LYLES STATION — Anna-Lisa Cox drew a crowd Thursday night for a talk discussing her research efforts into Gibson County sites to prospectively be included in the National Park Services-National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
About 50 people filled the room at Lyles Station as Cox discussed her book "The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America's Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality" which features Gibson County.
"What happened here is true of national significance," Cox said. "I'm honored, truly honored to be working on it."
Cox opened by reading a portion of her book where she tells the story which she is further researching for the National Parks Service. The excerpt told some of the story of black settlers Keziah and Charles Grier who were early Underground Railroad conductors in Gibson County, abolitionists David and Mary Stormont, and Seth Concklin.
"The Griers were a part of secret and organized network that stretched into Canda, managing one of the riskiest links of their branch of the Underground Railroad, a section close to the Wabash river, down in southwestern Indiana in a region that was 'crawling with Christians wolves,'" Cox read to the crowd.
In this instance, Concklin was searching for help from abolitionists along the Ohio River to help him move the wife and children of Peter Still to safety out of Alabama.
Cox said Concklin struggled to find those willing to help until he was connected to the Stormont family.
"They knew they could not do it alone," Cox said. "They needed Grier's help."
Cox finished the passage and told those gathered how the rescue ended, which included the capture of Concklin and Still's family. Cox said the Grier's were able to move them the 16 miles to the Stormont's, but after they left there they were turned in and taken to the Vincennes prison.
After being moved to Evansville, they were tortured until the youngest of the children gave up information that Concklin was not their owner as he had been posing.
Cox said the family was taken back to Alabama and Concklin was found killed a day later.
"He had sacrificed his life to protect the people right here in Gibson County," she said. "Because if he had given up the Grier's they would have been dead."
Cox is working to find all of the final documentation about that escape that Concklin managed to make as part of her research. Cox said if the National Parks Service accepts the application for Gibson County sites on its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom that it could open up national attention and grant opportunities for the area.
To earn this designation the Parks Service requires a lot of documention, Cox said. She will show newspaper records, eyewitness accounts, genealogy records, and letters.
The National Parks Service believes there could be at least four underground railroad stations in Gibson County, and Cox said she hopes to be able to come back and continue her research of this area.
The obituary for David Stormont was published in the Princeton Clarion-Leader Dec. 16, 1886 and in it is written how many people his family helped to find freedom over decades.
"During the time he was engaged in this business more than six hundred slaves passed through his hands on their way to Canda," the obit states. "And it is stated that less than a dozen of that number failed to make their good escape."
"If that's the case, this makes this one of the most successful underground railroad routes of the midwest," Cox said. "And the people right before them on the line were the Griers. So that makes the Griers one of the most active African-American railroad agents in the midwest."