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Underground Railroad


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Opponents of Slavery

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It is believed that the system started in 1787 when Isaac T. Hopper, a Quaker, began to organize a system for hiding and aiding fugitive slaves.

Opponents of slavery allowed their homes, called stations, to be used as places where escaped slaves were provided with food, shelter and money. The various routes went through 14 Northern states and Canada. It is estimated that by 1850 around 3,000 people worked on the underground railroad.

Some of the most best known of the people who provided help on the route included William Still, Gerrit Smith, Salmon Chase, David Ruggle, Thomas Garrett, William Purvis, Jane Grey Swisshelm, William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Lucretia Mott, Charles Langston, Levi Coffin and Susan B. Anthony.

The underground railroad also had people known as conductors who went to the south and helped guide slaves to safety. One of the most important of these was the former slave, Harriet Tubman. She made 19 secret trips to the South, during which she led more than 300 slaves to freedom. Tubman was considered such a threat to the slave system that plantation owners offered a $40,000 reward for her capture. Stations were usually about twenty miles apart. Conductors used covered wagons or carts with false bottoms to carry slaves from one station to another.

Runaway slaves usually hid during the day and travelled at night. Some of those involved notified runaways of their stations by brightly lit candles in a window or by lanterns positioned in the frontyard. By the middle of the 19th century it was estimated that over 50,000 slaves had escaped from the South using the underground railroad. Plantation owners became concerned at the large number of slaves escaping to the North and in 1850 managed to persuade Congress to pass the Fugitive Slave Act. In future, any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. The Fugitive Slave Act failed to stop the underground railroad. Thomas Garrett, the Deleware station-master, paid more than $8,000 in fines and Calvin Fairbank served over seventeen years in prison for his anti-slavery activities. Whereas John Fairfield, one of the best known of the white conductors, was killed working for the underground railroad.

According to Walter Hawkins slaves constantly talked about the possibility of escape: "there arose in some an irrepressible desire for freedom which no danger or power could restrain, no hardship deterred, and no bloodhound could alarm. This desire haunted them night and day; they talked about it to each other in confidence; they knew that the system which bound them was as unjust as it was cruel, and that they ought to strive, as a duty to themselves and their children, to escape from it".

The main problem was having to leave family and friends. Henry Bibb wrote in his autobiography that it was "one of the most self-denying acts of my whole life, to take leave of an affectionate wife, who stood before me on my departure, with dear little Frances in her arms, and with tears of sorrow in her eyes as she bid me a long farewell." They also knew that there was the possibility that if they evaded capture, their closest relatives would be severely punished.

They also knew that successful escapes were rare. Slaveowners used bloodhounds to trace their slaves. Problems of finding food and shelter in a hostile environment and the absence of maps were also other factors in understanding why most slaves failed in their bids for freedom. Moses Grandy explained the problems that runaways faced: "They hide themselves during the day in the woods and swamps; at night they travel, crossing rivers by swimming, or by boats they may chance to meet with, and passing over hills and meadows which they do not know; in these dangerous journeys they are guided by the north-star, for they only know that the land of freedom is in the north. They subsist on such wild fruit as they can gather, and as they are often very long on their way, they reach the free states almost like skeletons."

Within a few days of leaving the plantation most runaways were brought back and heavily punished. Francis Fredric was free for nine weeks but was captured and received 107 strokes of the whip. Moses Roper, received 200 lashes and this was only brought to an end when the master's wife pleaded for his life to be spared.

A study of runaway notices of local newspapers revealed that 76 per cent of all fugitives were under 35, and 89 per cent of them were men. Another study suggested that field slaves were more likely to try and escape than house slaves.

The development of the underground railroad increased the number of slaves who were able to reach safety. By the middle of the 19th century it was estimated that over 50,000 slaves had escaped from the South using this method. Plantation owners became so concerned by these losses that in 1850 they managed to persuade Congress to pass the Fugitive Slave Act. In future, any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Only John P. Hale, Charles Sumner\, Salmon Chase and Benjamin Wade voted against the measure. The law stated that in future any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave could be fined $1,000. People suspected of being a runaway slave could be arrested without warrant and turned over to a claimant on nothing more than his sworn testimony of ownership. A suspected black slave could not ask for a jury trial nor testify on his or her behalf.

Any person aiding a runaway slave by providing shelter, food or any other form of assistance was liable to six months' imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Those officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to a fee and this encouraged some officers to kidnap free Negroes and sell them to slave-owners.

Many people associated with the Underground Railroad only knew their part of the operation and not of the whole scheme. Though this may seem like a weak route for the slaves to gain their freedom, hundreds of slaves obtained freedom to the North every year.

The resting spots where the runaways could sleep and eat were given the code names "stations" and "depots" which were held by "station masters." There were also those known as "stockholders" who gave money or supplies for assistance. There were the "conductors" who ultimately moved the runaways from station to station. The "conductor" would sometimes act as if he were a slave and enter a plantation. Once a part of a plantation the "conductor" would direct the fugitives to the North. During the night the slaves would move, traveling on about 10-20 miles (15-30 km) per night. They would stop at the so-called "stations" or "depots" during the day and rest. While resting at one station, a message was sent to the next station to let the station master know the runaways were on their way. Sometimes boats or trains would be used for transportation. Money was donated by many people to help buy tickets and even clothing for the fugitives so they would remain unnoticeable.

Some people %u2014 most of them, naturally, pro-slavery Southerners %u2014 were upset by this whole process. Resulting from many efforts to fix this ostensible problem, a law was passed that allowed slave owners to hire people to catch their runaways and arrest them. The fugitive slave laws became a problem because many legally freed slaves were being arrested as well as the fugitives. This then encouraged more people of the North to become a part of the Underground Railroad. Oftentimes, "bounty hunters" would abduct free blacks, and sell them into slavery.

The Underground Railroad stretched for thousands of miles, from Kentucky and Virginia across Ohio and Indiana. In the Northerly direction, it stretched from Maryland, across Pennsylvania and into New York and through New England.


Frederick Douglass

From Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881)

One important branch of my anti-slavery work in Rochester, was as station master and conductor of the underground railroad passing through this goodly city. Secrecy and concealment were necessary conditions to the successful operation of this railroad, and hence its prefix "underground." My agency was all the more exciting and interesting, because not altogether free from danger. I could take no step in it without exposing myself to fine and imprisonment, for these were the penalties imposed by the fugitive slave law, for feeding, harboring, or otherwise assisting a slave to escape from his master; but in face of this fact, I can say, I never did more congenial, attractive, fascinating, and satisfactory work.

True as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman, brought to my heart unspeakable joy. On one occasion I had eleven fugitives at the same time under my roof, and it was necessary for them to remain with me, until I could collect sufficient money to get them on to Canada. It was the largest number I ever had at any one time, and I had some difficulty in providing so many with food and shelter, but as may well be imagined, they were not very fastidious in either direction, and were well content with very plain food, and a strip of carpet on the floor for a bed, or a place on the straw in the barn loft.

The underground railroad had many branches; but that one with which I was connected had its main stations in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and St. Catharines (Canada). It is not necessary to tell who were the principal agents in Baltimore; Thomas Garrett was the agent in Wilmington; Melloe McKim, William Still, Robert Purvis, Edward M. Davis, and others did the work in Philadelphia; David Ruggles, Isaac T. Hopper, Napolian, and others, in New York city; the Misses Mott and Stephen Myers, were forwarders from Albany; Revs. Samuel J. May and J. W. Loguen, were the agents in. Syracuse; and J. P. Morris and myself received and dispatched passengers from Rochester to Canada, where they were received by Rev. Hiram Wilson.

Harriet Tubman

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 "Every step seems louder. Twigs snap, leaves crackle. But you walk on, till you see a group of friendly faces. You join them shyly and meet "General Tubman" herself. She tells you how to sneak across the bridge over the Choptank River and where to find friends in a place called Delaware.

Your head says go, your feet say no. Harriet Tubman told you that a lantern on a hitching post means a safe house. But can you really knock on a white family's door and trust them to help you?

"Moses" is coming! You've heard the stories about her. She is Harriet Tubman, a former slave who ran away from a nearby plantation in 1849 but returns to rescue others. Guided by her "visions," she has never lost a passenger. Even if Moses can't fit you into her next group, she'll tell you how to follow the North Star to freedom in Canada. In her book, Harriet Tubman, The Moses of Her People , Sarah Bradford explained the role that Harriet Tubman played in the Underground Railroad. (1886)

It would be impossible here to give a detailed account of the journeys and labors of this intrepid woman for the redemption of her kindred and friends, during the years that followed. Those years were spent in work, almost by night and day, with the one object of the rescue of her people from slavery. All her wages were laid away with this sole purpose, and as soon as a sufficient amount was secured, she disappeared from her Northern home, and as suddenly and mysteriously she appeared some dark night at the door of one of the cabins on a plantation, where a trembling band of fugitives, forewarned as to time and place, were anxiously awaiting their deliverer. Then she piloted them North, traveling by night, hiding by day, scaling the mountains, fording the rivers, threading the forests, lying concealed as the pursuers passed them. She, carrying the babies, drugged with paregoric, in a basket on her arm. So she went nineteen times, and so she brought away over three hundred pieces of living and breathing "property," with God given souls.

The way was so toilsome over the rugged mountain passes, that often the men who followed her would give out, and foot-sore, and bleeding, they would drop on the ground, groaning that they could not take another step. They would lie there and die, or if strength came back, they would return on their steps, and seek their old homes again. Then the revolver carried by this bold and daring pioneer, would come out, while pointing it at their heads she would say, "Dead niggers tell no tales; you go on or die!" And by this heroic treatment she compelled them to drag their weary limbs along on their northward journey.

But the pursuers were after them. A reward of $40,000 was offered by the slave-holders of the region from whence so many slaves had been spirited away, for the head of the woman who appeared so mysteriously, and enticed away their property, from under the very eyes of its owners.

Thomas Garrett

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Thomas Garrett, a Quaker who was the Delaware station-master, wrote a letter to Sarah Bradford about the activities of Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad (June, 1866)

The date of the commencement of her labors, I cannot certainly give; but I think it must have been about 1845; from that time till 1860, I think she must have brought from the neighborhood where she had been held as a slave. from 60 to 80 persons, from Maryland, some 80 miles from here.

No slave who placed himself under her care, was ever arrested that I have heard of; she mostly had her regular stopping places on her route; but in one instance, when she had several stout men with her, some 30 miles below here, she said that God told her to stop, which she did; and then asked him what she must do. He told her to leave the road, and turn to the left; she obeyed, and soon came to a small stream of tide water; there was no boat, no bridge; she again inquired of her Guide what she was to do. She was told to go through. It was cold, in the month of March; but having confidence in her Guide, she went in; the water came up to her armpits; the men refused to follow till they saw her safe on the opposite shore. They then followed, and, if I mistake not, she had soon to wade a second stream; soon after which she came to a cabin of colored people, who took them all in, put them to bed, and dried their clothes, ready to proceed next night on their journey. Harriet had run out of money, and gave them some of her underclothing to pay for their kindness.

When she called on me two days after, she was so hoarse she could hardly speak, and was also suffering with violent toothache. The strange part of the story we found to be, that the masters of these men had put up the previous day, at the railroad station near where she left, an advertisement for them, offering a large reward for their apprehension; but they made a safe exit. She at one time brought as many as seven or eight, several of whom were women and children. She was well known here in Chester County and Philadelphia, and respected by all true abolitionists.

Harriet Jacobs

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Harriet Jacobs was one of the slaves rescued by the people on the Underground Railroad.

Peter took me in his boat, rowed out to a vessel not far distant, and hoisted me on board. They said I was to remain on board till near dawn, and then they would hide me in Snaky Swamp. About four o'clock, we were again seated in the boat, and rowed three miles to the swamp. My fear of snakes had been increased by the venomous bite I had received, and I dreaded to enter this hiding place. But I was in no situation to choose, and I gratefully accepted the best that my poor, persecuted friends could do for me.

Colored people were allowed to ride in a filthy box, behind white people, at the south but they were not required to pay for the privilege. It made me sad to find the north aped the customs of slavery. We were stowed away in a large, rough car, with windows on each side, too high for us to look without standing up. It was crowded with people, apparently of all nations. There were plenty of beds and cradles, containing screaming and kicking babies

William Still

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William Still describing the rescue of Anna Maria Weems in his book The Underground Railroad (1870)

The only chance of procuring her freedom, depended upon getting her away on the Underground Rail Road. She was neatly attired in male habiliments, and in that manner came all the way from Washington. After passing two or three days with her new friends in Philadelphia, she was sent on (in male attire) to Lewis Tappan, of New York, who had likewise been deeply interested in her case from the beginning, and who held himself ready, as was understood, to cash a draft for three hundred dollars to compensate the man who might risk his own liberty in bringing her on from Washington. After having arrived safely in New York, she found a home and kind friends in the family of Rev. A. N. Freeman, and received quite an ovation characteristic of an Underground Rail Road.

Francis Fredric

Francis Fredric, Fifty Years of Slavery (1863)

Since my first attempt to escape I was so uniformly treated badly, that my life would have been insupportable if I had not been soothed by the kind words of the good abolitionist planter who had first conveyed to me a true knowledge of religion. I had been flogged, and went one day to show him the state in which I was. He asked me what I wanted him to do. I said, "To get me away to Canada."

He sat for full twenty minutes thoughtfully, and at last said, "Now, if I promise to take you away out of all this, you must not mention a word to any one. Don't breathe a syllable to your mother or sisters, or it will be betrayed." Oh, how my heart jumped for joy at this promise. I felt new life come into me. Visions of happiness flitted before my mind. And then I thought before the next day he might change his mind, and I was miserable again. I solemnly assured him I would say nothing to any one. "Come to me," he said, "on the Friday night about ten or eleven o'clock; I will wait till you come. Don't bring any clothes with you except those you have on. But bring any money you can get." I said I would obey him in every respect.

I went home and passed an anxious day. I walked out to my poor old mother's hut, and saw her and my sisters. How I longed to tell them, and bid them farewell. I hesitated several times when I thought I should never see them more. I turned back again and again to look at my mother. I knew she would be flogged, old as she was, for my escaping. I could foresee how my master would stand over her with the lash to extort from her my hiding-place. I was her only son left. How she would suffer torture on my account, and be distressed that I had left her for ever until we should meet hereafter in heaven I hoped.

At length I walked rapidly away, as if to leave my thoughts behind me, and arrived at my kind benefactor's house a little after eleven o'clock. He said but little, and seemed restless. He took some rugs and laid them at the bottom of the waggon, and covered me with some more. Soon we were on our way to Maysville, which was about twenty miles from his house. The horses trotted on rapidly, and I lay overjoyed at my chance of escape. When we stopped at Maysville, I remained for some time perfectly quiet, listening to every sound. At last I heard a gentleman's voice, saying, "Where is he? where is he?" and then he put in his hand and felt me. I started, but my benefactor told me it was all right, it was a friend. "This gentleman," he added, "will take care of you; you must go to his house." I got out of the waggon and shook my deliverer by the hand with a very, very grateful heart, you may be sure; for I knew the risk he had run on my account.

He wished me every success, and committed me to his friend, whom I accompanied to his house, and was received with the utmost kindness by his wife, who asked me if I was a Christian man. I answered yes. She took me up into a garret and brought me some food. Her little daughters shook hands with me. She spoke of the curse of slavery to the land. "I am an abolitionist," she said, "although in a slaveholding country. The work of the Lord will not go on as long as slavery is carried on here." Every possible attention was paid to me to soothe my troubled mind. The following night the gentleman and his son left the house about ten o'clock. A little after twelve o'clock the gentleman returned, and said he had got a boat and I was to go with him. His lady bid me farewell, and told me to put my trust in the Lord, in whose hands my friends were, and asked me to remember them in my prayers, since they had hazarded everything for me, and, if discovered, they would be cruelly treated. I was soon rowed across the river, which is about a mile wide in that place.

The son remained with me in the skiff whilst his father went to a neighbouring village to bring some one to take charge of me. After some time, he brought a friend, who told me never to mention the name of any one who had helped me. He took me to his house outside the town, where I had some refreshment, and remained about half-an-hour. A waggon came up, and I was stowed away, and driven about twenty miles that night, being well guarded by eight or ten young men with revolvers.

It would do any real Christian man good to see the enthusiasm and determination of these young Abolitionists. Their whole heart and soul are in the work. A dozen such men would have defied a hundred slaveholders. From having seen over and over again slaves dragged back chained through their country, and having heard the tales of horrible treatment of the poor hopeless captives, some having been flogged to death, others burnt alive, with their heads downwards, over a slow fire, others covered with tar and set on fire, these noble, courageous, self-sacrificing men have been so wrought upon, that they are heroes of the highest stamp, and I verily believe they would willingly lay down their lives rather than allow one fugitive slave to be taken from them.


William Wells Brown

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William Wells Brown was born near Lexington, Kentucky, in 1814. His father was George Higgins, a white plantation owner, but his mother was a black slave. His mother had seven children, all with different fathers. William served several slave-masters before escaping in 1834. He adopted the name of his friend, Wells Brown, a Quaker who had helped him obtain his freedom.

Brown became a conductor on the Underground Railroad and worked on a Lake Erie steamer ferrying slaves to freedom in Canada.

In 1843 Brown became a lecturing agent for the New York Anti-Slavery Society. After obtaining a reputation as one of the movement's best orators, Brown was employed by the American Anti-Slavery Society where he worked closely with William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Birth: 1814
Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Death: Nov. 6, 1884
Chelsea, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Buried: Cambridge Cemetery
Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts



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The Underground Railroad developed its own jargon, which continued the railway metaphor:

  • People who helped slaves find the railroad were "agents" (or "shepherds")
  • Guides were known as "conductors"
  • Hiding places were "stations"
  • "Stationmasters" would hide slaves in their homes
  • Escaped slaves were referred to as "passengers" or "cargo"
  • Slaves would obtain a "ticket"
  • Financiers of the Railroad were known as "stockholders".

As well, the big dipper asterism, whose 'bowl' points to the north star, was known as the drinkin' gourd, and immortalized in a contemporary code tune. The Railroad itself was often known as the "Freedom train" or "Gospel train", which headed towards "Heaven" or "the Promised Land" - Canada.

Underground Railroad Code Phrases

“The wind blows from the south today” = warning of slave bounty hunters nearby

“A friend of a friend” = a password used to signal the arrival of fugitives with an Underground Railroad conductor

“The friend of a friend sent me” = a password used by fugitives traveling alone to indicate they were sent by the Underground Railroad network

"Load of Potatoes," "Parcel," "Bundles of Wood," or "Freight" = fugitives to be expected

"A friend with friends" = a password used by railroad conductors to signal to the listener that they were in fact a conductor.

Levi and Catherine Coffin

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In Fountain City, Indiana, Levi and Catherine Coffin opened a store/manufacturing plant and began to help fugitive slaves escape to freedom. Their zealous antislavery sentiment and involvement in helping runaways earned Levi the nickname "president" of the Underground Railroad.

Devout Quakers, the Coffins made their home into a well-known "safe house" for escaping slaves. In 1847, they moved east to Cincinnati and opened a warehouse that handled goods produced by free - not slave - labor.

During and after the Civil War, the Coffins were important figures in the Western Freedmen´s Aid Society, which helped educate slaves. Levi´s lectures and efforts in England and Europe raised more than $100,000 in one year.


Oct. 28, 1798

Death:   Sep. 16, 1877

American Educator, Abolitionist. A vast networking of lines, called the Underground Railroad, helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom after they traveled the most difficult part of their journey. People came together to develop this network for the specific purposes of helping fugitive slaves and of defying the law of the land. One of the best known agents of the railroad was Levi Coffin, a Quaker, who was a former Southerner. He moved to Indiana after he married and quickly became involved in anti-slavery issues, including Indiana's connections to the Underground Railroad. However, Coffin wasn't alone in his task because he employed the help of many blacks, such as William Bush. He was so desperate to become free, after his escape from a plantation in the South, William walked the entire way to Levi Coffin's safe house in Newport, Indiana (now Fountain City) wearing only wooden shoes. He stayed on until his death working as a conductor for other runaway slaves. The conductors were responsible for getting the fugitive slaves to the next station. Levi Coffin was born and raised on a farm in a rural area near New Garden, North Carolina, the only son in a family of six girls. He was home schooled by his father and the education received was sufficient to qualify him for a teaching job upon reaching adulthood. Levi was tempered by the cruel treatment of the Negroes. His Quaker upbringing was paramount to his aiding the escape of slaves beginning at age fifteen. He angered slave owners by operating a Sunday school for Blacks where he taught them to read and write using the Bible. Unpopular, he joined other family members and settled in Newport, Indiana (now Fountain City) opening a country store. Coffin prospered, expanding his operations to include cutting pork and manufacturing linseed oil. He was elected director at the State Bank's Richmond branch. His interest in the slaves continued and became active in the secret organization, the "Underground Railroad". Its purpose to transport slaves from member to member until a safe place was reached where the Negro was set free. Hundreds of escaping slaves were hidden as guests by Levi Coffin and his wife Catharine in their house which became known as "Grand Central Station", safe from bounty hunters until passage could be arranged. One of the refugees who found shelter in the home was later immortalized as the character Eliza, the heroine of Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Levi and Catharine Coffin are supposedly depicted in the book as Simeon and Rachel Halliday. The Quakers long before the Civil War urged consumers not to buy goods produced with slave labor. In their convention at Salem, Indiana, they funded Coffin and he was able to open a wholesale warehouse in Cincinnati that handled only cotton goods, sugar and spices produced by free labor. He became president of "The Underground Railroad'. After heading the organization for over thirty years, with the war over and adoption of the fifteenth amendment, Coffin resigned and the organization no longer needed, simply faded away. Levi turned his attention to the "Western Freedmen's Aid Society", which helped educate and provide basic living needs for former slaves. Coffin was the main fund raiser and journeyed to Europe on successful money raising trips In one year alone, he raised over $100,000 dollars. He died in Avondale, Ohio of a heart attack as he neared 80 years of age and was buried beside his wife in historic Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. Crowds of colored people came to his Quaker funeral to say farewell. All of the slaves he and his wife aided reached freedom. Quaker graves are usually unmarked. The Coffin marker is a monument six feet high. Ex-slaves received permission to erect this marker and raised the money. The inscription, "Aiding thousands to gain freedom, a tribute from the colored people of Cincinnati". Legacy...The Coffin house located in Fountain City, Indiana, is today owned by the State of Indiana. The house was restored and is now open to the public and has the designation as a National Historic Landmark. The home's fireplaces, floors, doors, and most of the woodwork are original. The furnishings all predate 1847 and as nearly close as possible when it was the residence of the Coffins. The residence has many unusual hiding places where slaves were able to hide and avoid detection until they could be transported to one of the free states. The house contains an unusual indoor well which concealed the vast amount of water necessary to sustain the many extra guests. A vast amount of items pertaining to slavery are housed here. Coffin was the focus of a book published in 1875, "Reminiscences of Levi Coffin." (bio by: Donald Greyfield)

Buried: Spring Grove Cemetery
Cincinnati,  Hamilton County, Ohio


The Coffin House

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To the thousand of escaped slaves, an eight-room Federal style brick home in Newport (Fountain City), Indiana, became a safe haven on their journey to Canada.   This was the home of Levi and Catharine Coffin, North Carolina Quakers who opposed slavery.  During the 20 years they lived in Newport, the Coffins helped more than 2,000 slaves reach safety.

In their flight, slaves used three main routes to cross into freedom:  Madison and Jeffersonville, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio.  From these points, the fugitives were taken to Newport.  Once in the house, the presence of the runaway slaves could be concealed for up to several weeks, until they gained enough strength to continue their journey.

So successful was the Coffin sanctuary that, while in Newport, not a single slave failed to reach freedom.  One of the many slaves who hid in the Coffin home was "Eliza", whose story is told in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  In 1847, the Coffins moved to Cincinnati so that Levi could operate a wholesale warehouse which supplied goods to free labor stores.  The Coffins continued to assist the cause, helping another 1,300 slaves escape.

The Coffin house was purchased in 1967 by the State of Indiana.  The house was restored and then opened to the public in 1970.  The site is a registered National Historic Landmark and is operated by the Levi Coffin House Association.

Freedom Fighters~Page One

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Anderson, Elijah

Anderson earned the nickname "General Superintendent" of the Underground Railroad for his efforts in Northwestern Ohio. He is thought to have helped approximately 1,000 fugitives along the way to freedom before he was caught and taken to a Kentucky jail where he died in 1857.

Anderson, Osborne Perry

One of five escapees from John Brown´s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Anderson was a printer by trade. He was born a free Black in Pennsylvania and moved to Chatham, Ontario, a popular end-point of the Underground Railroad. At Chatham he heard John Brown speak in 1858 about the evils of slavery. Anderson volunteered to join Brown´s ill-fated attack on Harpers Ferry. After escaping during the raid, Anderson went on to serve as a Union soldier in the Civil War. He later wrote the only account of the raid by one of the people involved.

Bibb, Henry (1815-1854)

This brave man tried to escape from seven different owners before finally being successful. "Among the good trades I learned was the art of running away to perfection. I made a regular business of it," he wrote. In a letter, Bibb wrote one of his former owners: "You may perhaps think hard of us for running away from slavery, but as to myself, I have but one apology to make for it, which is this: I have only to regret that I did not start at an earlier period." He spoke to abolitionist audiences of his experiences as a slave. Later, he established a community in Canada for fugitives, called Refugees´ Home.

Brown, Henry ´Box´

Brown´s story is one of the cleverest ones in the history of the Underground Railroad. He convinced a White carpenter to build a crate and another man to take the crate, with Brown in it, to the Adams Shipping Company in Richmond, Virginia. From there, the crate was sent to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Office. Twenty-six hours later, the top of the crate was pried off and Brown emerged, a free man. He wrote a book about the experience and became well-known for his creative approach. Brown toured England speaking to anti-slavery audiences in the early 1850s.

Craft, Ellen and William (1826-1890) (1824-1900)

This couple assumed false identities and managed to escape. In 1848, Ellen, the child of a slave and her owner, disguised herself as a man traveling with his slave, who actually was William, her husband. She was light-skinned and could "pass" as a White person. Cleverly, they even figured a way to avoid having Ellen sign her name, since she couldn´t read or write. She pretended to have broken her arm, so when they registered at a hotel, the hotel keeper signed for her. Their 1,000-mile trip from Macon, Georgia, to Boston was full of danger and several times they narrowly missed being discovered. After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, they left the United States for Canada and from there went to Britain and true freedom.

Cratty, William

In the years from 1836 - 1855, Cratty is said to have helped 3,000 slaves escape. This man from Central Ohio was reportedly upset by seeing a fugitive on whose neck was an iron band with points that curved up and over his head. Southern slaveholders offered a $3,000 award for him delivered dead or alive below the Mason-Dixon line.

Doyle, Patrick

In 1848 Drayton, an Irish American college student, tried to help 75 armed Kentucky slaves cross the Ohio River to freedom. They were all caught. Three of the Black leaders were executed. Doyle, from Danville, Ohio, was given 20 years in jail. This attempt at a massive escape was one of numerous armed slave uprisings that received little public attention, perhaps to keep the information from encouraging other slaves.

Evans, Wilson Bruce and Henry  

Wilson and his brother Henry were free Black men from North Carolina who worked as cabinetmakers in Oberlin, Ohio. They helped fugitive slave John Price in what became known as the "Oberlin-Wellington Rescue." The Evans brothers served time in jail for their part in the rescue. When the Civil War broke out, the light-skinned Wilson Bruce enlisted in the Union army, never revealing that he was African American. He died in 1898, only a few days after the 40th anniversary of the rescue. Henry died in 1886.

Fairbanks, Calvin Rev.

A minister, Rev. Fairbanks wrote an account of his life that describes his activities on the Underground Railroad. He wrote of helping people ... "through forests, mostly by night; men in women´s clothes and women in men´s clothes; boys dressed as girls, and girls as boys; on foot or on horseback, in buggies, carriages, common wagons, in and under loads of hay, straw, old furniture, boxes and bags; ...swimming or wading chin deep; or in boats, or skiffs; on rafts, and often on a pine log. And I never suffered one to be recaptured." One of those whom he helped was Lewis Hayden, who went on to harbor fugitives in his house and to serve as a prominent abolitionist. Unfortunately, Rev. Fairbanks did not escape being captured. In 1844, he was tried and imprisoned for 17 years for aiding and abetting fugitive slaves.

Fairfield, John

The son of wealthy Virginians, Fairfield hated slavery. He began a successful 12-year career in helping fugitives escape when he escorted one of his father´s slaves north. In all, he is thought to have helped several hundred fugitives find their freedom. Fairfield posed as a slaveholder or peddler, convincing Southerners so completely that he was not suspected. On one of his trips, he led 28 people to freedom by staging a fake funeral. Fairfield put one fugitive in a coffin and directed the others to act as mourners. The funeral procession proceeded without interruption. Fairfield is said to have taken some of the fugitives to Levi Coffin and to have traveled with others to Canada. He continued to go into the South to help fugitives until 1860, when he was reportedly killed in a slave revolt in Tennessee.

Fitzgerald family of Chester Co., Pennsylvania, The Thomas

This family of free African Americans lived on a farm in Pennsylvania near the boundary of slave territory. They never officially declared themselves to be abolitionists. Their descendant, Pauli Murray (a lawyer who became one of the first women to be ordained an Episcopal priest) reports that "They were not joiners of reform movements but they were stubborn in what they believed to be right." The family is reported to have frequently harbored fugitives in their barn and offered food for their journeys.

Garnet, Henry Highland Rev. (1815-1882)

Henry and his family escaped to New York City in 1825 in a daring venture. After he had heard that his family would be split up and sold, Henry´s father arranged for passes to attend a funeral. Instead, the family used the time to escape.

While Henry was at work one day, bounty hunters tracked down his family. They managed to escape to "safe houses" on Long Island, but Henry returned from work to find his entire family gone. Eventually the family was reunited, but Henry´s hatred of the slave system grew.

He attended the New York African Free School where he soon became known for his intelligence. He and two other students walked all the way to Canaan, New Hampshire, to enroll in Noyes Academy, only to find that local farmers wrecked the school because it admitted African Americans. Henry and the others escaped back to New York. Later he studied at Oneida Theological School in Whiteboro, New York, and became a frequent speaker at abolitionist meetings. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he served a racially mixed congregation in Troy, New York. David Walker´s writings moved him a great deal and he visited Walker´s widow in Boston. He began calling for African Americans to organize their resistance and take up arms. In editing an 1848 version of David Walker´s "Appeal," Henry told the slaves that "You had far better all die - die immediately, than to live slaves and entail your wretchedness upon your posterity."

Garrett, Thomas

In 1820 Thomas Garrett made a decision that changed his life and that of thousands of escaping slaves. He decided to spend his life working for the abolition of slavery.

This iron seller was a Quaker who believed that slavery was against God´s law. His house in Wilmington, Delaware, was strategically located. Slaves fleeing up the East coast would find shelter with him as their last stop before the free state of Pennsylvania. Garrett is said to have helped some 2,700 fugitives reach freedom. Repeatedly, slaveholders and those who supported slavery threatened him with violence. Fined for his role in aiding fugitive slaves and forced to sell all his property, Garrett is reported to have told Judge Roger B. Taney, (Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court who issued the Dred Scott decision): "Thou has left me without a dollar...I say to thee and to all in this court room, that if anyone knows a fugitive who wants shelter...send him to Thomas Garrett and he will befriend him." After the Civil War, the African Americans of Wilmington hailed Thomas Garrett as "Our Moses."

Gibbs, Joseph R.

This printer used his trade to help fugitives. He kept on file a large number of so-called "free papers" from African Americans who had died. Gibbs gave these papers to fugitives so they could use them to conceal their true identity. In this way, he is said to have helped some 2,000 fugitives.

Grimes, Leonard Andrew Rev.

Grimes had a first-hand view of slavery, not as a slave himself but as an employee of a slave trader in the South. When he bought a buggy shop in Washington, DC, he made good use of it to help enslaved people escape. After a handful of successful efforts, this free Black man was captured and sentenced to a Richmond prison for two years for his part in trying to rescue a slave family. Prison, however, did nothing to dampen his passion for helping runaways. After being released, Grimes moved to Boston where he served as a minister of the Twelfth Baptist Church, known as the "fugitive slave church." When fugitive slave Anthony Burns was captured in Boston and forced to return to slavery, Grimes organized an effort to purchase Burns´s freedom.


Freedom Fighters~Page Two

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Haviland, Laura


Haviland founded the Raisen Institute in northern Michigan for Black and White students. The school also taught both males and females, another unusual practice at the time.

She worked with fellow Quaker Levi Coffin to help fugitive slaves escape to Canada, reportedly "braving slave-catchers´ pistols on more than one occasion."

When John White, a fugitive working near the Raisen Institute, appealed for her help to bring his wife to freedom, Haviland consulted with Coffin and several of White´s friends in Rising Sun, Indiana. Then she traveled to Kentucky, posed as an aunt of a free light-skinned African American woman and delivered John White´s message to his wife Jane. Tragically, the escape planned for several weeks from then was unsuccessful as a slave-catcher caught up with White, who had returned to Kentucky, and Jane. John somehow got word back to his friends in Michigan; the Cincinnati Vigilance Committee raised $400 to buy John White´s freedom, but by that time his wife had died. Laura Haviland again journeyed to Kentucky, this time returning with John White. She eventually moved to Windsor, Ontario, to teach children of former slaves.

Hayden, Lewis


Hayden´s life and work were tied with many other important conductors and abolitionists. He himself had been a slave in Kentucky. Calvin Fairbank (see his profile) was jailed for helping Hayden.

This rescue may have encouraged Hayden to help others. After reaching Canada, Hayden lived there for six months before returning to the United States and settling in Detroit.

To band together with other abolitionists, he moved his family to Boston. The Haydens´ downtown Boston home was well known for harboring fugitive slaves. Today, it´s a pilgrimage site on Boston´s Black Heritage Trail. Once, when writer Harriet Beecher Stowe visited, she said she met 13 escaped slaves under the Haydens´ roof. When William and Ellen Craft (read their profile on the Web site) escaped, they stayed in the Hayden home for a while. This man was instrumental in the Boston Vigilance Committee. In one year, 1851, the committee recorded helping 69 fugitives. Forty-nine African Americans were on the payroll for harboring fugitives. Hayden hated the Fugitive Slave Law and announced that he had put two kegs of explosives in his home, threatening to blow up the home rather than surrender a fugitive. It never came to that and he continued to aid fugitives personally as well as the cause of abolitionism in many courageous ways.

Horse, Chief John


Born in Florida as a slave, John Horse became an important chief of the Black Seminoles. He was a ferocious warrior who fought all those who tried to take away his tribe´s land and freedom. Those enemies included the US government under Gen. Zachary Taylor, Texas slave-catchers, and Mexican "filibusters." John Horse was a man of many skills, including the ability to speak several languages. He interpreted for other tribes and negotiated with U.S. federal officials including James Polk and Ulysses Grant. He also represented his tribe in trying to obtain land in Mexico, dealing with Mexican officials in Mexico City. In 1849, Chief Horse founded Wewoka, a city in Mexico that became a refuge for fugitive slaves.

Johnson, Octave


At 21, this young man had had enough of slavery and fled from New Orleans to live in a Maroon wilderness settlement for one and a half years. (Maroons were descendants of slaves from the West Indies.)He later dictated an account of his life as a Maroon and how he stole food from a nearby plantation to survive. Johnson´s account also notes that at one point, 30 fugitives were hiding together in the wilderness, dealing with attacks from slavehunters´ dogs and exchanging beef for corn meal with the field slaves. He left the Maroon community to fight in the Civil War, earning the rank of corporal.

Jones, Mary and John


Born to a free blacksmith in Memphis, Mary Richardson married John Jones, another free Black. Together they were active in the Tennessee Underground Railroad, helping fugitives escape slavery. Taking their savings of $3.50, they moved in 1845 to Illinois, a free state. There they continued their work to help runaway slaves, including harboring abolitionist John Brown. John Jones wrote a pamphlet against the state´s Black Laws.

Lambert, William


Lambert and his colleague George De Baptiste are reported to have established a secret escape approach for fugitives in Detroit. Called "African American Mysteries: The Order of the Men of Oppression," the network used a series of passwords, hand grips, and rituals meant to assure secrecy. Katz quotes Lambert as saying "It was fight and run - danger at every turn, but that we calculated upon, and were prepared for." One writer (Buckmaster) asserts that in 31 years of aiding runaway slaves, Lambert helped 30,000 fugitives across the river from Detroit.

Lewis, Jane


Lewis left her home in New Lebanon, Ohio, to get to the banks of the Ohio River. There she helped runaways escape from Kentucky to the free state of Ohio. She is reported to have regularly rowed them across the river to safety.

Loguen, Jermain Wesley Rev. (1813-1872)


A close friend of Harriet Tubman, Loguen was a well-known Black stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. Escaping from bondage in Tennessee, he made it to Canada. But he didn´t stay there.

He and his wife moved to Syracuse, New York, where he became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Together, the Loguens used their home and their church as "safehouses" for escaping fugitives. They are thought to have helped some 1,500 enslaved people reach Canada.  Rev. Loguen´s aid didn´t end with helping fugitives escape slavery. As manager of the Fugitive Aid Society in Syracuse, he worked hard to help fugitives find jobs, urging area residents to hire them in their farms and businesses. Largely because of his work, Syracuse became known as "the Canada of the United States." Of course, that was before the Fugitive Slave Law, of which Loguen said: "I don´t respect this law - I don´t fear it - I won´t obey it! It outlaws me and I outlaw it." He published an autobiography in 1859, Rev. Jermain W. Loguen as a Slave and as a Freeman.

Malvin, John (1795-1880)


Malvin was a successful Black business owner who helped runaways escape from slavery. He owned a canal boat that regularly traveled between Cleveland and Marietta, Ohio. His boat frequently transported fugitives who had come to Marietta from the southern side of the Ohio River. Using some of his business income, Malvin bought the freedom of his father-in-law, Caleb Dorsey. In 1836, Malvin established the School Education Society for African Americans in Cleveland.

Mason, John


Mason fled from slavery in Kentucky into Canada. He returned south for other enslaved people, eventually bringing a total of some 1,000 people to freedom. After successfully helping 265 to Canada, Mason was caught and sold back into slavery. For resisting, both of his arms were broken. He somehow managed to escape once again and returned to his mission of helping people find freedom.

Parker, John (1827-1900)


John P. Parker was eight when he was sold from his enslaved mother in Norfolk, Virginia, to an agent from Richmond. Sold again to a slave caravan, he walked shackled to other slaves from Norfolk to Mobile, Alabama. His account of the journey is one of the early incidents in His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996). The book draws from a series of interviews with Parker conducted in 1885 by newspaperman Frank M. Gregg.

In Mobile, a doctor bought Parker and the doctor´s sons taught him to read and write. John, 16, went north with those sons as they enrolled in college; however, the doctor, fearing Parker would escape, ordered him back to Mobile.

Parker tried several times to escape to freedom. Apprenticed as a plasterer, he tried to escape to New Orleans after one of his coworkers repeatedly harassed him, but was found and returned to the doctor. Next Parker was apprenticed to a molder at a local iron foundry, where he was allowed to keep some of his earnings. Parker begged an older patient of the doctor´s to "buy" him; she eventually agreed, and he worked day and night to purchase his freedom from her.

A free man, he moved to Southern Ohio. Around 1853 he started his own foundry behind his home in Ripley, a tobacco center on the banks of the Ohio River and a focus of Underground Railroad activity. Parker invented several devices, including a tobacco press. He became one of a handful of African Americans to obtain a U.S. patent in the 19th century.

As he grew into a successful businessman, he also became involved in Underground Railroad activities. Although he could not keep written records that might be used to convict him of aiding slaves, he is thought to have helped hundreds of enslaved people escape to freedom. Well-known by regional slave-catchers, Parker risked his own life time and again by traveling across the river to lead fugitives to safety in Ripley. Once the fugitive slaves were across the river, Parker would deliver them to other conductors, such as Rev. John Rankin, who would harbor the fugitive slaves and help them to the next depot on the network. The John P. Parker House is located in Ripley, Ohio, at 300 Front Street. The house is currently being renovated.

Pleasant, Mary Ellen


A free Black woman, Pleasant somehow got to the west. Not much is known about her earlier life except that she may have sent money to John Brown for his raid in Harpers Ferry. In California she helped slaves flee their owners. She may also have operated a house on the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, she worked hard to desegregate San Francisco´s streetcars.

John W. Posey, M.D.

Born in South Carolina, Posey moved to Indiana with his family in 1804. Settling in Pike County, he practiced medicine until his retirement in 1855. Dr. Posey was known as a champion of slaves and his home on the bluffs overlooking the White River was reported to have been a station on the Underground Railroad. Legend says the house had secret passages and a tunnel leading to the river through which slaves could make their way to skiffs and be taken across the river.

Dr. Posey also used his coal mine to help runaways evade capture. In 1837 two African Americans awaiting return to Kentucky were whisked away from their guards and hidden in the coal shaft until they could make a getaway.

Purvis, Robert (1810-1898)


Robert´s family moved from Charleston, SC, to Philadelphia when he was ten years old. His father was an English cotton merchant and his mother a freeborn woman of German-Jewish and African heritage.

After his father´s death, Robert inherited a small fortune that he invested in real estate. He became a contributor to abolitionist causes, in 1838 helping to found the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.

In 1831, Robert married Harriet Forten, the daughter of prominent African American businessman James Forten. Together with William Still, the Purvises are said to have helped nearly 9,000 people along the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. The Purvis home was called "Saints´ Rest" by abolitionists in Philadelphia. Their son, Henry, was elected to the South Carolina legislature during the Reconstruction period.

Rankin, John Rev.


A Presbyterian minister, Rev. John Rankin penned some of the earliest published writings against slavery. The Ripley, Ohio, newspaper published Rankin´s letters to his brother in Virginia, a slave state. In 1826 Rankin bound the pieces in Letters on American Slavery. This book was widely read, influencing a number of abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison.

From his home overlooking the Ohio River in Ripley, Rankin was an active participant in helping fugitives escape north. Jean Rankin and their 13 children were also involved, harboring and feeding an estimated 2,000 people on their way to the next safe place towards freedom.

Among those in Ripley who worked with Rankin and former slave John Parker were several White residents, including Dr. Alexander Campbell and the Collins brothers as well as many free African Americans, including Rhoda Jones, Polly Jackson, Lindsey Jackson, Billy Martin, Joseph Settles and others. The Rankin House in Ripley is a National Historic Landmark.

Ray, Charles B. Rev. (1807-1886)


This Black abolitionist maintained a haven for fugitive slaves in his New York City home. One report notes that 14 fugitives walked up his front steps one summer morning. A blacksmith-turned journalist and Congregationalist minister, Ray worked as the editor of The Colored American from 1839-1841. He was also active in voting rights and temperance issues. As the corresponding secretary for the New York State Vigilance Committee, Ray was an important figure in that organization. From 1851-1853, the Committee counseled more than 600 former slaves and eventually secured the freedom of 38 who had been brought to New York, a free state, by their owners.

Ross, Alexander M.D.


A Canadian doctor who was fascinated by the natural world, Alexander Ross hated slavery and vowed to do something about it. He came to the United States to speak with other abolitionists. They devised a creative plan: Ross would go south, posing as a scientist observing the area´s birds. He would actually give information to slaves about escaping their bondage.

On his first trip, he went to Richmond, Virginia, and observed what he could about the slaves there. Arranging to speak to a group of slaves at a minister´s house, he described routes they could use to head toward freedom. He also offered money, food, weapons, and compasses. His scheme worked and he continued to help people escape to freedom up until the start of the Civil War.

Ruggles, David (1810-1849)


David Ruggles headed the New York Committee of Vigilance and was the conductor who sheltered Frederick Douglass when he escaped to New York. From there, Ruggles helped him get to New Haven, Connecticut.

In addition to offering a safe house to fugitives, Ruggles monitored the legal cases of those fleeing slaves who had been recaptured. The New York Committee of Vigilance, which he founded and led, was one of the most active such groups in the country. In all, Ruggles is reported to have helped more than 1,000 slaves escape. Frederick Douglass once said of Ruggles: "He was a whole-souled man, fully imbued with a love of his afflicted and haunted people."

Smalls, Robert (1839-1915)


This man made one of the boldest escapes of any fugitive slave. Having worked for many years as a boat pilot in Charleston (SC) Harbor, he was an excellent navigator. Along with eight other African Americans in the crew of a Confederate gunboat, Smalls worked out a plan to deliver themselves, their families - and the boat! - to the Union forces.

They smuggled their families on board in the early hours of the morning on May 13, 1862. Under the Confederate flag, Smalls sailed past the forts in the harbor, using the usual steam-whistle salute. Approaching the Union forces, Smalls took down the Confederate flag and replaced it with a white one, signifying truce. Too late, the Confederates realized what was happening and fired upon the boat, but by that time, Smalls and his eight associates and their families were free people.

The sailors supplied useful information about the harbor and the Confederates´ plans and power to the Union forces. For his courageous act, Smalls won his freedom papers and was named captain of the ship. He took part in at least 17 naval engagements on the side of the Union forces.

Fugitives Arriving at Indiana Farm

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Around 1893, American artist Charles T. Webber painted The Underground Railroad, as a tribute to the work of abolitionists earlier in the century. The painting shows fugitive slaves arriving at the farm of Levi Coffin, a station master of the Underground Railroad who helped more than 3,000 slaves escape to freedom. It also shows Levi Coffin, who is standing on the wagon, Coffin's wife, Catherine, and the noted abolitionist, Hannah Haydock.

This painting, fully titled Fugitives Arriving at Levi Coffin's Indiana Farm, A Busy Station of the Underground Railroad, is a copy of Webber's The Underground Railroad. It is undated.

Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy was born on May 2, 1844 in Colchester, Ontario in Canada. His parents were fugitive Kentucky slaves who escaped slave owners through the Underground Railroad. His family later moved back to the United States and settled west of Ypsilanti, Michigan. As a youth, McCoy had an interest in machinery and other mechanical things. Thus, after attending grammar school he left for Edinburgh, Scotland for an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering.


After completing his apprenticeship, McCoy returned to the United States with training as a mechanical engineer. He searched for a job as an engineer, but encountered racial prejudice. Unable to obtain an engineering job, he instead settled on a job as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad where he oiled the engines.


While this was not a job as a mechanical engineer, it did inspire his first invention. McCoy became interested in the process of the lubrication of machines. He observed that in order to oil the train engines, the trains were stopped and an oilman oiled the moving parts. Because lubrication was essential and time consuming, McCoy began to explore ways to make the process of oiling more efficient.


After tinkering around in his machine shop, McCoy created a device called the "lubricating cup." On July 12, 1872, McCoy patented his first invention, which was an automatic lubricator. This device allowed machines to continue to operate as oil continuously flowed to the gears and the moving parts. McCoy's invention revolutionized the machine industry.


Thereafter, McCoy began inventing other mechanisms. In 1892, McCoy invented devices to lubricate railroad locomotives. In the 1920s, McCoy applied his lubricating system to airbrakes used on locomotives and other vehicles using air brakes. Almost all of McCoy's patents related to automatic lubrication with the exception of a patent for an ironing table and a lawn sprinkler. Upon his death, McCoy had patented over fifty inventions.


McCoy's invention of the automatic lubricator revolutionized the machinery industry and made machine operation more efficient. Thus, there is no question as to why it was often asked whether a machine was "the real McCoy."


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Freedom was always on the minds of African American slaves; it was a destiny that became idealized in many African American spirituals (including the one excerpted above). The "freedom train" came infrequently and was often not on time. But when it did arrive, it was big enough and strong enough to carry the souls of the weary and to lighten the burdens of the downtrodden. The freedom train even brought hope and inspiration to those who could not physically make it on board. For years slaveholders mistakenly attributed the imagery of the freedom train in Negro spirituals to fanciful illusions in the minds of slaves about dying and going to heaven. It is now generally known, as the slaveholders learned, that the freedom train was real and powerful.Known officially as the Underground Railroad, the freedom train was an extensive network of people, places, and modes of transportation — all working in the deepest secrecy to help transport slaves to freedom in the North and Canada. Many slaves made the journey with the help of guides, who were often free blacks committed to the cause of abolition. White abolitionists also made significant contributions, but the freedom train was a powerful political statement made by African Americans who chose to "vote for freedom with their feet."

Historians have traditionally underestimated and understated the role of blacks, and overestimated the role of sympathetic whites in the Underground Railroad. White abolitionists did provide safe houses, money, boats, and other material resources that were sometimes vital to successful escapes. But free blacks often risked much more — their own freedom and lives — in order to travel South, to help lead others to safety. Among the more prominent "conductors" of the freedom train was Harriet Tubman. A former slave who had escaped to the North, Tubman traveled to the South an estimated 19 times and guided more than 300 slaves to freedom. She epitomized the success and daring of the freedom train. Through her stories and those of others, there exists a rich legacy detailing the network that is said to have helped over 1000 slaves each year to free themselves from bondage.

Few details of the Underground Railroad are known because of the extreme secrecy required in its operation, but there are reports of its existence as early as 1837. The exact number of slaves who were freed by the railroad is also not known because, in the interests of security, the conductors of the railroad could not keep records. Although this number was never high enough to threaten the institution of slavery itself, the legends and metaphor of the freedom train proved much more ominous to slaveholders. Tales that were often repeated throughout the nation included, for example, the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a black man who packed himself in a wooden crate and shipped himself to freedom in Philadelphia, and the story of William and Ellen Craft, a married couple whose escape was based on their disguise — she as a "Spanish gentleman" and he as her black slave. The accounts of runaway slaves instilled fear in the hearts of Southern slaveowners, and inspired Northern abolitionists to form larger and stronger antislavery organizations.

As the Underground Railroad gained notoriety, it became even more secret. A virtually undetected escape route ran from Texas to Mexico, but almost no information exists about how it functioned or how many African Americans quietly blended into the Mexican populace. It became difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction in accounts of the escapes. But researchers have been able to uncover many details, especially from the accounts of free blacks who wrote memoirs or autobiographies. Free blacks such as William Still, David Ruggles, William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Henry Highland Garnet joined Tubman in the struggle for self-emancipation. Most worked in silence and sometimes even in disguise.Runaway slaves waded through swamps, concealed themselves in the hulls of ships, hid on the backs of carriages, and navigated circuitous routes by using the North Star at night — always with the understanding that they might be caught or betrayed at any time. Many were pursued by professional slavecatchers (some with dogs), who all had the authority to detain and hold itinerant African Americans south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The southern press was full of advertisements for escaped slaves. These descriptions constitute one of the few sources of accurate personal details about individuals in the slave community. The advertisements, in the slaveholders' own words, often mentioned maimed limbs and scars from whipping — vivid descriptions that northern abolitionists used verbatim in their condemnation of slavery.

On the way to freedom, slaves and their guides often found it difficult to obtain food, clothing, and shelter. Free blacks in cities such as Philadelphia and Boston formed Vigilance Committees to meet these and other needs. The committees cared for runaways after they arrived on free soil, hid them to prevent their recapture, and aided them on their way to Canada. The Philadelphia Association for the Moral and Mental Improvement of the People of Color was one of the most prominent black vigilance committees.With the aid of black vigilance committees the underground railroad continued to guide slaves to freedom, up until the time of the Civil War itself, when thousands of slaves freed themselves by leaving the plantations and escaping behind Union Army lines. For those who still labored as slaves at the beginning of the Civil War, the legend of the Underground Railroad held out hope. In the words of another Negro spiritual:I know my Lord is a man of war; He fought my battle at Hell's dark door. Satan thought he had me fast; I broke his chain and got free at last.

Ohio's Underground Railroad to Freedom

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Legend has it that in 1831 a runaway slave named Tice Davids slipped into the Ohio River with his owner in hot pursuit. Tice swam for his life across the great river while the other man sought out a boat to row after him. Tice landed first in Ripley, Ohio, and immediately disappeared from view. The owner continued to search for Tice, but eventually gave up without a clue to his whereabouts. In frustration, the man concluded that it was as though Tice had "gone off on an underground railroad..."

For Tice and tens of thousands of others, traveling through Ohio meant freedom, hope of a better life, and often a life-and-death struggle. From about 1816 to the dawn of the Civil War, individuals and communities ushered fleeing slaves from southern states along the difficult and dangerous journey northward to freedom in Canada. The network of homes or barns with concealed rooms and hiding places, secret tunnels, well-worn trails through dense woods, and conductors leading the runaways to the next safe haven became known as the Underground Railroad. Although members of the Underground Railroad did not encourage slaves to run away, they made every effort to assist the slaves who did.

The need for secrecy was all-important, for many slave owners pursued fleeing slaves themselves or hired bounty hunters to pursue them. The penalties for apprehended slaves or persons caught assisting them were severe. Although Ohio was a free state, early federal laws allowed for the legal capture of escaped slaves from free territory and imposed a penalty of $500 on any person who hindered arrest of, harbored or concealed a fugitive slave. Runaway slaves returned to their owners were usually treated brutally and subjected to even more misery than before. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 raised the penalty to $1,000, imposed prison sentences and required citizens to assist federal marshals when called upon to apprehend fugitive slaves.

The Underground Railroad in Ohio was an amazingly efficient and well organized operation, despite the impossibility of open communication and coordination. Routes through the forests, farms and towns were established from one hiding place to the next. In all, nearly three thousand miles of routes criss-crossed the state, most bound in a northeasterly direction, and at least 23 points of entry were established along the Ohio River1. The Underground Railroad in Ohio reached its greatest level of activity in the 1840s, and more stations existed in Ohio than in any other state. For the safety of all involved, few records were kept of the numbers and identities of persons who reached freedom along the railroad, but it is estimated that at least 40,000 passed through Ohio.

Notable individuals and religious communities, in particular the Quakers, gave the railroad its start. In Cincinnati, Levi Coffin became known as the "President of the Underground Railroad." In Ripley, the home of John Percial Parker, an African American abolitionist and industrialist, was one of the earliest and busiest stations. Nearby, the light from Reverend John Rankin's house on a hill overlooking the Ohio River shone like a beacon to fugitives making the dangerous journey across the great river. Further north, additional towns, such as Oberlin, became important centers with high levels of support for and participation in the railroad. Eventually, people from all walks of life, including former slaves who already achieved their freedom, became members or conductors. In town and on farms, ordinary people dared to offer a meal, a place to stay, or safe passage to the next stop. Fleeing slaves were hidden in wagons, covered with everything from sacks of flour to pumpkins; stowed away on canal boats; driven in carriages, disguised as women with heavily-brimmed bonnets; or snuck onto railroad freight cars.

Harriet Beecher Stow, who lived in Cincinnati from 1832 to 1850, was deeply moved by an incredible story she had heard there about a woman's frantic race across the frozen Ohio River to earn freedom for herself and her baby. In 1852, she retold the story in her book Uncle Tom's Cabin, which became immediately famous, raising awareness in the north of the horrors of slavery and the plight of runaway slaves. As a result of the book, anti-slavery feelings ran even higher and were expressed more openly. Within another decade, the Civil War was underway.

Today, there are scattered reminders of the journeys taken by many thousands of brave men, women and children who risked everything to earn their rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some remnants also remain of the hiding places and routes of travel, as well as stories of the schemes devised by those who bravely took risks to help them.

One of the most famous Underground Railroad routes in central Ohio was Africa Road. This was the setting of one of the most extra-ordinary chapters in Underground Railroad history. The tiny unincorporated zone in southern Delaware County which was once the community of Africa touches the southern border of what is now Alum Creek State Park. Prior to 1840, the hamlet then known as East Orange was a rural crossroads north of the bustling town of Westerville. Country gentlefolk had erected small cabins there as temporary housing while building permanent homes on their estates. After a time, the woodlands north of Westerville harbored a cluster of these abandoned cabins, as folks moved into their newly completed houses.

In 1859, a slave owner in North Carolina passed away and his widow freed the family's slaves. Miraculously, the group of 35 freed slaves traveling together found their way safely across the Ohio River, where they were advised to press on until they were far from the state border. Many slave hunters were ruthless mercenaries who would abduct any black person, regardless of their status as free citizen or escaped slave. Once these slaves arrived in the strongly anti-slavery town of Westerville, the group was ushered to the cabins north of town where they were invited to make themselves at home and were offered paid employment helping local farmers harvest crops. The black residents became very involved in the Underground Railroad themselves, providing food, shelter and acting as conductors. They risked not only fines or imprisonment, but potential kidnapping and return to slavery in the south. One joined the Union Army and fought for the anti-slavery cause during the Civil War.

One of the few pro-slavery landowners in the area sarcastically nicknamed the community "Africa," and the name stuck. Ever since, the community and the road have proudly kept the name, although the story behind it has been nearly forgotten. After the Civil War, the black residents of Africa moved on to better prospects in Westerville, Delaware and other parts of the state. The cabins in the woods and the few homes, businesses and church that were once Africa are gone now, but this great story perseveres.

Another critical route of the Underground Railroad followed an Indian trail known as the Bullskin Trace from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. A section of the old Bullskin Trace is incorporated in the hiking trail system at Caesar Creek State Park, and north of Xenia, it tracks State Route 68, which passes just to the west of John Bryan and Buck Creek state parks. The community of Harveysburg, adjacent to Caesar Creek State Park, and the neighboring countryside contained a number of underground railroad stations. Many of the homes reputed to have secret rooms and hidden tunnels are gone now, but their legacy lives on. From Harveysburg, fleeing slaves sometimes traveled up the Miami River on their way to Dayton. Although travel through the river was sometimes difficult, it was effective in throwing sniffing hounds off the trail. Other fleeing slaves took advantage of the natural shelter provided by caves along Caesar Creek while on their dangerous journey.

The Underground Railroad helped pave the way for the establishment of a number of black settlements in Ohio. The history of these settlements is rich, and the stories of the people who brought themselves from extreme poverty to prosperity despite every disadvantage and obstacle are fascinating.

Although many of the landmarks of the Underground Railroad in Ohio are gone or their significance forgotten, time and progress can't erase the example set by this incredible bond of community, however brief, among those in desperate need and those who assisted them. Some families kept their commitment as stations on the railroad for decades, touching two or three generations and reaching far beyond that. This chapter in Ohio history is one worth studying and passing along, for it shows how each individual decision to take a risk and do the "right thing" for oneself or for someone else lays down tracks that link together for everyone's ride on the great train of freedom.

--Jean Backs

Will the Slave

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On the Susquehanna River twenty miles north of the Maryland boundary is the borough of Columbia, Pennsylvania. In the early nineteenth century Columbia attracted a considerable settlement of former Negro slaves who had legally procured their freedom from their Virginia owners. In the succeeding decades, before the Civil War, these fugitives made their settlement a refuge for those of their race fleeing the bonds of slavery from the South. Tradition says that slaveholders lost their runaways so often around Columbia that they concluded "there must be an underground railroad out of here." This illegal and informal "conspiracy," which hastened and shielded the escape of runaway slaves, became known as the Underground Railroad. The conspirators, naturally enough, began to talk the language of railroading: "Conductors" guided the slaves from "station" to "station." "Stockholders" financed the venture and discussed the movement of "valuable pieces of ebony" or "prime articles" — anything but Negro slaves! Because secrecy was crucial, few records of the railroad's activities survive. Most information comes to us from recollections put on record many years later. Most participants probably knew nothing about the activities of the Underground Railroad beyond their immediate neighborhoods. They simply fed and hid the fugitives and passed them along to the next station. They asked few questions, and when the slave hunters knocked, there was, in reality, little they could tell them. Federal law had long asserted the responsibility of residents of free states and territories to return escaped slave property to its owners. The Constitution of the United States had a fugitive slave clause that Congress implemented with the first Fugitive Slave Law in 1793, placing a fine on anyone rescuing, harboring, or hindering the arrest of a fugitive. This law was rendered ineffective by a decision of the United States Supreme Court in Prigg vs. Pennsylvania in 1842. Congress, however, enacted a stronger Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850 between the slave — and non-slave — holding states. Under this compromise, in part, the South agreed to the admission of California as a free or non-slave state, and was compensated by a law requiring federal authorities to hunt runaway slaves and return them to their masters. The pursuit and return of fugitive slaves was certain to meet resistance in Pennsylvania, and did, though many condemned this kind of civil disobedience and urged compliance with the law. It is noteworthy that the General Assembly, dominated by a Whig party majority, acted in 1847 to forbid the use of jails for the detention of fugitive slaves. This law, however, was repealed in the 1850s under Democratic party leadership.

Thomas & Rachel Garrett

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Thomas Garrett
Born on August 21, 1789 in Upper Darby, PA, Thomas Garrett is one of the most prominent figures in the history of the Underground Railroad. He has been called Delaware's greatest humanitarian and is credited with helping more than 2,700 slaves escape to freedom in a forty year career as a Station Master.

A white Quaker, whose family hid runaway slaves in its Delaware County farmhouse when he was a child, Garrett credited an experience he characterized as transcendental with directing his life's work toward aiding in the escapes of slaves. The incident, in which a black servant employed by Garrett's family was kidnapped and nearly forced into slavery, was a watershed event for the young Garrett, who would devote his life to the abolitionist cause. It is thought that his move to Wilmington, Delaware from outside of Philadelphia was a strategic choice.

In 1813, he married Margaret Sharpless who died after the birth of their fifth child in 1828. In 1830, Garrett married Rachel Mendenhall, the daughter of a fellow Quaker abolitionist from Chester County, Pennsylvania (some Mendenhalls changed the second 'e' in the name to an 'i' and subsequent generations returned it to its original spelling). They had one child, Eli, together and remained married for 38 years. While maintaining an inconsistently successful hardware business, Garrett acted as a key Station Master on the eastern line of the Underground Railroad. His activities brought him in contact with Philadelphia Station Master William Still. The correspondence between the two men, preserved and published by Still, provides scholars with an intimate perspective of their struggle and those of countless Agents and Conductors on the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad.

In 1848, Thomas Garrett and a fellow abolitionist John Hunn were tried and convicted for aiding in the escape of the Hawkins family, who had been slaves in Maryland. Both men were given considerable fines which rendered them nearly bankrupt. In his closing address, Garrett regaled those in the courtroom with a redoubled commitment to help runaway slaves. Eyewitness accounts detail the particular contrition of a slave-holding juror from southern Delaware who rose to shake Garrett's hand and apologize at the close of the impassioned speech.

Following the Civil War, Garrett continued his work for minority groups in America. In 1870, when blacks were given the right to vote by the establishment of the 15th Amendment, Garrett was carried on the shoulders of black supporters through the streets of Wilmington as they hailed him "our Moses." Less than one year later, on January 25, 1871, Thomas Garrett died. His funeral, attended by many of the black residents of the city, featured a procession of Garrett's coffin - borne from shoulder to shoulder up Quaker Hill.


Samuel D. Burris

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A free black man who acted as both an Agent and Conductor on the Railroad, Burris' most remarkable moment came in the form of his own narrow escape. Because the law allowed for the sale into slavery of any free black person convicted of aiding in the escape of slaves, Burris' risk in acting as a conductor on the Underground Railroad was particularly great. Burris was arrested in Dover, Delaware for absconding with slaves and was eventually tried and convicted. He was placed on the auction block in the center of Dover's town green, stripped nearly naked to facilitate his inspection by slave buyers, and endured the humiliation of being appraised for sale.

When the auction began and Burris was sold, he was led away by the buyer who whispered in his ear,"You have been bought with abolition gold." Burris' purchase had been secretly organized and funded by the Pennsylvania Antislavery Society. Isaac A. Flint was chosen to pose as a southern buyer and he simply imitated the actions of the authentic buyers at the auction. Burris was free; he never ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line again. He later moved to California for business prospects.

  • Born in Willow Grove, Kent County, Delaware in 1808 a free black man
  • Moved to Philadelphia as an adult
  • Conducted fugitives on the URR through Delaware's free black communities
  • Nearly sold into slavery in September of 1848
  • Died in San Francisco, California in 1869

Abraham D. Shadd (1801-1882)

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Abraham D. Shadd was one of the most important black leaders in Delaware during the 19th century. His accomplishments in the cause for the abolition of slavery rank him among national figures. Born in Mill Creek Hundred in 1801, Shadd was a descendant of a German military officer who had settled in West Chester years before. He married, fathered 13 children and earned a respectable living as a shoemaker, a trade he learned from his father. After attending the first National Convention to protest racism in Philadelphia in September 1830, Shadd went on to attend most major meetings regarding the abolition of slavery over the course of the next decades including: the National Negro Convention (1830, '31, '32), the American Antislavery Society's meeting (1835, '36), and the National Convention (elected president in 1833). Along with Peter Spencer, he opposed African colonization and argued for the entitlement to civil rights he felt black Americans should have as a result of their significant investment in the country's foundation. Shadd conducted anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activity from his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania, until his move to Canada in 1851. The successes of his children include: Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893), educator, lawyer and journalist; I.D. Shadd, member ofthe Mississippi Legislature from 1871 to 1874; Abraham W. Shadd, graduate of Howard Law School; Emaline Shadd, professor at Howard University.

Mary Ann Shadd
Mary Ann Shadd was a female pioneer in the quest for racial and gender equality in America. Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1823, Mary Ann became an important teacher, newspaper publisher, lawyer, and abolitionist. Appalled by the passage of the fugitive slave act in 1850, Shadd relocated to North Buxton, Ontario. There she founded the "Provincial Freeman", becoming the first black woman to publish a newspaper in North America. Along with Samuel Ringgold Ward, a runaway from Kent County, Maryland, Shadd helped fugitives find land granted by the Province to runaways. In 1855 she was the first woman to speak at the National Negro Convention and eventually testified before Congress in favor of women's suffrage. In 1883 she obtained a law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and established a legal practice dedicated to obtaining equal rights for black Americans. She continued to write for newspapers and fight for equality until her death in 1893.

Henry Craig

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Henry Craig was considered a trusted friend by Thomas Garrett and William Still; he aided in their efforts to conduct fugitives to the freedom of the north. Craig, or 'Harry Craige,' as Garrett referred to him, was a free black Underground Railroad worker as the following excerpt portrays him:

"Later the same day Garrett wrote to Still again saying that Harry Craig [sic] would take some escaping slave to Marcus Hook. Garrett advised Still to 'take Harry Craige by the hand as a brother...he is one of our most efficient aids on the Railroad.'"

A black brickmaker named Henry Craig, who lived on East Eleventh Street near Poplar Street in Wilmington, is presumed to be the 'Harry Craige' Garrett mentioned.

Craig and many other black Underground Railroad helpers toiled namelessly as unsung heroes to free their brothers. Others include: Joseph Walker, Comegys Munson, and Severn Johnson.

Lucretia Mott

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A Quaker abolitionist who delivered the eulogy at Garrett's funeral, Mott wrote of the ceremony, "such a concourse of all sects and colors we never before saw. Thousands-- the street lined for half a mile to the meeting house where he was taken-- and nearly as many outside as in." Mott, together with her husband, organized the Seneca Falls Movement that started the Woman's Right Movement in 1848. As a result of her abolitionist activities, Mott realized that women were also chattel in need of liberation.

The Thomas Garrett Trial

John Hunn
Hunn was a Quaker and Underground Railroad Station Master who partnered with Thomas Garrett to aid escapees making their way through Delaware. Hunn was tried and fined along with Garrett in 1848 for helping the Hawkins family escape in 1845.

John Wales
The lawyer who defended Thomas Garrett in the trial of 1848, Wales was an abolitionist born in July of 1783 in New Haven, Connecticut. A graduate of Yale University, Wales moved to Delaware. In 1814, Wales became the secretary of the Society for the Promotion of American Manufacturers, which was designed to promote and encourage Delaware's manufacturing industry. He served on the committee to draft the by-laws of the Savings Bank in 1832 and served as the president of the Wilmington and Brandywine Banks. Along with Garrett, Wales was Delaware's representative to the First National Convention of the Abolition of Slavery. He died in 1863 in Wilmington.

James Bayard
Born in 1799, James Bayard was the Democratic lawyer who prosecuted Garrett in 1848. Bayard graduated from Union College at the age of 19 and entered the bar three years later. In 1836, Bayard became the U.S. District Attorney for President Martin Van Buren and was elected Senator in 1850. He was re-elected in 1856 and again in 1862. During the latter term, Bayard fought diligently against the adoption of a proposed test oath which required Senators to prove their loyalty and patriotism. Bayard's campaign failed. When the test oath requirement was adopted, Bayard took the oath and promptly resigned. George R. Riddle succeeded him, but when Riddle died unexpectedly, Governor Saulsbury appointed Bayard to serve the remainder of the term. Bayard died on June 13, 1880.

Willard Hall
Hall served as a judge in the trial of Thomas Garrett and John Hunn in 1848. Born on Christmas Eve in 1780, Hall entered Harvard University at the age of 15 to study law. Hall was appointed Secretary of State in 1813, elected to Congress in 1816 and Senate in 1822. With John Wales, Hall served on the drafting committee for the Wilmington Savings Bank; he served as President of the Bank for 41 years. Hall acted as the President of the Delaware Historical Society upon its founding in 1864.

Roger Brooke Taney
Born in 1777 in Calvert County, Maryland, Taney studied law in Annapolis with Francis Scott Key. After joining the House of Maryland Assembly in 1799 and becoming the leading lawyer in the Maryland bar in 1825, Taney became the Attorney General of Maryland in 1827. President Andrew Jackson appointed Taney Secretary of the Treasury in 1831. In 1836, Taney was appointed the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He presided over Thomas Garrett's trial in 1848 and the Dred Scott Case in 1857.


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John Freeman Walls log cabin

John never allowed any pictures taken of himself because he was afraid of being discovered and taken back south and enslaved again. In 1985 the Detroit-Windsor Police composite artist interviewed Aunt Stella and Frank Walls and created a picture of what John looked like from their discription. This picture is found inside the log cabin.

Walls Cemetery

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In the Walls family cemetery there are approximately 40 family members, friends and fugitive slaves buried. At the back of the cemetery marks the resting place of John,who was born a slave on the Walls plantation in North Carolina in 1813. John escaped following the Underground Railroad to Canada where he became a freeman. The rest of his life in Puce, Ontario Canada he was known as John "Freeman" Walls. John passed away in 1909 at the age of 96, his wife Jane King Walls passed away a year later at 88.

Josiah Henson

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Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the most influential novels of all time, exposing the evils of slavery to a great many people who knew nothing so terrible was happening. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the book's author, is said to have gotten idea for her book from reading the autobiography of Josiah Henson.

This is his story.

Henson was born into slavery on June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland. He was sold three times before he was 18, ending up in Kentucky. He became a Methodist minister and gave talks, for which people would pay him money. By 1830, he had saved up $350 to buy his freedom. His master at the time had quoted that figure but increased it to $1,000 when Henson gave him the money. Josiah decided to take his family and escape. With the help of a Native American tribe and the Underground Railroad, they made their way to Canada.

He founded The Dawn Institute, a settlement for fugitive slaves near Ontario. At this place, former slaves would learn how to be successful farmers. He also began work on the Underground Railroad himself, helping hundreds of slaves to freedom in Canada.

He publisher his autobiography, Life of Josiah Henson, in 1849. Uncle Tom's Cabin came out a few years later, and Henson traveled in Canada and England, giving lectures on his life as "Uncle Tom." In fact, he retitled his autobiography My Life as Uncle Tom.

He died on May 5, 1883, in Dresden, Ontario.

The first anti-slavery law in Canada was passed in 1783 by then Ontario. For the next 68 years it is estimated that 50,000 Blacks entered Canada for safety & freedom. One of them was Josiah Henson, a former slave from Kentucky. During his lifetime, three masters owned Henson. Henson started preaching to raise money in the hope of buying his freedom. His master took the money that Josiah had earned, and then raised the price of Henson's freedom to one thousand dollars.

He returned to his master's plantation, after a plot to secretly sell Josiah fell through, where he informed his wife of his plan to escape. Soon after he, his wife, and their four children escaped to Canada. On their journey to freedom the Henson family struggled through sickness, wolves, and starvation. The Underground Railroad and a tribe of Native Americans assisted the family along the way. Finally on October 28, 1830, after many hardships they reached freedom. He stayed in Canada only a short time before he decided to get involved with the Underground.

Henson made several trips and led over two hundred slaves to Canada. During his time in Canada, Josiah Henson started the Dawn Institute in Chatham, Ontario, a refuge for fugitive slaves where they were taught trades to support themselves and their families. When Henson went to the World's Fair in London, he became the first ex-slave to be granted an audience with Queen Victoria. He is also believed to be the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Josiah Henson was a true hero and humanitarian during the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.


  • He is the first black person to be featured on a Canadian stamp.
  • His great-grand nephew was Matthew Henson, who accompanied Robert Peary to the North Pole.


Rowland & Rachel Robinson

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As a young man, Rowland T. Robinson was sent to the Quaker boarding school at Nine Partners, New York, where he met his future wife, Rachel Gilpin. They married in 1820 and returned to Rokeby to live. Although he helped his father operate the family the family mills and sheep farm, Rowland's true calling was as a Garrisonian abolitionist and radical reformer. he was active in anti-slavery societies from the local to the national level and harbored many fugitive slaves at Rokeby. Besides abolition, he was a temperance activist, campaigned against capital punishment, and investigated the best methods of pauper relief.


Barnes, George

Barnes, George
Occupation: Railroader

Was Superintendent of Syracuse and Utica Railroad. Published first NYS Republican newspaper outside of NYC, the Syracuse Evening Chronicle. Later successful as a banker and manufacturer.

New Yorkers Active in the Underground Railroad

Ely, Sterling & L. Sheldon - Historical Marker on Como Park Blvd. in Cheektowaga, NY: Site of Underground Railway Station Sterling Ely, and his brother, L. Sheldon Ely, both Abolitionists, operated an Underground Railway Station between the years 1850 and 1863. At least 26 escaping black slaves were housed in a double-floored barn, located on this site, during their flight to freedom in Canada. Erected by Town of Cheektowaga 1969.

Fairbank, Calvin - Spent a total of 17 years in Kentucky prisosn for aiding escapes to freedom. Freed from prison in 1864 at Lincoln's request. Story discussed in Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad by Randolph Paul Runyon. Born in Pike, died in Angelica.

Falls, Wm. S. Printer - Foreman at the Daily Democrat, located in same building as North Star office. Hid fugitives in press room, raised money locally for fugitive aid.

Fuller, James Canning & Lydia - Their home at 98 West Genesee St. in Skaneateles has been identified by several sources as a station. Papers in the Gerrit Smith Collection at SU document the Fullers' role in purchasing the freedom of Harriet Russell and her family. Her descendants still live in Peterboro. The Fullers were also friends of Jermain Loguen, and it was at their home he was found safe when it was feared slave hunters were after him.

Jones, John W. - Himself a fugitive from slavery in Virginia, Jones ran the station at Elmira, which was literally a station on the Northern Central Railroad. The line connected Harrisburg, PA to Niagara Falls, and became active in the 1850s. Fugitives reportedly were hidden in freight cars in the middle of the night, and departed in the morning with the knowledge of the railroad crews.

Loguen, Rev. Jermain - Less well known than his friend Frederick Douglass, Loguen was also a fugitive from slavery (in Tennessee), and considered by some the better orator. Became Elder, and ultimately Bishop in the AME Zion Church, prominent in the NYS Convention movement among African American men. Published a biography, founded schools, the Stationmaster at Syracuse, the most openly publicized on the UGRR. Involved in Jerry Rescue. Named a son after Gerrit Smith. One daughter was among the first women to graduate medical school in Syracuse, another (Amelia) married Lewis Douglass, son of Frederick and Anna Douglass.

Myers, Stephen - Stephen Myers is known to have helped fugitives from 1831. A former New York slave, freed in 1818, he published several temperance and abolitionist newspapers most notably The Northern Star and Freeman's Advocate in most of the 1840s. By the late 1840s and to the Civil War he headed the Albany Vigilance Committee. 

Pitts, Gideon, Jr. - Honeoye abolitionist, colleague of Frederick Douglass. His daughter Helen became Douglass' second wife. Their home was an identified station. Portrait is of Helen Pitts.


Ohio Underground Railroad

Here in Marietta under the "Ordinance of 1787" was established Northwest Territory. The first government BORN FREE in all the world. "Here no witch was ever burned; nor heretic molested; here no slave was ever born or dwelt."

Seven Underground Railroad sites in the Marietta and the Washington County Ohio Area.

Henderson Hall, a former slave owning plantation

Blennerhasset Island Plantation rebuilt to its original condition includes a history of the Aaron Burr Conspiracy and the story of a slave called Micah "Cajoe" Phillips, who started the Underground Railroad station in Waterford, Ohio. Access via sternwheeler cruise from Point Park, Parkersburg WV

The Historic Harmar District of Marietta where the first African American was born in the United States Northwest Territory, the home where abolitionist David Putnam Jr. was born in 1808, and a view of the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers used by fugitive slaves from Western Virginia

Constitution Station located between Marietta and Belpre, on Ohio State Route 7, is the site of the Underground Railroad founded by Ephriam Cutler in 1806

The Jonathan Stone House in Belpre, Ohio and on the National Register of Historic Places, built in 1798 along Ohio's first highway was an Underground Railroad station from 1810 to 1861. This is a private residence not open to the public.

The Sawyer-Curtis House also on the National Register of Historic Places, built in 1798 and used from 1820 by Horace Curtis as a major Underground Railroad station. This is a private residence not open to the public.

Underground Railroad in Southeast Ohio:

The Underground Railroad was very active in Southeast Ohio. Many Quaker families, and others in the community, courageously hid and conducted freedom seekers on toward Canada. Stratton relatives were involved in this endeavor. However, they spoke little about it -- this being a private act of conscience. Also, they dared not write about their "work" in letters or diaries -- so few family accounts have survived.

Joshua Cope conducted slaves from Wheeling, Virginia, across the Ohio River, and hid them at his flour mill, which was near Colerain, Ohio -- about seven miles from Stratton House Inn.

Benjamin Lundy: The Father of Abolitionism.
The Quaker, Lundy, started the abolitionist movement in St. Clairsville, Ohio, which is near Stratton House Inn. 

St. Clairsville is identified with the history of Benjamin Lundy, who has been called the "Father of Abolitionism" for he first set in motion those moral forces which eventually resulted in the overthrow of American slavery. He was of Quaker parents, and was born on a farm in Hardwick, Sussex County, N.J., 4 January 1789. When nineteen years old, working as an apprentice to a saddler in Wheeling, his attention was first directed to the horrors of slavery by the constant sight of gangs of slaves driven in chains through the streets on their way to the South, for Wheeling was the great thoroughfare from Virginia for transporting slaves to the cotton plantations. He entered at this time in his diary: "I heard the wail of the captive; I felt his pang of distress, and the iron entered my soul."

Lundy married, settled in St. Clairsville, working at his trade. But he soon began his life-work -- the abolition of slavery. In later years he learned the printing trade to better accomplish his objective.

He formed an anti-slavery society here in 1815 when twenty-six years old, called the Union Humane Society, which grew from six to near five hundred members, and wrote an appeal to philanthropists throughout the Union to organize similar cooperating societies. He had written numerous articles for The Philanthropist, a small paper edited at Mt. Pleasant, in Jefferson County, by Charles Osborne, a Friend, and then sold his saddlery stock and business at a ruinous sacrifice to join Osborne and increase the efficiency of the paper.

In 1819 he moved to St. Louis where the Missouri question -- the admission of Missouri into the Union with or without slavery -- was attracting national attention, and devoted himself to an exposition of the evils of slavery in the newspapers of that State and Illinois. In 1822 he walked back all the way to Ohio to find that Osborne had sold out his paper. Thereupon he started another, a monthly, with six subscribers, which he had printed at Steubenville. It was called the Genius of Universal Emancipation. This was soon moved to Jonesboro, East Tennessee, and in 1824 to Baltimore. To get to Baltimore, he walked, holding anti-slavery meetings on his way -- in the states of South and North Carolina and Virginia. These meetings mainly were in Quaker communities, where he also helped form abolition societies.

In 1828 he visited Boston and through his lectures there enlisted Wm. Lloyd Garrison in the abolition cause and engaged him to become his associate editor. By this time Lundy had formed -- by lecturing and correspondence -- more than one hundred societies for the "gradual though total abolition of slavery."

In the winter of 1828-29 he was assaulted and nearly killed in Baltimore by Austin Woolfolk, a slave-dealer. He was driven out of Baltimore and finally established his paper in Philadelphia, where his property subsequently was burned in 1838 by the pro-slavery mob that set fire to Pennsylvania Hall. The following winter he died in La Salle, Illinois, where he was about to re-establish his paper.

In his personal appearance Lundy gave no indication of the powerful force of character he possessed. He was about five feet five inches tall, and very slender. He was also hard of hearing. He was gentle and mild and persuasive, and showed pity, not only for the slave, but for the slave-holders; he always treated the slave-holders with the kindliest consideration.

Wm. Lloyd Garrison, his co-laborer, wrote of him: "Instead of being able to withstand the tide of public opinion it would at first seem doubtful whether he could sustain a temporary conflict with the winds of heaven. And yet he has explored nineteen of the [then] twenty-four states -- from the green mountains of Vermont to the banks of the Mississippi -- multiplied anti-slavery societies in every quarter, put every petition in motion relative to the extinction of slavery in the District of Columbia, everywhere awakened the slumbering sympathies of the people, and began a work, the completion of which will be the salvation of his country. His heart is of gigantic size. Every inch of him is alive with power. He combines the meekness of Howard with the boldness of Luther.

"Within a few months he has travelled about 2,400 miles, of which upwards of 1,600 were performed on foot, during which time he has held nearly fifty public meetings. Rivers and mountains vanish in his path; midnight finds him wending his solitary way over an unfrequented road; the sun is anticipated in his rising. Never was moral sublimity of character better illustrated."

Traveling the Underground

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Stations usually were at least 20 miles apart. Conductors used covered wagons or carts with false bottoms to carry the slaves from one station to the next. Runaway slaves hid during the day and traveled at night. Some of the people who were involved, notified runaways of their stations by lighting candles and putting them in the window or by lanterns that were put in the front yard.

Catherine Harris

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[Negro] families settled near the Harris' home, sometime in the 1840's whites began to call the area Africa.  

Harris was one of the few blacks in the United States to maintain a station, it is maintained that Mrs. Harris could hide as many as 17 runaway slaves at one time in the attic of the original house.

In 1849 Nearly 100 Blacks were living in the area Africa. Some were running from slave hunters, some even spied for the slave hunters. People were captured and some free people were kidnapped south. However, the underground railroad was also quite active: Catherien Harris says (in 1902), "Yes, I remember the underground railroad, it was here [in Africa] and I worked on it; this place of mine was a depot where slaves came and were brought; Silas Shearman, Dr. Hedges, Phineas Crossman, and others would bring here runaway slaves. At one time they brought nine, another 17. I cooked and fed with them with eatables brought by friends; others would help me."



Catherine Harris Station

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Henry Bibb An American Slave

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Engraved by P.H. Reason
[illegible]e runaway! where is he?       $50 Reward for [illegible]
Daniel Lane after Henry Bibb in Louisville, Kentucky June 1838
The object was to sell Bibb in the Slave market but Bibb turned
the corner too quick for him & escaped.

Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb,
An American Slave, Written by Himself:


Escaping Child in Trunk

Escaping Child in Trunk." This enslaved child escaped from his master, hidden in a trunk with the aid of a conductor on the Underground Railroad. His journey probably took days to reach freedom. Just how long he was shut away in the total darkness of this small trunk is unknown. How old to you think this boy is? How did he prepare for this trip? Did he have food to eat and water to drink? Will he know anyone when he arrives in a northern free state? What happened to runaway slaves if they were caught? William Still. The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, & etc. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872. Mariners’ Museum.

Runaway Slave

"Osman." 1856. David Hunter Strother, an artist for Harper's Magazine, captured the alarm and determination of this runaway slave in the Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. Strother remarked: "I had long nurtured a wish to see one of those sable outlaws who dwell in the fastnesses of the Swamp ... [Osman's] hair and beard were tipped with gray, and his purely African features were cast in a mould betokening, in the highest degree, strength and energy. The expression of the face was mingled fear and ferocity, and every moment betrayed a life of habitual caution and watchfulness." The dense vegetation and marshy land made the swamps a difficult place for masters and bounty hunters to search for runaway slaves, for the same reasons it was also difficult for slaves to survive these treacherous parts for long periods. Notice that Osman is holding a musket, how common do you think it was for runaways to have weapons like this for protection? Mariners' Museum.
  • 1856

Anti Slavery Meeting

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"Anti-Slavery Meetings!" 1850. This anti-slavery broadside was produced by abolitionists in Salem, Ohio. Northern abolitionists fought against the institution of slavery by organizing meetings and printing and distributing leaflets, pamphlets, newspapers, and books on the evils of slavery. One way abolitionists promoted support among northerners for their cause was to hold meetings in which they highlighted, often by featuring orations and speeches by runaways from slavery, the inhumane treatment slaves endured in the South. Abolitionists were especially concerned that western territories petitioning to enter the Union after the War with Mexico in 1850 enter as free states rather than slave states. They also worried about the use of federal laws to track down and capture runaway slaves. The supporters of slavery, on the other hand, were outraged at what they thought were the gross exaggerations by the abolitionists about the poor conditions endured by the enslaved people of the South. Library of Congress

Laura Smith Haviland

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"Laura Smith Haviland." (1808-1898) Laura Smith Haviland was an abolitionist and conductor in the Underground Railroad. Haviland's anti-slavery efforts became her life's work, establishing the first Underground Railroad station in Michigan and traveling to the South many times to help runaway slaves find their way to freedom. In 1849, Haviland opened a school for African Americans in Toledo, Ohio in an effort to educate free blacks. She continued her humanitarian work as a nurse in the Civil War and agent of the Freedmen's Aid Society. Here Haviland is pictured probably speaking at an anti-slavery meeting. What are the various instruments in her hands and in front of her? What were they used for and why do you think she is displaying them? If you were in the audience, able to see and touch these devices, would it make you want to end slavery? Also, do you think it unusual, or typical, that a woman would emerge as such an activist leader in the anti-slavery movement? Ohio Historical Society.

Levi Coffin~In the winter of 1826-27

In the winter of 1826-27, fugitives began to come to our house, and as it became more widely known on different routes that the slaves fleeing from bondage would find a welcome and shelter at our house, and be forwarded safely on their journey, the number increased. Friends in the neighborhood, who had formerly stood aloof from the work, fearful of the penalty of the law, were encouraged to engage in it when they saw the fearless manner in which I acted, and the success that attended my efforts. They would contribute to clothe the fugitives, and would aid in forwarding them on their way, but were timid about sheltering them under their roof; so that part of the work devolved on us. Some seemed really glad to see the work go on, if somebody else would do it. Others doubted the propriety of it, and tried to discourage me, and dissuade me from running such risks. They manifested great concern for my safety and pecuniary interests, telling me that such a course of action would injure my business and perhaps ruin me; that I ought to consider the welfare of my family; and warning me that my life was in danger, as there were many threats made against me by the slave-hunters and those who sympathized with them.

After listening quietly to these counselors, I told them that I felt no condemnation for anything that I had ever done for the fugitive slaves. If by doing my duty and endeavoring to fulfill the injunctions of the Bible, I injured my business, then let my business go. As to my safety, my life was in the hands of my Divine Master, and I felt that I had his approval. I had no fear of the danger that seemed to threaten my life or my business. If I was faithful to duty, and honest and industrious, I felt that I would be preserved, and that I could make enough to support my family. At one time there came to see me a good old Friend, who was apparently very deeply concerned for my welfare. He said he was as much opposed to slavery as I was, but thought it very wrong to harbor fugitive slaves. No one there knew of what crimes they were guilty; they might have killed their masters, or committed some other atrocious deed, then those who sheltered them, and aided them in their escape from justice would indirectly be accomplices. He mentioned other objections which he wished me to consider, and then talked for some time, trying to convince me of the errors of my ways. I heard him patiently until he had relieved his mind of the burden upon it, and then asked if he thought the Good Samaritan stopped to inquire whether the man who fell among thieves was guilty of any crime before he attempted to help him? I asked him if he were to see a stranger who had fallen into the ditch would he not help him out until satisfied that he had committed no atrocious deed? These, and many other questions which I put to him, he did not seem able to answer satisfactorily. He was so perplexed and confused that I really pitied the good old man, and advised him to go home and read his Bible thoroughly, and pray over it, and I thought his concern about my aiding fugitive slaves would be removed from his mind, and that he would feel like helping me in the work. We parted in good feeling, and he always manifested warm friendship toward me until the end of his days.

Many of my pro-slavery customers left me for a time, my sales were diminished, and for a while my business prospects were discouraging, yet my faith was not shaken, nor my efforts for the slaves lessened. New customers soon came in to fill the places of those who had left me. New settlements were rapidly forming to the north of us, and our own was filling up with emigrants from North Carolina, and other States. My trade increased, and I enlarged my business. I was blessed in all my efforts and succeeded beyond my expectations. The Underground Railroad business increased as time advanced, and it was attended with heavy expenses, which I could not have borne had not my affairs been prosperous. I found it necessary to keep a team and a wagon always at command, to convey the fugitive slaves on their journey. Sometimes, when we had large companies, one or two other teams and wagons were required. These journeys had to be made at night, often through deep mud and bad roads, and along by-ways that were seldom traveled. Every precaution to evade pursuit had to be used, as the hunters were often on the track, and sometimes ahead of the slaves. We had different routes for sending the fugitives to depots, ten, fifteen, or twenty miles distant, and when we heard of slave-hunters having passed on one road, we forwarded our passengers by another.

In some instances where we learned that the pursuers were ahead of them, we sent a messenger and had the fugitives brought back to my house to remain in concealment until the bloodhounds in human shape had lost the trail and given up the pursuit.

I soon became extensively known to the friends of the slaves, at different points on the Ohio River, where fugitives generally crossed, and to those northward of us on the various routes leading to Canada. Depots were established on the different lines of the Underground Railroad, south and north of Newport, and a perfect understanding was maintained between those who kept them. Three principal lines from the South converged at my house; one from Cincinnati, one from Madison, and one from Jeffersonville, Indiana. The roads were always in running order, the connections were good, the conductors active and zealous, and there was no lack of passengers. Seldom a week passed without our receiving passengers by this mysterious road. We found it necessary to be always prepared to receive such company and properly care for them. We knew not what night or what hour of the night we would be roused from slumber by a gentle rap at the door. That was the signal announcing the arrival of a train of the Underground Railroad, for the locomotive did not whistle, nor make any unnecessary noise. I have often been awakened by this signal, and sprang out of bed in the dark and opened the door. Outside in the cold or rain, there would be a two-horse wagon loaded with fugitives, perhaps the greater part of them women and children. I would invite them, in a low tone, to come in, and they would follow me into the darkened house without a word, for we knew not who might be watching and listening. When they were all safely inside and the door fastened, I would cover the windows, strike a light and build a good fire. By this time my wife would be up and preparing victuals for them, and in a short time the cold and hungry fugitive's would be made comfortable. I would accompany the conductor of the train to the stable, and care for the horses, that had, perhaps, been driven twenty-five or thirty miles that night, through the cold and rain, The fugitives would rest on pallets before the fire the rest of the night. Frequently, wagon-loads of passengers from the different lines have met at our house, having no previous knowledge of each other. The companies varied in number, from two or three fugitives to seventeen.

The care of so many necessitated much work and anxiety on our part, but we assumed the burden of our own will and bore it cheerfully. It was never too cold or stormy, or the hour of night too late for my wife to rise from sleep, and provide food and comfortable lodging for the fugitives. Her sympathy for those in distress never tired, and her efforts in their behalf never abated. This work was kept up during the time we lived at Newport, a period of more than twenty years. The number of fugitives varied considerably in different years, but the annual average was more than one hundred. They generally came to us destitute of clothing, and were often barefooted. Clothing must be collected and kept on hand, if possible, and money must be raised to buy shoes, and purchase goods to make garments for women and children. The young ladies in the neighborhood organized a sewing society, and met at our house frequently, to make clothes for the fugitives.

Sometimes when the fugitives came to us destitute, we kept them several days, until they could be provided with comfortable clothes. This depended on the circumstances of danger. If they had come a long distance and had been out several weeks or months -- as was sometimes the case -- and it was not probable that hunters were on their track, we thought it safe for them to remain with us until fitted for traveling through the thinly settled country to the North. Sometimes fugitives have come to our house in rags, foot-sore and toil-worn, and almost wild, having been out for several months traveling at night, hiding in canebrakes or thickets during the day, often being lost and making little headway at night, particularly in cloudy weather, when the north star could not be seen, sometimes almost perishing for want of food, and afraid of every white person they saw, even after they came into a free State, knowing that slaves were often captured and taken back after crossing the Ohio River.

Such as these we have kept until they were recruited in strength, provided with clothes, and able to travel. When they first came to us they were generally unwilling to tell their stories, or let us know what part of the South they came from. They would not give their names, or the names of their masters, correctly, fearing that they would be betrayed. In several instances fugitives came to our house sick from exhaustion and exposure, and lay several weeks. One case was that of a woman and her two children -- little girls. Hearing that her children were to be sold away from her, she determined to take them with her and attempt to reach Canada. She had heard that Canada was a place where all were free, and that by traveling toward the north star she could reach it. She managed to get over the Ohio River with her two little girls, and then commenced her long and toilsome journey northward. Fearing to travel on the road, even at night, lest she should meet somebody, she made her way through the woods and across fields, living on fruits and green corn, when she could procure them, and sometimes suffering severely for lack of food. Thus she wandered on, and at last reached our neighborhood. Seeing a cabin where some colored people lived she made her way to it. The people received her kindly, and at once conducted her to our house. She was so exhausted by the hardships of her long journey, and so weakened by hunger, having denied herself to feed her children, that she soon became quite sick. Her children were very tired, but soon recovered their strength, and were in good health. They had no shoes nor clothing except what they had on, and that was in tatters. Dr. Henry H. Way was called in, and faithfully attended the sick woman, until her health was restored. Then the little party were provided with good clothing and other comforts, and were sent on their way to Canada.

Dr. Way was a warm friend to the fugitive slaves, and a hearty co-worker with me in anti-slavery matters. The number of those who were friendly to the fugitives increased in our neighborhood as time passed on. Many were willing to aid in clothing them and helping them on their way, and a few were willing to aid in secreting them, but the depot seemed to be established at my house...

The fugitives generally arrived in the night, and were secreted among the friendly colored people or hidden in the upper room of our house. They came alone or in companies, and in a few instances had a white guide to direct them.

One company of twenty-eight that crossed the Ohio River at Lawrenceburg, Indiana -- twenty miles below Cincinnati -- had for conductor a white man whom they had employed to assist them. The company of twenty-eight slaves referred to, all lived in the same neighborhood in Kentucky, and had been planning for some time how they could make their escape from slavery. This white man -- John Fairfield -- had been in the neighborhood for some weeks buying poultry, etc., for market, and though among the whites he assumed to be very pro-slavery, the negroes soon found that he was their friend.

He was engaged by the slaves to help them across the Ohio River, and conduct them to Cincinnati. They paid him some money which they had managed to accumulate. The amount was small, considering the risk the conductor assumed, but it was all they had. Several of the men had their wives with them, and one woman a little child with her, a few months old. John Fairfield conducted the party to the Ohio River, opposite the mouth of the Big Miami, where he knew there were several skiffs tied to the bank, near a woodyard. The entire party crowded into three large skiffs or yawls, and made their way slowly across the river. The boats were overloaded and sank so deep that the passage was made in much peril. The boat John Fairfield was in was leaky, and began to sink when a few rods from the Ohio bank, and he sprang out On the sand-bar, where the water was two or three feet deep, and tried to drag the boat to the shore. He sank to his waist in mud and quick-sands, and had to be pulled out by some of the negroes. The entire party waded out through mud and water and reached the shore safely, though all were wet, and several lost their shoes. They hastened along the bank toward Cincinnati, but it was now late in the night and daylight appeared before they reached the city.

Their plight was a most pitiable one. They were cold, hungry and exhausted; those who had lost their shoes in the mud suffered from bruised and lacerated feet, while to add to their discomfort a drizzling rain fell during the latter part of the night. They could not enter the city, for their appearance would at once proclaim them to be fugitives. When they reached the outskirts Of the city, below Mill Creek, John Fairfield hid them as well as he could, in ravines that had been washed in the sides of the steep hills, and told them not to move until he returned. He then went directly to John Hatfield, a worthy colored man, a deacon in the Zion Baptist church, and told his story. He had applied to Hatfield before, and knew him to be a great friend to the fugitives -- one who had often sheltered them under his roof and aided them in every way be could. When he arrived, wet and muddy, at John Hatfield's house, he was scarcely recognized. He soon made himself and his errand known, and Hatfield at once sent a messenger to me, requesting me to come to his house without delay, as there were fugitives in danger. I went at once and met several prominent colored men who had also been summoned. While dry clothes and a warm breakfast were furnished to John Fairfield, we anxiously discussed the situation of the twenty-eight fugitives who were lying hungry and shivering, in the hills in sight of the city.

Several plans were suggested, but none seemed practicable. At last I suggested that some one should go immediately to a certain German livery stable in the city and hire two coaches, and that several colored men should go out in buggies and take the women and children from their hiding-places, then that the coaches and buggies should form a procession as if going to a funeral, and march solemnly along the road leading to Cumminsville, on the west side of the Mill Creek. In the western part of Cumminsville was the Methodist Episcopal burying-ground where a certain lot of ground had been set apart for the use of the colored people. They should pass this and continue on the Colerain pike till they reached a right-hand road leading to College Hill. At the latter place they would find a few colored families, living in the outskirts of the village, and could take refuge among them. Jonathan Cable, a Presbyterian minister, who lived near Farmer's College, on the west side of the village, was a prominent Abolitionist, and I knew that he would give prompt assistance to the fugitives.

I advised that one of the buggies should leave the procession at Cumminsville, after passing the burying ground, and hasten to College Hill to apprise friend Cable of the coming of the fugitives, that he might make arrangements for their reception in suitable places. My suggestions and advice were agreed to, and acted upon as quickly as possible.

While the carriages and buggies were being procured, John Hatfield's wife and daughter, and other colored women of the neighborhood, busied themselves in preparing provisions to be sent to the fugitives. A large stone jug was filled with hot coffee, and this, together with a supply of bread and other provisions, was placed in a buggy and sent on ahead of the carriages, that the hungry fugitives might receive some nourishment before starting. The conductor of the party, accompanied by John Hatfield, went in the buggy, in order to apprise the fugitives of the arrangements that had been made, and have them in readiness to approach the road as soon as the carriages arrived. Several blankets were provided to wrap around the women and children, whom we knew must be chilled by their exposure to the rain and cold. The fugitives were very glad to get the supply of food; the hot coffee especially was a great treat to them, and much revived them. About the time they finished their breakfast the carriages and buggies drove up and halted in the road, and the fugitives were quickly conducted to them and placed inside. The women in the tight carriages wrapped themselves in the blankets, and the woman who had a young babe muffled it closely to keep it warm, and to prevent its cries from being heard. The little thing seemed to be suffering much pain, having been exposed so long to the rain and cold.

All the arrangements were carried out, and the party reached College Hill in safety, and were kindly received and cared for.

When it was known by some of the prominent ladies of the village that a large company of fugitives were in the neighborhood, they met together to prepare some clothing for them. Jonathan Cable ascertained the number and size of the shoes needed, and the clothes required to fit the fugitives for traveling, and came down in his carriage to my house, knowing that the Anti-Slavery Sewing Society had their depository there. I went with him to purchase the shoes that were needed and my wife selected all the clothing we had that was suitable for the occasion; the rest was furnished by the noble women of College Hill.

I requested friend Cable to keep the fugitives as secluded as possible until a way could be provided for safely forwarding them on their way to Canada. Friend Cable was a stockholder in the Underground Railroad, and we consulted together about the best route, finally deciding on the line by way of Hamilton, West Elkton, Eaton, Paris, and Newport, Indiana. I wrote to one of my particular friends at 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 resting, in charge of Jonathan Cable.

The three wagons arrived promptly at the time mentioned, and a little after dark took in the party, together with another fugitive who had arrived the night before, and whom we added to the company. They went through to West Elkton safely that night, and the next night reached Newport, Indiana. With little delay they were forwarded on from station to station through Indiana and Michigan to Detroit, having fresh teams and conductors each night, and resting during the day. I had letters from different stations, as they progressed, giving accounts of the arrival and departure of the train, and I also heard of their safe arrival on the Canada shore.

From the National Anti-Slavery Standard. 1851

On September 18, 1851, Sidney Howard Gay of the National Anti-Slavery Standard crowed " the love of liberty is no less powerful in men whose skins are black than in those of light complexions, it need surprise nobody that in the game of should sometimes happen that the hunted become the mark for bullets, and the law of self-preservation, and not the Fugitive Slave Law, be obeyed and triumph."

September 25, 1851, National Anti-Slavery Standard, continued that the revolt was a just reciprocation to the midnight incursions of man-hunters, with their treacheries, stratagem, their ruffian outrages, and blood violence...menacing the defenceless people of colour with a 'reign of terrour.'"

The Christiana Event

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The events that happened in September 1851 in the small town of Christiana, bordering the eastern edge of Lancaster County, played a pivotal role in the eventual freedom of enslaved Americans.

The unpopular Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 legally permitted slaveholders to enter a "free" state and reclaim a former slave. In September 1851 Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slaveholder, crossed into Pennsylvania upon hearing that three of his escaped slaves were seen in southeastern Pennsylvania. Gorsuch with the aid of a U.S. marshal and a posse of slavecatchers confronted a group of black abolitionists gathered at the home of one of their strongest leaders, William Parker. When Gorsuch attempted to reclaim his "property" Parker and his men insisted that human beings could not be another's property. Pitted in conflict were Gorsuch who had the law on his side and Parker who was firmly committed to human freedom at whatever cost. Both sides were armed and the ensuing battle left Edward Gorsuch dead and his son, Dickinson Gorsuch, severely wounded.
Federal authorities arrested both blacks and whites in the neighborhood that were thought to support the uprising. The alleged resisters were accused of "levying war" against the government and charged with treason. Thaddeus Stevens spoke for the defense at the hotly debated Treason Trials of 1851 and ultimately a Pennsylvania jury acquitted the defendants. This was the first time that the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was contested on a national level, thus becoming a major event in a series of events that led to the Civil War.

Christiana remembers this event today and proudly proclaims in their town banners "Freedom Began Here."

From the Daily Register (Mobile, Alabama). 1851

"Our country has been on the verge of a revolution. The elements of discord have scarcely subsided into sullen calm, the grieved and injured Southern States have barely yielded to the importunities and assurances of their own patriotic citizens, that the hand of aggression would be stayed, and that the Compromise would be observed in good faith, when all this diabolical tragedy is enacted with all its vile and insulting circumstances."

From the Constitutionalist, Augusta, Georgia. 1851

Other southern editors believed the Christiana Riot would serve as the impetus to the South to seed dis-union. The editor of the Augusta, Georgia newspaper, the Constitutionalist could not resist a not so subtle jab at moderates who believed in the Compromise of 1850 as a vehicle to preserve the union by stating, "Our opponents are always pointing to the Fugitive Slave Law. We point you, people of Georgia, to the mangled corpses of your fellow citizens of the South-We have been fearing just such a result as this-The law will hereafter be a perfectly dead letter."


Poems written in commemoration of the Christiana Riot and the treason trials of 1851

The Christiana Riot

'Twas here that first was heard the thrilling cry
Which pealed the knell of bondage thro' the land;
'Twas here that first our people took the stand
Which cleansed us from the guilt of slavery-
Ye call it Riot! Lo! It made men free!
It was a trumpet call, clear, loud and grand,
And in good time, obeying its command
We heard our Union speak for Liberty.
Here slavery first died. The blood shed here
Destroyed the chains of every trembling slave;
It bound the Nation with a link more dear
And took from us a stigma dark and grave.
So thus we mark this fair September morn,
Where bondage perished, and free men were born!
Mary N. Robinson

The Christiana Riot

Out of the strident clash of hopes and fears
The times have builded music; where of late
Passion strode fierce, and wrath and white-lipped hate
Met bitterly in agony and tears,
Meet we in kindness. Cancelled are arrears
Of debt and credit. It were ill to prate
Or rights and wrongs; may we commemorate
More than the feuds of the forgotten years.
Great God! Which one of us shall cast a stone
At bygone riot? Are no tear drops wet?
Judge of the Nations grant us to atone-
And of thy mercy teach us to forget.
F. Lyman Windolph
From Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: the Writings of John Wilkes Booth, edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper. 1997

Edward Gorsuch's youngest son, Thomas, was a good friend of John Wilkes Booth. Young Booth must have heard from his friend how a gang of "nigger abolitionists" had murdered his father only to be set free by a Yankee jury. To Booth, the Christiana riot and the acquittal of the accused were injustices that called out for revenge. Throughout his speech, Booth calls again and again for "justice for the South." Among other things, "justice" meant the strict enforcement in the North of the fugitive slave law and the speedy return of runaway to their Southern masters.
From the Saturday Express, Lancaster, Pa. 1851

The Lancaster newspaper, the Saturday Express in an editorial titled, "Civil War-The First Blow Struck," states, "The fruits of slavery and of the excitement rashly gotten up by those who denominate themselves the 'friends' of the Negroes, are beginning to ripen. The first murder fruit that has fallen in our Country from this tree of civil discord and evil, is one that has thrown the people into a fever heat of indignation."
From the National Anti-Slavery Standard. 1851

On September 18, 1851, Sidney Howard Gay of the National Anti-Slavery Standard crowed " the love of liberty is no less powerful in men whose skins are black than in those of light complexions, it need surprise nobody that in the game of should sometimes happen that the hunted become the mark for bullets, and the law of self-preservation, and not the Fugitive Slave Law, be obeyed and triumph."

September 25, 1851, National Anti-Slavery Standard, continued that the revolt was a just reciprocation to the midnight incursions of man-hunters, with their treacheries, stratagem, their ruffian outrages, and blood violence...menacing the defenceless people of colour with a 'reign of terrour.'"

Theodore Cuyler, his speech for the defense. 1851

"'Do the facts of the case sustain the charge' Sir==

did you hear it?

That three harmless, nonresisting Quakers, and eight and thirty wretched, miserable, penniless Negroes, armed with corn-cutters, clubs, and a few muskets, and headed by a miller, in a felt hat, without a coat, without arms, and mounted on a sorrel nag, levied war against the United States?

Blessed by God that our Union has survived the shock?"

The Fugitive Slave Bill of 1850

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The Underground Railroad saw an explosion of activity in the 1840s. In 1842, the Supreme Court ruled in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that states did not have to aid in the return of runaway slaves. In an attempt to appease the South, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, which revised the Fugitive Slave Bill. The law gave slaveowners "the right to organize a posse at any point in the United States to aid in recapturing runaway slaves. Courts and police everywhere in the United States were obligated to assist them" (Blockson, 11). Private citizens were also obligated to assist in the recapture of runaways. Furthermore, people who were caught helping slaves served jail time as well as pay fines and restitution to the slaveowner.


"$150 REWARD%u2026 TOM%u2026", a reward poster for an escaped slave.

"PUBLIC NOTICE %u2026 MARTIN BARKER", another reward poster.

"CAUTION COLORED PEOPLE OF BOSTON%u2026", an abolitionist poster trying to prevent the recapture of escaped slaves in the North.

  • 1850

Henry Highland Garnet

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Birth:   Dec. 23, 1815
New Market, Frederick County, Maryland,

Death: Feb. 13, 1882, Liberia

Leading Black Abolitionist and Clergyman. Born a slave, Garnet escaped in 1824 and made his way to New York. There he pursued an eductaion and eventually became a Presbyterian Minister. Garnet became associated with the American Anti-Slavery Society and his career in the late 1830s and early 1840s joined preaching with agitiation for emancipation. A nationally known figure, he shocked his listeners at the 1843 national convention of free people of colour when he called upon slaves to murder their masters. The convention refused to endorse Garnet's radicalism and he gradually turned more to religion as Frederick Douglass assumed the role of premier black Abolitionist. Durning the next two decades, Garnet served as pastor in a number of Presbyterian pulpits. While at his post in Washington D.C, in 1864 he aided the war-related displaced and distressed. Later he assisted government workers in developing programs to help former slaves. In 1881 Garnet was apointed minister to Liberia. In his younger, more radical days he had vigorously opposed plans to solve America's slavery problem by sending blacks back to africa. Toward the end of his life, however he favoured U.S. blacks emigration back to Africa. Within two months of arrival in the African nation, though he died.

Rev. Calvin Fairbank

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Minister and abolitionist. He began his work freeing slaves in 1837. Ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1842, he enrolled at Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio in 1844, but left to continue running slaves across the Ohio River to put them on the Underground Railroad. This brought him two terms of imprisonment, 1845-1849, and 1852-1864, in the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Following his second release, he married Mandana Tileston, to whom he had become engaged in 1851. She moved from Massachusetts to Ohio in order to visit him as often as possible during his second imprisonment. They had a son, Calvin Cornelius Fairbank, born in 1868. Mandana died in 1876 and is buried in the New Village Hill Cemetery in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. Calvin remarried in 1879 and is buried beside his second wife, Adeline Winegar. The conditions of his second imprisonment were particularly harsh and permanently impaired his health. His memoirs were published in 1890 under the title,Rev. Calvin Fairbank During Slavery Times: How He "Fought the Good Fight" to Prepare "the Way." He is generally credited with helping free 47 slaves, including Lewis Hayden, who became influential in Boston politics and a leading abolitionist in his own right.

Birth: Nov. 3, 1816
Pike, Wyoming County, New York

Death: Oct. 12, 1898
Angelica, Allegany County, New York

Buried: Until the Day Dawn Cemetery
Angelica, Allegany County, New York,
Plot: Lot 182.2

Source: Michael Walter, Find A Grave

Contributor: bgill
Created: June 27, 2007 · Modified: January 21, 2010

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