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Peter Bruner

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Subject: Kate Drumgoold, Exodus narrative in Antebellum America, Slave narratives, Wallace Turnage, To a Southern Slaveholder
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Peter Bruner

Peter Bruner
Peter Bruner with his wife, about 1919.
Born 1845
Clark County, Winchester, Kentucky
Died 1938 (aged 93)
Oxford, Ohio
Occupation Slave, Soldier, Custodian, Author
Known for A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom Not a Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle
Spouse(s) Frances Procton

Peter Bruner (1845–1938),[1] was born a slave in Kentucky. He escaped enslavement to join the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he married and raised a family in Ohio. Collaborating with his daughter, he published his autobiography.

Early life

Bruner was born in 1845 in [3]

When Bruner was about 10 years old John Bell Bruner was offered $800 for Peter, but told the man that "he was growing into money" and before long would be worth $200 more than that.[2][4] He was removed from his mother at a young age and worked as a tanner; He was also hired out to work for others. Bruner was beaten and tried to escape many times,[3][5] having endured "extreme physical violence and psychological deprivation".[6][7] The sister of his owner threatened that: "she wanted to buy me for the sole purpose of whipping me; she said if she could whip me and break me in she could stop me from running off."[8]

Civil War

On July 25, 1864, after numerous attempts, he escaped slavery and joined the Union Army as a free man at Camp Nelson in Kentucky, serving in Company C of the 12th Regiment Heavy Artillery U.S. Colored Troops, as part of the United States Colored Troops.[9][10]

During his initial attempt to join the army in August 1863, he had been told it was a "white man's war."[9][11] Kentucky was the last state to accept African American men into their army. In February 1864 there were 400 men who wanted to enlist and Col. Andrew H. Clark began enlisting the men. By June of that year there were 1,500 enlisted colored soldiers. June 13, 1864 restrictions were lifted requiring men to be free or have their owner's written permission to engage in the war; From that point forward, anyone that enlisted was emancipated.[9][12]

Bruner described the events of his second, successful attempt to enlist in his book A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom: "The next morning about five o’clock I had gone twenty-one miles and had arrived at Richmond. After I had left Richmond I came upon sixteen colored fellows who were on their way to Camp Nelson and of course I did not get lonesome. Just a half hour before sundown we arrived at Camp Nelson and had come forty-one miles in that day. The officers asked me what I wanted there and I told them that I came there to fight the rebels and that I wanted a gun."[12][13]

Camp Nelson became the third largest recruiting and training center for African American men: More than 10,000 men were recruited at Camp Nelson.[14]

Unlike the all-white unit that guarded central Kentucky for the Union in 1863, the new army welcomed, initiated, trained, and commanded thousands of African American soldiers willing to fight the Confederates and, more immediately, to attain their freedom.[11]

Bruner served in western and central Kentucky, performing garrison duty.[5] He was mustered out of the army in 1866[5] and went to Winchester, Kentucky to visit his mother, who he had not seen for 18 years, before moving to Ohio.[2][15]

Peter Bruner is listed on plaque B-26 at the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.[10]

Marriage and children

In 1866 he moved to [3] He and his family were long-term member of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E. Church) in Oxford.[6]

Well liked in the community, he was appointed "Mayor for the Day" of Oxford, Ohio in April 1938.[16][17]

Miami University

Bruner worked as a custodian and messenger at Western Female Seminary, Oxford College, which merged into Miami University.[5][18][nb 1]

He was the first African American men to work at Miami University.[2][18][19]

He learned to read and write.[2] In his autobiography he said that he went to school in Oxford and "studied reading, writing, geography and spelling, and have not got it yet."[15]

Bruner often served as ceremonial greeter at the university, wearing top hat and tails. His top hat is exhibited at the William H. McGuffey House Museum at Miami University.[6]

Several of his grandchildren and great grandchildren where able to be graduated from Miami University, including Thomas Monroe Cheeks, Carrie Cheeks Morgan, Isabel Cheeks Lewis, Thomas Kelly, Margaret Greene McClain and James Cheeks. Many of his other descendants have been graduated from other colleges.


With his daughter, Carrie Burns, he wrote an autobiography, A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom; Not Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle. Bruner states in his introduction:

In this book I have given the actual experiences of my own life. I thought in putting it in this form it might be of some inspiration to struggling men and women. In this great, free land of ours, every person, no matter how humble or how great seems the handicap, by industry and saving, can reach a position of independence and be of service to mankind.[20]

Slave Narrative Collection

In 1936, Bruner was interviewed for the Works Progress Administration Slave Narrative Collection. The interview did not reveal the same level of detail as his book. He left out personal information and did not delve into the more complex natures of individuals and the communities in which he lived. Blassingame theorizes that some of this may be due to memory loss, transcription errors, or concealment of some of the facts.[7] The WPA interview resulted in a couple of types pages; Bruner's book was 54 pages.[7][21]


Peter Bruner died on April 6, 1938[5] and is one of the African American Civil War Veterans buried in Woodside Cemetery, Oxford, Ohio.[5][18][22]



  1. ^ Prior to working at the organizations that became the united Miami University, Bruner worked as a watchman, handyman and farm laborer.[5]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Children's Page". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d A. Bradley McClain, a descendant. "Peter Bruner and Richard Burns - Woodside Cemetery, Oxford, Ohio". Lest We Forget: African American Military History by Historian, Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr. Hampton University. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  4. ^ Walter Johnson (2 March 2001). Soul by soul: life inside the antebellum slave market. Harvard University Press. p. 20.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h John E. Kleber (18 May 1992). The Kentucky encyclopedia. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 133–.  
  6. ^ a b c d Helen Sheumaker. "An Escaped Slave's Legacy Lives On". Miami University (This article appeared in the Friday, March 13 edition of the Oxford Press, Cox Publishing Company.). Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  7. ^ a b c John W. Blassingame (1977). Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews and Autobiographies. LSU Press. p. 57.  
  8. ^ Walter Johnson (2 March 2001). Soul by soul: life inside the antebellum slave market. Harvard University Press. p. 107.  
  9. ^ a b c Richard D. Sears (2002). Camp Nelson, Kentucky: a Civil War history. University Press of Kentucky (accessed from Google Books). pp. 13–14, 104, 114.  
  10. ^ a b "Peter Bruner in 12th Regiment, United States Colored Heavy Artillery". National Park Service: The Civil War. Retrieved April 21, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Paul Alan Cimbala; Randall Martin Miller (2010). The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction As America's Continuing Civil War. Fordham Univ Press. p. 34.  
  12. ^ a b "Emancipation Center for Kentucky Camp Nelson". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  13. ^ Peter Bruner (1919). A Slave’s Adventures Toward Freedom. 
  14. ^ "Camp Nelson: 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  15. ^ a b Peter Bruner. "A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom; Not Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle". Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 48. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  16. ^ "Peter Bruner: An Informal Presentation on His Life and Times". Miami University. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  17. ^ "Peter Bruner". Butler County Civil War 150. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  18. ^ a b c d "Notable Kentucky African Americans". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  19. ^ "Digital Collections - Miami University Libraries : Item Viewer". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  20. ^ Peter Bruner. "A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom; Not Fiction, but the True Story of a Struggle". Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 7. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  21. ^ Applewood Books (1 May 2006). Kentucky Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in Kentucky from Interviews with Former Slaves. Applewood Books. pp. 88–89.  
  22. ^ "Woodside Cemetery". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  23. ^ "African American National Biography | W. E. B. Du Bois Institute". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 
  24. ^ "Special Presentations: February 24, 2009, Peter Bruner: Slave, Soldier and Celebrated Oxford Citizen". McGuffey Museum, Miami University. Retrieved 2013-04-21. 

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