The Underground Railroad in Ohio
|Topic||The Underground Railroad in Ohio|
|Time Period||Early to mid 1800s|
|Keyword(s)||Slavery, Underground Railroad, African Americans, Abolition|
|Learning standard(s)||(Grade 8 Social Studies) History Strand: Historical Thinking and Skills, Content Statement 1; Colonization to Independence, Content Statement 4; Civil War and Reconstruction, Content Statement 12 / (High School Social Studies) American History: Historical Thinking and Skills, Content Statement 2; Industrialization and Progressivism, Content Statement 13|
“The Underground Railroad is a term for the covert network of people and places that assisted fugitive slaves as they escaped from slavery in the South. Most widespread during the three decades prior to the Civil War, this activity primarily took place in the regions bordering slave states, with the Ohio River being the center of much of the activity. Of course, Underground Railroad activity did not literally take place underground or via a railroad, nor was it an official organization with defined structure. It was simply a loose network of people who attempted to move enslaved individuals escaping from slavery to and from safe places in a quick and largely secretive manner.
At the heart of the Underground Railroad were the beliefs of the abolitionist movement. The 18th Century Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, were the first organized abolitionists, believing that slavery violated Christian principles. By the first decades of the 1800s, every state in the North had legally abolished slavery. Abolitionist ideas then spread West into the territories that would soon become Indiana and Ohio. Abolitionists firmly believed that slavery was against their Christian faith. Others considered the contradictory aspects of independence for a country that held enslaved individuals, which led many to become active on the Underground Railroad.” (courtesy National Underground Railroad Freedom Center)
The Underground Railroad
Report of the first anniversary of the Anti-slavery Society
Includes reports for the 2nd-4th anniversaries of the Anti-slavery Society.
Underground Railroad Routes in Ohio map
This is a photograph of a map of the Underground Railroad in Ohio, showing the stations where fugitive slaves were assisted in their flight. The map was created by the Ohio Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in 1936.
The Underground Railroad in Pictures
Underground Railroad Shelter
According to oral tradition, runaway Slaves found lodging on the Ozem Gardner land in a structure that looked like a dugout. A small one-room structure, it was built into the bank of the creek that flowed through the Gardner farmlands. The runaway slaves found shelter there until Mr. Gardner could assist them on their trip to the next station along one of several underground railroad trails that continued from that location. It has been said that on cold nights, Mr. Gardner brought the travelers into his house for warmth. An infant of one of the travelers died and was buried in the home’s basement, according to reports. This photograph depicts the shelter as it stands in contemporary times.
Underground Railroad station
Caption reads “Number 408 East Sixth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. A slave station of the Underground Railway System, reputed to be 115 years old. … Some people living in Ohio began to help runaways by the 1810s. Several prominent abolitionists were from Ohio and they played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Beginning in the late 1840s, Levi Coffin, a resident of Cincinnati, helped more than three thousand slaves escape from their masters and gain their freedom in Canada. Coffin’s work caused his fellow abolitionists to nickname him the “president of the Underground Railroad.” In Ripley, Presbyterian minister John Rankin served as a conductor and opened his home to African-Americans seeking freedom. His home stood on a three hundred-foot high hill that overlooked the Ohio River. Rankin would signal runaway slaves in Kentucky with a lantern and let them know when it was safe for them to cross the Ohio River. He provided the runaways with shelter and kept them hidden until it was safe to travel further north. John Parker, Rankin’s neighbor, brought hundreds of runaway slaves across the Ohio River in a boat. … At least eight cities, including Ashtabula, Painesville, Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo, Huron, Lorain, and Conneaut, along Lake Erie served as starting points to transport the former slaves to freedom in Canada. Historian Wilbur Siebert believes approximately three thousand miles of Underground Railroad trails existed in Ohio.
Underground Railroad station back porch
Caption reads “Opening in back porch of house, located at 408 East Sixth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, where slaves are said to have been stored awaiting shipment during slavery days. Photo by Writers’ Projects. District #2. 11-12-36.” … Several prominent abolitionists were from Ohio and they played a vital role in the Underground Railroad. Beginning in the late 1840s, Levi Coffin, a resident of Cincinnati, helped more than three thousand slaves escape from their masters and gain their freedom in Canada. Coffin’s work caused his fellow abolitionists to nickname him the “president of the Underground Railroad.” In Ripley, Presbyterian minister John Rankin served as a conductor and opened his home to African Americans seeking freedom. His home stood on a three hundred-foot high hill that overlooked the Ohio River. Rankin would signal runaway slaves in Kentucky with a lantern and let them know when it was safe for them to cross the Ohio River. He provided the runaways with shelter and kept them hidden until it was safe to travel further north. John Parker, Rankin’s neighbor, brought hundreds of runaway slaves across the Ohio River in a boat.
Underground Railway tunnel photograph
Caption reads: “Interior of “Slave Tunnel.” (No. 2) At the top is a kind of vestibule beneath the house, with a trap door leading to one of the porches and another door giving access to the basement.”
Levi Coffin house
Caption reads: “This house at 3131 Wehrmon Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio, was the headquarters of Levi Coffin, reputed to be “President” of the Underground Railway in the days of slavery. Photo by W.P.A. Writers’ Projects. 11-12-36.” Levi Coffin’s two story, wood shingle home at 3131 Wehrman Avenue in Cincinnati, Ohio was around the corner from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house on Gilbert Avenue, where he was a frequent guest. The fearless Quaker “president” had a “store” at the corner of Sixth and Elm Streets until 1847, where he aided 3,000 Negroes in their flight to freedom.”
Buckingham House doorway in Zanesville, Ohio
Dated ca. 1935-1940, this photograph shows the Buckingham House, located at 405 Moxahala Avenue in Zanesville, Ohio, in Muskingum County. The house was built in 1819 for Alva Buckingham, and was a stop on the Underground Railroad. … The Ohio Guide Collection consists of 4,769 photographs collected for use in Ohio Guide and other publications of the Federal Writers’ Project in Ohio from 1935-1939.
Portraits of Underground Railroad Conductors
Evelyn Gertrude (Foster) McCurdy and LeRoy “Roy” Nelson McCurdy
Evelyn Gertrude (Foster) and LeRoy “Roy” Nelson McCurdy, Merle’s parents, were married in Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada on July 20, 1907. Both the Foster and McCurdy families had roots in the Ohio, before moving to Amherstburg. Prior to the Civil War, both families participated on the Underground Railroad by helping those leaving the bonds of slavery in the United States to Canada or otherwise offering assistance upon freedom seekers’ entry into a foreign land. Following the Civil War, both families had relatives who worked on ships carrying cargo into the United States. The marriage of Evelyn and Roy McCurdy would see a portion of these two families re-establish connections with Ohio, with Lake Erie being the common bond and connection with their cousins to the North. Source Journal Entry and Affidavit: Marriage of Roy McCurdy and Evelyn Foster, No. 22310 (Ashtabula Court of Common Pleas 1926).
Portrait of Sarah and Jonathan Haines
Sarah and Jonathan Haines standing in front of their home at the corner of Market and Haines in Alliance in the 1880s.
Histories of the Underground Railroad
History of the Underground Railroad as it was conducted by the Anti-Slavery League : including many thrilling encounters between those aiding the slaves to escape and those trying to recapture them
History of the Underground Railroad as it was conducted by the Anti-Slavery League : including many thrilling encounters between those aiding the slaves to escape and those trying to recapture them.
Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the reputed president of the underground railroad : being a brief history of the labors of a lifetime in behalf of the slave, with the stories of numerous fugitives, who gained their freedom through his instrumentality, and many other incidents
Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the reputed “president of the underground railroad” : being a brief history of the labors of a lifetime in behalf of the slave, with the stories of numerous fugitives, who gained their freedom through his instrumentality, and many other incidents.
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – “The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum of conscience, an education center, a convener of dialogue, and a beacon of light for inclusive freedom around the globe. Located in Cincinnati, Ohio.”
- Ohio History Central, Underground Railroad – This article provided by the Ohio History Connection provides a historical overview of the Underground Railroad and Ohio’s part in it.
- National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center – Enjoy regularly changing exhibits and special programs sharing African American history, art and culture at this museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, home of two historically black universities: Wilberforce and Central State.
- Detroit Historical Society, Underground Railroad – A discussion and overview of the Underground Railroad with biographical information on abolitionists from the Detroit, Michigan area.
This guide will serve to outline some possible ways to interact with the digital content and has suggestions to have students pull information from the examples listed above.
Discussion Guide (Download)
- How would escaped slaves navigate the underground railroad on their way north?
- Where would those traveling through the underground railroad settle after their travels?
- What towns and cities in Ohio did escaped slaves pass through on their way north?
- Where would underground railroad conductors hide escaped slaves?
- Are there any underground railroad stops in your county that still exist and can be visited?
Classroom Activities (Download)
- Were escaped slaves universally welcome in Ohio? Research the background of the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850 and how they affected the activities of the Underground Railroad, as well as 19th century viewpoints of Ohioans on slavery.
- Visit the list of official Underground Railroad sites by the National Park Services either as individuals or in small groups. Choose one to research for a short presentation for the class (individual) OR Break into small groups and have each group pick a different Ohio site for a group presentation.
- Imagine that you or you and a group have managed to flee the south and make your way north; use the information you’ve learned about the Underground Railroad to create a first-person account of what it would have been like to make this treacherous journey either alone or as a group. Think about the dangers you would encounter along the way, what path you would take to navigate to safety, and how you would have thought about the people who helped you.