Group photo of people attending the “Freedom’s Heroes” monument dedication at Ripley’s Maplewood Cemetery in 1892 (photo courtesy of Ohio History Connection)
Ohio Life

‘Freedom’s Heroes’ Monument Unveiled

In May 1892, family and friends of Ohio abolitionist and minister John Rankin and his wife, Jean, paid tribute to the couple who helped more than 2,000 people find freedom.

On May 5, 1892, friends and family of the late abolitionist and minister John Rankin and his wife, Jean, gathered in Ripley’s Maplewood Cemetery for the unveiling of a lasting memorial to the longtime Underground Railroad conductors.

According to the Ohio History Connection, it is estimated that John and Jean Rankin helped more than 2,000 people escape slavery, offering them a place to stay in their home along the Ohio River in Ripley, as the freedom seekers made their way to Canada.

The Ripley Bee memorialized the occasion in its newspaper, as well as a published booklet detailing the ceremony. The newspaper described the event, which was attended by several of Rankin’s children and grandchildren, as “one of the most memorable and interesting celebrations ever witnessed in Ripley.”

The day’s events began at 10:30 a.m. at Ripley First Presbyterian Church with scripture readings, prayer and songs performed by school children, followed by a lengthy address by J.C. Leggett about John Rankin’s life.

“Mr. Leggett had made his subject and object of close study and patient historical research, and his address was one of the ablest and happiest efforts,” the newspaper reported. “At the conclusion of this magnificent address, another fine chorus was sung by the school children, and the audience then dispersed for the concluding exercises at Maplewood Cemetery.”

Guests then gathered around the Rankin family plot, where seats and a low platform had been assembled for the official unveiling of the monument. The Rankins’ granddaughter, Ellen Copp, sculpted the tribute, which The Ripley Bee described as a bust “finely modeled and handsomely finished, a successful and artistic creation.” The inscription included John and Jean Rankin’s names, dates of birth and death, and the simple epitaph “Freedom’s Heroes.”

“May this monument remain as a sacred shrine — the true mecca to which our descendants unborn shall make their pilgrimages and gather new inspiration for life’s noble work,” said the Rankins’ son, the Rev. S.G. Rankin. 

The Ripley Bee reported that a group photograph was then taken around the new monument before those in attendance returned to town for a dinner at The Bank Hotel.