Delia Webster, Calvin Fairbank, and the Escape of Lewis Hayden

Delia Webster and Calvin Fairbank emerged as fiery white abolitionists as well as Underground Railroad activists.

Delia Webster was born in Vermont in 1817, studied briefly at Oberlin College in Ohio, and moved to Kentucky in 1842. Calvin Fairbank was born in New York in 1816, studied for several years at Oberlin College, and eventually became a Methodist minister.

Although Webster and Fairbank had both attended Oberlin, they did not know each other until they crossed paths in Kentucky through their individual Underground Railroad activities.

Specifically, in 1844 Fairbank traveled to Kentucky to help an enslaved African American family escape the system of human bondage that he had heard about while he was studying at Oberlin. In need of some additional funds for the venture, Fairbank solicited funds and the assistance of Webster.

Around this time, Webster introduced Fairbank to Lewis Hayden, an enslaved African American waiter who desired to gain his freedom by any way necessary. Eventually Fairbank and Webster helped Hayden obtain his freedom via the Underground Railroad.

The two abolitionists acquired a carriage and traveled with the Hayden family to aid their escape. The Haydens covered their faces with flour to appear white. On a cold and rainy night, the group traveled from Lexington to Ripley, Ohio. Aided by local abolitionists including John Rankin, the Haydens then continued North, eventually reaching Canada.

Upon hearing about Hayden's successful escape, numerous slave catchers and law enforcement officers began to monitor the activities of Fairbank and Webster, which eventually led to their arrest in 1844, as the two were en route to Lexington.

Convicted of helping hundreds of enslaved African American to obtain their freedom through the use of the Underground Railroad, both individuals were indicted in Fayette Circuit Court and sentenced to five and two years in jail, respectively.

However, outraged by the jailing of a woman, on 24 February 1845, Governor William Owsley pardoned Webster. Fairbanks served most of his five-year term, until Governor John Crittenden pardoned him on 28 August 1849.

(excerpt from The Underground Railroad Emerges in Southwest Ohio and Kentucky: A Historiography Essay of the Movement by Dr. Eric R. Jackson)



Dr. Eric Jackson (Northern Kentucky University), “Delia Webster, Calvin Fairbank, and the Escape of Lewis Hayden,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed July 18, 2024,