Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mary Marilla Stephens Overheard Plot to Free Prisoners at Johnson’s Island


Mary Marilla Stephens was born in 1846 in Perkins Township to Mr. and Mrs. William Stephens. When Mary was 17, she moved to a rooming house on Madison Street in Sandusky, to be close to the high school in Sandusky. On the evening of September 18, 1864, Mary overheard several Confederate men talking loudly about a plot to overtake the guards at Johnson’s Island prison and release several hundred Confederate officers.

Mary was frightened, as her brother, Jefferson Stephens was on duty as a guard at Johnson’s Island. She slipped out of the rooming house, and hurried to the home of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Washington Stephens. Washington Stephens, Mary’s brother, was stationed in Washington D.C. at the time. The proper authorities were tipped off, and, perhaps sensing this, the plotters aborted their plans -- but not before they hijacked two steamers, the Philo Parsons and the Island Queen (both shown below).
You can read more about the plot to free the prisoners at Johnson’s Island in Charles E. Frohman’s book Rebels on Lake Erie, and online at the Cornell Library New York State Historical Literature collection, among other sources. Additionally, a new book, written by Ohio native James E. Duffey, Victim of Honor: The Story of John Y. Beall and the Northwestern Conspiracy, studies the conspiracy through a focus on its leader, John Yeats Beall. (Not yet reviewed, nor in the library; we hope to have a copy soon.)


In 1867 Mary Marilla Stephens married Jesse Greene, who was a descendant of the Taylor and House families who settled in Perkins Township in 1815. They had five children. Mary was widowed in 1894, but she lived to the age of 93 years. Her obituary stated that she was “one of the best known women in Erie County.” She had been a member of the Perkins Methodist Church, Ladies Aid Society, Home Missionary Society, and was a charter member of the Perkins Grange. She is buried in Perkins Cemetery in the Greene family plot.

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