Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Slave Fugitives: Margaret and Robert Garner; Murderer?

The Ohio River froze over the winter of 1855-56.  Margaret and her family, husband and four children and Robert's parents took advantage, and even though the river was carefully patrolled, they managed to escape into the Cincinnati area.  However they were seen as the crossed the river.
They went to the home of free blacks, the Kites, family of Margaret.  However they were worried they may be tracked to the home, so Elijah Kite went to visit Levi Coffin, prominent Under-ground Railroad supervisor.  Coffin advised him to move the family to a black neighborhood as quickly as possible while he made plans to get them north.
However these actions were too late.  By the time Kite returned home the home was being surrounded by their owners, the law and proslavery men.  The Fugitive Slave Act put all the power in the hands of the owners.  Margaret and her husband decided to fight rather than return to slavery.  "Mother, before my children shall be taken back to Kentucky, I will kill every one of them!" Margaret announced to her mother-in-law.  Robert shot the first deputy that entered the home, wounding him.  However others followed and overcame Robert.  Margaret grabbed a knife and killed her two and a half year old girl; she tried to kill the other children and herself but was overpowered.
This case then became a legal struggle.  Ohio wanted to prosecute the murder case, so in court the horrors of slavery could be exposed.  Kentucky wanted the return of property, and the slave owner would determine what to do.
The court ruled in favor of the owners, and their owner quickly old the family to others.  However, in being transported to their new home, they were traveling by boat.   Margaret grabbed the baby and flung herself into the water in a suicide attempt.  She was dragged from the water, but her baby was not. 

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