†This article appeared in the Friday, March 13 edition of the Oxford Press, Cox Publishing Company.
An Escaped Slaveís Legacy Lives On
Written by Helen Sheumaker
Peter Bruner survived slavery in Kentucky, survived his service as a Union soldier during the Civil War, and created an extraordinary life in Oxford, Ohio, where he lived from 1866 to his death in 1938.† In celebration of Brunerís life and Black History Month, on Feb. 24, the William Holmes McGuffey Museum and the Department of History co-sponsored a public lecture, ďPeter Bruner: An Informal Discussion of His Life and Times.Ē† Presented by Blake Vaughan, a masterís candidate in History and a graduate student aide at McGuffey Museum, the Bicentennial program was attended by several descendants of Peter Bruner, including his grandson, Thomas Kelley.
Peter Brunerís life experiences are known today in part because he dictated a memoir of his life to his daughter, Carrie Burns.† His book, A Slaveís Adventures toward Freedom: Not Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle, was published in the early 1920s, and stands as an acknowledged slave narrative of American history.† He was born in 1845, and his life in slavery was marked by extreme physical violence and psychological deprivation, and his narrative does not shy from the harsh details of his experiences with his master, John Bell Bruner, in Winchester, Kentucky.† As soon as he was old enough to try, Peter ran away and was always caught and was returned to his master to face punishment.† But in 1864, Peter succeeded in his escape, found his way to Camp Nelson, Kentucky, and promptly enlisted in the Union Army, serving in Company C, 12th Regiment, Heavy Artillery, U.S. Colored Troops.
After he was mustered out in 1866 Peter moved to Oxford, Ohio, joining his aunt and uncle, the Brassfields.† Peter married Fannie Procton, whose own family has many historic roots in the town.† Peter and Fannie created an extraordinary life for themselves in Oxford Ė lives full of struggle but also marked by success.† They had five children together.† Peter worked for schools that would become Western College for Women and Oxford College for Women and later, Miami University.† He was a long-term member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church, as was his wife.† Church, family, and work were the cornerstones of Peter and Fannieís life together.
Mr. A. Bradley McClain of Akron, Mrs. Marilyn Kelley Dowdell of Yellow Springs, and her uncle Mr. Thomas Kelley of Wilberforce, Ohio, attended the presentation of Peter Brunerís life and by their presence reminded others of Brunerís legacy of family and tradition.† Mr. Thomas Kelley, 90, is Peter Brunerís grandson, and brought a silver goblet of Peter Brunerís.† This goblet was part of a set given to Peter Bruner and his wife† upon their 25th wedding anniversary.† Other members of Brunerís extended family were in attendance, including Bradley McClain, an attorney from Akron.†
From left to right Janice McClain, Bradley McClain, Blake Vaughn, Marilyn Kelley Dowdell, Thomas Kelley
The William Holmes McGuffey Museum has on exhibit Peter Brunerís top hat from 1893.† Bruner often served as ďceremonialĒ greeter at Miami University events, and wore a top coat, tails, and top hat.† Brunerís top hat and autobiography are cherished artifacts of Miami University and Oxford history and are reminders of his long and remarkable life here in Oxford, Ohio.†† Mr. Vaughn concluded his talk saying, "As we celebrate black history month, Bruner's life deserves revisiting because he represents the tens of thousands of African Americans who during and after slavery worked in more quiet and simple ways to rebuild their lives, to reconstruct their identities, and to revive hope for a better future for their descendents."
To learn more
To read Peter Brunerís narrative, go to ďDocumenting the SouthĒ website at the University of North Carolina. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/bruner/bruner.html
To see Peter Brunerís top hat and case, and displayed copy of his narrative, visit the William Holmes McGuffey Museum on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.