Determined to seek a home in the North.
by Lisa Y. Henderson
A Semi-Centennial Anniversary. A pleasant company, numbering about forty persons, assempled on Monday afternoon, August 15th, at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Copeland, a little southwest of Oberlin, in response to invitations to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary or golden wedding of the host and hostess. Congratulatory remarks were made by Hon. James Monroe, and prayer offered by Dea. W. W. Wright, after which a bountiful supper was served. The presents consisted of about $50.00 in gold coin, two gold-lined silver cups, numerous floral offerings, and other articles.
John C. Copeland and Delilah Evans were married in Hillsboro, North Carolina, August 15th, 1831, and settled in Raleigh, the capital of the State, which had previously been the home of Mr. Copeland, and where he labored for seven years as carpenter on the State House. Mr. Copeland was born a slave, but at the age of seven years was made free by the will of his deceased master, who was also his father. Mrs. Copeland was never a slave. She is a sister of our fellow townsman, Mr. W. B. Evans.
In the year 1843 Mr. Copeland, Allen Jones and John Lane left North Carolina with their families, determined to seek a home in the North. Traveling with teams, they crossed the Ohio river at Cincinnati, and by the advice of Abolitionist friends, started for New Richmond, Indiana. When within five miles of that place they were hailed by a farmer by the name of Tibbets, a friend of the colored man, and invited to stop and rest. It being near the close of the week, they reamined over the Sabbath, and by invitation attended an Abolitionist meeting in New Richmond. Having been informed by the slaveholders of the South that the Abolitionists in the North were accustomed to capturing colored men and selling them into slavery, they were somewhat reluctant about entering the room where the meeting was held, but after much urging entered and took a seat near the door, where they could escape if indications of danger appeared. They listened to the speaking and were much pleased with their new-found friends, and greatly relieve in their minds to learn that the stories told them by the North Carolina slaveholders were untrue. Here they became acquainted with Amos Dresser; a graduate of Oberlin College, class of ’39, who advised them to locate in Oberlin, where the slave-holders would not kidnap their children as they were in a habit of doing along the Ohio river. With written directions from Mr. Dresser at to the route to be travelled, the three men mounted their horses and started for the colored man’s land of promise. As an illustration of the feeling of the people in regard to Oberlin at that day, Mr. Copeland relates that when within twenty miles of the place they stopped at a tannary to inquire the way, and were told with oaths that there was no such place, that it had “sunk.” Mr. C. replied that he “would go on and look into the chasm.”
They arrived at their destination on Sunday and were much surprised as they passed up the street to see two young men, one white and the other colored, walking arm in arm. They were greeted by some citizens, who inquired why they were riding on Sunday. They answered that they were seeking a home for themselves and families. One of their number was taken in charge by the late Dr. Dascomb, the other two by citizens.
They soon decided to make this their home. Messrs. Copeland and Lane returned to New Richmond for the three families, Mr. Jones sending word that he “had found a paradise and was going to stay.”
For thirty-nine years Mr. Copeland has lived in Oberlin and vicinity; has reared a family of eight children — two daughters and three sons still survive, all of whom have recieved a fair education. Laura A. has for eleven years been teaching in Indiana. Mary, who has also been a teacher, now resides with her parents. William is a lawyer in Arkansas, Henry and Frederick are carpenters, the former living in Kansas, and the latter in Oberlin. The eldest son, John, studied for a time in the college, and started for Detroit to engage in teaching but at Cleveland met with John Brown and became one of his associates in the ill-fated attack upon Harper’s Ferry in 1839, who executed along with the great martyr, and his remains turned over to medical students for dissection, the efforts of Hon. James Monroe and others to recover his body for Christian burial proving unavailing. A number of letters written by the young man while awaiting execution, are preserved by his parents as sacred mementoes.
Mr. Copeland is now 73 years of age and his wife 72. The generous response in the way of presents shows the esteem in which they are held by their friends.
Oberlin Weekly News, Aug. 19, 1881