John Stone was born in Belpre, Ohio in June 1793. His father, Jonathan Stone, served as a captain in the American Revolution. Growing up on the banks of the Ohio River, a young John Stone witnessed groups of men tracking runaway slaves. By the time Stone was in his twenties, he started using his home as a station on the Underground Railroad. Stone worked with another well-known abolitionist in Belpre, David Putnam, Jr. Together, Putnam and Stone built a network of safe houses for runaway slaves. The two men furthered their network by working with an African American woman named “Aunt Jenny” who helped signal Stone across the river in what was then Parkersburg, Virginia. Stone lived through the antebellum period working with Putnam, and Aunt Jenny, establishing a network of Underground Railroad sites that harbored slaves. This group of Underground Railroad conductors worked together to get fugitive slaves out of Virginia, into Ohio, and farther north towards Canada.

  • John Stone House, circa 1850s.
    John Stone House, circa 1850s.
  • Map illustrating Underground Railroad stations in Eastern Ohio.
    Map illustrating Underground Railroad stations in Eastern Ohio.

John Stone and David Putnam, Jr. corresponded with each other through ambiguous messages that referred to the number of runaway slaves they were helping. The notes used a simple number followed by a series of initials indicating where the slaves were picked up and where the next stop on the Underground Railroad was. One of the pair's greatest resources was Aunt Jenny. “At Belpre, Colonel Stone’s most useful spy was a resident of the town across the river, a slave woman known as Aunt Jenny. Aunt Jenny was a Parkersburg “bell ringer” at the landing there.”1 The established network between Stone, Putnam, and Aunt Jenny allowed for Underground Railroad operations to get runaway slaves out of Virginia and farther north towards Canada.

Stone paid attention to the activities of slavers, becoming familiar with their search patterns. Runaway slaves would hide in his large corn field, and Stone would signal them when the slavers were gone. The large field of crops was known as Stone’s Bottom, many runaway slaves hid there, or in one of the nearby barns. When helping slaves get to the next station on the Underground Railroad in Belpre, Stone and Putnam used a series of bird calls to signal each other that it was safe to pass on the runaway slaves. Stone worked with Putnam and Aunt Jenny throughout much of the antebellum period up to the Civil War. In a newspaper interview from the Marietta Weekly, March 9, 1886, John Stone discussed his involvement with the Underground Railroad. Not only did Stone discuss his participation in the Underground Railroad, he talked about other people in Washington County, Ohio who helped form a network allowing hundreds of runaway slaves escape to freedom.

1. Henry Robert Burke and Charles Hart, Washington County Underground Railroad, (Arcadia Publishing, 2004).

2. Tom Calarco, Places of the Underground Railroad: A Geographical Guide. (ABC-CLIO, 2011).