Rankin House

From Ohio History Central
Rankin House (1).jpg
This photo of the John Rankin House near Ripley, Ohio was taken in the 1960s. The John Rankin House later became a museum, part of the Ohio History Connection's state-wide network of historic sites. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rankin is credited with helping thousands of slaves escape to freedom.

The Rankin House was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. It is located in Ripley, Ohio, and the home currently is a museum operated by the Ohio History Connection.

John Rankin was a Presbyterian minister. Up to the American Civil War, he dedicated his life to abolishing slavery. After spending several years as a minister and abolitionist in Kentucky, Rankin moved to Ripley to continue his anti-slavery work. He most likely moved into this home in 1825, where he continued to serve as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Rankin's home stood on a three hundred-foot high hill, known as "Liberty Hill," which overlooked the Ohio River. Rankin would signal to fugitive slaves in Kentucky with a lantern or candle, letting them know when it was safe for them to cross the Ohio River. To access Rankin's home on top of Liberty Hill, the fugitive slaves had to climb one hundred wooden steps. Rankin would provide the fugitive slaves with sanctuary, keeping them hidden until it was safe for them to travel further north. While slavery was illegal in Ohio, the United States Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 permitted slave owners to reclaim fugitive slaves, even if the African Americans now resided in a free state. To truly gain their freedom, fugitives from slavery had to leave the United States. Underground Railroad stops existed throughout Ohio and other free states, providing fugitive slaves with safe houses all of the way to Canada.

Rankin provided shelter and food to as many as two thousand fugitive slaves during his career with the Underground Railroad. According to several accounts, none of the fugitive slaves whom Rankin helped were ever returned to slavery. Harriet Beecher Stowe immortalized Rankin's efforts to help African Americans in her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Rankin's home was the first stop in Ohio for Eliza, one of the book's main characters, as she sought freedom in the North.

Rankin lived in this home until at least the late 1860s. He eventually moved to Ironton, Ohio, where he lived with his granddaughter and her family. The Ironton home now serves as the Lawrence County Museum.

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