How Sally Henry Served Justice to
Slave Catchers, While her Family Hid Freedom Seekers in her Attic.
The situation was desperate for Peter Dent, a free Black man, as well as his family of 10 and another friend he had just freed from enslavement across the river.
He'd risked his freedom and worse, going into Kentucky on a Fall day in 1844, to free family and friend. The freedom seekers, too, risked horrible tortures as well for attempting escape. But enslavement was a bitter and evil pill, and the taste of freedom was too sweet.
Yet, despite his success in bringing this group across the river,
they became trapped on the riverfront in Ripley by a $2,200 reward, and every slave catcher in three counties hoping to make a fortune.
For three days, to avoid capture, the freedom seekers went back and forth between the homes of various members of the Red Oak Church and the Ripley Antislavery Society, including William Minnaw, Mary Pogue, James McCoy, William McCoy, and William Baird — with slave catchers in hot pursuit.
Finally, one James Henry, an individual as described by R.C. Rankin, as "known and trusted to them" appeared to the group and volunteered to take the
freedom seekers in the upper floor of his home. After all, he explained he was feeding slave catchers in his home, so his place would be the last place they'd look.
And that is where Sally Henry comes in. As the 1827 court notice (below) shows, she was the wife of James Henry, and a relative of William Baird. In fact, a sister. The whole escape plot hinged on her family relations.
So it must be asked: Who did the cooking? Who kept a steady hand and steely gaze while she served slave catchers? Whose children were sleeping upstairs with the Dent Family? And finally, who helped put this part of the scheme together?
After what must have been a very intense evening, the Dent party was taken to
Col. William McIntire's house in Adams County and later to Rocky Fork Presbyterian Church in Highland County, "where they remained until the following spring.”
This July 18, 1827 legal notice
against the estate of Samuel Moore,
an abolitionist associated with the early Church, shows a small part of the intermarried network of abolitionists that existed
between Ripley and Red Oak at that time,
including participants in the Dent family escape:
William Baird, James Henry and his wife,
Sally Baird Henry.
Information on this page is based on the research of Déanda Johnson, National Parks Service Historian, as part of the Church application for Network to Freedom Site status. For a copy of the research, including citations, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org