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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Historical Markers > Find a Marker > Oswell Wright Oswell Wright

Oswell WrightOswell Wright

Near the corner of Maple Street and Chestnut Street, Corydon (Harrison County, Indiana)

Installed 2008 Indiana Historical Bureau, Division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology, IDNR; Leora Brown School, and Community Unit

ID#: 31.2008.1

Text

Side one:

Born in Maryland early 1810s. Bought land in Corydon, May 1849. In November 1857, Kentuckians arrested Wright and two white men, Charles and David Bell; they were indicted and jailed in Kentucky for aiding escape of fugitive slave. Bells rescued in jailbreak 1858. Wright convicted May 1859; completed sentence in Kentucky Penitentiary; released June 1864. (356 characters/spaces)

Side two:

Wright, a free black, lost his own freedom for helping a slave escape. Died in Corydon March 31, 1875. (102 characters/spaces) The Underground Railroad refers to a widespread network of diverse people in the nineteenth century who aided slaves escaping to freedom from the southern U.S.

 

Annotated Text

Side 1
Born in Maryland early 1810s.(1) Bought land in Corydon, May 1849.(2) In November 1857, Kentuckians arrested Wright and two white men, Charles and David Bell;(3) they were indicted and jailed in Kentucky for aiding escape of fugitive slave.(4) Bells rescued in jailbreak 1858.(5) Wright convicted May 1859;(6) completed sentence in Kentucky Penitentiary; released June 1864(7). (356 characters/spaces)

Side Two
Wright, a free black,(8) lost his own freedom for helping a slave escape.(9) Died in Corydon March 31, 1875(10). (102 characters/spaces) The Underground Railroad refers to a widespread network of diverse people in the nineteenth century who aided slaves escaping to freedom from the southern U.S.

Notes

(1) According to the 1850 Census, Wright was born in Maryland and was 39 years old. His age means that he was born in 1811. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census (1850), Schedule 1, Free Inhabitants, Corydon, Harrison County, Indiana, p. 569, (B060717). According to the records of the Kentucky State Penitentiary, Wright was born in Maryland and was 45 years old in 1859. Wright's age indicates that he was born in 1814. Register of Prisoners Confined in the Kentucky Penitentiary on and after the First Day March 1855, Kentucky Department of Archives (B060766). A picture of Wright's headstone indicates that he was approximately ninety years old when he died in 1875 (B060811). This date is not close the dates provided in the documents produced during Wright's life. The Bureau is estimating his birth in the early 1810s based on the 1850 Census and the records of the Kentucky State Penitentiary because Wright himself is the most likely source for this information. The information about his birth on his headstone may not have come from Wright and may be an estimate made by an acquaintance.

(2) By May 1849, Wright had moved to Corydon, Indiana and bought land. Deed, F. Leslie to Oswell Wright, May 25, 1849, Harrison County Deed Records, Vol. U, September 1848-September 1849, Indiana State Library (B060715).
Wright sold and repurchased lot 128 in Corydon several times in the span of 15 months, finally selling the land in August 1850 to Hugh Neely. The Bureau could not locate any records that explain why Wright conducted so many transactions with lot 128. Deed, Oswell Wright to Hugh Neely, June 9, 1849, Harrison County Deed Records, Vol. U, September 1848-September 1849, Indiana State Library (B060716); Deed, Hugh Neely to Oswell Wright, December 25, 1849, Harrison County Deed Records, Vol. V, September 1849-June 1850, Indiana State Library (B060723); Deed, Oswald [sic] Wright to Hugh Neely, August 28, 1850, Harrison County Deed Records, Vol. W, June 1850-July 1851, Indiana State Library (B060724).

(3) Supposedly after recruiting David and Charles Bell to assist, Wright procured two horses and made his way to the Bell house on November 7, 1857; allegedly to help the wife of a fugitive slave named Charles, to escape. Charles Bell crossed the Ohio River in a skiff in order to pick up Charles' escaping wife. Once Charles Bell reached Kentucky, Kentuckians arrested him. A "posse" of Kentuckians then crossed the Ohio; making their way to the Bell house. The Kentuckians immediately arrested Wright because he did not have his free papers. Members of the "posse" told David Bell that some of his horses were at the river and he needed to retrieve them. Once David Bell was below the high water line (Kentucky claimed jurisdiction to this point on the Indiana side of the Ohio), he was arrested. "Excitement in Brandenburg," Harrison Democrat, November 17, 1857 (B060761). This article is a reprint of a story that first appeared in the Louisville Journal.

(4) The "posse" took the Bells and Wright to the Brandenburg, Kentucky jail. "Excitement in Brandenburg," Harrison Democrat, November 17, 1857 (B060761).
On November 25, 1857, the Commonwealth of Kentucky indicted Wright in the Commonwealth against David Bell & o [sic] for "enticing a slave to leave his master" and in the Commonwealth against Oswell Wright (Free Man of Color) for "furnishing a forged pass to a slave." Meade County Circuit Court, Brandenburg, Kentucky, Order Book L, 1858-1860 (transcription), 210 (B060978).

(5) Horace and John Bell, David Bell's other sons, and a "Negro boy" arrived in Brandenburg between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm. They made their way to the jail and demanded the keys to David and Charles Bell's cell. David and Charles Bell were removed from the prison and given revolvers. The group raced back to its skiff and was on its way back to Indiana before the Kentuckians could muster any serious resistance. Letter, Collins Fitch to Governor Charles Slaughter Morehead, July 31, 1858, Governor Morehead Papers, Public Records Division, Commonwealth of Kentucky (B060767).

(6) Meade County Circuit Court, Brandenburg, Kentucky, Order Book L, 1858-1860, 217 (B060865).

(7) Wright began his five-year prison term in the Kentucky Penitentiary on June 7, 1859; he was released after serving his full term on June 7, 1864. Register of Prisoners Confined in the Kentucky Penitentiary on and after the First Day March 1855, Kentucky Department of Archives (B060766).

(8)The Bureau has not located any records that indicate Wright's status as a free man or a slave around the time of his birth. By the time he lived in Indiana, all the records referred to him as a free man. Wright was listed by Harrison County officials in the Register of Negros and Mulattoes, which indicates that he was considered a free man in Indiana. Register of Negroes and Mulattoes in Harrison County, Indiana: 1857-1863 (B060727) and (B060771).

(9) Register of Prisoners Confined in the Kentucky Penitentiary on and after the First Day March 1855, Kentucky Department of Archives (B060766). The Kentucky Penitentiary records indicate that Wright was in jail for "enticing slaves."

(10) Frederick Porter Griffin, ed., Cedar Hill Cemetery, Harrison County, Corydon, Indiana: Record of Plats, Lots, and Graves Complete to Jan. 1, 1941 (1974) (B060745). Wright is located in plat 1, row 3, 324.
A picture sent by the marker's applicant, Maxine Brown, confirms Wright's headstone in Cedar Hill and the date of his death (B060811).