Colonel John Stone of Belpre, Ohio
Henry Robert Burke
People who settled in or born in southeastern Ohio in the United States Northwest Territory were a major influence in the abolition of slavery in the United States. In 1777, early in Revolutionary War for independence from Britain, the fledging New England state of New Hampshire began the process to abolish slavery in that state.
From 1777 through 1803, processes for abolishing slavery was initiated in all the New England States. When the Ordinance of 1787 was passed by the United States Congress, Article 6 of that ordinance prohibited "involuntary servitude" i.e. slavery, in the Northwest Territory. When settlers from New England began settlement of the Northwest Territory at Marietta and Washington County, Ohio in 1788 they brought their desire to abolish slavery in the United States with them.
This set up the Ohio River as the border between Virginia, where slavery was legal and the Northwest Territory where slavery was illegal. This situation was the source of instant political division in the newly founded United States, which had not existed under English Colonial rule. Many people who literally spent their lives carrying on the fight to abolish slavery in the United States settled in or were born in Washington County, Ohio at an early period in the history of the United States. One of these individuals was John Stone.
John Stone was born in Belpre, Washington County, Ohio on June 23rd 1795. He was the son of Revolutionary War Veteran Captain Jonathan Stone. He inherited his father's homestead on the Ohio River at Belpre across the river from Parkersburg, (western) Virginia. Before the Mexican War he was appointed Colonel in the Ohio Militia.
John Stone's farm is located right across the Ohio River from it confluence with the Kanawha River. The Kanawha River was an Underground Railroad trail in (western) Virginia. Very early in John Stone's life a slave from Wood County, Virginia crossed the Ohio River onto his farm seeking refuge. Slave owners were close behind capturing and returning the errant slave back to the plantation from where he had escaped. This incident may have been the catalyst that ignited John Stone hatred of slavery and slave owners alike! He vowed to help every slave that came his way, start their journey to freedom in Canada.
Before 1820, John Stone and a group of citizens in Washington County, Ohio joined forces to relay fugitive slaves north toward Canada. This activity spread rapidly down along the Ohio River and became known in United States history as the Underground Railroad. John Stone made no secret about his anti-slavery sentiments, but he kept the details about his Underground Railroad activities confined within his close circle of associates. Slave owners in Wood County, Virginia knew about John Stone and hated him, but they were never able to prove a case against him.
Based on his outspoken dislike for slavery, the Virginia Militia once thought that he intended to lead an invasion force of Abolitionists into Virginia to free slaves. They positioned a canon on the Virginia shore of the Ohio River and aimed it at John Stones house on the Ohio shore. Partly for the sake of annoyance John Stone then constructed a fake cannon from a length of wooden pipe and an upside down butter churn! In 1845, this nearly caused a Civil War!
John Stone lived to see the end of slavery in the United States. In January 1884, Colonel John Stone died peacefully on his farm along the Ohio River where he was born and lived out his life as an Underground Railroad Conductor!