Wilson Bruce Evans House, 33 East
Wilson Bruce Evans (1824-1898), an African American carpenter and furniture
maker, built this red brick, hipped roof, home in 1854-56, shortly after
he and his brother Henry arrived from North Carolina. The house, still
standing on Vine Street, is representative of the vibrant African-American
community in Oberlin.
Born free in Orange County, North Carolina, the Evans brothers learned
their trades as young men and married two sisters, Henrietta (who married
Henry c. 1844) and Sarah Jane (who married Wilson Bruce in 1854) Leary,
also free-born African Americans. After the families moved north together
in 1854, the brothers established a cabinet shop and later a store. They
were part of a growing African American presence that numbered 442 persons
in a total population of 2,114 in Oberlin by 1860.
Both Evans brothers participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue in 1858.
This incident began when John Price, a fugitive slave residing in Oberlin,
was captured by slavecatchers who took him to Wellington, the town south
of Oberlin, for transport via railroad to Kentucky. Oberlin residents
and students, black and white, intervened to rescue Price, who was then
secretly transported to Canada. As a result, 37 Oberlinians, including
the Evans brothers, faced indictment for breaking the Fugitive Slave Law.
Jailed in Cleveland while awaiting trial, the Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers
were hailed as martyrs for the abolitionist cause. Wilson Bruce Evans
and his brother spent 84 days in jail until prosecutors in Lorain County
agreed to halt proceedings against the slavecatchers in exchange for the
dropping of charges against the rescuers.
During the Civil War, Wilson Bruce Evans passed as white to enlist in
an all-white unit of the Union Army. After the war, he returned to Oberlin,
where he continued his work. He died in 1898.
The Wilson Bruce Evans house remains under family ownership. Until November
1996, the house was owned by Dorothy Inborden Miller, the grandaughter
of Wilson Bruce Evans by his daughter Sarah and her husband Thomas Sewell
Inborden. At her death, the home passed to Mrs. Frances Kent, the niece
of Mrs. Miller.
On Tuesday, April 7, 1998, Bruce Babbitt, the United States Secretary
of the Interior, and the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Association
will celebrate the designation of the Wilson Bruce Evans House as a National