Underground Railroad

Do you ever try to find the source of a story hint for someone in your Ancestry tree? Well, today, I followed such a hint and it led me to a history of the Ochiltree family with many interesting stories and connections not only to my SELLERS research but to my CRAWFORD research.

One of those stories is about Nancy Sellers Hawkins and the underground railroad. Nancy Sellers was the daughter of Nathan Sellers (1753-1824). Thus, she is the sister-in-law to Henry Duggins (step-son of James Crawford). Nancy’s aunts would include Mary and Sarah Crawford, wives of her uncles, James and William Sellers.

Nancy married John J Hawkins in 1789 and lived in Preble County, Ohio prior to moving to Jay County, Indiana. It is in Jay County, Indiana where, according to the story, her home became a ‘station’ on the underground railroad.

page 312

Nancy Sellers; m. John J. Hawkins, b. 1789; moved to Preble Co., O., and
from there, were pioneers in Jay Co., Ind. They were among the first settlers. Mr. Hawkins met with an accident, while hanging a deer which he had killed, which resulted in his death within a year, on Mch. 15, 1832, ag’d 42 years. He was the first white man buried in Jay Co., Indiana.
Nancy (Sellers) Hawkins’ home was what was called a station on the “Underground Railroad.” Slaves escaping from Ky., to Canada, were given shelter at her house. Her sons, Samuel, and B. W. Hawkins, carried the mail by turns, from Winchester to Ft. Wayne, by way of Deerfield, Hawkins’ Cabin, New Corydon, and Thompson’s Prairie. One evening, in the month of Feb. 1834, Samuel reached his mother’s cabin on his re-turn from Ft. Wayne, while a heavy snow was falling. It was already ten inches deep. While the family were enjoying themselves around the fire, a rap was heard at the door, and, on its being opened, eight negroes, six men and two women, presented themselves, and begged for a night’s lodging. Their request was granted. They said they were going to work on the canal, which was being built at Fort Wayne. The next morning they started on their way, northward, and Samuel Hawkins went to Winchester, with his mail. There he learned that the fugitives were slaves, and there he met their pursuers, who asked him if he had “met” the slaves. He replied that he had not, which was technically, true, but misleading to the manhunters. The reward for their apprehension was one thousand dollars, and he could have had it, by reporting what he knew. He said, if they would undertake that long, dangerous, journey, on foot, and thro’ the deep snow, to gain their liberty, he could not find it in his heart to betray them, into bondage. When the pursuers were put on the wrong track, he returned, and found the negroes, and told them that their masters were after them, to run for their lives. One of the women, who was old and feeble, uttered a wild shriek, and fell in a swoon. The leader of the band said, “Look well to your priming boys,” as they were heavily armed. Then turning to the young mail carrier he said, “Young man, our blood may be poured out like water, but none of us will be taken alive.” Hawkins hastily relieved their fears, got off his horse, helped put the fainting woman on his saddle, aided her as far as his time would permit, and giving them directions, returned to his route, and never heard from them more.
Another similar anecdote, was told by B. W. Hawkins, Samuel’s

page 313

brother. In the fall of 1833, while he was carrying the mail, four ne-groes called at his mother’s, to stay all night. They were finely dressed, and had plenty of money; said they were from Richmond, and going to Ft. Wayne, to work on the canal. The next morning, Benjamin started to Fort Wayne, and the negroes started, also. When he got there, he found the master of the fugitives waiting for him. When he found who the young man was, he treated him very kindly, kept him in his room at the hotel, told him he was his cousin, and asked him all about his family. The man was Dr. Campbell, proprietor of the celebrated Hot Springs, of Kentucky. He told the mail-carrier of his loss, that they were his musicians at the Springs, played for his guests during the season, and the rest of the year went where they pleased, and were allowed to keep what they made. He told Benjamin, that there was a reward of $800.00 for them, and he could have it, if he would apprehend them, and report to him. Benjamin said nothing. The next day, on his return, he found the negroes, and told them they were runaway slaves, which they denied. But he told them who they were, and where they belonged; that he did not believe in slavery, hoped they would get away, and offered to show them another road, which would take them around Fort Wayne, which he did. Seven years afterwards, his uncle. Bird Hawkins, was discussing the slavery question, with Benjamin’s brother, Joseph, and told of the runaway musicians, how they reached Canada, joined the king’s army, and wrote to their master, that they would not have left him, but that they were afraid that when he died they would be sold. Dr. Campbell went to Canada, found them, offered to sign their freedom papers, and pay them more wages, if they would return. He was arrested, for trying to persuade the king’s soldiers to desert, the penalty of which was death. He sent to Kentucky for his lawyer, who finally got him clear, but it cost him $1,000.00. Benjamin heard the story, but never gave a hint that he knew anything about the case.

Clementine Railey, History of the House of Ochiltree of Ayrshire, Scotland: with the genealogy of the families of whose who came to America, and some of the allied families, 1124-1916 (Sterling, Kansas: Bulletin Printing Company, 1916), page 312-313; digital images, Archive.org, http://www.archive.org viewed online 18 October 2022.