News and Tribune

New Albany Bicentennial

May 22, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: The Brandenburg Affair

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY —

A group of Kentuckians within a month had surrounded the Bell house in Indiana, and had taken David, Charles, and a freed black man named Oswald Wright prisoner. The group escorted the three men back to Brandenburg where they would await trial for abetting runaway slaves. 

At the time of the arrests, Horace was trying to find his way — and some gold — in California. After being notified of the situation, the son returned to Indiana with the hopes of freeing his father and brother from prison. For more than a year the three men from Indiana remained in jail with no trial. Delays were granted one after another until Horace could stand it no longer. Action, he thought, was needed. 

During the afternoon of July 27, 1858, Gresham said Horace and his little brother John traveled to Brandenburg with the hopes of freeing their family. Armed with revolvers and a “carpetbag” of ammunition, the boys found the place virtually unoccupied just as they had planned. A picnic in a nearby town had emptied Brandenburg leaving only a few around to protect the jail from an assault. 

Quickly, Horace freed his brother and father from the prison. According to Gresham, Oswald, the black man who was also captured in the earlier raid on the Bell house, was not housed at that jail. It is unclear if he had been there if Horace would have freed him too. 

Under a volley of bullets, Gresham said the reunited family returned to the skiff and made their way back to Indiana where Horace was immediately designated a hero. 

“Horace Bell was the hero of the hour, and as he himself afterwards said, did too much exulting and drank too much ‘John Barleycorn,’” she said. 

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Those Kentuckians didn’t take too kindly to being humiliated by a Hoosier. While Horace accompanied his mother and sister to the state fair in New Albany, a group of men grabbed the young man and extradited him to Kentucky where he was jailed for helping in the escape of his brother and father. 

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