Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thankful Thursday - Daniel D. Lightner, The Abolitionist Part II

Daniel Dinkle Lightner and Polly Seward (sitting). Elvira Lightner (Hull) Allen and her daughter Mary Florence Hull Johnson. Taken 1879. Courtesy Bertha F. Johnson Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.
In part I I described how I learned that my ancestor Daniel Lightner was an abolitionist in Indiana and the ways the family were able to hide the slaves they secreted to safety. Today I want to share some of the close calls Daniel had.

In a letter to an unknown author, Daniel's daughter Elvira shares her memories of her family's foray into saving slaves.

"It seems that they were protected by unseen forces. Father was shot at several times; one time a mob of proslavery men heard he was coming home alone from Kokomo, and taking a rope, secreted themselves at a turn of the road with the full determination to hang him. After he had gone two or three miles something impressed him that there was danger ahead, and he went into the woods and cut him a hickory handspike, leaving knots on the end, and went back to the road and cautiously continued his journey. He saw the men before they saw him and went out of the road into the woods and came up behind them, and coming suddenly among them called them by name, and seeing the rope and knowing they were men who would be mean enough to do murder, he told them he guessed they would better put up their rope and go home, as he was going that way, and did not propose to be hindered. The men looked, as he said, dumbfounded and frightened, and did not offer to lay hands on him."

The Lightner home was also a dangerous place to be. Elvira says, "Several times when he [Lightner] would be out after dark, he was shot at and had stones hurled at him that would have killed him had they hit him. Twice a board in the fence was broken by stones that just missed him."

Throughout the letter, Elvira makes it clear that her parents did this work under the belief that they were guarded or protected by God. It is hard for me to imagine such hatred that would drive people to try to kill someone. It is also hard to imagine the constant underlying fear the Lightner family must have carried. Yet they did carry on.

In my next installment I'll share why Daniel Lightner was so passionate about abolitionism.

The photo and letter excerpts featured here are courtesy The Bertha F. Johnson Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.


Wendy said...

That's an amazing story. You must be very proud to come from such strong and brave and committed stock. Clearly hiding slaves was not for the weak.

Heather Kuhn Roelker said...

No, Wendy, not at all for the feint of heart. I was surprised at the level of hatred so far to the north, but I suppose I shouldn't be. There are stupid people everywhere. Yes, I am very proud!