Juliet Miles was enslaved in Kentucky in the 1800s and was eventually released, but she died in prison after being recaptured while attempting to rescue her children from slavery. This is the tale of her heroism and life.
While Miles was enslaved, Reverend John Gregg Fee, one of Kentucky’s most notable abolitionists, purchased her from his father in 1847. Fee’s goal was to free Miles, which he did “out of a sense of gratitude,” according to the New York Daily Tribune, “having been his nurse in infancy, and having often cradled him in her arms as a child.”
Miles was liberated in 1851, and she opted to relocate to Ohio to be with her husband. She moved to Ohio with her four youngest children, all of whom were born after her release. She did, however, leave ten children and grandchildren, who were still enslaved. Others worked on a farm in Mason County, while others worked on the Fee farm. In 1858, Miles decided to return for them.
According to WCPO, she traveled on a small skiff four miles west of Augusta, Kentucky, then 17 miles inland in Kentucky in October of that year to rescue her enslaved children and grandchildren from the Fee farm and a farm in Mason County.
Miles, her children, and grandchildren were apprehended before they could return to their home in Ohio. According to some reports, they were apprehended along the Ohio River’s banks. They were all taken to the Bracken County jail after that.
Caroline Miller, the author and Bracken County historian, was quoted by WCPO as saying, “In this dungeon, they cried and wailed and screamed, and the children were just miserable.” According to WCOP, Miles was imprisoned for four months until February 1859, when she was tried and found guilty of “enticing,” or attempting to steal, her own family.
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 it was there that she died.
After roughly two years in the Kentucky penitentiary, she died. She was in her late forties at the time. Nancy Stearns Theiss writes in her book, A Tour on the Underground Railroad Along the Ohio River, that Miles “pined” herself to death.
“She died of a broken heart,” according to historian Miller.
Miles was laid to rest at a prisoner’s graveyard. Henry, one of the children she had after her freedom, went on to live in Ohio and served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Slavery is a difficult period in history that continues to have harmful consequences for both Africans and African Americans. As time passes, more information about the horrific event that was held concealed for hundreds of years becomes available. Many consider Miles’ narrative to be one of sacrifice and bravery worthy of a Hollywood film.