The importance of Eliza as a cultural figure can be seen in the variety of stories that exist telling of her journey through different places. Some say that Eliza did not go towards Cincinnati, but further north of Ripley, Ohio into Fayette County. Fayette County had ties to Underground Railroad activity because the county’s population incorporated free Blacks, former slaves and white anti-slavery Presbyterians. There were few individuals in towns like Bloomingburg, Greenfield, and Washington Court House that participated in efforts to snare escaped slaves. Many townspeople ignored those who provided aid to those seeking freedom.
They were very welcoming to freedom seekers in towns in Fayette County. One individual who mentioned Eliza coming through his home was Baptist minister William M. Mitchell. Mitchell was born in North Carolina where he stated he was apprenticed to a plantation owner in Guilford County, North Carolina; some believe he was enslaved. After coming to Washington Court House in Ohio, Mitchell was involved in the local efforts to help enslaved men, women, and children escape. In his autobiography, Mitchell speaks to Eliza being helped by “J. R____” referencing John Rankin in Ripley. He then says Eliza came to his home the next night, though the accounts in the Rankin family do not confirm that detail.
Another story tells that Eliza went through Greenfield, a town south of Washington Court House with locations connected to the town’s anti-slavery work. This location on the northeast corner of Jefferson and Washington Streets was where Dr. Milton Dunlap originally lived before building a second home in 1841. Now a busy intersection in town, Dunlap was said to have been hiding freedom seekers in the property’s barn, including Eliza. One story notes that Eliza’s husband was with her and here they parted as Eliza returned to Kentucky for her child. This is interesting, as the Rankin family recorded that in 1841 Eliza returned to Ripley to cross back into Kentucky. When John Rankin asked why, she remarked “I want my daughter back and her children.” Perhaps Eliza did return, which is not unusual for some freedom seekers after reaching Canada, hoping to reunite with children left behind. If so, then Dr. Milton’s story may be connected to a return journey by Eliza.
It is possible that Eliza and her child continued north through Ohio. Maps were created to try and connect the state’s various Underground Railroad routes, to show that would be her most direct route North. Many who came through Fayette County went straight north into Sandusky County, Ohio where crossing by boat into Canada was possible. Other stories that remain of Eliza’s escape takes us in another direction, west into Indiana.