The Underground Railroad was overly popular in Ohio
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff
Thursday, 09 February 2012 09:51
(Editor's note: "Josh Franklin's Far Out Family Blog" is 10 chapters of Civil War history focusing on Ohio's role, written in a modern tone. Students, parents and teachers are invited to take the series a little further after reading it, and discuss the topics suggested below. The series is published through Ohio Newspapers in Education and was written by Steven Coburn-Griffis. The illustration is by Isaac Schumacher.)
We take travel for granted. We've got cars and buses to get us around. And there are trucks, not to mention airplanes, to move more and bigger things. But back when Uncle Ethan was writing his letters, none of that existed. In fact, the fastest way of getting things from here to there was on railroads. During the Civil War, railroads were the supply lines that kept the Union army in food and clothes and bullets and stuff. They were transportation for newly enlisted soldiers heading south and for the wounded being shuttled back north. So I guess it's not all that surprising that when abolitionists started illegally moving slaves from the southern states all the way up into Canada, they called that the Underground Railroad.
Like all railroads, the Underground Railroad had stops along the way, places where people opened their homes to runaway slaves. Let me tell you that I am proud to say that Ohio had 13 stops. That's more than twice as many stops as any other state. They stretched from as far south as Riley clear up north into Sandusky and Ashtabula. And even though we were fighting a war to emancipate the slaves, to free them, it was still against the law to help an escaped slave. The people who were helping were risking a lot, maybe even prison time. So they did their best to keep what they were doing secret. They built hidden rooms in their houses with tricky, secret doors and they built tunnels so that the people traveling the Underground Railroad could get in and out without being seen.
One of the cool things about now, today, is that none of that stuff is secret anymore. Sometimes, some of those Underground Railroad stops are even open to the public, part of a park system or something, so we can go and see where they were and what they were like. And like I said, there are a bunch of them here in Ohio, so there may even be one close to where you live.
Anyway, enough about that. I'm going to fail this project if I don't write at least a little bit about family. Isn't that right, Mr. W.? So, here's the next letter:
September 7, 1862
Even as I am writing this, I am sitting in a train car. There are hundreds of us, soldiers all, waiting for the train to begin its journey, to take us, to take me, farther from home than I ever really dreamed of going. We are heading for Cincinnati and from there, most surely farther south. And the world is stranger than ever I would have believed.
Today I met a man, a black man. His name is John Langston. He is neither a freed slave nor a runaway. He was born a free man, here, in the United States, in Virginia. He is a remarkable man who has been to college and who was even elected clerk in Lorain County. Now, he preaches abolition and recruits other black men for service in the Union Army.
Though I miss home, and I most truly do, meeting a man such as Mr. Langston is proof to me that I have made the right decision.
Chapter three: questions and activities
Locate the towns of Riley, Sandusky and Ashtabula on a map of Ohio. Using the map's scale, calculate how far 'riders' on the Underground Railroad had to travel from one point another across Ohio on their way to freedom.
Do some research at your local library or online to find out if there were any Underground Railroad stops near your home. If so, how far is it to the next northern Underground Railroad "station?"
Look through today's Sentinel-Tribune.
Are there any articles about people who are helping others? Are any of them risking their freedom or even their lives to do so?
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2012 09:52