By Anna DeWine
XENIA — A Maryland man was recently named the Greene County “I Found it in the Archives” contest winner after discovering the reason why his great-great-great grandfather moved from his Virginia home to Xenia, Ohio.
The motives of Allan Hogue’s ancestors were rooted in religion and morality.
“In the Greene County Emancipation Record of Free Blacks, 1805-1845, located at the Greene County Archives, I found that my ancestor Frederick Bonner left Virginia for Ohio because of a, ‘clear conviction of the injustice and criminality of depriving my fellow creatures of their natural right’,” Allan Hogue wrote in his winning essay titled: “Against the Tide.”
According to Hogue’s essay, Bonner, a devout Methodist from Tidewater, Virginia, freed his slaves and moved to Xenia in 1803. Many of Bonner’s Virginia friends and neighbors followed his actions, moving to Xenia where they settled and formed a Methodist community.
First, the group met for church in Bonner’s home and called it the “Bonner Society,” Hogue explained. Soon after, they built a 30 foot by 30 foot log church, which was later replaced with brick — the county’s first brick house. This became the Union Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest in Ohio, that has served the neighborhood since 1809.
Nearly half a century later, according to Hogue’s research, a man named Elias Drake built a hotel and resort just north of Xenia. Xenia Springs, as it was called, became a popular destination for Kentucky planters who brought their families and slaves along with them. Neighboring farmers, who carried the same anti-slavery views as Bonner, became displeased with the resort.
The Methodist Episcopal Church and abolitionist society eventually purchased the resort from Drake in 1855 and established a university for “youth of color.” The university became a destination point on the underground railroad. Today it is known as Wilberforce University.
“What an astonishing discovery,” Hogue wrote in his essay. “My great-great-great grandfather had a, ‘clear conviction of the injustice and immorality’ of slavery and the courage to act upon it. His moral convictions along with those of his like-minded Virginians contributed to the establishment of the first African American university in the United States.”
“His story is very compelling,” Elise Kelly, Public Outreach Coordinator for the Archives, said. “It is a great way to showcase local history.”
The Archives’ contest is meant to highlight stories of how Greene County records have aided an individual on pursuit for information.
“I’m grateful to the archivist for being so helpful to me and I’m grateful for the county for having a system that values that information and that service,” Hogue said during a commissioners’ meeting.
Hogue returned to Greene County where he toured the Archives, read the manumission record that stated Bonner’s beliefs, and even toured the historical county courthouse and its 145-foot-tall clock tower.
He also reflected on his discovery through the Archives. “On our journey through life, it’s good to pause and consider where we came from, the influences that got us here, and where we are going. Our existence is larger than our own lifetime,” he said.
Hogue’s win comes in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Greene County Archives as well as the recognition of the month of October as Archives Month. Records and Archives will hold a 20th Anniversary celebration 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Reach Anna DeWine at 937-502-4498.