Peter Bruner

Full length studio portrait of Peter Bruner, wearig his silk top hat, photographed by Frank L Bader

Peter Bruner: Novel in Death, Not in Life (PDF)

Manuscript by Kaylie Schunk, Masters in History candidate at Miami University and student aide at McGuffey House and Museum, 2018


by Sara Eagin, McGuffey Museum Intern, 2006

Peter Bruner was born a slave in 1845 in Winchester, Kentucky, just east of Lexington.

Peter repeatedly tried to run away, and finally succeeded by joining the Union Army at Camp Nelson, Kentucky in 1864. Now emancipated, he joined Company C, 12th Regiment U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery.

In 1866, he was mustered out of the army and came to Oxford to live with an aunt and uncle. When the Western Female Seminary burned down in 1871 he was hired to assist with the cleanup and rebuilding.

He then went to work for Oxford College and was so popular with the faculty and students that they threw him and his wife a party for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1893. One of his favorite gifts that he received was the silk top hat that is on display today. He wore it for every formal occasion the rest of his life, and today there are a number of pictures of him wearing the hat.

After a number of years at Oxford College, Bruner was offered a janitorial position on Miami’s campus under Dr. Thompson. On the Bruner’s 50th wedding anniversary, the University held a party for them, and Peter wore his silk top hat.

Although Peter could not read or write, he dictated his life story to his daughter, who wrote the book A Slave's Adventures Toward Freedom, published ca. 1920.

In 1938 Bruner was named Oxford’s Mayor for a Day. Soon after he died on April 7th, 1938 at age 92. He asked that after his death his hat be returned to Miami University.