• George Boxley (1780–1865) was a white abolitionist and former slaveholder who allegedly tried to coordinate a local slave rebellion on March 6, 1815, while living in Spotsylvania, Virginia. His plan was based on “heaven-sent” orders to free the slaves. He tried to recruit slaves from Orange, Spotsylvania, and Louisa counties to meet at his home with horses, guns, swords and clubs. He planned to attack and take over Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia. Lucy, a local slave, informed her owner, and the plot was foiled. Six slaves involved were imprisoned or executed. With his wife’s help, Boxley escaped from the Spotsylvania County Jail and, despite a reward, he was never caught.

Boxley fled to Ohio and Indiana, where he was joined by his family. He built a cabin in 1830, the first in Adams Township. He helped runaway slaves, taught school, and supported abolitionism. The George Boxley Cabin has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

George Boxley, a native of Virginia, was born in 1780. He was a merchant storekeeper and miller who became deeply committed to abolitionism. He arrived in Indiana as a fugitive from justice and was the first settler in Adams Township, Hamilton County, Indiana. Accounts vary in details, but the facts are that Boxley, himself a slaveowner, opposed—or came to oppose—the institution of slavery. Boxley was accused of helping slaves to escape and of fomenting a slave rebellion in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Jailed, he made his escape aided by his wife Hannah. After fleeing Virginia, Boxley may have spent a brief time in Pennsylvania.

Local folklore holds that Boxley participated in the Underground Railroad by hiding runaway slaves in an excavated place beneath his cabin. Certainly his abolitionist views were widely known, but there is no concrete evidence to document his having participated in the Underground Railroad.

More Detailed History of Slave Rebellion

The old Court House and Jail are most infamously known for the apprehension and escape of George Boxley – known in Virginia history as a white man who facilitated the planning of a slave insurrection by allowing slaves to meet in the store on his property. Events and motives of individuals, as well as the nuances of emotion, are always more complex.

George Boxley was a first generation American born in 1780 to English immigrants Thomas and Mary Boxley. He was the oldest of six children. By 1803, his parents had both died and he and a cousin were joint executors of his father’s estate. Of his father’s 1,979 acres, known as The Grange, George was willed 170 acres and two slaves, Harry and Dafney, valued at $460. His father’s will was to return all slaves to the estate and free them.

In 1805, George married Hannah Jenkins from a nearby farm and they began a family. George was a soldier in the war of 1812, and returned determined to lead a life of freedom for himself, his family and slaves.

An educated man, George Boxley read and spoke often of the contradictions of the American constitution versus its use of slaves. This was a special point with him being a citizen of Virginia, the largest slave-holding state. He scolded against slavery regularly which did not endear him to his neighbors. It also gave enslaved men and women the idea that he could be counted on to help them if needed.

An opportunity presented itself when two escaped men came to his store late one evening, reportedly having been beaten earlier in the day and threatened by their owner with sale away from their families. Boxley allegedly gave them two of his horses, some money and directions to Pennsylvania.

When their absences were noticed, a slave woman named Lucy reported that she had heard talk around George Boxley’s about a slave revolt. Lucy’s mistress, Ptolemy Powell, reported the rumblings of a slave insurrection to the Magistrate on February 22, 1816, who arranged for an investigation. Boxley could not produce a bill of sale for two missing horses and was arrested for assisting slaves to escape. Twenty-seven so- called black conspirators were also arrested.

Even though Boxley was imprisoned and awaiting trial, Virginia law did not allow blacks to testify against whites. The blacks who were arrested were either hung or sold south. In May 1816, George’s wife Hannah and their children visited him in jail – the new brick jail built in 1813 and situated next to the clerk’s office and across the road from the Court House built in 1801.

Not waiting to find out his fate, George escaped the day after his family’s visit. It is believed that his wife smuggled a saw in the hem of her skirt into the jail. The Superior Court Grand Jury returned an indictment against Boxley for insurrection; his wife was never blamed or charged for aiding her husband. She remained at their family home and slowly and quietly sold most of their belongings, waiting for word from her husband.

Boxley first surfaced in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he soon signed a power of attorney from Washington County to sell his land in Spotsylvania. Soon thereafter he saw a Spotsylvania County newspaper advertisement for his bounty, and he left and settled near Cincinnati, Ohio where he worked as a school teacher. He published two anti-slavery articles under a pen name. He finally got word to his wife about his whereabouts and she and their children followed a friend’s relative from Virginia to Ohio where they all met in Fayette County and lived for seven years. The couple had five more children.

Bounty hunters were still trying to find him in 1821, but Ohio Governor James Preston would not pursue the matter. Comfortable in his new life, George sought the job of Justice of the Peace in 1824, but he was publicly challenged about his past and forced to admit his actions to his neighbors and friends. Three bounty hunters tried to capture him while he worked in his field and his sons successfully fought them off. The State of Ohio filed charges against the bounty hunters for kidnapping and awarded George $10 in damages.

Boxley left his family for Missouri, using the name George Burke, but soon read a newspaper account describing his close call in Ohio. He decided to return, get his family and relocate. They moved to Indiana, built a home on what he named Pioneer Hill and prospered. He built a school for his children and welcomed other pioneer families who were seeking a better life.

George Boxley lived the rest of his life on this land in Indiana. More importantly, he lived to see the North defeat the South in the Civil War and the end of slavery for which he advocated for so long.

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