Noble County was far from an apathetic bystander during the turbulent years before, during and after the Civil War. Nobel County, in fact, was a microcosm of the nation, exhibiting violently the extremes that split the union.
Abolution of slavery and the repeal of Ohio's Black Laws were subjects hotly debated in Noble County beginning in the 1830's. The wilderness of eastern Noble County seems a highly unlikely setting for a debate about slavery. Ohio was and always has been a "free" state; the townships that would soon become Noble County could count their black neighbors on the fingers of one hand. Nevertheless, emotions were high.
Hundreds of runaway Black slaves crossed the river into Ohio and were passed from family to family as they carefully picked their way north into Canada. Local stops included Summerfield, Stafford, Senecaville and Sarahsville, which was the underground station founded by Daniel Pettay, one of the men who also stood inthe forefront of the fight to create Noble County. Hoskinsville (red dot on the above map) is about half way between Renrock (not shown) and Sarahsville.
Abolutionists during thosepre-war days were considered to be members of the radical fringe. Many, particularly abolutionist merchants were boycotted by their neighbors. The Summerfield postmaster at one point refused to deliver anti-slavery mail.
The county was crisscrossed hundreds of times during those years by fleeing slaves, hounded by bounty hunters and slave owners.
Butunbridled allegiance to the Union cause was not universial in Noble County. Silas Thorla, the late folk historian and columnist (and author of a number of resources that I have included in this collection) wrote: "As a child I saw and felt some of the bitterness and sting of that conflict. It was a war that came right up to our door-step, yes, right into the house. Don't think for a moment that the community between Renrock and Hoskinsville was peaceful and harmonious and all of one accord as to the outcome of the war; far from it. While brother was fighting brother down on Southern soil, here at home the neighbor was bitterly hostile and antagonistic against neighbor, and the spirit of hate was rampant. Living conditions were anything but pleasant... While Lincoln was President, we heard him called all the nasty, vile names that men could lay their tongues to.
As a kid I witnessed musters, etc. At public gatherings people, for and against the Union would show their colors in various ways.
A rank Southern sympathzer would be seen with a butternut pinned on the lapel of his coat. This was apt to start a fight. In those days little boys wore dresses until they were about six years old. My mother made me a dress of calico covered all over with little American flags."
Thus the stage was set for the famous or infamous Hoskinsville Rebellion.
It began in February, 1863 when the Attorney for Southern Ohio intercepted a letter written by Tertullus Brown of Hoskinsville to his cousin, Union soldier John Wesley McFerren. Brown's letter advised McFerren "well Wesley, my advice to you is this and it is not given without much reflection, knowing the danger to which such a step will expose you. Come home if you can possibly get home, for to conquer the South is an impossibility and the only hope for you to reach home is to desert, for to stay where you are is death and to desert can be no worse."
McFerren, about 23, had already left his regiment when the letter arrived. In some acconts he had already deserted. Other accounts claim that McFerren had been captured by rebel, paroled and sent home, a common practice during the Civil War.
The government dispatched Deputy U.S. Marshall Samuel Colby, bearing a warrent for Brown's arrest and Army Cpl. James F. Davidson with four Union privates and a warrent for the arrest of McFerren. The charge against Brown was "aiding and abetting and enticing a soldier to desert". The charge against McFerren was desertion.
The "rebellion" occurred at 9 a.m. on March 12, 1863. The marshall and the posse rode to John Racey's storehouse where they were confronted by 75 to 100 men, many of whom were armed. The wanted men, McFerren and Brown,were in the crowd. The Union party left without making any attempt to serve their warrents.
Thus ended the bloodless confrontation between the frustrated farmers and the timid federal marshal and his soldier escort.
WIthin days Ohio newspapers were creasming for bloody revenge against the traitorous copperheads of Noble County. Noble County, which had voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln in 1860, was painted as a hotbed of Southern resistence to the war. The New York Tribune reported that 600 to 1,000 Noble Countians had organized and armed themselves to resist the government in arresting deserters.
Union politicians, fearful of further embarassment, dispatched 200 soldiers from Cincinnati to Noble County. Upon arriving at Hoskinsville on March 19, the troops found the town deserted except for a few women, children and a one legged man named Matson. The troops left Hoskinsville and swept through Noble County in search of the 65 wanted men.
After scouring the area, the troops arrived back in Cincinnati on March 27 with 16 Nobel County men who were marched through the streets to the Hamilton County jail and locked up. Thirteen more were jailed in Cincinnati a few days later.
After preliminary hearings, 18 were freed due to lack of evidence and 11 were held for grand jury action. On April 23, 1863, 40 Noble County men were indicted for "obstructing process". The list included Benton Thorla, Absalom Willey, Asher Willey, Curtis Willey, John Willey, Marshall Willey, Martin Willey, Milton Willey, Wesley Willey and William Willey.
Bail was set at $1,500 for each of the defendants; ten of the 40 were also indicted for conspiracy. Twelve of the men pled guilty , were fined $10 and sentenced to 24 hours in jail. Three were found guilty on the conspiracy charge and fined $500 and costs. Charges against all of the others were "nolle prossed" in 1864.
Tertullus Brown, who had escaped to Canada during the 1863 roundup by federal troops, never returned to Noble County. John Wesley McFerren returned to Koskinsville after the war and lived out his days.
Larry Willey sums it up in the following statement ... "The Wesley WIlley mentioned in the article is my great grandfather .... they had some rocky times that prompted their (the Willey's) resettlement in Iowa".
One wonders what happened to the other families involved.