Born a Slave, Died Free--Freed Randolph Slaves--The African Jackson Cemetery in Rossville / Piqua, Ohio--

The Randolph Slaves Arrive In Ohio

(This is one of a series of articles that I am writing about the 1800's group of freed African-Americans who became known as the "Randolph Slaves." I first became interested in their plight when my husband and I discovered a small cemetery on the outskirts of Piqua, Ohio. It was in an area that was once known as Rossville, where some of the Randolph slaves had settled. This cemetery was the final resting place of 134 freed slaves and their families. On several of the now-replaced headstones was the caption "Born a Slave, Died Free", which I decided to title this series, in their honor.)

Tucked away in the northern edge of Piqua, Ohio is a sparsely populated wooded area near the Miami River, on Zimmerlin Road. This was once known as the town of Rossville, which in 1846 was settled by a group of freed African Americans known as "The Randolph Slaves". They were the former slaves of John Randolph of Roanoke, from Charlotte County, Virginia. Upon his death, the plantation owner and politician freed his slaves and left money for their new beginning. In total, 383 slaves came by wagon train to Ohio, and a large portion of this group settled in Rossville.

Sign marking the entrance to the African Jackson Cemetery
Sign marking the entrance to the African Jackson Cemetery
Two of the GAR U.S.C.T. servicemen, also at the side of the cemetery, in brush..
Two of the GAR U.S.C.T. servicemen, also at the side of the cemetery, in brush..
Headstone that has fallen over in the brush at side of cemetery.
Headstone that has fallen over in the brush at side of cemetery.

Born A Slave, Died Free

All that remains of this town are a few homes and what is known as the African-Jackson Cemetery, in which some of the Randolph slaves and their families are now interred, totaling 134 in all, including at least nine who had served in the Civil War. The cemetery land was purchased and laid out in 1866.

Most of these graves are unmarked, with not so much as a base to mark where the headstone once was. A few very old headstones are scattered around, many illegible, some broken and fallen over, or in the portion of the cemetery that has become overgrown with brush. There are only the stone bases of some, with the headstone itself long gone. One stone has had a tree growing around it, to where the two are now enmeshed.

At one time five graves had been marked with a new stone, with only the names of the deceased - Louis Musco, Lott Green, Geo. R. Rial, Ed Grouder, and Thompson Rial--along with the phrase "Born a Slave Died Free"- inscribed on the top. These are located on the back corner of the cemetery, beside Zimmerlin Road.

Four of the five replaced headstones, bearing the names of the men, along with the words "Born A Slave  Died Free"
Four of the five replaced headstones, bearing the names of the men, along with the words "Born A Slave Died Free"
Thompson Rial - Born A Slave Died Free
Thompson Rial - Born A Slave Died Free
Ohio Historical Marker--Randolph Settlement--Front
Ohio Historical Marker--Randolph Settlement--Front
Ohio Historical Marker--Jackson Cemetery(On back)
Ohio Historical Marker--Jackson Cemetery(On back)
The headstone of Henry Clay of Co. B - 27th U.S.C.T. , with star shaped GAR marker in front.
The headstone of Henry Clay of Co. B - 27th U.S.C.T. , with star shaped GAR marker in front.

Cemetery Restoration and Dedications

For many years, the Jackson Cemetery was neglected and run down, but in the 1970's a local woman, Helen Gilmore, who was the great-granddaughter of one of the freed Randolph slaves, Isaac Rial, initiated a project to restore the graveyard. She and her husband, Isaac Gilmore, searched through local cemetery plat and court records to locate 134 graves, 120 of which were her own ancestors. She had found many of the records in the basement of a family member's home.

In June of 1980, the local Piqua Chapter DAR dedicated a plaque in memory of the free Randolph slaves. There is also a cement bench with the names of the township trustees from 1814 and 2007 inscribed on the back.

A large Ohio Historical Marker can be seen at the side of the road which explains how these freed slaves came to settle there on one side and on the other side it lists the names of the families who are buried in Jackson Cemetery(African). Included in the list are the names of nine Civil War veterans who were buried there: Peer M. Bray, John Cain, Henry Clay, Johnson Crowder, William Kendell, H. Parsley, John Taylor, Sidney Vicks, and Phillip White. While researching these men, two more Civil War veterans were also mentioned as being buried there, but aren't mentioned on the historical marker: Sgt. George W. Davis and David Hughes. It's believed that most, if not all, were members of the Co. B. 27th U.S.C.T. (United States Colored Troops)

There were at least four of the men who were members of the GAR(Grand Army of the Republic), as their graves have GAR markers with the dates 1861-1865 beside the headstones. One of these headstones is inscribed with the name Henry Clay, along with Co. B.- 27th U.S.C.T(United States Colored Troops), while the others are David Hughes, Sidney Vicks, and John Cain--all with the same Company and Troop engraved on them.

Helen Gilmore--Our thanks to you for all that you accomplished.

Helen Gilmore, with her husband, Isaac
Helen Gilmore, with her husband, Isaac | Source

Thank you Mrs. Gilmore...and all who assisted her in her mission

Helen Gilmore died in 2010, but not before realizing her dream of the restoration of this cemetery, and for turning her childhood home, which she and her husband had moved back into, into a museum honoring her ancestors. This museum is located just a few houses away from the cemetery.

Helen and all the others who helped her are to be commended for bringing back this piece of history, and recognizing all the former Randolph slaves who came a long way, in more ways than one, and are now at rest there.

Hopefully one day there will be funds to replace all of the missing headstones--I'm sure Mrs. Gilmore would've loved that.

More photos of cemetery

Sign on crossroad(Dixie Dr.), showing where Rossville is located.
Sign on crossroad(Dixie Dr.), showing where Rossville is located.

More Photos of Jackson Cemetery

Plaque dedication to the Randolph Slaves by the Piqua Chapter DAR
Plaque dedication to the Randolph Slaves by the Piqua Chapter DAR

Map Showing Zimmerlin & McFarland Rd Intersection, Piqua, Ohio, where Rossville and Jackson Cemetery is located.

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Comments 11 comments

Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 4 years ago from Ohio

Another wonderful job. I wish Piqua could find a way to build a memorial/museum there. There are no doubt, many thousands of people who are related to the people who were buried there and other nearby cemeteries.


TamCor profile image

TamCor 4 years ago from Ohio Author

Thanks Tom... :)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if somehow that could happen? After all these courageous people went through, and others like them, it would be great to see all of them recognized finally. And also to bring awareness to all those descendents who may not even know of their ancestry.


Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 4 years ago from Ohio

Hopefully some will read about this and even do further research into the people and their families. :o)


TamCor profile image

TamCor 4 years ago from Ohio Author

I think that would be fantastic, Tom. And maybe they will let me know if this hub helped them in any way...I would love to hear from any descendents!


itakins profile image

itakins 4 years ago from Irl

Well I'm not a descendent,but I found this hub fascinating...off to read part 2.Voted up++


TamCor profile image

TamCor 4 years ago from Ohio Author

Thank you itakins--I'm glad that someone else found this as interesting as we did! :)


chowchowgrl profile image

chowchowgrl 2 years ago from Ohio

This was fascinating! Has anyone gone around the area with a metal detector? Who owns the land now? Do you live in Piqua? This is something that the city should capitalize on and fund and celebrate.


TamCor profile image

TamCor 2 years ago from Ohio Author

chowchowgirl--I am so sorry for the delay in replying to you. I didn't see this comment until now...

I am a resident of Piqua, and have been for 16 years now. I didn't even know about the cemetery until a few years ago, though. My husband and I both agree with you that Piqua needs to do more with this area, to bring it to the public's attention. I don't know who owns this, though--that's something I need to find out, thanks for bringing that issue to my attention!

Thanks for your comment and so glad you enjoyed reading this. :)


chowchowgrl profile image

chowchowgrl 2 years ago from Ohio

Keep me in the loop! I've met a few people who knew the Gilmores, and somebody else who used to live in one of those old houses near the cemetery. I asked about Rossville on the Piqua City Government Facebook page but was told that it's not technically in the city limits, so that was the end of that. I'm not done with it, though! I've written a few columns for the Piqua Daily Call and have been invited to continue submitting articles, and this is a topic I'd like to write about to awaken community interest. I hope we can talk more about this! Maybe we can help make something happen ...


chowchowgrl profile image

chowchowgrl 22 months ago from Ohio

TamCor, are you on Faceboook? I want to write a book about Rossville, so I created an open group called Rossville Project. I'm networking with all the living humans I can find, and sharing info with everyone interested. In just a minute I'm going to post links to your two wonderful hubs. You did so much work! Do you want to co-author the book with me? I don't know if we'll make it on Oprah or if Ken What's-that-guy's -name will make it into a PBS film, but there is a need for this history to be shared with people!


TamCor profile image

TamCor 22 months ago from Ohio Author

Hi chowchowgrl--I'm so sorry about the delay in answering you. My husband and I bought a house and have been really busy renovating, moving, and doing more renovating. :)

I will definitely check out the FB page, and I believe I received a friend request from you, also? I'll get there and reply soon. :)

I'd be happy to co-author the book with you, thank you! I don't have a lot of time right now, with just moving in and still working on the house, but you are welcome to use these hubs for info, and can give you what else I have later--it's been so long since I researched this, I can't remember what else I have, lol. I had planned to write more hubs, but just haven't had a chance to do that.

Going to check out the FB page now! :)

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