On Christmas Eve 1831, Dr. Thomas Williamson signed the papers to buy a lovely home in Ripley, Ohio for his wife Margaret and their growing family. Thomas was a well-respected physician, the son of a Presbyterian pastor, and Margaret was the daughter of Ripley’s founder, Colonel James Poage.
A few days ago, I had occasion once again to enter their gracious home and sense Margaret’s spirit as I enjoyed lavender sugar cookies and drank lemonade punch in her kitchen.
Today the beautiful residence on Mulberry and 2nd Street in Ripley is much grander, larger and more elegantly decorated than it was in 1831. The current owners have completed a full renovation and restoration of the historic home. When I first visited in 2003, the house was being used as a Bed and Breakfast but the owners were elderly and the structure was in need of repair. It was a thrill to see the home in such beautiful condition now.
Mulberry Street leads directly from the Ohio River to the stairway to the John Rankin house which once provided a path to freedom for escaping slaves as they fled from Kentucky to the free state of Ohio. Many of the residents along Front Street on the Ripley riverfront are well-known to historians as active conductors on the Underground Railroad. The Williamson and Poage families were among the earliest abolitionists in Ohio. Both Rev. William Williamson and Col. James Poage moved to Ohio for the express purpose of freeing slaves which they had inherited from their parents while living in the south.
Each time I visit Ripley and stand in front of Margaret’s house, I look up to the top of the bluffs to the north and see the Rankin house which was a beacon of freedom to those brave enough to risk their lives in order to be free. We don’t know if Thomas Williamson was an active participant in the Underground Railroad. The fact that he purchased a house along its most used “line” at least suggests that he was a willing partner in assisting those who actually conducted the fleeing slaves to safety.
Whatever their involvement in Ripley’s covert affairs, Margaret and Thomas Williamson were destined to leave their lovely home in Ripley and exchange it for a humble log cabin in the wilderness of western Minnesota in 1835. As I stood once again in her kitchen, I felt a pang of sadness for Margaret. Her days in this house may have begun in happiness although she’d already buried her first child before she moved in. By the time she and Thomas moved to Cincinatti where he attended Seminary in 1833, she had lost two more children and by the time she left for Minnesota in 1835, she had 18-month-old Lizzie to care for even as she entered her sixth month of the pregnancy that would result in the birth of John Poage Williamson in a log stockade owned by a French trader and his Dakota wife in Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota.
Jeff Williamson, Margaret’s great-great grandson, has stayed in the house many times over the years and he recalls one occasion where he woke in the middle of the night because he heard a woman calling his name. He sensed that it was Margaret’s spirit welcoming him home to Ripley. I may not have heard her voice last week, but I surely sensed her presence in that special place.
My thanks to Carrie Zeman for sharing her photos of the house.