What’s in a Name: William Savery Bedford (1804 – 1888)

Week 6: #52Ancestors – Favorite Name

By Eilene Lyon

The namesake of my 3rd great-granduncle was a Quaker minister in Philadelphia, William Savery, who died in 1804, the same year William Savery Bedford was born. I only recently learned that William’s middle initial stood for “Savery” while examining Philadelphia Quaker records.

Though William’s parents, Thomas and Jane Bedford, were Quakers, William did not join the Society of Friends until he was an adult. Despite that, he wholeheartedly embraced their abolitionist cause. I was intrigued by his middle name because it sounds like “savory,” as in “delicious.” Looked at another way, if you add a letter, you get “slavery,” which might be exactly the reason he chose to use only a middle initial.

When he was 27 years old, and still single, William moved from Philadelphia to Springboro, Ohio (photo above). This is a community founded by Quakers, as were many towns in southwestern Ohio. His parents and most of his siblings also moved to Springboro. This occurred in 1831.

It wasn’t until he was 40 (in 1844) that William finally married, to Elizabeth Dearth, the sister of his brother-in-law, William Long Dearth. But one of the more memorable episodes in his life took place five years earlier, in 1839.

His daughter, Florence Bedford Wright, documented his story in a book of Ohio history published in 1905. “In no part of the country, did the friends of the fugitive slave make more personal sacrifices,” she claimed, “than those residing in southwestern Ohio.” William was no exception. Mrs. Wright drew her story from her father’s personal papers, as well as court records.

When Ohio achieved statehood in 1803, it was declared permanently a free state. Slaves could not even be legally transported across it. This provision was an enormous draw for many Quakers from southern states, such as Virginia and the Carolinas. Thus, when Bennet Raines of Rockingham County, Virginia, made an attempt reach Missouri with his four slaves by passing through Ohio, trouble ensued.

Below are some excerpts from William’s account:

Accompanying [Raines’] family were four slaves, an old woman, her daughter (a woman in the prime of life) and two small children belonging to the latter, one four years of age and the other an infant in arms. They passed through Springboro, Ohio, and pitched their tent one mile west. Word had been sent to the Abolitionists there of their intended arrival, and a hope expressed that they might manage to free these slaves, – Springboro at that time being one of the regular stations on the under-ground railroad…We held a hurried counsel and agreed to meet at his tent and inform him that he was violating our laws by passing slaves through our state…

Raines said we might take them if they were willing to go, the elder woman soon climbed into our carriage, as would the younger, but a daughter of Raines had secreted the boy, no doubt thinking she could sell him in Missouri. We felt the children could not judge, and that the mother had the best claim to them so the search was continued until one cried out: “I feel its kinky head,” and within the next twenty minutes they were all on the road to Canada. Raines was much irritated and finally pushed his gun barrel out of the back of the tent or wagon, some one told him “that was a game more than one could play,” and at once the noise of ramrods and gunlocks was heard, the colored members [of the Quaker group] having brought theirs without our knowledge or consent.

Raines filed suit, claiming he’d been robbed of $1000 in gold and $500 in paper money. During the trial, attorneys examined Mrs. Raines and their son separately and they could not attest to the money Mr. Raines had claimed was stolen, so the charge of larceny was dropped. However, the jury did convict the accused men, including William S. Bedford, of inciting a riot. They “were sentenced to five days in the dungeon, to be fed on bread and water and to pay a fine, some of $20.00 and some of $5.00.” They were eventually turned out on bail and the case went to the Supreme Court.

Judge Hitchcock cleared us in the Supreme Court in about 30 minutes, for he said we had a right to use as much force as was necessary to accomplish the object.

We learned long afterwards that the negroes settled among Friends and did not go to Canada.

 — William S. Bedford

Feature image: Historic downtown, Springboro, Ohio (E. Lyon 2017)


Plaque on historic building in Springboro, Ohio (E. Lyon 2017)

william bedford

Headstone of William Savery Bedford (Traci Huff via Find A Grave 2012)


Bi-centennial memorial to Jonathan Wright, founder of Springboro and conductor on the Underground Railroad (E. Lyon 2017)


Hinshaw, William Wade, et al., compilers. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. 6 vols. 1936–1950. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991–1994.

Hinshaw, William Wade. Marshall, Thomas Worth, comp. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Supplement to Volume 1. Washington, D.C.: n.p. 1948.

Ohio Historical Society. 1905. Ohio History, Vol. XIV. Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications. Columbus, Ohio. p. 164 – 167.

12 thoughts on “What’s in a Name: William Savery Bedford (1804 – 1888)

Add yours

  1. As always an interesting story that leaves me awe of the people from the slavery era who did the right thing, regardless of the personal cost. I occasionally drive through Springboro OH, but didn’t know about its Quaker roots.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My understanding is that most of southwest Ohio was settled originally by Quakers, sort of with Xenia as a hub and communities radiating from there like wheel spokes. I admire the abolitionists who practiced what they preached.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very impressed by this. My pal Lisa is a Quaker who lives in Philadelphia and she is one of the kindest souls I know. I’m more of a mutt without any illustrious lineage which is a shame since I love anything historic. But your ancestry rocks. Love the tombstones. I’m sure he knew you were here. I’m a big believer in that, borrowing from the Hebrews, always leaving a stone to show I was there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I once rented the home at 315 East Street in Springboro, Ohio, and with the help of a friend learned that Mr. Bedford at one time owned the home. In the cellar was a hole in the stone and soil wall. It split off in two directions and to our knowledge circled around the house beneath it. The house directly to the north also had a tunnel. We were told by another neighbor that the tunnels were made by underground springs, but we can’t help but wonder if they were in fact used in the aid of the Underground Railroad, and the two homes possibly linked. My neighbor and I were not brave enough to explore the tunnels, and though our children talked about doin so, none did. I knew about the story of Mr. Raines and the slaves and am proud to say that I lived in Mr. Bedford’s home and walked the floors he did. The house has not been preserved as well as I believe it deserves. Thank you for this article I was so excited to stumble upon it 6 1/2 years after living at 315 East St., and learning more about Mr. Bedford.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lynne, Thank you so much for this comment! I’ve been in Springboro once, but only for a few hours. So nice to know about the house. I had not delved that far into my research (yet). I think you are probably right about the connection to the Underground Railroad. I do not think William Bedford “changed his ways” after his short jail term. He seems to have been a committed abolitionist.


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