Adah Isabelle Suggs

In this third person narrative, the interviewer describes two escape attempts by Harriet and her young daughter Adah.  The excerpt begins with the interviewer explaining Harriet’s motivations for escaping, describes a failed escape attempt, and then recounts Harriet and Adah successfully escaping to Ohio. Teachers might note the interviewer’s word choice of “mildly punished” to describe Harriet’s imprisonment in an upstairs room.  

*The term “negroes” was replaced, but not removed, from the excerpt below. The replacement word is denoted in italics. This historically-used term was replaced due to its offensive, marginalizing, and/or disparaging nature. See more information.
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A custom prevailed throughout the southern states that the firstborn of each slave maiden [woman] should be the son or daughter of her master and the girls were forced into maternity at puberty. The mothers naturally resisted this terrible practice and Harriott was determined to prevent her child [Adah] from being victimized.

One planned escape was thwarted; when the girl [Adah] was about twelve years of age the mother [Harriet] tried to take her to a place of safety but they were overtaken on the road to the ferry where they hoped to be put across the Ohio River. They were carried back to the plantation and the mother [Harriet] was mildly punished and imprisoned in an upstairs room.

The little girl knew her mother was imprisoned and often climbed up to a window where the two could talk together.

[On their second escape attempt, Adah] … brought a large knife from Mrs. McClain’s pantry and by the aid of that tool the lock was pried from the prison door and the mother made her way into the open world about midnight…

Under the cover of night, the two fugitives [Adah and Harriet] traveled the three miles to Henderson, there they secreted themselves under the house of Mrs. Margaret Bentley until darkness fell over the world to cover their retreat. Imagine the frightened Harriet and Adah stealthily creeping through the woods in constant fear of being recaptured. Federal soldiers put them across the river [into Ohio, a free state] … The husband of Harriott, Milton McClain, and her son Jerome were volunteers in a negro regiment [in the Union Army]…the enlistment of slaves made enlisted enslaved people free as well as their wives and children, so, by that statute [law], Harriott McClain and her daughter should have been given their freedom.

Formerly enslaved person
Birth Year (Age)Interviewer
WPA Volunteer
Enslaver’s Name
Adah Isabelle Suggs1862 (Unknown)Lauana CreelJackson McClain, Louisa McClain
Interview LocationResidence StateBirth Location
Evansville, ININHenderson, KY
Themes & KeywordsAdditional Tags:
Resistance, Escape, Failed escape, FamilyThird person, Union Troops, Slave Patrollers, Henderson County