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Narrative for the Spread Eagle

contributed by the author, Jill Vaught Dunlap
Butler, Clermont, Brown County Coordinator,
FOFS/Ohio Underground Railroad Association

Narrative for the Spread Eagle
Copyright © 1999 edeena
By Jill Vaught Dunlap
Butler, Clermont, Brown County Coordinator,
FOFS/Ohio Underground Railroad Association

Deed records confirm Jonathan Conrey and his second wife Mary Ford Parish Conrey purchased the site @1815. In 1827 Jonathan sold the site to his son James D. Conrey and his first wife Anna Layman Conrey. The Conrey family and descendants maintained ownership until after the Civil War.

The site was a stagecoach inn on the Lebanon Pike between Cincinnati and Lebanon. Well known Cincinnati operator, James G. Birney (Philanthropist publisher), confirms stagecoaches were used to assist the escape of fleeing slaves. Located half way between Lebanon and Cincinnati, the stop was located nearly at the peak of Mount Pisgah. The distance from either city was also the usual mileage customary for changing horses. Research documents confirm James D. Conrey owned the Spread Eagle and his brother, John, operated the stage in Lebanon.

The site's location, two miles north of Sharonville was confirmed by the son of John Van Zandt (portrayed as Van Trompe in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin) in a letter written to Underground Railroad historian Professor Wilbur Siebert. Siebert stated in his book, published in 1898, the Sharonville to Springboro route was the busiest in Ohio. John Van Zandt was prosecuted for his Underground Railroad activities and unsuccessfully defended by Salmon P. Chase. Oral history also confirms Spread Eagle is the stage coach tavern used by Harriet’s husband Calvin Stowe (portrayed as the Senator Bird) mentioned in chapter nine of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The site was centrally located near several converging/diverging routes. The sites location made it an ideal switching station to aid in the zigzag technique used to confuse slave hunters. Other nearby routes included Cincinnati-Columbus Road, Montgomery Road (Cincinnati to Wilmington), the canal, portions of Cincinnati-Dayton Road, and the road to the active Underground Railroad cities of Hamilton and Oxford, Ohio. Underground Railroad access to Hamilton and then on to Oxford or Dayton, began about a mile west of the Conrey site. A strong, consistent, community oral history confirms slaves were sent through the back field (west) from the Conrey site.

Anna Layman Conrey, daughter of the pious Baptist minister David Layman, married James D. in 1816. The Conreys were a very religious family that became associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church after the prayers of two Methodist brothers replaced the necessity of a doctor's care for Anna. In time James D. would become a Methodist Circuit Rider. In addition to entertaining ministers and religious friends, they also opened their home to itinerant ministers. Bishop T. A. Morris stated "Many a wore-torn itinerant had visited that rural scene of loveliness weary and hungry, but, after enjoying a comfortable repast and a season of religious conversation and prayer, left refreshed and happy". It isn't surprising the Conreys also opened their home to the southern refugees passing through on their way to Canada. Anna passed away in 1848 after a lengthy and painful illness. A number of tombstones found on the site are confirmed sons of James D. and Anna.

James D. Conrey was and abolitionist and politically active. In 1840 he traveled to Columbus, Ohio to attended the "National Abolitionist Convention" during Harrison's presidential campaign.

In 1850, James D. married Susan D. Howell Bruen, widow of Luther Bruen, known Underground Railroad operator and founding president of the Abolition Society in Dayton, Ohio. Luther Bruen assisted the members of the First Wesleyan Methodist Church with their Underground Railroad activities.

A living Conrey historian in Nebraska, confirms the Conrey clan had a family oral history of involvement in the Underground Railroad. Two Conrey cousins married children of Gerrard Riley confirmed operator in Bethel, Clermont County, Ohio. There were also marriages into the Salt and Fee families. John Conrey, brother of James and operator of the stage in Lebanon, moved to Lebanon from this active Clermont County, Underground Railroad community.

James D. along with half brother Stephan F. Conrey and his oldest son John Ford Conrey were all Methodist Episcopal Ministers. A John Ford Conrey descendant confirms the families religious and abolitionist background. A living descendent stated “The family often drove around trying to find the old family home.”

In 1841 John Ford Conrey was ordained and appointed to New Street, a black congregation in Cincinnati. Later he severed numerous congregations including: Franklin, Oxford, Hillsboro, Ripley, Wilmington, Christie Chapel (Cincinnati), Dayton, Springfield, Xenia, Piqua, Hartwell, Waynesville, and finally Urbana which became his final resting place in 1892. In 1846 he married Mary Jane Elliott, daughter of the abolitionist Rev. Charles Elliott DD, LL.D., Methodist leader, Wyandott Indian Missionary, preacher, editor, writer, author of Sinfulness of American Slavery published in Cincinnati in 1850 for the Methodist church and President of the Iowa Wesleyan University. Rev. Elliott's family settled in Coshocton County, Ohio. Siebert's list confirms Elliott family involvement in the UGRR in Coshocton.

The site has a very strong consistent oral history. The strongest of the site's oral accounts come from the Hance, Irwin, Ell and Herberth families who have lived in the area for many generations.

A number of unusual site features exist. The first is a false foundation located @ six feet in front of the actual foundation. Located in a center room in the basement, there is no access from the outside. Although filled with dirt now, it is believed that it would have been an ideal hiding place.

Another peculiarity of the house is that it has two identical but separate attics with two separate stair cases. It is believed one attic would have been used as a hiding place leaving the other attic free for inspections by slave hunters.

Presbyterian preacher Lyman Beecher, Abolitionist and father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was known to have preached at the local church in Pisgah.

Most of our resources are 19th century documents. These include but are not limited to obituaries, political and local newspapers, county and local histories, Methodist archives and publications, Family Bible record, cemetery records, Siebert's research, atlas, and government (census, tax, marriage, birth, death, deed, and court) records.

20th century resources include but are not limited to: History of Union Township, Cincinnati newspapers, statements from previous owners, local citizens, and surviving family members.

Thank you,
Jill Dunlap
County Coordinator
FOFS/Ohio Underground Railroad Association

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