Holland’s family history tied to the Civil War

Lisa Depies
DARLINE ?HOLLAND, front row, second from right, of Geneseo, and her cousins were honored in Oberlin, Ohio, recently as descendants of participants in the Oberlin-Wellington?Rescue, a pre-Civil War event where Ohio residents rescued an escaped slave from Kentucky slave catchers. Holland is also related to one of the men who joined John Brown in his raid of Harpers Ferry.

The family of Geneseo resident Darline Holland is intricately tied to both the city of Oberlin, Ohio, and the Civil War.

On Sept. 12-13, Oberlin celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, an event in which Holland’s relative including her great-great-great uncle John Copeland Jr. and his uncles, Wilson Bruce Evans and Henry Evans, participated.

Holland and 30 of her cousins traveled to the north-central Ohio community for the celebration.

In 1856, John Price escaped enslavement in Kentucky and traveled to Oberlin by the Underground Railroad.

On?Sept. 13, 1858, Kentucky slave catchers, helped by a U.S. Marshal, captured Price on the outskirts of Oberlin and transported him to the Wadsworth Hotel in Wellington. There, the men awaited a southbound train.

News of Price’s capture prompted black and white residents of Oberlin to rush to Wellington.

A crowd surrounded the hotel, and, after negotiations failed, Price was rescued by force, but without bloodshed. He returned to Oberlin and then headed to Canada.

Copeland, a carpenter, and the Evans brothers, who were both cabinetmakers and undertakers in Oberlin, were among the 37 participants in the rescue.

In December, a federal grand jury indicted the rescuers.

The following year, the trial of Simeon Bushnell, a white rescuer, began. Bushnell was convicted and his trial was followed by the trail of a black rescuer, Charles Langston, who also was convicted.

Bushnell was sentenced to 60 days in jail plus a $600 fine, while Langston was sentenced to 20 days in jail, a fine of $100 and payment of court costs.

At the same time, Lorain County officials arrested the Kentucky slave catchers on the charge of illegally kidnapping Price.

On May 30, 1859, the rescuers lost a challenge to the constitutionality of their indictments in the Ohio Supreme Court.

In all, 27 men were indicted and most spent time in jail. Copeland was not one of the 27 indicted rescuers.

However, on July 6, lawyers and government officials struck a deal to drop charges pending against the rescuers in return for an end to the kidnapping case against the slave catchers.

In the spring of 1859, abolitionist John Brown, who encouraged armed insurrection as a way to end slavery, appeared in Cleveland with booty and free slaves from his Kansas raids.

Brown believed a slave insurrection was the key to emancipation and, in Ohio, his words fell on fertile ground.

Lewis Sheridan Leary, Copeland’s uncle, heard Brown speak in Cleveland, and Leary was instrumental in recruiting Copeland.

Though just one year prior Copeland had been a student at Oberlin College studying to become a teacher, he traveled to the Harpers Ferry, Va., area (now part of modern day West Virginia) to join Brown.

The Brown-led failed raid on Harpers Ferry is seen by many as the start of the Civil War.

During the raid, Copeland, 25, was captured. During the trial that followed, he was found guilty of murder. He was hung on Dec. 16, 1859.

As part of their visit to Oberlin, Holland and her family visited the farm once owned by Copeland’s parents.

Descendants of those who participated in the Oberlin-Wellington?Rescue, including Holland, were presented with certificates by officials in Oberlin.

According to the certificate, the anniversary ceremony celebrates Oberlin’s antislavery heritage and renews its “commitment to social justice.”