OHIO ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS
v.4, Pg. 56, Pg. 2 to Pg. 63
This is the beginning of a renaissance of American morals. The question of slavery which had been set at rest by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which needed reopening if the country was ever to arouse from its stupor and shake off its terrible national vice. Benjamin Lundy, as a youth of nineteen had been pierced to the quick at the sight of slave-gangs driven in chains through the streets of Wheeling, West Virginia. He wrote in his diary at that time. “I felt his pang of distress, and the iron entered my soul.” The depth of his conviction is shown in his wonderful zeal for anti-slavery work, a zeal which displayed itself in his canvass of nineteen out of the twenty-four existing States in behalf of the cause he advocated as lecturer, as editor, and as organizer of numerous societies.
The voices of these men alone speak to the deaf ears of the years from1800-1830. The shameful silence of these decades would have been unbroken but for them. Then Garrison heard the call. His enlistment at once assured the quickening of the whole country.
In the meantime, slaves were still thirsting for liberty, and were finding relief with the secret help of a few scattered, principle-abiding, if not law-abiding people. These were the simon-pure abolitionists, who braved public prejudice for years and ostracized themselves by helping the deserving negro to his liberty. Taken together they constitute that mysterious organization known as the “Underground Railroad.” It was the self-imposed business of this concern “to receive, forward, conceal and protect fugitives.” It got its name from the hidden methods it employed in its operations. The way the name was received was as follows: A fugitive named Tice Davids traveled one of the Ohio routes in 1831 from Ripley to Sandusky. The slave set out upon his journey under unusual circumstances no doubt, for his master, a Kentuckian was at his heels from the start till the Ohio River was reached. There the master was delayed by search for a skiff, but found one in time to keep the runaway in sight now swimming his best and to land only a few minutes later than he. His subsequent hunt failed to secure his property, and the master was mystified. At his wits end he said: “That nigger must have gone off on an underground road.” The aptness of the title was seen at once, and the rapid transmission of the story within and beyond the State, soon fixed this designation on the “system.”
In the nature of the case, it is difficult to tell where the “Underground Railroad” took its rise. It is, however, probable that “the first efforts towards any systematic organization for the aid and protection of fugitive slaves ‘occurred’ among the Quakers in Pennsylvania.” In one of the Johns Hopkins University studies, Mr. A. C. Applegarth notes the fact that General Washington sought to discourage as repugnant to justice the action of a society of Quakers in Philadelphia, in trying to liberate a slave, who had escaped from a certain Mr. Dably, of Alexandria. General Washington wrote under date April 12, 1786, and states that the society was “formed for such purposes.” The spirit manifest in this company was not alleviated certainly by succeeding events in Pennsylvania. After the passage of the law of 1793, a great number of cases of kidnaping for the purpose of enslaving free blacks roused the people in the State, and “their sympathies once enlisted for the colored race, it was but a step to the aid of the fugitive negroes. For this step, as we have seen, there existed precedent in the Dably case.
It is just beginning to appear how extensive the Underground Railroad system was. My own researches show that its branches ramified widely through the old free zone of our northern States from New England to Iowa and Kansas. In the southern States there were not less than four great lines of travel to the North used by departing blacks. One was that of the coast from Florida to the Potomac, The region through which it ran was swampy, and more or less occupied in the inhabitable parts by negroes who had taken refuge there. These people were of course willing to help along their fellow—sufferers who were working their way slowly and painfully northwards.
The second southern extension was that protected by “the great applachian(!) range and its abutting mountains, a rugged, lonely, but comparatively safe route-to freedom.
This line was one much used. Mr. Richard J. Hinton, in his new book on “John Brown and his Men,” (p.172) tells us that Harriet Tubman, the remarkable black woman who made her escape unassisted from the south when a young girl and then gave herself to the work of fetching out others “was a constant user of the Appalachian route.” Her people lovingly called her “Moses,” and John Brown introduced her to Wendell Phillips by saying, “I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent, General Tubman, as we call her.” First and last Harriet is said to have brought out several thousand slaves.
The valley of the Mississippi was the third great channel for slave egress northward. It was the most westerly until Kansas was opened to settlement. Then the fourth route, running from the southwest slave section through Kansas, Iowa, and northern Illinois to Chicago, was created, “a bolder way of escape.” All of the friends of the slaves were not on land. Some of the officers of the boats engaged in the coast-wise traffic between southern and New England ports, were thorough believers in the aspirations of the blacks and carried away slave passengers to Newport, Providence, Boston, Portland and many other maritime towns. Sometimes the runaway took passage on a freight boat as a hand, or perhaps was snugly stowed away by the colored cook and his assistants, who later in the trip saw their protege safely landed and placed in good care. The dusky travelers through Kentucky or western Virginia often eluded pursuit by paddling down the tributaries of the Ohio at night in canoes borrowed for the occasion;
thus they were enabled to land on the welcome soil of Ohio or adjacent States. If the wayfarer was on foot, inquiry in the right quarter discovered to him a black or perhaps a white agent of the Underground Railroad ready to ferry him across the beautiful Ohio. This delivery out of bondage was accomplished in the night, as a simple precaution. It was not an infrequent occurrence for those who had reached the Ohio in safety, to find protection on a river steamboat, whence they landed in a few days at Pittsburgh or some way-station. However the great majority of fugitives who reached our southern border took a less circuitous but more tedious route. They made their journey thenceforward across country, directed or guided by friends.
A map of Ohio, which I have prepared, shows the devious paths of fugitive travel through the State to Canada. It shows there were certainly not less than twenty-three ports of entry for runaways along our river front. Thirteen of these admitted the slaves from the two hundred and seventy-five miles of Kentucky shore on our southwest, while the other ten received those from the one hundred and fifty miles of Virginia soil on our southeast. From these initial depots the Ohio routes ran in zigzag lines trending generally in a northeastern direction, linking station with station in mysterious bond till a place of deportation was reached on Lake Erie.
There were five such outlets along Ohio’s lake frontage. These were Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland, Fairport Harbor (near Painsville), and Ashtabula Harbor. Toledo and fifty miles beyond it Detroit, were the shipping points for perhaps the oldest section of the Road in Ohio, though by no means the longest lived.
Col. D. W. H. Howard, of Wauseon, Ohio, the only survivor of this branch, a gentlemen, over eighty years of age, thinks its period of operation is fairly described by the years 1816 to 1835 or ‘40. He traces the route as follows: “I think the main and principal route crossed the Ohio river near Northbend; thence on a direct line (following the streams practicable) to the upper Auglaize, and the Blanchard’s fork of the Auglaize, passing near the Shawnee village where is now the city of Wapakoneta, and to Ocquenesies town on the Blanchard, where is now the village of Ottawa; thence to the Grand Rapids of the Maumee (where the river could be easily forded most of the year), and at the Ottawa village of Chief Kinjeino where all were friendly, and the poor slave was treated kindly; thence
a plain trail north to Malden, Canada.”
I want to tell here an incident which Col. Howard relates, by way of illustrating the methods used, the obstacles overcome, and the presence of mind needed by Underground Railroaders, from the beginning to the close of the Road’s activity.
Mr. Howard’s story runs mainly as follows: “Ten miles below the Rapids at Roche Teboult or Standing Rock, lived one Richardson, a Kentuckian, who made a living by catching slaves. At one time my father, Edward Howard, was piloting a party of slaves north, and the trail passed only three miles west of Richardson’s. In order to avoid being surprised by this man it was necessary to keep a close lookout; and for greater safety the trip north from my father’s was always performed in the night. We had a whisper from an Indian friend that this party, which we had kept concealed in the thick swampy forest near our cabin for some time, was being watched and would be ambushed on the way. The night they moved out on the trail, we (I was but a boy, but often accompanied my father) took a circuitous route, hoping to elude pursuit. After veering to our right and reentering the old trail, my father left a boy to guard and bring up the rear. We had not advanced more than three miles, when we plainly heard the beat of horses’ hoofs behind us; the guard was posted near the trail, with orders to shoot the horse, if necessary; in a few minutes two horsemen approached the ambuscade and in a second more, the sharp crack of a rifle echoed through the forest, and the horse with a groan plunged to the ground. This checked the pursuing party, and gave stimulus and speed to the feet of the fugitives. The slave-catchers were now afraid to advance, and retreated over the trail, and the fugitives, though badly frightened, were permitted to continue their march to freedom unmolested.”
We have seen that the line of road on which this incident occurred was probably the oldest in Ohio. It did not long remain the only route. The earnest teaching of Lundy and Rankin was imparted to minds open to truth. Indeed the Quaker settlements, scattered here and there through Ohio, were many of them, already grounded in abolition sentiments. The bands of slaves freed by conscientious or by conscience-stricken masters and early located in sections not yet populated by whites, and the little communities of free negroes in different parts of the State became at once important centres of underground enterprise. Such localities were fearless in the defense of their visitors and sometimes induced fugitives to settle among them. In portions of the State a goodly distance removed from the danger along the border such persons occasionally became the proteges of their white neighbors. When such a relationship has arisen the conditions of a new phase of the “Underground” system had been created. This phase seems to have been denominated the “Subterranean Pass Way” by John Brown. A recent biographer of Captain Brown explains this “Pass Way” as follows: It represented ideas and methods in accord with and enlarging the work on the Underground Railroad. The essential difference was that the rescued fugitives or runaways should be planted in or near to a northern or western community and not brought under the British flag. One purpose (in Brown’s mind) was to educate northern people to defend fugitives.”
Towns and villages where Convenanters, Wesleyan Methodists and the Free Presbyterians had churches, are found to be stations of the Underground Road almost without exception, earlier or later in their ante-bellum history.
Aside from the influence already hinted at, which led to the propagation of lines for fugitive travel, there is, of course, the iron-clad Ohio Fugitive-slave Law of 1823, and the cases of arrest and kidnaping that occurred under it. Then, too, the large strain of New England blood in the veins of our Ohio stock must be made due allowance for. It is this element so widely diffused over the Western Reserve that must, with the Quaker element, be held accountable for the numerous interlacing lines of that portion of the State, from Marietta to the lake.
On the east and west sides of the State there were many cross-line connections with Pennsylvania and Indiana routes, respectively.
I have taken the pains to measure on a map of Ohio the number of miles of Underground Road within our domain thus far unearthed. An accurate statement would be from twenty-eight hundred to three thousand miles. The most active counties in the system as shown by a table of road lengths were Trumbull, with one hundred and fifty-three miles; Richland with one hundred and twenty-three; Huron and Belmont, with one hundred and twenty each; Ashtabula and Jefferson, each with one hundred and seventeen; Lorain, with one hundred and. eight, and Mahoning with one hundred and five. Eight or ten counties in the northwestern corner of the State did not engage in this passenger traffic. They are for the most part of too recent date. The remaining counties, with possibly one or two exceptions, had somewhere within their boundaries sections longer or shorter, of this invisible, yet serviceable road. The demands of secrecy were always carefully observed by those connected in any way with the thoroughfare, as we have seen. It is not strange, therefore, that records of the number of persons who used it in securing freedom were not kept, not even in the case of a particular branch of the road for a long enough time to fix closely for us an estimate of the whole number rescued. Guesses vary from forty thousand to eighty thousand. We have pretty satisfactory evidence that the brave black guide Harriet Tubman, brought out several thousand, taking them through Pennsylvania. At least one operator in Ohio, for a long time a resident of Cincinnati, forwarded three thousand over Ohio and Indiana lines. I refer to the bold friend Levi Coffin. Several other anti-slavery workers along the Ohio River no doubt aided between two hundred and three hundred slaves each. It is stated on pretty good authority that one William Lambert, who died in Detroit a few years ago, had helped not less than thirty thousand during the thirty-three years of his devotion to Underground operations. This seems almost incredible. In the present state of our knowledge it is uncertain business estimating the numbers of those rescued from bondage by Underground methods. As one unearths section after section of the old lines, however, and learns about the faithful service of many brave operators, one cannot avoid the conviction that the half has not been told.
75:2 UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
E.G. LINDSTROM’S UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I The Underground Railroad
CHAPTER II Men who made the railroad a success
CHAPTER III The railroad in Cuyahoga County and vicinity
CHAPTER IV The railroad in Lakewood
CHAPTER V Interesting stories
The Underground Railroad was really not a railroad at all but merely a term applied to the route and system by which a slave escaped to freedom in the years before the American Civil War. The name “Underground Railroad” originated about 1830 in the pursuit of a Kentucky Negro, Tice Edwards, who had fled to Ohio. Arriving at the Ohio River at Ripley, his master close behind, Tice jumped in and swam the river. The master watched him swim across and then immediately disappear. When the master finally secured a boat and crossed the river he could not find Tice. After a long and fruitless search he gave up concluding: “That nigger must have gotten away on an underground railroad.” By that time the fugitive negro was probably well on his way to Canada thanks to Rev. John Rankin of Ripley.
The Underground Railroad was quite a complicated system. Active members of the system were called “Managers”. People who were in sympathy with the cause of freedom for the negroes, but who for social or political reasons did not want it known, were called “Contributing Members”. These furnished clothes food and vehicles for the fugitives. A man who transferred the escaping slaves from place to place was called a "conductor;" the various stopping places were called “stations”. At least 23 “stations” were situated on the Ohio River alone. Five distinct routes can be traced across Ohio with many side routes branching off. Ohio was the state in which the system of aiding escaping slaves was most popular.
A slave usually arrived at a ““station”” early in the morning, before dawn if possible. At the “stations” he was hidden all day -- in cellar, haymow, garret or even in rock caves or coal mines. At nightfall the “conductor” took him to the next “station” and a similar routine followed until the slave reached safe territory.
In 1822, a Mr. Moore of Virginia declared in Congress that his district lost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year from the loss of slaves. The border statesmen were often in sympathy with the negroes and assisted in their flight when-ever possible. At this time the Underground Railroad as we think of it was not in existence, though it developed later among the abolitionists on the northern borders. Between 1830 and 1860 about 2000 slaves escaped each year – l,200 to 1,300 of them by way of the Underground Railroad. The total pecuniary loss to the south amounted to perhaps 30,000,000 but the financial loss was not as important as the anti-slave sentiment which the movement developed. The slave owners often were so relentless in running down the slaves, and the professional slave catchers were so cruel that many people sympathized with the North on that account. Many times after an unsuccessful search a master would “sell his nigger running” to a professional slave catcher. That is, he turned the title to the slave over to a person who had never seen the slave. If the catcher secured the fugitive he was to sell him for whatever he could get. If the search failed, the slave catcher lost, but according to reports, these relentless slave hunters usually got what they went after. They were not always particular as to what negro they got. Free negroes were often taken.
In order to escape, slaves would endure almost unbelievable hardships. Henry Box Brown, a slave, permitted himself to be mailed up in a large packing box and shipped north by freight to Philadelphia.
Ellen Crafts, a nearly white slave, impersonated a southern planter. Her Husband who was quite dark, played the role of personal attendant. Knowing that she would be asked to make a written statement as to her companion when she reached Baltimore, and not being able to write, Ellen carefully bound up her arm as if injured. They succeeded in escaping and in a few hours were in safe territory. Their clever ruse in escaping so impressed some of their white friends, that their freedom was later purchased.
Three slaves managed to save a considerable sum of money. They hired a white man to act as their master, taking them north so that they actually drove from slavery to freedom.
The most influential man of the Underground Railroad system was a Quaker named Levi Coffin, who because of his anti—slave activities was called the “President of the Underground Railroad”. Born near New Carden, North Carolina, in 1798, he early became interested in negro welfare. In 1826 he opened a store in Wayne County, Ohio. It being successful he later opened another store at Cincinnati for “free labor goods only”. In the thirty years before the Civil War he helped 3000 slaves to freedom. After the war he assisted in founding the Freedman’s Bureau and many other negro welfare projects.
In his “Reminiscences”, Mr. Coffin gives a detailed explanation of a typical “resuce”. It seems that 28 negroes escaped together from Kentucky, across the Ohio River west of Cincinnati at the mouth of the Big Miami River. The boat was so heavily loaded that it began to sink when the fugitives were about to land on the opposite bank of the Big Miami. All had to wade in, some losing their shoes in the mud of the river bed. Through a drizzly cold rain they hurried to Cincinnati but could not enter the city because their appearance would immediately proclaim them fugitives. At Mill Creek, their conductor, John Fairfield, hid them in a ravine and hastened to see John Hatfield, a wealthy negro deacon of the Zion Baptist Church. The two then devised the plan of putting the fugitives into closed funeral coaches to be conveyed as a funeral procession to College Hill where several negro families lived who would shelter them for a while. When the white women of College Hill heard of the arrival of the penniless fugitives they immediately got together shoes, clothing and food for them.
A Presbyterian minister, Jonathan Cable was to see that they got to West Elkton, 35 miles from College Hill. Mr. Coffin wrote to a friend in West Elkton “---informing him that I had some valuable stock on hand which I wished to forward to Newport and requested him to send three, two-horse wagons --covered—- to College Hill, where the stock was in charge of Jonathan Cable----.” The wagons arrived as per plan and everything went smoothly, the negroes arriving in Canada by way of Indiana, through Michigan to Detroit.
Among the negroes whom Mr. Coffin helped to freedom was Eliza Harris, immortalized by Mrs. Stowe in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.
Rev. John Rankin of Ripley, Ohio, worked with Levi Coffin as perhaps “vice-president” of the Underground Railroad. Though his life was not as sensational as Levi Coffin’s, still ho helped many slaves to freedom. On twenty different occasions, John Rankin was mobbed for his views, but he continued his work. For fifty years a light burned in the attic of his home--fugitives seeing it knew they were safe. His old brick house, built more than a hundred years ago, still stands on a high bluff overlooking the Ohio River at Ripley.
Mr. Finney of Richland County helped several thousand slaves to freedom during his lifetime. On one occasion he had ten slaves, some of them women, to deliver to the next “station”. During the day he kept the women in the garret and the men in a granary.
Early that night, before he had planned to leave, pursuers of the slaves arrived and demanded the right to search the place for slaves. Having no legal papers they were denied the privilege of searching. Several of the party set out immediately for Mansfield to got the necessary papers. The rest of the party were entertained by Mr. Finney. At breakfast next morning the family and guests united in family prayer. After a very long chapter in the Bible a long psalm was sung and then Mr. Finney seeming strangely inspired, prayed for more than a half hour. During the service part of the family slipped out and got the slaves away. The southern men were unable to escape the prolonged service so by the time the legal papers arrived the “birds had flown” and the men so excellently deceived, concluded that they had been on the wrong track.
Francis Grierson tells of an incident of his boyhood in Cuyahoga County. One evening early in the autumn of 1858, the family sat reading when a low moan was heard outside. Mr. Grierson immediately got out his shotgun and sought the cause of the noise. He found the source of the disturbance and was about to shoot when a voice reached him: “Don’ shoot Massa; Don’ shoot for de Lawd’ s sake”. Two escaping negroes had lost their way. Isaac Snedeker, their “conductor” had been hard pressed and forced to separate himself from them, planning to pick them up later. Mr. Grierson took them in and was about to feed them when Isaac Snedeker arrived and insisted on leaving immediately for Elihu Gest’s “station” where they arrived safely. About an hour later several men came to Grierson’s demanding the slaves. Though Grierson told then the slaves had gone, the men insisted on searching the barn, but changed their plans when Mr. Grierson appeared at the door, shotgun in hand, and presenting a very forbidding mien.
Mr. Philip Winchester, now of East Cleveland, tells a most interesting story of his father as one of the leading “conductors” of the Underground Railroad. The Winchester home was near the present street of that name in Lakewood. Word came to the older Winchester that Walter Clark had been captured by slave catchers. Walter Clark’s brother, Louis, was the original George Harris in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Mr. Winchester assisted all four of the Clark boys in escaping to Canada. They were the children of a wealthy planter and a beautiful quadroon girl and their skins were lighter than many white people. Winchester set out to get Clark away from his captors. Clark was seated in a hack between the two men, tied securely to them. Winchester planned to cut the ropes, surprise them, overturn the hack and escape in his own wagon. All worked perfectly but the slave catchers unhitched the horses and pursued on horseback. Winchester changed clothes with Clark and when the pursuers were in sight, jumped out of the wagon and dashed over to a thicket. The catchers pursued but did not find him for some hours. When he finally gave up they took him, without noticing the difference to Painesville jail where he spent the night. The next morning when Winchester, the supposed fugitive slave, was taken before the judge on a fugitive slave charge, the judge laughed and exclaimed: “Why, there must be some mistake. This is Mr. Philander Winchester, an old schoolmate of mine.” Much to the chagrin of the slave catchers, Winchester was set free and Clark, of course, got safely to Canada.
In Marion County, Ohio, a negro named Black Bill, who served as fiddler and barber, was arrested by slave catchers who claimed that he belonged to a man down in Virginia. The supposed owner came up for the trial of Black Bill. The townspeople who liked Black Bill, appeared at the trial in full force, but so did the Virginians heavily armed with revolvers and bowie knives. A clash resulting in a riot, followed, the townspeople tearing open the U.S. Arsenal to get firearms. Fortunately no one was killed. Later Black Bill was proved a fugitive but escaped and all was well.
A “Conductor” in Deaverton, Morgan County, used great presence of mind in helping five more slaves to freedom. In midwinter these five slaves were left with him and he had to get them to the next “station”. Most of his neighbors were unfriendly to slaves. He set out to Zanesville in a covered wagon with the darkies inside covered over with wheat. Getting stuck in the mud, a friend advised him to unload the wheat and return for it later. Keeping steadfastly to his purpose, however, the “conductor” finally hired another team and succeeded in getting over the muddy stretch of road. He got the slaves to the next “station” undetected and then decided to follow his friend’s advice and unload his wheat.
Indignant at the operations of the underground railroad, the slave-owners demanded that Congress should pass a strict law for the punishment of persons who aided fugitive slaves to escape. The result was the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 which made it the duty of all citizens to assist in the return of fugitive slaves. This act was denounced by the anti-slavery men of Ohio. One of their leaders Joshua Giddings, declared in Congress, “The Freemen of Ohio will never return (!) out to chase the panting fugitive.” A few years later a former slave living near Oberlin, Ohio, was arrested by U.S. Officers, but was taken from their custody by an Oberlin professor, aided by a number of college students. The rescuers were in turn arrested for violation of the Fugitive Slave Law, and two of their number were convicted by the U.S. Court at Cleveland. This conviction, and similar occurences in other parts of the North, made thousands of converts to the new anti-slavery party which was being formed.
The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue — J.R. ShipherdA very technical book of no value to this thesis. It contains court records of various trials in Oberlin and Wellington. It would be valuable to anyone studying the legal phase of the recovery of fugitive slaves.
The American Encyclopedia – The American Encyclopedia Corporation. New York and Chicago, 1920.No material other than a definition of Underground Railroad but an excellent biography of Levi Coffin, “President of the Underground Railroad”.
History of Ohio, The Rise and Progress of an American State - Randall and Ryan, Century History Company, New York, 1924.Gives a good account of the financial aspects of the Underground Railroad – what it cost the southerners. This book also contains several stories of slaves’ narrow escapes from their owners.
Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, Vol. I., William R. Coates – American Historical Society, Chicago and New York, 1924.This book contains a very good account of an escape of a Negro who lived in what is now Lakewood.
History of Cleveland, Ohio, Samuel P. Orth of Cleveland Bar. The S.J. Clark Publishing Company, 1910.Of no value to this thesis
History of Northwest Ohio – Nevin O. Winter, Litt. D. Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York, 1917.Story of Underground Railroad operations in Marion County and vicinity.
“Reminiscences” – Levi Coffin, Cincinnati, 1876.Various stories explaining how the Underground Railroad functioned.
Harper’s Encyclopedia of U.S. History, planned by Benson J. Lossing, LLD. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, New York and London, 1915.Excellent on fugitive slave laws.
The world’s Story, The U.S. – Vol. XIII, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1914.Personal stories told by contemporaries. A very good book.
The American Nation, Edited by A.B. Hart. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, New York and London, Copyright 1906.
75:3 SLAVERY:UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Cleveland Plain Dealer; Miss Allen’s D.A.R. Scrapbook
(Cleveland Plain Dealer Nov.11, 1934)
“Please, may we see the tunnel?”
Three school children stood on the veranda of the old Kirtland homestead on Detroit Avenue, in Lakewood. Mrs. H.E. Willard, the present occupant of the ancient mansion, was quite puzzled by this unexpected request from the youngsters who had rung her doorbell.
“What tunnel?” she asked.
“Why the tunnel in your cellar,” said the spokesman for the trio. “The tunnel that leads down to the lake. Where they used to take the escaped slaves on the 'underground railroad’.”
“But there is no tunnel in my cellar,” explained Mrs. Willard.
The children politely accepted this denial, and went away greatly disappointed and obviously unconvinced.
Since then Mrs. Willard has had perennial requests by children who have come to her door asking to see the mysterious tunnel. A thorough search of the cellar has revealed no trace of one and, to her knowledge, none has been unearthed by the many excavations which would have cut into such a subterranean passage when the three-quarter mile stretch between her house and the lake has been allotted and built upon.
But the legend still persists that during the bitter years before the Civil War, when abolitionists throughout Ohio helped escaping slaves make their way to Canada, a certain stone house in Rockport (now Lakewood) was a station on the “underground railroad”. From the cellar of this house a secret tunnel had been dug to the lake shore, where the fugitives could embark for their final haven in Canada.
While the writer’s sister, who had just returned from calling upon Mrs. Willard, was telling him about this legend from ante-bellum days, his own memory began to flash curiously. Old stone house. Secret tunnel. Then he remembered that 30 years ago, as a small boy, he had played in the remains of a tunnel not far from the old stone house. Could this have been the mystery tunnel? Why not talk it over with his childhood neighbor and playmate, Theodore Newell?
Yes, Ted remembered the tunnel. In fact he and Walter Hickler, quite by accident had discovered it. They had been playing down by the railroad track when suddenly Walter’s dog disappeared. The astonished boys whistled and called until they saw him scramble out from behind a clump of brush on the side of the railroad embankment. Prompt investigation disclosed the mouth of the tunnel.
Ted, whose grandfather and great uncle, Clarence and Levi Newell had allotted Lakeland and Summit Avenues at the turn of the last century, lived on one of the lots through which the tunnel penetrated. The old stone house (since demolished) at that time stood on the east side of Summit Avenue near Detroit. Built of local sandstone, it had served as a farm house for the strip of land between Detroit Avenue and the lake, land the elderly Newells had transformed into two residential streets. The original owners long since had departed and for many years the old house had been occupied by tenants.
Ted’s home was between the old stone house and the railroad. The tunnel was very much used as Ted’s boyhood playground. They crawled into it 50 or 60 feet. Later he had discovered further traces of it beyond the railroad track in the direction of the lake. At one time he had gone into the cellar of the old stone house with Ralph Bonnett, a boy who lived there. They had searched around until they uncovered an opening in the wall which led off somewhere into an earthy darkness. Then again, when street graders, in preparation for paving, sliced out the earth close to the house (destined to be torn down), they uncovered he section which curved around to enter the house under its northwest corner.
The tunnel itself was not large; perhaps less than 30 inches square. Even children found it cramped and stuffy quarters. But a man could crawl through it. The sides were of large cobblestones of “hard-heads”. Sandstone slabs two or three inches thick formed the roof. The floor was the natural soil.
Who had built the tunnel and why? Much back-breaking labor had gone into digging a ditch from six to eight feet deep and from a quarter to three-quarters of a mile long, depending upon where the lower outlet came to the surface. Sweaty, hard work had wagoned in the stone, had set it carefully in place, and then had filled in the ditch. Also the misplaced dirt must have been scattered or carted away, because at no place was there a surface mound to betray what lay underneath
It could not have been sewer. In the first place, the house never was equipped with inside toilet or running water. The pump stood outside the kitchen door. Furthermore, the peculiar construction of the tunnel with its sandy, gravelly floor made its use for water out of the question. A stream of water quickly would have washed out and collapsed the whole business.
Aside from being a secret entrance and exit for people who needed concealment at the cost of much uncomfortable crawling, no one as yet has advanced a practical use for this passage.
The “underground railroad” does, however, offer a plausible answer to the puzzle because the lake frontage of this old farmstead was the only place between the Cuyahoga and Rocky Rivers were a boat could land and people climb from the narrow beach by means of a steep natural path to the top of the high cliff while every place along the shore could not be scaled except by ladders.
In the turbulent period before the Civil War it is a historical fact that Cuyahoga County contained the final stations on one of the famous “underground railroad” systems, a well-organized chain of hide-aways by means of which thousands of escaping slaves were shunted stealthily northward by zealous abolitionists.
The slavery question did more than split he country between the north and the south. The northerners were not all abolitionists. A large majority, from all reports, believed in minding their own business and obeying the laws. Rabid abolitionists, on the other hand, considered themselves God’s appointed agents to destroy the cruel and inhuman practice of slavery. Like all fanatics, they were willing to stoop to dangerous and illegal methods to carry out their convictions.
Before 1841 slave owners from the south had experienced little difficulty in reclaiming through the courts any escaped slaves which were apprehended in this region. A southerner, or his agent, upon seizing a fugitive, would simply take the culprit before the proper authority prove the identity, and show credentials of ownership. He then would be granted permission to return with the recovered “property” to the south.
In 1841, however, a Cleveland lawyer, Thomas Bolton, so successfully defended three Negroes captured at Buffalo and bought to Cleveland, that after that date there is no record of any slaves being officially returned from this county.
Judging from the famous Oberlin and Wellington kidnaping case, which was tried in Cleveland, the people in this region during the late ‘50sbecause increasingly hostile toward southern slave hunters. When a Kentuckian, Anderson Jennings, came to Oberlin in search of his uncle’s escaped slave, John who had run away from his nester, John G. Bacon, a neighbor of Jennings.
After capturing John, on behalf of his owner, Mr. Jennings and the Negro stopped for supper at an inn at Wellington, near Oberlin. An angry crowd of sympathizers from Oberlin joined others in Wellington and milled threateningly around the inn.
With much pushing and shoving which finally left the beleaguered Jennings with a bruised and bleeding head, the crowd separated John from his captor and hurried him to a waiting wagon which bore him away somewhere to freedom.
Later, at the trial of the kidnapers, a fragment of Bacon’s testimony gives an interesting view of a southerner’s forthright attitude toward the question of slavery as it concerned himself.
“Reside in Kentucky, in Mason County,” was his terse recountal.
“Owned a Negro boy named John from the spring of 1847 to January of 1856. He is still my property. Never parted with my interest in him. He is still mine, bone and flesh. He ran off from me in January, 1856. He and another slave named Frank, and a Negro woman named Dinah, all ran off at the same time. They stole two horses from me to go off on. I finally got the horses again.”
The three Negroes were further described in the testimony:
“Frank, the property of Richard Loyd, is a large black Negro, full six feet high, large pop eyes, rather thick tongued, about 26 years old.
“John, the property of John G. Bacon, is about 23 years old, about five feet six or eight inches high, heavy set, copper colored, and will weigh about 140 or 150 pounds.
“Dinah, the property of said Bacon is a tall, slim Negro woman, about 21 or 22 years old, dark copper color, very straight, holds head high, and very quick spoken.”
Whether Frank, or John, or Dinah ever crawled to freedom through Lakewood’s mystery tunnel will, of course, never be known. Whether the old stone house ever belonged to ardent abolitionists can only be conjectured. So far its original ownership has never been learned.
Mrs. Laura Wager Ashley, who was born in the neighborhood in 1843, and who still lives at Woodward and Detroit Avenues, remembers that even when she was a small girl the old stone house was occupied by tenants about whom she could recall nothing which would identify them as abolitionists. Of the tunnel she had never heard. And U.W. Hird a lifelong resident of Lakewood, who has lived within shouting distance of the old stone house, also says he has never heard of the tunnel.
Perhaps its true story will never be told, but the fact remains that in Lakewood the legend of an “underground railroad” tunnel from the cellar of an old stone house persists year after year.
Galbreath’s History of Ohio
Vol. II, Pg. 213-P 1-3
The underground railroad may be defined as a route by which slaves secretly escaped from their masters to freedom. The destination was usually Canada) for negroes were never sure of their continued freedom while they remained in the United States. They could flee to the free states and abide there for a time under the protection of friends, but they were continually in danger of being arrested and returned to their masters. When once they passed the borders of the United States into the British possessions to the North, they were permanently free and could not be legally remanded to slavery.
The origin of the term Underground Railroad is uncertain. There are traditional accounts of how it came into use but these are not very satisfactory. According to one of these, a negro escaping from his master in Kentucky was so closely pursued when he reached the Ohio River that he leaped into the river and swam across. His master could not follow him and was delayed to find a skiff and finally effect a passage. He sought the fugitive in Ripley where he felt he must have landed, but he could find absolutely no trace of him. He was mystified and provoked and remarked that “the nigger must have gone off on an underground road.” This suggestion amused some of the persons who heard it and “Underground Road” finally came to designate the route by which fugitives escaped. This designation, when railroads made made their advent and were the subject of popular comment, was changed to “Underground Railroad.”
Another story is to the effect that a slave escaping from his masters to Southern Pennsylvania could usually be traced without much difficulty to Columbia, but there all traces were invaribly lost. A baffled pursuer on one occasion declared that “there must be an underground railroad somewhere,” and this expression soon afterward gained currency in that section and spread to others. The date assigned to this origin was much earlier than the building of railroads in this country; hence this is a rather improbable story.
75:5 SLAVERY:UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Randall Parrish History
(Advertisement from “The Western Citizen” July 13, 1844)
New Arrangement Night and Day
The improved and splendid Locomotives, Clarkson and Lundy, with their trains fitted up in the best style of accomodation for passengers, will run their regular trips during the present season, between the borders of the Patriarchal Dominion and Libertyville, Upper Canada. Gentlemen and Ladies, who may wish to improve their health or circumstances, by a northern tour, are respectfully invited to give us their patronage.
SEATS FREE, irrespective of color.
Necessary Clothing furnished gratuitously to such as have “fallen among thieves.”
“Hide the outcasts - let the oppressed go free.” Bible.
For seats apply at any of the trap doors, or to the conductor of the train.
J. CROSS, Proprietor.
N.B. For the special benefit of Pro-Slavery Police Officers, an extra heavy wagon for Texas, will be furnished, whenever it may be necessary, in which they will be forwarded as dead freight, to the “Valley of Rascals,” always at the risk of the owners.
Extra Overcoats provided for such of them as are afflicted with protracted chilly-phobia.
75:6 SLAVERY:UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications.
Vol. 14 pg. 164-169; 396-403
The Anti-Slavery agitation of the nineteenth century, called out the heroic qualities in many a quiet man in whom such attributes had never been suspected.
In no part of the country, did the friends of the fugitive slave make more personal sacrifices than those residing in southwestern Ohio.
It was during this period that the name “underground railroad” was given to the manner by which the negroes were piloted to freedom.
Regularly routes were devised over which hundreds of slaves were sent on their way to liberty. These routes were known to but few, and those the persons actively engaged in the service.
While the slaves could not be owned north of the Ohio river the owners had many warm friends in the north, who would have been glad to assist them in recovering their so-called chattels, and who used all their influence in making it uncomfortable and even dangerous for those engaged in relief work.
The phrase “having the courage of one’s convictions” so often spoken with but little thoughts as to its meaning had an intense force to those who were summoned before a judge who enjoyed inflicting the utmost penalty of the law. The truth of the poet’s lines was unfelt by many.
“Then to side with truth is noble
When we share her wretched crust
Ere her cause bring fame and profit
And ‘tis prosperous to be just.
Then it is the brave man chooses,
While the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit,
Till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.”
Added to the penalties of the law were the discomforts attending being out, always at night, often in storm, the nervous strain attending such experiences, and the enforced neglect of business. Cincinnati was of course the point first reached by the slaves, from there they were taken to Glendale, then to Foster’s on the Little Miami, and from there they were brought to Springboro, which was a village in Warren county, settled largely by “Friends” or quakers, a people justly celebrated for their sympathy with the down-trodden. These stations were the homes of the various sympathizers and no questions were asked by the house-wives when well filled pantry shelves were mysteriously emptied. From Springboro they were taken to the home of a Dr. Oakland, a station near Xenia, Ohio, and so on towards Canada.
Among those acting as conductor was a Friend, William S. Bedford, by name, who had probably inherited his abhorrence of the system from his father, Thomas Bedford, who as early as 1786, shortly after his landing from England, threw up a lucrative position in Charleston, S.C., because his conscience would not allow him to direct or use slave labor, thereby so incensing his uncle, by whom he was employed, that he refused to pay him anything for the labor already done, upon which he started to walk to Philadelphia, stopping in Virginia and Maryland to teach school, thus helping himself forward. It is not surprising to find his children, later, showing strong feeling on the subject.
Only faint echoes from the past come to us now, but such as they are, they are worthy of preservation.
The manuscript containing the account published below was found among the papers of my father, the William S. Bedford above referred to, to which has been added the abstract of the court record.
In 1839 a citizen of Rockingham county, Virginia, by name Bennet Raines, started for Missouri, leaving his home hurriedly, he being seriously involved, financially. Accompanying his family were four slaves, an old woman, her daughter (a woman in the prime of life) and two small children belonging to the latter, one four years of age and the other an infant in arms. They passed through Springboro, Ohio, and pitched their tent one mile west. Word had been sent to the Abolitionists there of their intended arrival, and a hope expressed that they might manage to free these slaves, - Springboro at that time being one of the regular stations on the under-ground railroad. The town was largely composed of Friends or Quakers, most of whom were friendly to the cause. We held a hurried counsel and agreed to meet at his tent and inform him that he was violating our laws by passing slaves through our state.
A goodly number appeared according to programme. Dr. A. Brooks being appointed speaker. Raines said we might take them if they were willing to go, the elder woman soon climbed into our carriage, as would the younger, but a daughter of Raines had secreted the boy, no doubt thinking she could sell him in Missouri. We felt the children could not judge, and that the mother had the best claim to them so the search continued until one cried our: “I feel its kinky head,” and within the next twenty minutes they were all on the road to Canada. Raines was much irritated and finally pushed his gun barrel out of the back of the tent or wagon, some one told him “that was a game more than one could play,” and at once the noise of ramrods and gunlocks was heard, the colored members having brought theirs without our knowledge or consent.
Rianes was shrewd and keen and found many sympathizers in Franklin – a town near by, who advised him to prosecute. He made oath that we had robbed him of $1,000 in gold and $500.00 in paper. Sixteen of us in consequence were cited to appear before the court then in session in Lebanon, our county seat. We engaged four eminent lawyers, Ex-Gov. Bell, Ex-Gov. Corwin, R. Schenck (later General) and Robert G. Corwin, who agreed to see us through all the courts for $500.00 but before the case was reached the old man died, and his son took it up. There were three counts in the indictment: Abduction, grand larceny and riot. The abduction would not bear handling, but fell through at once; they then tried grand larceny. The mother and son being examined separately, she on being asked from what state she came, said she did not know, but thought it was Rockingham. She said the gold was in a pasteboard box she supposed, but had never seen it, but that the paper was in $100.00 bills. The son then said there were no $100.00 bills, and all the gold he had seen turn out was two or three $5.00 pieces, so the jury let that drop, almost without leaving their seats; but they held us on the last count, for they proved there were guns on the ground, and the unlawful manner of doing even a lawful thing was held by the court to constitute a riot. We were sentenced to five days in the dungeon, to be fed on bread and water and to pay a fine, some of $20.00 and some of $5.00. The dungeon proved too small, being but 8 feet by 10 feet, and one person already in it. They then made another room as dark as possible and placed us there. There were four of our company who were reported by the Grand Jury who were not tired in open court, but condemned with the rest. Our lawyers made a statement of the case and we sent it by a trusty messenger to the judge of the Supreme Court who ordered us all turned out by giving $500.00 bail for our appearance before the court when it should set in our county. Some of us had already given $3,000.00 bail on esquire’s docket.
Judge Hitchcock cleared us in the Supreme Court in about 30 minutes, for he said, we had a right to use as much force as was necessary to accomplish the object.
We learned long afterwards that the negroes settled among Friends and did no go to Canada.
William S. Bedford
“Estate Record No. 5. Warren Common Pleas, March Term, 1840. The Grand Jury was impaneled, viz.: William Crosson, Joseph Smithers, James Hopkins, Spencer Hunt, Richard Taylor, Caleb Saterthwaet, William Hamilton, Joseph Edwards, William Miller, Walling Worley, Patrick McKinsey, Leonard Samuels, Amos Kelsey, Edward Robinson, and John M. Snook.
“Returned an indictment signed by J.M. Williams, Pros. Atty. of Warren Col., Ohio, and indorsed a “true bill, William Crosson, Foreman,” against Abraham Brooks, James B. Brooks, Edward Brooks, Joseph Lukens, David Potts, John Potts, Lindley Potts, Perry Lukens, William S. Bedford, Ezekiel McCoy, John T. Bateman, Nicholas Archdeacon, Clarkson Bateman, Cyrus F. Farr, Jonas Wilson, Peter Lowe, and Frederick Wilson, and divers other person whose names are to the jurors aforesaid unknown, charging by the first count of said indictment that said defendants –
On the 6th day of November, 1839, with force and arms at the township of Franklin, and county of Warren, aforesaid, unlawfully did conceal, advise and entice four colored persons, namely, Molly, Sarah, Adam and Mary, then and there being, and who by the laws of the State of Virginia did then and there owe labor and service to one Bennett Raines then and there, being then and there to leave, abandon and escape from the said Bennett Raines, to whom the said labor and service of Molly, Sarah, Adam and Mary, according to laws of the said state of Virginia was then due and owing, contrary to the form of the statute,” etc., etc.
The second count charges that said defendants “did unlawfully, did conceal, advise and entice four colored person, etc., etc. They, the said (defendants) then and there well knowing that the said Molly, etc., etc., did according to the laws of Virginia, use, etc., etc. The third charges that said defendants did “Unlawfully furnish a conveyance, to-wit: a carriage and two horses with intent and four the purpose of enabling four colored persons, viz., etc., etc., owing, etc., etc., to escape and elude the said B.R. They the said (defendants) well knowing, etc., etc.,
The fourth count is the same as the first except it charges that Molly, etc., etc., owed labor and service under the laws of Missouri.
The fifth count charges that the defendants, with force and arms, to-wit, with clubs, dirks, stones, guns, pistols, and divers other unlawful and offensive weapons, etc., etc., etc., unlawfully, notoriously, riotously, did assemble and gather together to disturb the public peace and with the intent with force and violence, to-wit, with clubs, dirks, etc., to tear down a certain tent the property of one Bennett Raines, and also to make an assault upon said Bennett Raines, Elisabeth Raines, Eliza Raines, and a colored person by the name of Adam, in the peace of the state of Ohio, and being so unlawfully assembled, etc., etc. They the said (defendants), with clubs, dirks, etc., etc., riotously, etc., did disturb the peace and also unlawfully, etc., with great force etc., did tear the aforesaid tent and also then and there unlawfully, etc. The said Bennett Raines, etc., did strike, beat, bruise, would and ill-treat the B.R. etc., then and there did contrary, etc.”
The sixth count charges the defendants assault and battery on Bennett Raines. The indictment is signed J.M. Williams, Pros. Att’y, and endorsed a “true bill, William Crosson.”
The defendants were arraigned and pleaded “not guilty”. The case was continued to August term, when it was again continue to November term, when for trying the case, came a jury, viz., William Holcraft, Adam Bone, John St. John, William Hill, of the regular jury and from the by-standers William Gregg, William Thompson, David Bone, Berkley S. Brown, Aaron Van Note, Robert N. Hull, Samuel Drake and John Pauley.
The jury, being sworn, the case was tried before a full court, Benjamin Hinkston, President Judge, James Cowan, John Hart and William I. Mickel, associated judges.
The jury, by their verdict, found the defendants “not guilty”, as they stand charged in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth county of said indictment, and guilty as charged in the fifth count of said indictment.
The motion was made for a new trial, it was overruled by the court, and the defendants excepted. A bill of exceptions was prepared, signed by the court, but no proceedings in error had, and at the March term, 1841, “April 12th the defendants being present the court rendered judgment, viz., “That James B. Brooks pay a fine of $5.00 and be imprisoned in the dungeon of the jail of Warren County until 8 o’clock P.M. of this day.
That Joseph Lukens, Ezekiel McCoy, Cyrus F. Farr, Jonas Wilson, Frederick Wilson, John T. Bateman, Peter Lowe, Nicholas Archdeacon, each pay a fine of $5.00.
That Abraham Brooks, Joseph Lukens, John Potts, Lindley Potts, William S. Bedford, Ezekiel McCoy, Nicholas Archdeacon, Cyrus F. Farr, Jonas Wilson, Fredrick Wilson, John T. Bateman, Peter Lowe and Edward Brooks, “be imprisoned in the dungeon of the jail of Warren county for the term of 5 days, that is to say, until the 17th day of April, 1841, at 12 noon, and that during said imprisonment they be fed on bread and water only,” and that the state recover of said defendants, 17 in number (again naming them), the costs taxed at $261.38.
- - - - - - - - -
The Underground Railroad was not under the ground, nor was it a railway; but there was fitness in the name which caused its general use to express one of the most remarkable phases of the long struggle against slavery and the Slave Power. The term was a popular mode of referring to the various ways in which fugitive slaves from the South were assisted in escaping to the North, and especially to Canada. It was often humorously abbreviated to “U.G.R.R.”
The boundary between the slave and the free states began at the mouth of the Delaware river; ran up that stream to Mason & Dixon lines – the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland; thence westward to the end of Maryland; then north, between Pennsylvania and what was then Virginia, but is now West Virginia, to the Ohio river; down the Ohio to its mouth; up the Mississippi to the northern boundary of Missouri; along the northern and western sides of that state, and thence westward along the line of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude – the noted Missouri Compromise line.
Take a map of the United States, follow the line, and it will be seen that the shortest route to British soil in Canada and, hence, to complete freedom, was across the Ohio. Only a little more than 200 miles, as the crow flies, lay before the slave and liberty after he crossed the Ohio river. Hence this state was the favorite route. Probably more fugitives found safety by the trails of the Underground Railroad crossing Ohio which fronted slave territory for about 375 miles, there were initial stations at some 22 or 23 river towns; and some of these such as Cincinnati, had several different routes leading toward the North Star and freedom. This was necessary, for the slave-hunters were often close on the trail of the fugitive, and it was necessary to have more than one route, so that, if one or more were watched, the negro would be sent by another.
It is extremely difficult to get the facts regarding these routes. It is to be remembered that the Underground Railroad was first established in Ohio somewhere about 1815 to 1817; and the work of the road never ceased, but grew increasingly greater, until the extinction of slavery by the Civil War. Thus, for fifty years, it was one of the most traveled of states by the black fugitives. A pro-slavery writer of 1842 declares that at this time there were eighteen or nineteen thoroughly organized routes across Ohio. But the greatest activity of the U.G.R.R. was after the enactment of the fugitive law of 1850, and there were doubtless more than twenty general routes, each with side deviations, the paths taken thus forming a veritable network over this state.
The origin of the name “Underground Railroad,” is uncertain. R.C. Smedley, in a little work on the “Underground Railroad in Chester and Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania,” says it came unto use among the slave-hunters in the neighborhood of Columbia, Pa. They had little difficulty in tracking slaves to Columbia, but at that point all trace was lost, and they are said to have declared there must be an underground road somewhere. As railroads were unknown until after 1830, the term must have originated later than that year. Hon. Rush R. Sloane, of Sandusky, who was actively engaged in underground work, says that in 1831 a Negro named Tice Davids ran away from Kentucky. His master pursued him so closely that, when he reached the Ohio river, near Ripley, he was obliged to plunge in and swim across to avoid capture. His master secured a skiff and stared after Tice. He kept him in view until he reached the Ohio shore, when the negro disappeared. After a long search his master said he thought “the nigger must have gone off on an underground road.” This story created a great deal of amusement along the Underground line. First, the “Underground Road,” then naturally, the “Underground Railroad.”
Gradually railway terminology was applied to different parts of the work - all figurative, of course, like the generic name, “Underground Railroad.” Men who were very active in the work, fearless of consequence, were “managers;” “contributing members” furnished money for clothing, food, hiring vehicles, etc., and were generally men who did not wish for social, political or business reasons, to be known as in sympathy with the work; an “agent” or “conductor” piloted the slaves from one house to another. These houses were called “stations”. One man named Levi Coffin, mentioned in the above, was for many years called president of the Underground Railroad, because he personally aided over three thousand slaves on their northward way, in the thirty years he was engaged in the work.
It must be kept in mind that helping the slaves to freedom was unlawful. From 1793, there had been a fugitive slave law, which imposed penalties of fine and imprisonment for concealing runaway slaves, or aiding them in any way to evade capture. Hence, there was need of the utmost caution. The majority of the people of Ohio, probably, during all the time the underground railroad was in operation, were not in sympathy with its work. For its efficiency and secrecy it depended upon the friendship, sympathy and confidence existing between members of neighboring stations. A fugitive who reached an initial station received food, and clothing, if in need, and was hidden in an attic, a hay-mow, a corn-crib, at some places in caves, until arrangements could be made. He was then taken to the next station – usually a farm house. All travel was by night, to lessen the chance of capture of the slave, or of detection of his conductor. As a rule, when a fugitive had been passed to the nest station, the person at the initial station never heard of him again – unless he was captured, which very seldom happened. His exact route was not known because there were always alternate stations, and a Negro entering Ohio at Harmar, for instance, at the mouth of the Muskingum, might cross to Canada from Buffalo, Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo or from a minor lake port.
The settlers of the Ohio along the river, had a good sprinkling of men from Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky, who had strong moral objections to slavery. The Quakers always were opposed to the institution, and they were the most active in underground work. The Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Scotch Covenanters, and Wesleyan Methodists were also notable in it. Many of these deeply religious men refused utterly to lift a finger to persuade a slave to escape, or to act as abductors; but the runaway Negro who came for aid was never turned away. The majority of slaves who reached freedom ran away of their own accord; but there were, in the many years over which the work extended, a number of people who devoted themselves to abduction. Harriet Tubman, a Negro woman, was one of these, and gained the title of “the Moses of her race.” She was a Maryland slave, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. The next year she went to Baltimore and abducted her sister and two children. From then until the Civil War, she made nineteen trips, and brought over 300 slaves to freedom.
Very few documents relating to the Underground Railroad are in existence. The legal penalties for rendering aid to fugitives were always present in the minds of the operators; therefore, they avoided any written evidence of their work. Records and diaries were kept by some, and letters passing between station-keepers were frequent; but these were all destroyed after the enactment of the fugitive slave law of 1850, which created much consternation by its rigorous provisions and severe penalties.
The total number of fugitives is simply a matter of estimate. Josiah Henson, himself a runaway slave and afterward an abductor, estimated that in 1852 there were 50,000 fugitives living in the north, exclusive of those who had gone to Canada. This is probably overstated. Charges of bad faith against the North in the rendition of fugitives were frequently made by Southern members on the floor of Congress. Representative Moore, of Virginia, in 1822, declared that his district lost four or five thousand dollars worth of Negroes every year. In 1850, Senator Atchison, of Kentucky, declared that hundred or thousand of dollars worth were annually lost by the border slave states. Pratt, of Maryland, said his state lost $80,000 worth each year, and Mason of Virginia, put the loss in that state over $100,000 per year. Clingman, of North Carolina, said the 30,000 fugitives then estimated to be living in the North were worth at current prices, about $15,000. Claiborne, governor of Louisiana, gave as a defect of the fugitive slave law of 1850, that it failed to provide for the payment to the South of the $30,000,000 of which she had been plundered by the loss of slaves in forty years. He also declared that the number of slaves in the District of Columbia had been reduced from 4,694 in 1840, to 650 in 1850 by the Underground Railroad.
Mention has already been made of the number of initial stations along the Ohio river. Many of the fugitives were conducted to Erie and Buffalo; but every lake port in Ohio, from Conneaut to Toledo, was a port of departure for Canada. Sandusky and Cleveland were especially important, because, in the last ten years of underground work, they were the termini of railways running southward to the center of the state. In these later years, fugitives were put on board night trains, in the baggage cars, and thus taken swiftly to those cities, where they were put on steamers bound for Canadian ports, or taken across Lake Erie in sailboats. The steamers out of Toledo were frequently employed also.
The list of Toledo operators of the underground railroad embraces the names of Richard Mott, a Quaker; Hon. James M. Ashley, former congressman; the late Mayor Bringham; James Conliak, an Irish-American; William H. Merritt, a negro, and several others. As a youth of 17 in Kentucky, Mr. Ashley helped two groups of fugitives across the Ohio, one of seven persons, the other of five. He was active in the work for years in Toledo and took many risks – not the least of which was taking a party of fugitives in a sleigh, in mid-winter, across Lake Eire on the ice from Toledo to Amherstburg.
There was a station in Maumee, operated by A.C. Winslow, who operated a foundry. From there, if there was no close pursuit, fugitives were brought either to Toledo, or taken, via Detroit, to Monroe, Michigan, and thence across to Canada. If the pursuers were close, the Negroes were taken to the Sylvania station, kept by Daniel Harroun, jr., and from there Hall Deland, the “night hawk,” took them to the French settlers along the Detroit river, who ferried them across that stream to Canada.
At Sandusky, still lives, full of years and honors, Hon. Rush R. Sloane, a notable underground operator. In 1854, while he was in the law practice, he was tried for the dismissal without proper authority of seven fugitives from the custody of their captors. Two suits were instituted against him by Louis F. Weimer, the owner of three of the slaves. The case was tried in the United States District Court at Columbus, and a verdict for $3,000 and costs were returned against him. The costs were $330.30. Some Sandusky friends raised $393, which paid court and marshal’s costs, but Mr. Sloane had to pay the $3,000 from his own pocket.
New England had a number of underground railroad routes. The fugitives sometimes came from the South through New York but many came hidden aboard coasting vessels which traded to Southern ports. From New York a much-used route went up the Hudson to Albany. From here some were sent west through Rochester, the home of Frederick Douglass, thence to the Niagara frontier; some went northward direct to Canada.
There was a network of routes leading from the South to Philadelphia and the Quaker communities in the neighboring counties. From thence some went to New York, and some by routes northward to the Niagara frontier. In western Pennsylvania were a number of routes, the fugitives following the valleys between the mountain ranges of the Alleghenies from the South, and eventually reaching Canada through Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland or Sandusky.
Indiana had many routes, ending at Detroit, Toledo, Michigan City and Chicago. From the Mississippi, along the Missouri boundary, a number of routes crossed Illinois to Chicago, whence the fugitives were taken by lake steamer to Collingwood, Detroit and Amherstburg. In the late ‘50’s, there were routes in eastern Kansas and southern Iowa, all joining the Illinois routes and with the same terminations.
Thousands of Negroes started with no knowledge of what to do other than to have the north star pointed out to them, with directions to go toward it – they traveled at night, and hid during the day – with the information that when they reached Canada they were free, and could not be brought back. Many along in the late ‘30’s and ‘40’s, followed the Wabash canal across Indiana to Toledo; or the Ohio canal from Portsmouth to Cleveland, or the canal from Cincinnati north of Toledo. The desire for freedom was general among the slaves, even when they were well treated. The one thing the slaves in the northern tier of slave states dreaded was being sold South, to labor in the rice fields of Carolina, the cotton fields of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, or the cane fields of Louisiana. And from the time that the desire for freedom inspired slaves to run away, there seems to have been people in the North willing to give them cordial aid. The earliest mention we have of any systematic aid to runaways is in two letters written by George Washington in 1786. On May 24, speaking of the slave of Mr. Dalby, of Alexandria, who had escaped to Philadelphia, he said: “A society of Quakers, formed for such purposes, have attempted to liberate him.” On November 20, of the same year, he writes of one of his own slaves, sent under an overseer to Hon. Wm. Drayton, but who escaped in transit. Washington writes: “The gentleman in whose care I sent him has promised every endeavor to apprehend him; but it is not easy to do this, when there are numbers who would rather facilitate the escape of slaves that apprehend them when runaways.”
This was before the formation of the national constitution. One of the compromises of that document was the clause which reads: “No person held to service or labor in one state under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor my be due.” This clause, although it studiously avoids the words “slave” and “slavery”, meant runaway slaves.
This clause remained inoperative for several years, because Congress enacted no law on the subject. In 1791, a case of kidnapping occurred at Washington, Pa., which directed public attention to the matter, and in 1793 the first fugitive slave law was enacted. From that day until 1863, the aiding of runaway slaves was illegal. But the law was ineffectual to stop it; the underground railroad methods were followed, especially in Pennsylvania. Several states enacted laws to aid in the rendition of fugitives within their borders, but they did not deter underground operators. The national law was amended and strengthened somewhat about 1819; but the work of the underground railroad increased steadily through the next three decades, until in the fierce debates upon the admission of California as a free state, the compromise bill of 1850 was enacted, one of the features of which was the severe fugitive slave law of that year. This stirred up the friends of freedom to renewed activity; and when, in 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska bill repealed the Missouri Compromise, and showed the purposes of the slave power to extend the hated institution in territories, that they might be admitted as slave states, the impetus became greater. For the first time, a great political party was organized to resist the encroachments of slavery. Six years later it obtained control of the national government. Secession followed. And the war for the preservation of the Union destroyed slavery forever.