Oil on canvas, 73.6 x 61 cm (29 x 24 in., painted by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), National Gallery of Art, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, Washington D.C.
John Randolph was an early American political leader, long time member of Congress and a United States ambassador to Russia. He was referred to as "John Randolph of Roanoke" to distinguish him from his father of the same name.
John Randolph was born in 1773 in Virginia and grew up on the family tobacco plantation. He was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party but disagreed with many of its policies. He was against war with England in the War of 1812. He also opposed slavery's expansion into Missouri under the Missouri Compromise. He died in 1833, and in his will, he freed his 518 slaves. He also gave them land near Carthagena, Ohio, so that they could begin their own lives as free people.
It was not until the 1840s that the former slaves tried to make their way to Carthagena. Randolph's brother had disputed the will and declared that John was insane when he wrote it. After thirteen years, the court ruled in John's favor and granted his slaves their freedom. When the African Americans reached Carthagena, white mobs confronted them and drove them away. The former slaves were forced to scatter. They settled in a number of other Ohio communities, including Piqua, Sidney, and Xenia.
The incident at Carthagena illustrates that prejudice existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery. Nevertheless, that did not mean that whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free African Americans found that it was difficult to get fair treatment.
Slave owners residing in Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland had endured difficult economic conditions since the American Revolution. In some cases, it actually cost tobacco farmers more money to grow the crop than they could earn when they sold it. As a result of low prices for tobacco, many farmers in the Upper South switched to grain production while farmers in the Lower South grew cotton. Grain did not earn farmers as large a profit as tobacco and did not require as much labor to grow and harvest. Some slave owners in this part of the United States sold some of their slaves to cotton growers. Other people joined organizations such as the American Colonization Society and agreed to free their slaves if they would go to Africa. A few slave owners like John Randolph freed their slaves and provided them with opportunity in the United States.