Degree Year

1989

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Anthropology

Advisor(s)

Jack Glazier

Keywords

Oberlin (Ohio), Legends, Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, George Jones, Chance Creek, Big Flats

Abstract

This thesis concerns Oberlin local legend, its forms and functions. It focuses on one of the vital legends in Oberlin, the local/historic legend of the Oberlin Wellington Rescue, about the town's efforts to send a recaptured slave to freedom. The event occurred in 1858, twenty-five years after Oberlin's founding. This incident was instrumental in "putting Oberlin on the map," it helped to precipitate the abolition of the Fugitive Slave Act. The legend has been associated with the better known story of the John Brown Rebellion, a contemporary historical tale that also has Oberlin origin.

The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue has been popular for over one hundred years, and its telling has become an Oberlin tradition; it is a part of the seventh graders' local history curriculum, and often Bill Long, the town expert on the legend and my prime informant, is invited to retell the story for the middle school children. It is also recalled during Oberlin's Heritage Days Celebration during the summer. Long has used the legend to help Oberlinians come to terms with the events of the McCarthy era and to help them understand their relation to Martin Luther King's dream.

The Rescue legend has assumed many forms that some would not classify as legend. Bill Long has written two plays on the Rescue, one of which has been acted out repeatedly in Oberlin. He is looking for a larger, outside audience for the presentation of his more imaginative second version. So far he has been unsuccessful. In the process of looking for an audience, Long contacted a novelist, Nat Brant. Brant took an interest in the story, but not in Long's play, and is now writing his own monograph on the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. In the monograph the Rescue story leaves the realm of legend and will probably become a combination of national folktale and history in its reception into the mass culture.

This thesis is in part an acceptance of Alan Dundas' invitation to future folklorists and anthropologists to begin to interpret legend material as a product of human fantasy. Dundas tells us, "one does not escape the real world into legend; rather legend represents fantasy in the real world." (Dundes 1975:165) If legend material is only collected and shelved, the anthropologist can never hope to gain insight into the culture he studies from this richly symbolic and metaphorical narrative style.

Included in

Anthropology Commons

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