FREEDOM’S LIGHT, Pt. 1- Kelly Sagert

March 17, 2009 at 11:03 pm 11 comments

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Freedom’s Light: A Stop Along the Underground Railroad. Part 1 by Kelly Boyer Sagert

This past year, I wrote my first play, titled Freedom’s Light: A Stop Along the Underground Railroad. This play was commissioned by the Lorain County Metro Parks and will be produced by TrueNorth Cultural Arts in May 2009. Ticket information is at the end of this post.

Freedom’s Light is set in 1859, an exquisitely dangerous time in American history, as a whole, but particularly for Lorain County.

In retrospect, the year 1850 was a pivotal point in our nation’s history. By that time, there were clearly defined “slave states” in the United States, in which slavery was legal, and clearly defined “free states,” where slavery was forbidden. By 1850, the raw tensions between people who believed in slavery and those who wanted to see slavery abolished (the abolitionists) were nearing their breaking point.

During this excruciating difficult time, the United States Congress passed a law that revised the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 – strengthening both the rights of the slave owners and increasing the punishments for people who attempted to help fugitive slaves. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, anyone suspected of providing aid to a runaway slave – meaning food or shelter or any other type of assistance – could receive six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

What made this law especially unbearable to people who were against slavery was two-fold. This law:

•gave slave owners permission to send slave catchers and bounty hunters anywhere in the United States to retrieve runaways – including in free states such as Ohio

•required (required!) private citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves – even in free states such as Ohio

Some people were frightened away by the criminal penalties associated with this law and they stopped helping runaways. Others became even more outraged and they continued to defy both the federal government and slave owners. A “hot spot” for this defiance was Lorain County – and, on September 13, 1858, an event occurred that put Lorain County in the national spotlight.

Before I share what happened, here is what author Nat Brandt had to say in his outstanding book, The Town that Started the Civil War.

“This is a story about courage–about physical courage and moral courage . . . when a relative newcomer, an escaped slave, was trapped and spirited away, they left their shops, their homes, and their classrooms without hesi¬tation, without debate, without regard to consequences, to rescue a man whom most of them did not even know.”

This story began in the city of Oberlin. An escaped slave named John Price had traveled north as far as Oberlin, where he decided to settle down and do odd jobs to earn a living. In September 1858, two slave catchers tricked Price into entering their carriage by promising him a job of picking potatoes. They planned to take Price to a hotel in Wellington (located where the Wellington Public Library is today) and then catch a morning train back to Kentucky where they would collect their reward for retrieving and returning Price.

They made it to the hotel safely – but, once ensconced inside, they found themselves surrounded by outraged people, both black and white, who were not going to allow the slave catchers to return Price to his master. When peaceful negotiations failed, the mob stormed the hotel and freed Price; they then hid Price until it was safe for him to safely travel to Canada. Energized by the success of the rescue, Oberlin residents paraded back from Wellington, “shouting, singing, rejoicing in the glad results.”

Retribution swiftly fell in Lorain County, however, as 37 men were indicted on charges of helping a slave and 20 of them were jailed for what became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue. Post-rescue, even the federal government was keeping a close eye on people suspected of assisting fugitive slaves in Lorain County.

In the spring of 1859, one of the leaders of the rescue, Simeon Bushnell, was preparing to go on trial; he had backed down not one bit, writing that, “They may do their worst, and when I am again out, I will rescue the first slave I get a chance to rescue.”

In Lorain County, this was an explosive time of passion and fury and danger – and this is also the time in which my play, Freedom’s Light, is set. Historical characters include Robbins and Eliza Burrell, who lived in Sheffield Lake – and who refused to stop helping slaves, no matter how high the stakes and no matter how severe the consequences. Federal marshals would raid their home multiple times in hopes of catching the couple breaking the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 . . . but, they never could.

If you’re interested in discovering how we think the Burrells succeeded in their mission of compassion in the most treacherous of times, Freedom’s Light will run the following dates and times at French Creek:

•Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m.
•Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m.
•Sunday, May 3 at 3:00 p.m.

•Thursday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m.
•Friday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m.
•Saturday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m.
•Sunday, May 10 at 3:00 p.m.

•Thursday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m.
•Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m.
•Saturday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m.
•Sunday, May 17 at 3:00 p.m.

ED NOTE: click on the TrueNorth Cultural Arts link up top and then scroll down, you’ll see where you can pre-order tickets.

Entry filed under: Arts, history, writers and writing.

Paula’s Perspective _ Lorain City Council March 16th Charleston Village Letter- MJ

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  March 17, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for doing this!

  • 2. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  March 17, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    As an FYI, if you click on the TrueNorth Cultural Arts link up top and then scroll down, you’ll see where you can pre-order tickets.

  • 3. thatwoman  |  March 17, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    You are most welcome and THANK YOU – I added the pre order information to the bottom of the post Cheers Loraine

  • 4. Mark  |  March 18, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Sounds exciting, Kellly! Looking forward to it!

  • 5. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  March 18, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks, much!!!

  • 6. anne molnar  |  March 18, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I WILL BE ATTENDING. Will let you know the Sunday that I will be free. saw Judge Ewers perform in I Do I Do. It was great. Lookig forward to Feedom’s Light,.

  • 7. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  March 19, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I saw I Do, I Do, as well (the last day of the performance) and you’re right, Anne. It was terrific!

    Glad to hear you’ll be attending Freedom’s Light, too . . .

  • 8. Bette Lou Higgins  |  March 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    As you know Eden Valley Enterprises will be joining you and True North in telling the story of the Underground Railroad in Ohio. We will be presenting NEXT STOP, FREEDOM! on May 2 at 2p.m. The program takes place in 1899 and I will be portraying Sarah Comstock who grew up in a station on the Underground Railroad and has now written a book of stories about it. I will be joined by Meryl Johnson who will follow Sarah’s storytelling with songs from the era. I’m excited to join you and True North and the Lorain County Metroparks as we bring this story to the public. ALL of our ancestors (runaways and “helpers”) were truly brave to fight for freedom this way!

  • 9. Kelly Boyer Sagert  |  March 19, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks for adding that, Bette Lou! That will be great.

  • […] NOTE You can also read the background on “Freedom’s Light” by Kelly Sagert here CASTING CALL From Rick Fortney of TrueNorth Cultural […]

  • 11. Why should I Care?- Play Ball « That Woman’s Weblog  |  April 28, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    […] last year Kelly had an article about Rube Foster . Kelly, who has in the past year also written Freedom’s Light: A Stop Along The Underground Railroad certainly has a postive way with words as Mark has with his camera […]

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March 2009

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