The old fiddle tunes wafted up and down Jefferson’s North Chestnut Street on warm summer afternoons.
Residents loved the music and adored the musician, a frail, black man with a graying beard and a thousand stories.
Like the one about his escape from a Shinnston, Va., (now W.Va.), plantation.
Abel Bougguess, aka Charley Garlick, and his 11 siblings, plus his parents, were slaves on the plantation owned by Richard Bogguess. Between Richard, a bachelor, and his brother, they commanded 800 acres.
Richard Bogguess had a streak of kindness in him, despite a conscience that accepted the ownership of another human as a good business practice. His will provided for the freedom of his slaves. And when Bogguess’ life came to an end in 1843, Charley’s family began making plans to live as free people.
And then the will was contested.
Charley, along with his mother and five siblings, were not going to hang around to see how it all worked out. They ran away and traveled 15 miles to the home of a sympathetic neighbor, who fed them and gave them sustenance for their journey.
An uncle caught up the family and told them that the will was upheld, it was safe to return. But something told Charley he needed to keep moving. He parted ways with his family, and Charley hitched a ride on the Underground Railroad.
He route was through Pennsylvania to Ashtabula County. The West Andover station agent, Alba Coleman, assisted Charley, 16. Charley walked to the farm of Anson Kirby Garlick, an abolitionist. Anson vowed he would not cut his beard until slavery had been abolished in the United States. His body, with its long beard, went to grave in 1852.
Charley Bogguess adopted Anson’s surname, enrolled in a district school and worked on the farm for his room and board. Charley wrote a memoir, published in 1902, in which he tells of the otherwise white community’s fascination with his race.
“Sometime, after my arrival in this state, I attended church with Mr. A.K. Garlick, of West Andover, Ohio, and it was an event long to be remembered by me, for the preacher did not receive much attention. I was the center of attraction that day, being a stranger and a colored man at that, coming to church in a strange land, a chattel liable to arrest at any time. But I stayed in Ohio and lived to see slavery put down after living in a free state for a number of years.”
The Life, including his Escape and Struggle for Liberty,
of Charles A. Garlick, born a Slave in Old Virginia,
who secured his Freedom by running away from his master’s farm in 1843
The Rev. N.T. Chamberlain of the West Andover Congregational Church saw a scholar in the farmer, and in 1847 recommended Charley attend Oberlin College. Garlick was one of 60 or 70 “colored boys” in Liberty Hall. The atmosphere was accepting and nurturing, but Garlick became physically ill and had to return to the farm.
Fate intervened. Garlick became acquainted with Jefferson’s Joshua R. Giddings, who was making a lot of trouble in the House of Representatives over the slavery issue. Giddings’ speeches filled the pages of the Ashtabula Sentinel, and Garlick read them to Anson. Stirred by the anti-slavery leader’s words, Garlick saddled up a horse and rode to Jefferson just so he could shake the hand of Joshua Giddings.
A friendship ensued, and not long after that, trouble for Charley when Anson Garlick died. The home was sold. Garlick was technically a fugitive slave subject to capture and return to the slave state. He had but one option: Canada.
“Sir: I take this opportunity afforded me to let you know the success of our journey to this land of liberty for the slave. Our journey from Ashtabula to Cleveland was everything that could be desired, but there on to Detroit the going was worse than bad, but not withstanding all this hardship arrayed against us we reached Detroit wharf safe and then our next move was to go up to the ferry and cross over to Canada. And we were not very long about it I assure you.”
Letter to Horace Lindsley, Ashtabula County abolitionist
Garlick worked in a steam mill cutting wood for steamboats on Lake St. Claire. He eventually returned to Ashtabula County and worked for T.S. Edwards, a half-brother of Anson Garlick’s widow. Garlick entered the Union Army in 1864, serving with Co. G, 3rd U.S. Heavy Artillery, Fort Pickering, Memphis, Tenn.
Charley Garlick (colored) who was drafted and paid his commutation has gone to the war, wishing to be in at the death of his old master, slavery.
Ashtabula Sentinel, March 1, 1865.
Garlick stayed in Ashtabula with a shopkeeper for several years after the war, then accepted the invitation of the Giddings family to live with them in their North Chestnut Street home. His room was on the second floor, and when fire broke out in the house one night in 1874, Garlick was sleeping so soundly he did not hear the family and their neighbors trying to save whatever possessions they could. By the time he woke up, his room was surrounded by flames and he had only one escape route: the window. At his request, a fence rail was leaned against the house; the rescuers assumed he planned to shimmy down it.
“… but Charley was in great haste and as soon as the fence rail was set up against the house, he shot out through the window head first and, grabbing the rail, slid down to the ground and struck his head, though that didn’t hurt him any, I feel quite sure. At any rate, he was able to play his violin for many years after that.”
A.L. Talcott, letter to the editor of the Gazette
Garlick’s possessions were consumed by the fire, however. So was his confidence in second-story bedrooms. He chose the back room of the Giddings law office, now on East Jefferson Street, for his residence.
Two of Garlick’s brothers, Oscar D. and Richard, retained the surname of their former master, Bogguess, and settled in Youngstown. His mother lived to be 103 years old and died in Pennsylvania.
Garlick died May 4, 1912, and was buried in the Giddings family plot in Oakdale Cemetery. He had become a fixture in the town that welcomed the fugitive, the alien. His gratitude for the liberty he found here lives on in his words.
“Of myself, I can only express gratitude that I have been allowed to live to see the downfall of the accursed institution of human slavery in our glorious country and to see the countrymen in national affairs, to see them given the advantages of schools and colleges and become thus fitted for greater usefulness to themselves and their race.”
Abel Bogguess, aka Charley Garlick
Photo of Garlick courtesy of the Jefferson Historical Society collection.
His memoir is available online as a download.