attempt, but the same result occurred. He was recaptured rather quickly and whipped once again.

The determination of Bibb to ultimately gain his freedom was temporarily halted when he began to date. He subsequently married an enslaved African American woman named Malinda, who resided on a nearby plantation in Oldham County, Kentucky. Once married, Bibb soon became a father. However, the hardship of having a wife and child owned by a white man soon reignited Bibb’s aspiration to escape. With a promise to return to his family after he was completely free, Bibb absconded on Christmas Day in 1837.

When he reached Cincinnati, Ohio, with the help of local African Americans, Bibb was introduced to a group of abolitionists. The abolitionists helped him travel north through the Underground Railroad of Cincinnati to Perrysburg, Ohio. Bibb stayed in Perrysburg several months before he eventually headed back to Kentucky to free his wife and child. When he reached them, Bibb developed a plan to help them escape by steamship once they reached the Ohio River.

Unfortunately, they failed to reach the rendezvous point on time. Bibb was recaptured by a slave catcher who had been posing as a local abolitionist. He was subsequently shipped to Louisville, Kentucky to be sold. However, Bibb managed to once again escape from his captor. After his escape, Bibb traveled to central Ohio. Several years later, in 1839, he returned to Kentucky again to try to free his wife and child. But, again, he was recaptured and shipped to Louisville. But this time his family was shipped with him to keep him from another escape attempt.

Furthermore, several months later, Bibb, his family and several hundred enslaved African Americans were placed on a steamship. The steamboat left Louisville, bound for Vicksburg, Tennessee, and eventually New Orleans, Louisiana.

Once in New Orleans in 1840, Bibb and his family were separated. His wife and daughter were sold to local gamblers and a local Native American purchased Bibb. However, the following year, in 1841, Bibb escaped from the Native Americans, for good this time. He traveled to the Mississippi River and then secretly climbed aboard a steamboat en route to Portsmouth, Ohio.

By the late 1840s, Bibb had concluded that he would never see (first) his wife and child again. As a result, he remarried in 1848. Over time he became an ardent African American abolitionist in several New England and Middle Atlantic states. As an abolitionist, to tell his story to a broader audience, in 1849 Bibb published his autobiography titled Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave. In 1849, he and his new wife published the first African American newspaper in Canada, Voice of the Fugitive.

About the Author

Dr. Jackson has almost twenty-five years of academic experience at the university level. He teaches in the fields of American and African American History/Studies, Race Relations, and Peace Studies. He has over fifty publications. Dr. Jackson recently received two awards for his community outreach work.

Written by Dr. Eric R. Jackson
Professor of History, Northern Kentucky University

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