Last week, I re-posted an article on Jared Potter Kirtland, an early resident of Poland, Ohio. His home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I mentioned that a post on the Underground Railroad would be a good idea for another time. Re-reading that article and a few requests led me to the conclusion that it is time to write that article.
The Underground Railroad was the clandestine effort of a abolitionists in Northern States to help fugitive slaves escaping the South find refuge and make their way to Canada, where they were not subject to capture by fugitive slave hunters. It was illegal to hide or aid fugitive slaves to escape, and so precautions were taken including keeping no records and partitioning the routes so that no one could reveal the whole network of escape routes. The terminology reflected the Underground Railroad analogy.
- Fugitive slaves were “passengers.”
- Those who helped escaping slaves find the railroad were “agents.”
- Guides along the way were known as “conductors.”
- Hiding places were “stations” and those who hid slaves were “station masters.”
Because Ohio was separated from the slaveholding South by the Ohio River, many slaves escaped across the Ohio River at various points from Cincinnati to Ripley, to Southpoint, Portsmouth, Gallipolis, and Marietta, and to Steubenville. One of the most famous stations was the home of Reverend John Rankin in Ripley, on a hill above the river. The Rankins were the first stop for 2200 fugitive slaves and the likely source of a story of a slave woman and her infant child who escaped across the ice floes on the Ohio River, captured memorably in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by their friend, Harriet Beecher Stowe. The state is crisscrossed with Underground Railroad routes running from the Ohio River to the Lake Erie port cities of the north where people could get boats to Canada: Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland, Painesville, and Ashtabula among them. There are several markers on the Ohio State campus tracing the route through the campus. In recognition of this, the southeast corner of the new Ohio Union is configured architecturally in the form of a lantern, a sign of a “station,” recognizing the Underground Railroad history associated with the campus.
You will notice that several of the Underground Railroad routes ran from the river up the eastern border of Ohio. One of the most famous of these that ran up through Mahoning County began at Wellsville, following what is present day Route 45 up through Salem, Ellsworth, just west of what is now Meander Reservoir up to Warren, on to North Bloomfield and up to Ashtabula. Another branched further east through Canfield, into Youngstown, up to Brookfield and Hartford and then up to Ashtabula. Some may have connected with this by crossing over from Pennsylvania by Poland (the Kirtland House), and then headed north.
In Salem, The Daniel Howell Hise home was one of the stations along the Route 45 line. The Hises were Quakers (as were many abolitionists and those involved in the Underground Railroad). Salem at that time had a high percentage of Quakers and hosted many national events. In the 1850’s, the Hises bought a Gothic Revival Farmhouse that included many hidden rooms under the house and in a nearby barn. Slaves could stay in hiding, rest, and eat until a conductor would take them to the next station.
That next station may have been in Ellsworth, a center of abolitionist activity, or in Canfield, the home of Chauncey Fowler. Fowler was a physician who provided food, clothing, and no doubt, medical care to slaves on the way to Canada. On the way home from an abolitionist meeting in Ellsworth, Fowler narrowly escaped an attack by a band of pro-slavery men. Being an abolitionist and a station master were dangerous activities.
The Strock Stone House, a bit south of Mahoning Avenue was also not far from Route 45. Francis Henry lived in the house from 1851 to 1863, and this was the likely time it was used as a station. The house was isolated and allowed fugitives and their conductor to approach unseen.
One of the conductors, from Bazetta Township, was Levi Sutliff, who possibly brought slaves to the house of Judge Leicester King whose house was along Route 45 by the Mahoning River in Warren. King was a statewide leader in anti-slavery efforts. From there, they went north to North Bloomfield, the site of slave rescue in 1823, when slaves were hidden by the residents and then protected in a hideout in Rome, about 12 miles away. The slave hunters were put up in the Tavern, where a variety of stalling tactics from “sleeping late” to the horses of the slave hunters some how turning up with a shoe missing, requiring the attentions of a blacksmith, allowing the slaves to make good their escape.
From Rome, slaves found another station in Austinburg, and then made their way to Ashtabula where they were put on boats to Canada and freedom. One interesting connection to the Youngstown area was that three nephews of Nehemiah Hubbard, Jr. (after whom Hubbard is named) settled in Ashtabula: William, Matthew, and Henry. All were heavily involved in abolitionist efforts and William’s house was the final station for many on the Underground Railroad. The house survives and is now Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum.
The other route, from Poland, conducted slaves on to Youngstown where there was a station managed by John Loughridge, the leader of the abolitionist movement there. Slaves may have been conducted from there to Brookfield and Hartford, where Dudley Tracy was a station master and radical abolitionist.
As I noted, because this was dangerous activity, many of the “stations” were kept quiet, with no records. My hunch is that this is only a representative sample of many who were involved in the Mahoning Valley and other parts of eastern Ohio in rescuing fugitive slaves. If you know of other stations and conductors or can add to the stories here, I’d love for you to do so in the comments. There was a strong abolitionist movement throughout eastern Ohio and the Western Reserve, with many prominent people who took great risks because they believed in human equality and freedom. There is an inspiring story to be told of which this is just a small part.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!