Kelton Family and the Underground Railroad
Columbus had steadfast supporters both for and against slavery. Fernando Kelton and his wife Sophia believed slavery was wrong and did all they could to aid runaways. This was dangerous work because it was against Ohio and U.S. law: Anyone caught hiding slaves, giving them food or clothing, or helping them flee north risked six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Yet the Keltons persisted.
Fernando Kelton was a station master/conductor on this road to freedom. The Kelton House has been authenticated as a stop on the Underground Railroad through the oral history of the Kelton and Lawrence families. Although no written records exist of where the slaves hid during an impending raid by slavecatchers, the servants quarters or the 300 gallon cistern in the Keltons yard, when empty, would have made good hiding places.
In 1864, Sophia Kelton found Martha and Pearl Hartway, who had escaped slavery in Virginia, hiding in the shrubbery at the Kelton home. Sophia took the girls in and gave them temporary refuge. Because of Ohios Black Laws and the threat of slavecatchers, both girls wanted to continue north to freedom in Canada, but Martha was too ill to travel and so she stayed in the Kelton home. Martha was raised and educated as one of the family for the next 10 years until her marriage to Thomas Lawrence, a free black carpenter from Cadiz, Ohio, who worked for Fernando Kelton.
Kelton family members continued a supportive relationship with the Lawrence family. The Keltons employed Thomas for 37 years. Martha and Thomas Lawrence bought property for their first home at 69 N. 17th Street, from Col. James Watson, husband of Ella Kelton. They had two children, Arthur Kelton Lawrence and Sadie Lawrence. Giving their older child the Kelton family name illustrated the close friendship that existed between these two families. Arthur Kelton Lawrence learned to read from books passed down from Frank Kelton. Arthur Kelton Lawrence went on to become both a pharmacist and physician; he practiced medicine in Columbus for 33 years. Arthurs son and daughter-in-law, James and Ruth Lawrence, visited with Grace Kelton in 1975, one year before her death, and attended Graces funeral.
Two Lawrence descendants serve on the Kelton House Underground Railroad Learning Station Advisory Committee: James Lawrence, grandson of Martha and Thomas, and Rosanna Penn Fields, great-granddaughter of Martha and Thomas.
Sunday, November 7, 1999, The Ohio Underground Railroad Association, an
organization that documents Underground Railroad stops in Ohio, dedicated
a marker designating the Kelton House as a stop on the Underground Railroad
and commemorating the fact that Fernando and Sophia Stone Kelton were
strong abolitionists and dedicated to the anti-slavery movement in central
Ohio. The following is the text on that marker in the front yard of Kelton
Pictured at the top of this page, from left to right, are Fernando Cortez Kelton and his wife Sophia Stone Kelton, with Martha Hartway Lawrence and her husband Thomas Lawrence.
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