There are some great stories regarding African American History in and around Greenfield. When I first returned to teach in South Salem I began to learn about the area’s involvement in the Underground Railroad. I drove a school bus route and there were several homes along the route that were reported to have once been so-called stations on the road. Same thing in Greenfield. My cousin lived in a home on Jefferson St that had been a stopping point for slaves escaping the South. Books have been written and the Greenfield Historical Association has substantial files regarding the village’s role in the movement. The area had been, maybe because of a sizable Quaker population, a hotbed of abolitionist activity.
One of the more interesting, and maybe least know story, concerns the relationship between the “runaway” slave August West and the white abolitionist, Alexander Beatty. The two men hatched a scheme to sell West back into slavery and afterward Beatty with assist with rescuing West and the two would split the money. Reportedly they did this on three occasions and with his share of the proceeds, West purchased farmland near Greenfield, just across the Fayette County line and established a settlement for other freed blacks. It is estimated that at one time as many as twelve former slave families were living on land purchased by West.
NOTE I: In looking for information about August West I surprisingly came across a story about Jerry Garcia (yeah, that Jerry Garcia) having used West as a character in one of his songs, Wharf Rat.
NOTE II: The story of West and Beatty was also the basis of a 1971 Hollywood film, The Skin Game, starring James Garner and Louis Gossett, Jr.
TRAILER OF THE SKIN GAME
I can’t account for the quality of this movie but by today’s standards, it may be considered inappropriate. However, it is part of our history.
Little remains of the settlement today but sometime in the last twenty years, a Washington Court House history teacher organized a student historical research group that excavated the property, finding remnants of many common household items of that era.
NOTE III: The date of the dedication stated at the beginning of the slide show is probably inaccurate. My original source said 2016 but that seemed too recent. 2004 may be the proper date and by the snow on the ground, it sure wasn’t August.
Augusta came to Highland County in 1837, living near Hillsboro and then at Fall Creek for a period of years. Augustus had a deep desire to own a farm. To secure money he went back to the South and had a friend turn him in as a runaway slave collecting a generous bounty, for he was a large man. After a period of a few months, he escaped to Ohio. This process of being turned in as a slave was repeated a number of times. He bought fifty acres of land partly in Highland County and partly in Fayette County, May 3, 1846, at a cost of $700. He sold this land on March 16, 1857, receiving a total of $1750. On March 7, 1863, he purchased 177 acres at a cost of $6195.
It was on this 177 acres that Mr. West built a spacious home that became known as “The Mansion.” It was made of boards sawed from walnut trees on the land he owned. Log cabins were built for Negroes freed from slavery by the Civil War.
Historian Dills reports that Augustus married Harriet Payton of Culpepper County, Virginia. They had eleven children. After Harriett’s death, he married a second wife, Mary Outes (Utz) in 1877.
The abandoned Mansion still stands providing shade for cattle in the field, but the cabins have all been torn down. Some descendants of the Augustus West family and other families of the settlement are now living in Greenfield and Highland County. Among these are the children and grandchildren of the late John Cannon, who was a great-grandson of Augustus West, and his wife, now Mrs. Florence Davis Rickman of Greenfield.
Mr. West was a member of the Baptist Church and a Republican. His wife was a Methodist. Two of his sons served in the army in the late war. Andrew was a member of the 27th Michigan Infantry and was killed at Honey Hill, North Carolina in 1863. William was wounded in the battle of the wilderness.