Friday, January 22, 1999

Family, slavery in old Boone

Historical Society told of distant time

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Ruth Wade Brunings told a story Thursday night. A story about family, slavery and Boone County history.

        As part of the inaugural meeting of the revived Boone County Historical Society, Ms. Brunings gave an oral history of her ancestors and the Kentucky culture and times in which they lived.

        “I grew up with my grandmother and my mother,” she said. “They always taught me about my ancestry. I'm proud to be from Kentucky and a Bedinger descendant.”

        Ms. Brunings is a descendant of Benjamin Franklin Bedinger, one of the first doctors in Boone County.

        Mr. Bedinger was a neighbor of Archibald Gaines, the slave owner of Margaret Garner. She is known for crossing the frozen Ohio river in 1856 with her four children and then killing her 4-year-old daughter with a butcher knife so as to not send her back into slavery. (Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved is a fictionalized account of Ms. Garner's story.)

        “Bedinger and Gaines were neighbors, friends and political allies in the Whig party,” she said. “But they had different views on war and slavery.”

        Ms. Brunings, who now lives in Southern California, grew up in Forest Home, the same house her ancestors lived in on Richwood Road. The house was torn down in 1982 because of its dilapidated condition. She owns the 56 acres where the house stood.

        “My mother used to call it an antique house in antique condition,” she said.

        Ms. Brunings touched on Ms. Morrison's novel and on Steven Weisenburger's recent book, Modern Medea, an account of the Margaret Garner story.

        Ms. Brunings said she

        thought Mr. Weisenburger's book was filled with “sarcasm and innuendo” and that the Presbyterian church and Kentucky culture were misrepresented.

        “In Beloved, Toni Morrison writes about another kind of slavery, benevolent slavery,” she said.

        The Bedingers were benevolent slave owners, she said, freeing their slaves at age 30 and making sure they were educated before they were freed.

        Don Thomas, 65, of Erlanger was one of more than 100 people who came for Ms. Brunings' history lesson.

        “I love history,” he said. “I grew up in Boone County and knew a lot of the old families. The contemporary generation sometimes thinks they have all the smarts but there were a lot of smart people in the past.”

        Bruce Ferguson, ad hoc organizational chairman for the historical society, said he is pleased that so many people want to start preserving Boone County history. The organization has not been active since about 1989.

        “The idea here is to create an awareness of the exciting past that took place in this community and to stimulate a concept of preserving it,” he said. “Since I'm getting so old I'm being careful. I want to preserve the past.”


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