Hiram Davis was a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Gallia County, Ohio.
Little is known of Davis's life. He was born in 1815, but his birthplace is unknown. He spent most of his adult life in Morgan and Addison Townships in Gallia County. It appears that he earned his living as a farmer and was active on the Underground Railroad.
Davis is best remembered for an incident that occurred in circa 1845. A group of slave catchers and a General McCansland were pursuing five fugitive slaves whom McCansland owned. McCansland and the fugitives lived in Virginia. The runaways made their way to Hiram Davis's home in Gallia County. Here, Davis hid the slaves in a small hole under his house, with the only access to the chamber being through a small door in the floor of the home. Davis then laid a carpet over the door to the hole and placed a large weaving loom on top of the carpet, concealing the door.
As the slave catchers approached, Davis positioned himself in a window next to the home's front door. He told McCansland and his aides that he would use an axe to hack to death anyone who tried to gain admittance. Davis was a large man, approximately six foot in height. The slave catchers surrounded the home but made no effort to enter it. Three or four women inside of the home began to boil water, intending to throw it on the slave catchers if they entered the house. Soon, a crowd of nearly two hundred people formed to watch the altercation. One member of this group, a Mrs. Griffin, walked into Davis's home, carrying two guns and an ample supply of ammunition. She instructed the women to add cornmeal to the boiling water, believing that it would stick better to and cause more harm to any intruders.
Eventually, a constable arrived with a search warrant. Davis refused to let the constable enter his home. This official soon left, but Davis did allow McCansland, and a local judge and an attorney to search his home. These men found no sign of the fugitives, who were safe under the floor. McCansland and the slave catchers quickly departed. The five fugitives attained their freedom.
Davis represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slaveowners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners, such as Davis.
- Siebert, Wibur H. The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom. New York: Russell & Russell, 1898.