Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The grave of Sara Lucinda "Lucy" Bagby Johnson at Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.
Lucy was a descendant of Africans and born into slavery about 1843 in Virginia. Almost nothing is known about her early life, her parents, or where she was born. What is known is that John Goshorn purchased Lucy on January 16, 1852, in Richmond, Virginia, from a slave trader named Robert Alois. Her price was $600 ($17, 275 in 2017 dollars). On November 8, 1857, Goshorn gave her to his son, William Goshorn.
In the fall of 1860, Lucy escaped via the Underground Railroad to Beaver, Pennsylvania. She then settled in Pittsburgh. The Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 left her at risk, however. So she told everyone that William's daughter, Isabella, had taken her up to Pennsylvania and freed her.
In November 1860, Lucy moved to Cleveland and found work as a domestic servant in the home of Congressman-elect A. G. Riddle.
On January 16, 1861, William Goshorn arrived in Cleveland to reclaim Lucy. He obtained the assistance of two U.S. Marshals (who were bound by law to assist him). Lucy was arrested and taken to jail.
William E. Ambush, chairman of the Fugitive Aid Society, raised $1,200 over the next five days to purchase Lucy from Goshorn and set her free, but Goshorn refused to sell her.
On January 21, Lucy was brought before Probate Judge Daniel R. Tilden. Cleveland was a hotbed of antislavery activity, and antislavery supporters filled the courtroom and the street outside the courthouse. Rufus P. Spalding, a former Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court; C.W. Palmer, a noted local attorney who'd be elected to the City Council in 1854; and A. G Riddle served as her legal counsel. They argued that Lucy could not be held in the city jail, as she was property and not a criminal. But Judge Tilden ruled that the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act made it a crime to escape from bondage, and thus Lucy could be jailed. There was no argument to be made against the Fugitive Slave Act: Tilden handed Lucy over to Goshorn.
As Goshorn's carriage rolled through the city streets, a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 wept and shouted at Goshorn to stop and free Lucy. At the train station, police struggled to hold back the mob. An elderly woman threw pepper in the eyes of a police officer, and was hauled off. The judge, an abolitionist, fined her a penny. Goshorn took Lucy by train to Wheeling, Virginia. A train conductor overheard some men plotting to rescue Lucy when the train stopped at the Ohio-Virginia border. The train's engineer thwarted the rescue attempt by skipping the scheduled stop.
The Civil War broke out just days after Lucy's recapture. Goshorn enslited in the Confederate Army and went to war with Lucy in tow. But in 1862, Goshorn was captured by Union soldiers in Tennessee. Lucy was freed, and returned to Pittsburgh. She married an African American Union soldier, George Johnson, and the two lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years. Around 1900, Lucy and her husband move to Cleveland.
In 1904, Lucy was invited to attend the Early Settlers' Association annual meeting in Pittsburgh. As she mounted the stage to be introduce, the band struck up "Dixie." The crowd rose to its feet and cheered her.
Sara Lucinda Bagby Johnson died in Cleveland in July 1906. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery, then the city's most famous and popular burying ground. Her family could not afford to purchase a headstone, and her grave went unmarked for the next 105 years. In 2011, a group of local citizens purchased a gravestone for Lucy, and maintain it with planted flowers to this day.