Samuel Barkshire, a freed slave from Boone County, accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. His family’s story is quite remarkable, and the information available about the Barkshires is unusually rich.
Samuel, who was born ca. 1798, was owned first by Richard “Dickey” Berkshire (Samuel used a different spelling,) and then sold to neighbor Joseph Hawkins, after Berkshire’s death. Hawkins was a childless widower, and married Dickey’s widow, Nancy; he was also the man who emancipated Samuel, in 1833 for the sum of one dollar.
Samuel purchased land adjacent to Hawkins, then bought his family’s freedom, a nearly insurmountable goal. The Barkshires relocated to Rising Sun before 1840. Nancy Hawkins also moved to Rising Sun after Joseph’s 1836 death. The move of the Barkshires would certainly be the end game for most African Americans of Samuel’s day, but this family was cut from a sturdy cloth.
Samuel, his wife Frances and his eldest sons Arthur and Woodford were actively participating in very dangerous work in Rising Sun. The historical directory indicates Barkshire was working as a cooper by trade, but he was also running a “station” on the famous Underground Railroad. Arthur and Woodford were working as conductors, one by water, and the other over land. Samuel’s involvement (and that of his wife) was documented by abolitionist Laura Smith Haviland in her memoirs. Arthur also defied the laws of Indiana by bringing his bride home after their Cincinnati wedding. He fought his way up to the Indiana Supreme Court, but ultimately lost the case and moved to Ohio, he later served in the U. S. Colored troops.
A letter to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1884 gave even more details of Samuel and his family’s activities, as well as that of Nancy Hawkins, their former mistress. Samuel and Francis helped to shelter runaways and pass along information, and Arthur did the same on riverboats up and down the Ohio. Woodford would lead freedom seekers all the way to Canada at times, while still in his teens. Nancy Hawkins hid runaways in her home in secret, daring slave hunters to cross her threshold, well into her seventies. Hawkins and the Barkshires had a close relationship. She left her entire estate to the family.
It’s possible that Samuel Barkshire may have been an early conductor through Boone County while still living here, as his property is along a suspected escape route. The risk to African Americans doing this kind of work cannot be overstated. The Barkshires were repeatedly threatened with lynching and foiled at least one attempt at kidnapping and re-enslavement. They persevered, and only history knows how many people owed their freedom to this brave Boone County man and his family.