Eliza and Dunmore Gwinn, two of the possibly thirty slaves who were freed by Moncure Conway and brought to Yellow Springs in 1862.

Eliza and Dunmore Gwinn, two of the possibly thirty slaves who were freed by Moncure Conway and brought to Yellow Springs in 1862. Photograph courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College.

 

I have been wanting to sit down and write this post for over a week, but have just not had the time to dedicate to it.  In 1862, Moncure D. Conway brought a number of slaves from his family’s plantation to Yellow Springs to settle and begin a new life of freedom.  These individuals became known as the Conway Colony. The estimates regarding the number of people in the group vary anywhere from thirty to sixty. Part of my hesitation for writing is because I want to learn more about the people who relocated to Yellow Springs.  Plenty has been written on Moncure Conway, but there is little detailed information on the lives of the former slaves.  While searching for some details about the lives of the former slaves, I stumbled upon this article from the Yellow Springs News that was published August 15, 1929.

First Settling of Slaves Here
Article Taken From the Files of the “News” of Nov. 8, 1907.

Moncure D. Conway, a man of high culture and advanced thought and for many years a writer and lecturer of celebrity, came of a wealthy family of strong slave-holding proclivities in Stafford county, Virginia in that part of the state where wealth, refinement and ease had long existed.  His father Peyton Conway, owned broad estates and many slaves He (sic) was an aristocrat of the true Virginian type.

Anxious that his son Moncure, of whom he was proud, should have good educational advantages, he sent him to Dickenson College, where he graduated and began the study of law which he soon gave up and went into the Methodist ministry, preaching in Maryland, on the Baltimore circuit.  During this time which was in the early 50’s he was writing articles strongly supporting extreme southern opinions for a Richmond, Va. paper.  All know that this was a time when feeling between North and South was waxing very warm.  But for some reason his sentiments underwent a radical change.  He left the Methodist ministry and entered the Harvard Divinity School at Cambridge, where he graduated in 1854.  When he returned to his Virginia home the bitter sectional feeling, had grown still stronger among his friends and relatives.  They were incensed that one, who possessed such intellectual power, and who had until now championed the cause of the South, should have gone over to the enemy. The stern pride of the father could not brook it.  As he expressed it his own son had gone against him and he told him that unless he changed his opinions he must leave the paternal roof.  And so, with the ban of the father upon him the gifted and almost idolized son left the home of his childhood followed by the prayers and love of his father’s many servants.

He went to Washington where he was made pastor of a Unitarian church, but soon it was decided there that his opinions on slavery were too strong and he was dismissed from the pulpit.

Young as he was his brave utterances upon the questions of the day were making him famous.  In 1856 he was called to fill the pulpit of the Unitarian church in Cincinnati.  He delivered lectures all through the West.  Upon invitation of Horace Mann he lectured at Antioch and in 1857 attended its first commencement.

From Cincinnati he went to the pulpit of the Unitarian church in New York, and from the stand point of one thoroughly acquainted with his subject continued to lecture on the subject of slavery and its effects on the South.

During this eventful period he tenderly remembered home and kindred.  The war came.  Great battles were fought.  Then soon after Antietam came Lincoln’s famous proclamation, declaring the immediate freedom of the great majority of the slaves in the United States, and striking a death blow to the whole system of American slavery.  Stafford County, VA. was not in the limit of the exceptions made by Lincoln in his proclamation and when the slaves of Peyton Conway found themselves free, they with other freedmen were taken by the government to Washington to be passed on to the West.

At Washington city the Conway freedmen were met by M.D. Conway who came there from New York to gather them together and forward them to Yellow Springs, where he decided for them to go.  They were overcome with joy at seeing him, and when he said “I came here to gather my people together” they felt he was indeed their Moses leading them to the promised land.

There was a number of them.  The partriarchs of the party were Dunmore Guin and his wife “Aunt Lizy” and Cuffee Dunnaho and his wife “Aunt Hannah.”  The home of Dunmore and “Aunt Lizy” was established on the left side of the road on the hill slope in sight of Grinnell’s mill, and overlooking the end of the “Water Cure” (Sheldon) Glen.  Here they lived and died, typical relics of southern slaves who had belonged to “quality”.  Aunt Lizy was strong in many of her views.  She was a religious enthusiast and a remarkable feature in her church (Baptist).  She had been the mother of 19 children 9 of whom she brought with her to Ohio.  Some had died, and the older sons went into the employ of Union officers at Washington.

Others belonging to the Conways who came here were the Hempsteads, Morgans, Taylors, and several others.

All that are now left of the Conway freemen are Guin, the son, and “little Lottie Ford” the grand daughter of “Aunt Lizy” are both married and live in Springfield, and Richard Harrod and his wife Nancy who live in Yellow Springs.  Richard Harrod belonged to Dr. Rose, who belonged to a very wealthy and aristocratic family in Stafford Co., Va.  When Dr. Rose commenced the practice of his profession he went to Falmouth, the county seat, and took Richard along for his coachman.

Here, near Falmouth, was the Conway home, and Nancy. “Aunt Liza’s” daughter who was the maid to her young mistress, met and married Richard.  During the war when affairs were becoming, what Dr. Rose thought dangerous, for personal safety he went to Fredericksburg; when he came back he saw Richard no more, he had gone with the rest of the Conway “people” to the West.  He is now in feeble health.  He is deeply religious and truly pious.

Mr. Conway has never forgotten his “people whom he sent to Yellow Springs.  He is still their benefactor.

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This article has provided me with some additional names that I can use to further my research on the members of the Conway Colony.  I was surprised to see Richard Harrod listed as a member since I recently posted his obituary.  Hopefully, I will be able to find out some more information on the lives of these brave individuals that headed north with the hope of a brighter future.

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2 comments on “The Conway Colony

  1. Brenda Hubbard on said:

    I was born and raised in Yellow Springs and am writing a fictional story about growing up in the village. I wonder if you might correspond with me. I would love to find more resources for the history of the community.