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In this captivating tale , Randolph Paul Runyon follows the trail of the first woman imprisoned for assisting runaway slaves and explores the mystery surrounding her life and work. In September 1844, Delia Webster took a break from her teaching responsibilities at Lexington Female Academy and accompanied Calvin Fairbank, a Methodist preacher from Oberlin College, on a Saturdary drive in the country. At the end of their trip, their passengers--Lewis Hayden and his family--remained in southern Ohio, ticketed for the Underground Railroad. Webster and Fairbank returned to a near riot and jail cells. Webster earned a sentence to the state penitentiary in Frankfort, where the warden, Newton Craig, married and a father, became enamored of her and was tempted into a compromising relationship he would come to regret. Hayden reached freedom in Boston, where he became a prominent businessman, the ringleader in the courthouse rescue of a fugitive slave, and the last link in the chain of events that led to the Harpers Ferry Raid. Webster, the focal point at which these lives intersect, remains an enigma. Was she, as one contemporary noted, ""A young lady of irreproachable character""? Or, as another observed, ""a very bold and defiant kind of woman, without a spark of feminine modesty, and, withal, very shrewd and cunning""? Runyon has doggedly pursued every historical lead to bring color and shape to the tale of these fascinating characters.

In this captivating tale of a petticoat abolitionist, Delia Webster stands at the center of a riveting story about the Underground Railroad. -- Appalachian Quarterly

Runyon's riveting account reveals the intrigues that surrounded the at times hesitant abolitionist Delia Webster. In piecing together the complex puzzle of Ms. Webster and her cohorts, Runyon has illuminated a fascinating, little-known slice of anti-slavery history. -- Edward J. Renehan Jr.

Another active and important woman has been rescued from the shadows and obscurity and given her proper place in the history not only of Kentucky but of an emotional and important era in the nation's history. -- Filson Club History Quarterly

This Victorian melodrama reads like a detective story. . . . Working with a difficult and complex body of evidence, Runyon has produced a fascinating and poignant story without being seduced by it. -- H-Net Reviews

An exciting and dramatic reconstruction of the life and times of a pioneering American woman. -- Library Booknotes

Runyon has successfully extracted this very readable narrative of antislavery activities, clarifying and tying together a mass of disjointed and contradictory primary sources. It illustrates the complexities of living within a community while subverting its laws. -- Library Journal

Readers interested in the anti-slavery movement of the pre-Civil War years will find Runyon's book fascinating. . . .Has all the elements of adventur, romance, and intrigue. -- Ohioana Quarterly

A beautifully written telling of a passionate story. Runyon truly exemplifies the historian as detective. -- Thomas H. Appleton Jr.

It has just about everything that makes for a great narrative...close escapes, scorned love, sacrifices, and vengeance. -- Random Thoughts on History

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Delia Ann Webster, Women abolitionists, Underground railroad, Antislavery movements, United States, Kentucky


United States History

Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad
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