The Fee Brothers
Robert E. Fee, a member of the founding family of Moscow, Ohio, was born in 1796 and devoted his life to the abolitionist cause. Sometime in 1842, a runaway slave named Fanny Wigglesworth, who settled in Clermont County, was kidnaped. Fee made several unsuccessful attempts to rescue Wigglesworth and her children. The kidnapping of the Wigglesworth family outraged members of the Moscow community. Their kidnapping further motivated him to help runaway slaves. Sitting on the bank of the Ohio River, Robert Fee’s mansion served as a beacon from the distant shores of Kentucky. A light or lantern was placed in an upstairs window to let runaway slaves know it was safe to cross the river. Once runaway slaves made it to the river, Robert Fee and his family hid runaways until they could be safeguarded through a network of Underground Railroad conductors in Moscow, Ohio.
Backstory and Context
The Fee family were well-known abolitionists in Clermont County. The Ebersoles, Collins, and the Fees, all abolitionists, married into each other’s families, creating a strong network of Underground Railroad safe houses. The Fees were also related to John G. Fee, co-founder of Berea College. Robert Fee and his brother Thomas Fee, Jr., both antislavery Democrats, used a candlelit window sill as a symbol for runaway slaves seeking their freedom. Thomas Fee, Jr. used the basement of his waterfront home to hide runaway slaves. The Fee family worked with other abolitionists in the county to provide a network of Underground Railroad sites that led north to Quaker country. From there, runaway slaves could make it closer to Canada.
In 1842, a local woman, Fanny Wigglesworth, a runaway slave, and her children were kidnaped. “Around a dozen white men from Kentucky entered the home of Vincent and Fanny Wigglesworth, tying up Vincent to a chair and kidnapping Fanny and their four children.”1 The Moscow community was outraged by the kidnapping and sought justice from Governor Shannon. Robert E. Fee went to Missouri where he found the kidnaped Wigglesworth’s; however, he was unsuccessful in bringing the family back to Ohio. Governor Shannon tried to extradite the kidnappers from Missouri, but the Missourian governor did not comply. The Wigglesworth family, according to historical records, were never reunited. The Fees continued to work as conductors and abolitionists. Thomas Fee was known for feeding and clothing runaway slaves, aiding them on their journey to Felicity, the next stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1852, Robert Fee was indicted by a Pendleton County, Kentucky Grand Jury on the charges of slave stealing. The governor of Ohio refused to extradite Fee.