Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad is a term used to define African American people’s pursuit of freedom from slavery in the pre-Civil War era. It was operated during that time from the Southern states to Canada being the destination, and Ohio was highly active in it. Wayne County had a huge part to play in this operation as it was one of the stops for the Kentucky to Canada route (Kentucky - Wayne County – Oberlin - Canadian Border). In an article written by E. H. Hauenstein, there were mentions of two other main routes along the Underground Railroad in Ohio.[1] From the south, slaves seeking freedom came north through Millersburg. They went through Holmesville, Fredericksburg, Apple Creek, East Union, Smithville, and further north to Seville and Medina. The route turned eastward toward Akron and from Akron, there were several alternative routes to Cleveland. From the west, slaves seeking freedom came by way of Nashville, Shreve, Lakeville, or Loudonville. In Loudonville, one branch went north to Ashland and into Sandusky. The other branch from Loudonville came through Wooster and continued north to Golden Corners into Lodi and further north toward Oberlin and various points along the lake. It is estimated that through Ohio, there were at least twenty main routes heading north. Also, it is believed that more than 1,000 slaves a year were successful in gaining freedom through the assistance of Ohioans.

Reading through early Wayne County, OH newspapers, it is not uncommon to see articles pertaining to anti-slavery organizations. The first anniversary of the Wayne County Anti-Slavery Society was held on January 25, 1837 in Wooster. It was reported in the Wooster Journal and Democratic Times on 15 Feb 1837. (A hard copy of the article may be found in the “Afro-American in Wayne County: Second Baptist Church” binder.) Members of the Wayne County Anti-Slavery Society were also a part of the larger Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. Their are records of J.S. Farr and R. Babcock from Congress (formerly known as Waynesburg) attending the 1837 Ohio Anti-Slavery Society annual meeting.

Locations

One of the ambiguous factors of the history of Underground Railroads in Wayne County is the location(s). Like other parts of the US, the Underground railroad was not actually "underground" in Wayne County, and it was not primarily operated by trains. Rather, it was a secretive operation conducted by many different “conductors”, who were both white and people of color abolitionists. Most of the times the stations were their homes, and there would be many stops as they had to move discreetly. Due to the risk of getting caught, people had to change the “stations” often to avoid suspicion. Wayne County being a collection of intimate communities, it was easier to notice if something was out of the ordinary, and not everyone was in favor of anti-slavery. As a result, it is hard to determine the locations of many of the Underground Railroad stations today. According to the works of Byron D. Fruehling and Robert H. Smith, there are many places in Wooster rumored to be stations, i.e- the “Mayor’s House”, Pittsburgh Avenue School, John H. Kauke house, etc.[2] Although no concrete evidence has been found, many lores have developed around these (and other) rumored places, resulting in more historical inaccuracies surrounding the Underground Railroads. It has become difficult to tell which of these places were historically used as stations, and if the lores depict the true picture of what was going on.

Towns and villages in Wayne County such as Fredericksburg, Shreve, Millbrook, Wooster, Marshallville, Orrville, Smithville, and East Union were active places for the Underground Railroads. Places that are most likely to be stations are the family farms of families who were well-known abolitionists. Eugene Pardee’s house in 124 Massaro St. Wooster, has been known as a station. Pardee was an abolitionist lawyer who dedicated his career to help African American people find justice and freedom. The Battles’ family farmhouse north of Shreve is another well-known place, as recollected by the successors of Thomas S. Battles- the one who initiated the operation. Marshallville is another popular place. Although being a small village, it has been stated that a wine cellar built by Jacob Hostetter in the pre-civil war era was used as a hiding place for the fugitives.[3] There are also rumors of the railroads in Marshallville being used for Underground operations before the 1850’s, when it started operating as an actual rail station.[4] There were many abolitionists located in Millbrook for the Shreve-Millbrook route, such as Thomas Smith,[5] Charity Bell, Samuel Seibert, etc.[6] When Wooster got spotted as a fugitive route, the route was then changed to pass through Fredericksburg.[7] Fredericksburg people such as the Snures, Armstrongs, Danilels’, and many more turned their farmhouses into shelters for fugitives and played the roles of conductors as well.

People

Many people involved with the Underground Railroads in Wayne County are more well-known as opposed to locations, although it is not certain whether everyone’s identity has been revealed and recorded. There are records of people setting their slaves free as early as in the 1820s.[8] There are also articles written in the 1950’s and onwards of people recollecting their parents’ and grandparents’ contribution in the Underground Railroad. The groups most often affiliated with the Underground Railroad include the Quakers, Covenanters, Wesleyan, Methodist, and other abolitionists. There were Mennonites such as the Myers family, some of whom broke their religious vows to provide armed assistance in the pursuit of freedom. Most people were highly respected citizens of the community. Below is a list of well-known Wayne County abolitionists-

A great number of the people mentioned above resided in the Wooster, Millbrook, Fredericksburg, and Shreve areas which were the most active for Underground Railroad operations. It is assumed that these people were also a part of the Wayne County Anti-Slavery Society, although many of their names were not recorded in the articles published on the annuals meetings at that time. A possible explanation could be that they wanted to keep their identities discreet, which were only revealed later by their successors.

The "Unheard" Conductors

With the limited amount of documentation available regarding the Underground Railroads in Wayne County, most of the abolitionists mentioned are men. Looking through articles mentioning different families involved with the Railroads such as the Battles, the Myers, the Smiths, etc., there are only names of the head of households. What is hidden behind the scenes are the wives and children of these people, who also played an integral part in this operation. The women oversaw providing shelter to the fugitives and taking care of them, i.e- cooking, providing clothes, etc. The children were also a part of it by assisting the adults, as it took everyone’s contribution to keep the operation discreet. To keep away the slavecatchers and the townspeople from suspecting, every member of the household was instructed to keep their activities out of suspicion- especially when there were fugitives resting in their homes. Many of the children would take up the roles of their fathers as they grew up, such as Dr. W. S. Battles, Hibben Cheney, Levi Daniels, and many more.

In Wayne County, there are notable women like Charity Bell whose name has been in the spotlight. Bell was a widowed woman living in Millbrook, and she played the role of a conductor in association with the Battles family and others. The Bell farm acted as a “station”, where she provided a hiding place as well as food and shelter. Some of the spouses of the notable households whose names did not show up in documentation, are listed below-

  • Ann Battles (check Thomas S. Battles)
  • Mahala Battles (check Dr. W. S. Battles)
  • Laura Burr
  • Sarah Clark
  • Silom Cheney (wife of Hibben Cheney)
  • Elenor Daniels (wife of Isaac Daniels)
  • Mary Ann Deyarmon
  • Eliza Farr
  • Hannah Ladd
  • Catherine May
  • Susanna Myers (check Joseph Myers)
  • Jane Oldroyd
  • Eleanor Pardee (check Eugene Pardee)
  • Martha Rose
  • Mary Seibert
  • Mary Smith
  • Lovina Taggert

Current Preservation Efforts

With the ambiguity of historically accurate locations all throughout Wayne County, it is difficult to plan preservation efforts. Along with the dilemma of which place to preserve, there has also not much preservation efforts been made on the national level in Wayne County, if at all. There are a few local efforts being made, as there were conversations on preserving the Eugene Pardee house in 124 Massaro St. Lydia Thompson, former secretary of the Wooster-Orrville NAACP, and other fellow African American women envisioned the Pardee house being turned into an African American Heritage Museum. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been fruitful yet, leaving the house to deteriorate further. It is uncertain whether other well-known locations in Wayne County have been in discussion for preservation. Without local enthusiasts, the task of preservation is nearly impossible to complete.

Gallery

Available Digital Files Related to the Underground Railroad in Wayne County, Ohio

Citations

  1. Hauenstein, E. H. "Runaway Slaves Aided By Wayne County Depots On Underground RR". Wooster Daily Record, September 8, 1953. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  2. Fruehling, Byron D. and Smith, Robert H. "Subterranean Hideaways of the Underground Railroad in Ohio: An Architectural, Archaeological and Historical Critique of Local Traditions". Ohio History vol. 102 (Summer-Autumn 1993): 98-117.
  3. "Did Marhsallville pit save slaves?" Akron Beacon Journal, n.d. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  4. "Writer Describes Marshallville in Days of Underground Railroad", Orrville Courier Crescent, Aug 5, 1937. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  5. Thomas Smith · The Underground Railroad in Wayne County · Wooster Digital History Project. http://woosterhistory.org/exhibits/show/underground-railroad-through-w/thomas-smith. Accessed 29 July 2022. Categories
  6. Hauenstein, E. H. "Runaway Slaves Aided By Wayne County Depots On Underground RR". Wooster Daily Record, September 8, 1953. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  7. A History of Fredericksburg, Ohio. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  8. "Wayne Co. Records Show Slave Freed", Wooster Daily Record (Possibly?) 1920. Wayne County, OH- African American Underground Railroad Lateral Files
  9. Isaac Daniels · The Underground Railroad in Wayne County · Wooster Digital History Project. http://woosterhistory.org/exhibits/show/underground-railroad-through-w/isaac-daniels. Accessed 29 July 2022.
  10. James Rose · The Underground Railroad in Wayne County · Wooster Digital History Project. http://woosterhistory.org/exhibits/show/underground-railroad-through-w/james-rose. Accessed 29 July 2022.
  11. Thomas Smith · The Underground Railroad in Wayne County · Wooster Digital History Project. http://woosterhistory.org/exhibits/show/underground-railroad-through-w/thomas-smith. Accessed 29 July 2022.
  12. Robert and William Taggart · The Underground Railroad in Wayne County · Wooster Digital History Project. http://woosterhistory.org/exhibits/show/underground-railroad-through-w/robert-and-william-taggart. Accessed 29 July 2022.