Eliza Harris

One of history’s most famous fugitives raced through Wayne County with her baby in a desperate bid for freedom.

The woman would become a major figure in 19th Century literature and her story would have such impact that when Abraham Lincoln met the author of the book she was a main character in at the start of the Civil War, he called it “the book that made this great war.”

The book was Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the woman was escaped slave Eliza Harris, who later became immortalized not only by Harriet Beecher Stowe but also by poet Frances E. Watkins.

Fearing her baby was to be sold in a Kentucky slave sale, Eliza made her break the winter of 1838 with her child, and fled over a porous ice flow on the Ohio River. She broke through five times and slid the baby forward to keep him from drowning.

According to the poem:

Aided by Heaven she gained a free shore,

Where the friends of humanity opened their door.

Newport [Fountain City] native William Lacey was on the north side of the river watching for escaped slaves. He saw them, and mother and child were directed to Indiana along the Underground Railroad… and through Richmond, a main artery to the north.

Eliza Harris’ name lives on in the literature of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The spirit of Wayne County residents who made it possible also lives.


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2012© - all rights reserved • Updated
June 19, 2012