Nelson, born into slavery, was not your ordinary person when he made his first appearance in 1821 on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, called the Woodburn Estates. He became a quiet precocious child who won the heart of his owner, John Nixon, with his excellent work ethic and determined attitude.
In time he would meet Anna Maria Hughes, a beautiful young woman, owned by the Russell family of Leesburg, Virginia. Some would say it was "Love at first sight." On May 11, 1843, Nelson and Anna were married by a minister, Rev. Samuel Gover, while still slaves. Because they had different owners, unfortunately they had to live in separate locations.
When Nelson’s owner died in 1844, Nelson received his freedom papers in September, 1845 as it was stated in Mr. Nixon’s will that all his slaves would be set free upon his death. Nelson vowed to work and purchase his wife, but he had only one year to remain in Virginia to accomplish this because the law stated that once a slave is set free, he could only stay in Virginia one year or be considered a candidate for enslavement again. After a year of work, Jane Russell refused to free her so Nelson had to leave the state..
As a result, Nelson came back into Virginia and he and Anna Maria disappeared into the night, ending up in Washington, D.C. as fugitives. Betrayed by a Black man, they were arrested and transported to Leesburg for trial. Efforts were made to get Anna Maria to testify against her husband and confess that Nelson helped her to escape. Nelson’s attorney presented arguments in court to prevent Anna Maria from having to testify. This became a landmark trial because it was the first time in the nation that a slave marriage was considered to be legal, resulting in Anna Maria from having to testify. With no testimony against him, Nelson was released and Anna Maria went back to Jane Russell’s place in Leesburg. Eventually, with the help of abolitionists, Nelson was able to purchase his wife in February, 1847. With their daughter Mary, the couple settled in Zanesville, Ohio in 1847.
Zanesville was a quaint little town, settled in 1797 by Ebenezer Zane who blazed the Zane Trace trail for the government. Zanesville was recognized for its beautiful location where two rivers, the Licking and Muskingum Rivers meet and where a bridge in the shape of a Y enabled travelers to cross the rivers.
Across the Muskingum River from Zanesville was a place settled by surveyor, Rufus Putnam, of Marietta, called Putnam to this day. Zanesville was pro-slavery while Putnam was anti-slavery, thus this became an area where many disagreements and battles over slavery occurred.