Monday, February 27, 2017

John Turner’s Freedom

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

On October 30, 1904, the Elmira Telegram ran a single paragraph about a “remarkable colored man,” John Turner. That one paragraph outlined Turner's undeniably remarkable story, one that was also heartbreaking. Turner was the well-known manager of the stables at the Platt House hotel in Horseheads. Turner, who had lived in Horseheads for 18 years, started his life in the North as an escaped slave.
The Platt House
Turner was enslaved on the plantation of Turner family in Virginia, near Fredericksburg. From the little information given in the blurb, it is difficult to ascertain what plantation he was enslaved on, but it might have been Belle Grove in King George, VA. At the time of his Turner’s enslavement, the plantation was owned by Carolinus Turner.

During the Civil War, John Turner took one of his master’s horses and rode across Union lines. He asked for freedom, proving his master was an officer in the Confederate army. He was not made to return.

The article mentioned that Turner had since been working to locate his mother and brother, from whom he had been separated during his enslavement. He had written to former master George Turner (Carolinus had a son named George who would have been a child when John escaped) asking for assistance locating them. The report said that he had received two letters in response, but that neither could give him any information. It is unlikely he ever heard from them again.

Turner’s experience looking for lost family members was not unique. After emancipation, formerly enslaved people had little recourse to locate lost family. “Lost Friends” columns appeared in some newspapers and people placed ads looking for any information about loved ones. You can read some of their heartbreaking notes here:

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