The underground railroad


What was the underground railroad? I hope you were not totally sleeping when there was a discussion about slavery in the history class. Slavery had become a division of South and the plantation system against North and the industrial development. Many folks also had a problem of the “ownership” of human beings and the treatment of same. After the horrible conflict of the Civil War, many books have been written about all phases of the conflict. I believe we must look at history and try to find an authority who has “the whole story.”

Professor Wilbur Siebert of Ohio State University compiled thousands of pages of source documents so I do not presume to address the movement in this short article. Professor Siebert is seen as one of the “real authorities.” If you still have not “figured it out,” the underground railroad was the system used to transport/help the fleeing slaves get to freedom. Siebert’s book was first published in 1898. The Clinton County Genealogy Society holds a copy of a 24-page letter dated 26 December 1892 written by Isaac M. Beck of Sardinia, Ohio. Siebert had requested letters from those persons willing to share personal stories and/or events.

Samuel Gist had established two settlements of his freed slaves living in Brown County, Ohio and a third Gist settlement in Highland County just Southeast of New Vienna. There was an established network in the white community of “conductors” – those persons willing to help and/or transport fleeing slaves. There were also black conductors. The other side of the story is the slave chasers who received money for returning slaves to their masters. For many of these people it was a lucrative income. The families/conductors on the underground system were donating time, money, and food to helping the fleeing slaves. It was a very dangerous commitment and risk to those conductors and their families. Clinton County had many conductors and “safe houses.”

When Siebert began collecting documentation, he apparently had brochures at various sites in the counties from which he hoped to obtain information. The remainder of this article is dedicated to some of the information recorded in the copy of the letter sent to Professor Siebert by Isaac M. Beck.

Several ministers were very involved with the movement. Those named were Rev. Rankin of Ripley, Rev. Gilliland of Red Oak, Rev. Lockhart of Russellville, Rev. Dobbins of Sardinia, Rev. Carothers of Greenfield, James and Wm. Dickey of Ross or Fayette County, Rev. Steele of Hillsboro, and an “anti-slavery Irishman” by the name of Burgess.

William Lloyd Garrison’s publication “The Liberator” was a great contribution to the antislavery movement. It seems many of the early fleeing slaves just took a chance that someone would have pity and hand out a bit of food or perhaps they would find food along the way. Some of these journeys took months. As the antislavery movement continued it became more and more organized and actual routes were established among those willing to help the fleeing slave get to freedom.

The time of greatest activity was about 1834 – 1856. One specific escape described by Beck was that of “Ike.” Ike arrived at the Gist settlement near Sardinia and was hidden in one of the cabins but “the wrong person” found out about him and he was captured by the “slave chasers.” The group was going to have some food so all the black folks were ordered out of the room. Ike and the residents left the room but Ike just kept going. One of the residents told Ike he would act as a guide. The slave chasers started in hot pursuit. Two of the residents realized what was happening and began a “pretend fight” as a distraction. John A. Hudson, a black resident, volunteered to “help.” He owned a conch shell and as he led the party blew the conch shell creating a loud noise. [Think for just a moment – a guy leading the group and blowing on the conch shell was letting the fleeing slave know exactly where the chasers were.] The residents were able to get Ike out of the settlement and get him “on up the road” where he was able to stay at the home of Abraham Pettijohn who cared for him until the slave chasers had given up the hunt.

This is only one incident in the 24-page letter of Mr. Beck. Would you like to read the whole letter? Come to the History Center. You do not have to be able to read cursive writing. We have typed it. We will be open to the public the first week of April or you may call 937-382-4684. Hope to see you then.

Siebert lists the following names for conductors in Clinton County – Abram Allen, David Allen, Isaac Bales, Aaron Betts, Dr. Abram Brooke, Edward Brooke, James B. Brooke, Samuel Brooke, Wm. Brooke, Dr. George M. Dakin, Perry Dakin, Isaac Davis, Joel P. Davis, Samuel Ferguson, John Hadley, Mark Haines, Samuel Haines, Wright Haines, Christopher Hiatt, Thomas Hibben, Mr. Johnson, D. S. King, Seth It Linton, Artemas Nicholson, Elihu Oren, Wm. Osborn, David Sewell, Andrew Strickle, H. B. Thompson, W. M. Waln and Thomas Woodmansee. Since the publication of Siebert’s book other Clinton County names have been added.

Please be sure to check with us for an event in April. It is 149 years since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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