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Story of slave being told for the first time

PLATTSBURGH - The name Lavinia Bell may not be as common as, say, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass, but her story is just as important.

According to North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association president Don Papson, Bell was a slave who escaped to freedom in Canada, passing through Rouses Point as she did so.

"She was born a free person in Washington D.C. and when she was a child she was kidnapped and sold into slavery," explained Papson. "Her story is really pretty awful because the man who owned her was extremely cruel."

Papson added Bell tried to escape at one point with her husband, but were caught and he was beat to death. At the time however, Bell was pregnant.

"She ran away again and she was pregnant and she gave birth to twins and one of the babies died," he explained, adding she was caught again after that.

"Then she ran away again. Her son was taken away from her," said Papson. "What is interesting, is every time she ran away, the man who owned her punished her more severely than he had before."

According to Papson, the wife of Bell's owner said "You need to follow the Northern Star or he's going to kill you."

From Texas, where Bell had been enslaved, she traveled the country finally making it to Rouses Point in the winter of 1861. There she met a man who helped her across the border into Montreal and brought her to a refugee family.

"She was extremely ill and so they called a doctor in and her story was on the front page of the newspapers in Montreal," said Papson. "That's how we know the story."

The story will now be reenacted for the public Friday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh's Krinovitz Recital Hall in Hawkins Hall. Actress Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux, who has portrayed Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, will play Bell in the world premier of "Never Give Up: The Story of Lavinia Bell."

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