Blennerhassett Island Plantation
Copyright 1999. Henry Robert Burke
Harman Blennerhassett was born in 1767 of Irish parentage, in Hampshire, England, as his mother was there on a visit. Harman studied law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and was admitted to practice in 1790. In 1796, his father died and he inherited a fortune of $100.000. He then married his sister's daughter Margaret Agnew. According to some historians, in 1797, the Blennerhassets were forced to flee Ireland because of their scandalous marriage, and they came to America. They were received among the wealthy class of Americans, and traveled to Marietta where they spent the winter looking for a property to buy. That spring the Blennerhassetts purchased the upper portion of an island located in the Ohio River just below present day Parkersburg, (West) Virginia. Blennerhassett's Island consisted of one-hundred and seventy-four acres then in the possession of Elijah Backus, and bought for the sum of $4,500. The island was originally owned by General George Washington.
Cajoe Phillips was born in Tidewater Virginia around 1740. He claimed to have been personally acquainted with , and Cajoe also claimed to have fought with the 16,000 American and French forces under Washington's command at the siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis, the British commander, made several vain attempts to break through the siege, but on October 19, 1781, he was obliged to surrender.
Contrary to George Washington's decree that slaves who fought with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War (1776-1883) against England would be freed; Cajoe was not granted his freedom after his military service, instead Cajoe he was eventually sold by his master, to a slave dealer. Blennerhassett bought Cajoe Phillips at the slave auction market in Richmond Virginia around 1799 along with some other slaves which he brought back to his plantation. Cajoe's main job on the plantation was pulling the rope that propelled the ferry back and forth between the Virginia shore and the island plantation. Later in life, Cajoe reported that Blennerhassett was also a slave trader, and he treated his slaves cruelly.
In 1806, Harman Blennerhassett, who had a penchant for bad business deals, was introduced to Aaron Burr, who then visited Blennerhassett Island Plantation. Subsequently Blennerhassett loaned Burr a substantial amount of money for the so-called "Burr Conspiracy", reported to have been an ill fated plot by Burr and his associates, to take over some Spanish/Mexican Territory and form an independent country. Most details of the alleged plot remain a mystery, because Burr never did fully reveal his intentions. In a suspicious allegation, James Wilkinson, one of Burr's close associates in the project, denounced him to President Thomas Jefferson, who had Burr arrested in 1806. Alexander Henderson of Wood County, Virginia was a witness by the posecution.Burr was indicted for treason, but after a six-month trial in Richmond, Virginia, he was acquitted on September 1, 1807.
Harman Blennerhassett was also indicted, and while never convicted he didn't fare as well as Burr. Blennerhassett was held in Richmond, Virginia, as a material witness for 53 days, before finally being released. During his time in jail, the Virginia Militia occupied his island plantation, and the plantation home was burned. Some historians blame the fire on the Virginia Militia, while others blame a female slave.
Harman Blennerhassett never returned to his plantation. The Blennerhassetts abandoned the island, and Cajoe Phillips, already advanced in age, simply left the plantation and settled across the Ohio River near Waterford, Washington County, Ohio. There he established the Waterford Underground Railroad Station and lived out the rest of his long life span assisting fugitive slaves from his native Virginia, make the trip to Canada. Micah "Cajoe" Phillips didn't quite live to see the end to slavery. He died at the age of 120 years, on December 8, 1861. He rests under a tombstone on a quiet knoll on the farm he once owned near Waterford.