A brave but tragic story of woman who died in prison trying to save her children from slavery

Mildred Europa Taylor December 20, 2021
Fugitive slaves. Image via AAREG

Enslaved in Kentucky in the 1800s, Juliet Miles was freed but later died in prison after being recaptured trying to save her children from slavery. This is her story.

In 1847 while Miles was enslaved, one of Kentucky’s most prominent abolitionists, Reverend John Gregg Fee, bought her from his father. Fee’s aim was to liberate Miles, which, according to a report by the New York Daily Tribune, “he did from a sense of gratitude, she having been his nurse in infancy, and having often cradled him in her arms as a child.”

In 1851 when Miles was emancipated, she decided to move to be with her husband in Ohio. She went to Ohio with her youngest children, four in number, born after her liberation. However, she left 10 children and grandchildren still in bondage. Some were on the Fee farm while others were on a farm in Mason County. Miles decided to go back for them in 1858.

WCPO reports that in October of that year, she traveled on a small skiff four miles west of Augusta, Kentucky, then traveled 17 miles inland in Kentucky, to take her 10 children and grandchildren who were enslaved from the Fee farm and a farm in Mason County.

Unfortunately, Miles and her children and grandchildren were captured before they could make it back to freedom in Ohio. Some sources say they were captured on the banks of the Ohio River. They were all subsequently thrown into the Bracken County jail.

“In this dungeon, they cried and they wailed and they screamed, and the children were just miserable,” Caroline Miller, author and Bracken County historian, was quoted by WCPO. Miles was imprisoned for the next four months until February 1859, when she was tried and found guilty of “enticing,” or trying to steal, her own family, WCOP states.

The report by the New York Daily Tribune said that “on that day she was brought before the Court – the Jury made short work of it – twenty minutes. Verdict of GUILTY, and she was sentenced to 3 years of imprisonment.”

While Miles’ children were released, sold to a trader and shipped to New Orleans, she was sentenced to the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Frankfort. And that is where she died.

She died in the Kentucky penitentiary after serving about two years. She was in her late 40s. In the book, A Tour on the Underground Railroad Along the Ohio River, Nancy Stearns Theiss writes that Miles “pined” herself to death.

“She died of a broken heart,” historian Miller has also said.

Miles is buried in a prisoner gravesite. One of the children she gave birth to after her liberation, named Henry, continued his life in Ohio and joined the Union Army during the Civil War.

The slave trade is a complicated period in history that continues to negatively affect Africans and African Americans alike. As more time passes, details emerge about the tragic event that was kept hidden for hundreds of years. To many, Miles’ story is one of sacrifice and courage that is worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 21, 2021


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