H.G. Blake in the uniform of the 166th Regiment of the Union Army

H.G. Blake in the uniform of the 166th Regiment of the Union Army

Harrison Gray Blake (1819-1876) routinely ignored the Fugitive Slave Laws and hid runaway slaves in his handsome home home on East Washington Street. It was a terrible risk in those days to harbor slaves — the fines were prohibitive and could bankrupt a family.  Blake had a great deal to lose. He had come to Medina as a penniless orphan and, within a decade,  had become a wealthy and influential man: a lawyer,  Speaker of the Ohio Legislature, U.S. Congressman, founder of the Old Phoenix Bank.

H. G. Blake's house was a busy stop on the Underground Railroad.

H. G. Blake's house was a busy stop on the Underground Railroad.

The  older of his two daughters, Elizabeth Blake McDowell, told her descendants the story of how she discovered that the family was hiding slaves.  She noticed that her mother would occasionally cook very large amounts of food – far more than was needed for their family of four.  She began to ask questions, and finally her parents explained the situation to her –  that her father had undertaken an important mission and that  secrecy was essential

After that, when she saw a large ham disappear or heard strange noises in the attic over the kitchen, she was no longer surprised. To insure discretion, Elizabeth and her sister were kept out of school when slaves were in the house.

Elizabeth Blake McDowell

Elizabeth Blake McDowell

Another time Blake said to his two daughters, “Come with me, I want to show you something that will make you hate slavery forever.”  He took them to the attic and showed them a terror-stricken slave. The man’s back had been whipped and salt had been rubbed in his wounds as a disinfectant. It was a sight that neither daughter ever forgot.

A short time later Blake sent the slave on to Oberlin, the next stop on the Underground Railroad.  The next stop after that was Canada and freedom.

In 1848 Blake was elected president pro tem of the Ohio Legislature by a slim margin of one vote and led the effort to repeal the Black Laws. These were statutes in effect in Ohio which curtailed the civil rights of African-Americans, and had been  enacted to discourage them from moving to Ohio. To commemorate his role in the repeal of these onerous laws, he was awarded a silver cup by the Young Whigs of Ohio.

Blake  later served two terms in Congress — 1959-63. After that joined the Union Army and was appointed Colonel of the 166th Regiment, Ohio Infantry Volunteers.

In a brief biography written near the end of his life, he wrote, “I ardently supported President Lincoln and all measures to put down the rebellion.  I was always an ardent anti-slavery man and a friend of the slave.”

Presented to H.G. Blake to commemorate repeal of the Black Laws

Presented to H.G. Blake to commemorate repeal of the Black Laws

19 Responses to “H.G. Blake: “Always An Ardent Anti-Slavery Man and Friend of the Slave””

  1. Carolyn Paton Says:

    Thankyou for that wonderful article! H.G. Blake was my Great, Great, Great Grandfather. ( Elizabeth Blake Mcdowell’s son, Blake Mcdowell was my great grandfather. His daughter was Elizabeth Mcdowell Bennett- my grandmother. Her daughter is Susan Bennett Paton- my mom! ( My grandfather , Homer Bennett ran Bennett Lumber in Medina with his brothers.) Medina was the place of so many wonderful childhood memories and history! The Greisingers who helped alot with the historical society there were also great friends. Most all relatives from there are gone now. That makes me sad.
    Do you happan to know where the silver cup, or portrait of H.G. in his Union uniform are? Maybe my Mom does, but I wondered if you knew.
    We are all very proud of H.G. Blake and his place in History.
    I remember visiting Jo Jo Mclellan’s house (H.G. Blakes house) as a child and getting the tour of where the underground railroad was, along with the family stories. You did a great job telling them, as I remember being told.
    Please E-mail me if you have any other information that you think might be interesting to our family…or if you have questions.
    Thankyou!
    Sincerely, Carolyn Paton

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  5. Eve Carter Says:

    I am excited to have discovered this article by googling Blake’s name. Blake’s wife, Florence is my great great aunt. Florence and my great grandfather Albert Andrews were siblings. I have been researching the Andrews side of my family for 4 yrs. now. Albert’s son has original photos (from 1800s-1900s) of the Andrews side. Just this July 2011, the Andrews’ side had a family reunion and I drove out of state to be there and got to see photos of Blake for the first time and more photos of Florence that I hadn’t seen before. Also, to top it off, there was a photo of one of Blake and Floss’ (her nickname) babies , but no name was on it. The baby looks just like my 9 mo old daughter today. I had to get a copy of it to take home with me. I have been looking for living descendants of aunt Florence’s and would like to get in contact with Carolyn Paton, whom left a message on here, if she is willing to communicate with me. Our side is more than willing to share photos and family info.

  6. Eve Carter Says:

    I must apologize for my incorrect message above. After thinking about the year my aunt Florence Andrews McDowell was born, I realized that this H.G. Blake could not be her husband, but knew her husband has to be related due to the same first 3 names. My ancestry.com membership allowed me to get my facts straight! Phew!! Harrison Gray Blake McDowell is the son of Elizabeth Blake McDowell. My aunt Florence was married to this Blake McDowell (as he went by his 3rd name). I found an 1880 census that had Elizabeth Blake at 59 yrs. old living with her daughter Elizabeth Blake McDowell (pictured in your article above these comments) and son in law Robert McDowell. So, as the family tree goes: H.G. Blake and Elizabeth Blake had a daughter named Elizabeth Blake. Elizabeth Blake (the daughter) married Robert McDowell and they had a son named H.G. Blake McDowell. Then, H.G. Blake McDowell married Florence Andrews (my great great aunt). Blake and Florence had 3 children named Elizabeth, Helen and Theodore. I am wanting to connect with the descendants of Blake and Florence and am willing to connect with any other members of the family whom would like to share photos and stories. :)

  7. Carolyn Paton Says:

    I’m late in seeing these blogs from Eve Carter, but excited, none the less!

    Hello! We are related! It is interesting that your last name is Carter, as that is another family name in our family tree from Ohio. More on that later….

    The other H.G.” Blake” McDowell ( 1868-1931) that you referred to and his wife Florence Andrews McDowell ( 1872-1968) were my Great Grandparents! H.G. Blake McDowell was always referred to as ” Blake ” McDowell. Yes, his mother and father were Elizabeth Blake McDowell ( 1843-1932) and Robert McDowell ( 1838-1897) . This Elizabeth was the oldest daughter of the more famous H.G. Blake ( 1819-1875) ; the Congressman and operator of the UGRR; whose wife, Elizabeth Bell Blake was known as “Betsy”.

    ” Blake ” was one of five children born to the McDowells.( Bessie, Blake, Corwin, Kate and Robert)

    Blake McDowell had died before I was born, but my Grandmother Elizabeth McDowell Bennett had told me many stories of him, showed me many pictures, and even had a book of his own hand drawn cartoons of animals that he was famous for entertaining the children with. My Grandmother loved her Father very dearly.

    Florence Andrews McDowell, my Great Grandmother ( daughter of Marie Louise Provost , who was of French Canadian descent and Theodore Andrews- born 1839) was still alive when I was a child, and I remember her very well. She still lived in the big white house that she lived in with her husband and family (called Windy Hill) just a short walk through the woods from my Grandparents house, in Medina, Ohio. We called her” Mimi.” She had big beautiful flower gardens that I can still see her tending to. I think she died in 1968, when I was about 10 yrs. old. I have a lot of old pictures of her and her family from the 1800’s.,that are beautiful, that my mother gave me. I know she met her husband Blake at Oberlin College, where they both attended school.

    I have been doing research myself on all of these people, though predominately H.G. Blake, the Congressman.

    I’d be happy to share what I know about Florence, her siblings, parents, etc. as well as The Blakes and McDowells. Much of it comes from family research by my Great Uncle Ted McDowell ( the Theodore you referred to) to accompany the “Descendants of H.G. Blake ” reunion that we had in Medina in the early 1990’s. He and his wife “Toody” Munson McDowell and their daughter lived a short distance also from Mimi’s house in Medina for many years.

    I’m thinking that your Great Grandfather Albert must have been the brother Mimi called “Bert” that was from South Haven, Mich., according to his writings. Where was the Andrews family reunion? I know they lived in both Chicago and Cleveland.

    The picture of Florence with a baby girl is most likely my Grandmother;” Nana” ( Elizabeth McDowell Bennett) the oldest child; as I have some of those too. (Or, it might be my Great Aunt Helen as a baby. Come to think of it, they dressed baby boys in long white gowns as well….maybe it was Uncle Ted!)

    We do have so much to talk about! I’ll contact the original author to see if we can exchange e-mails. Thank you so much for your blog!

  8. Carolyn Paton Says:

    Correction: H.G. Blake died in 1876, not 1875.

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  11. Eve Says:

    Message for Carolyn Paton. I just now read your message to me on here! So excited to hear from you, sorry forgot to check back on here to see if you responded. I am excited to get in contact with you as well. You definitely seem to have a lot of our family info correct! I am eager to learn more from you! I am trying to figure out how to get in contact with you. I am trying to look you up in the white pages online. I have recently connected with Muffy McDowell, Ted’s daughter and also her daughter on facebook. We have only exchanged messages a few times so far. Do you know her? I give permission to this blog author to give you my email address if you ask them. My family makes a vacation to Cleveland almost every summer and we will be there this summer. One relative of my husband lives very close to Medina. So if you live in that area, we could meet in person this summer as well!! That would be great to share photos and letters?? That is amazing if you have letters of my great grandpa Albert!!

  12. Carolyn Paton Says:

    Message to Eve: Hi Eve, I also give permission to the blog author to give you my email address. I’m so glad that you have been communicating with Muffy. She is my Mother ( Susan’s) first cousin. And, since she grew up next door to Florence Andrews McDowell ( her grandmother) I know she would have a lot more information than I do.
    However, it would be great to connect with you! I do not live in Ohio; rather in Colorado.Also, the writings that I referred to were from my great uncle Ted ( Muffy’s father) who only mentioned in his writings that Florence had a brother named Bert. ( I do not have any of Bert’s letters, unfortunately.)Were you able to verify the picture of Florence with child? Hope to hear from you! Carolyn Paton

  13. M. Lehr Says:

    I am trying to find a copy of the “brief biography written near the end of his life”. It does not appear to have been published.
    Any suggestions? Gloria Brown–can you help?
    Thanks!

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  16. Amy Barnes Says:

    For anyone interested in the Col. H. G. Blake House, I am the curator and owner of the house and close friends with Nancy McClelland Wilson, whose family lived in the house for more than 100 years.

    I am currently working to restore and repair the house and its original slate roof. Even though the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places through the efforts of Pauline McClelland (Nancy’s mother), there is no funding available to help save the house.

    Since Medina has lost more than 40 historic buildings over the last 50 years, with the Masonic Hall slated to be the next one lost (the city is planning to destroy it and replace it with a parking lot), the lack of support and funding is a very serious threat to this very important structure.

    You can visit http://hubpages.com/@amytinklepaugh for stories about the house and grounds; and like and follow the Facebook pages Facebook.com/Save-the-Slate-Underground-Railroad-Site-Needs-Help-106579376371892 and facebook.com/H-G-Blake-House-449472958577273 where I update information about the house and efforts to save it as often as I am able.

    Col. Blake’s wife’s name was Elizabeth Bell Blake.

    If you would like to help with the effort to save the house, you can go to GoFundMe.com/savetheslate and make a donation. There are other fund raising efforts being made and if you go to the Facebook pages I listed above, you will see updates there on where and when the next fund raiser will be.

    Thank you,
    Amy Barnes

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  18. mary [muffy]mcdowell Says:

    I would like to contact Carolyn Paton. Have not been in contact with Eve for some time but would like to contact her as well.

    Muffy McDowell

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