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.
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.
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.
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
More Photos of Jackson Cemetery
Map Showing Zimmerlin & McFarland Rd Intersection, Piqua, Ohio, where Rossville and Jackson Cemetery is located.
Links to more of the Born A Slave, Died Free series
- Born A Slave, Died Free--The Journey to Freedom of the Freed Randolph Slaves
This hub talks about the struggles of a the group of freed Randolph slaves and their journey to freedom in Ohio.