Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Underground Railroad in Sandusky

On Sunday, November 11, 2007, the “Path to Freedom” sculpture created by Susan Schultz was dedicated at Facer Park in Sandusky. The “Path to Freedom” features a life-sized representation of an African American man, his wife and child. Eight hundred feet of chain was used in the creation of the sculpture. Support for the project came from the Rotary Club, Lange Trust, and other community organizations. Ms. Schultz will speak about the sculpture in a presentation at the Sandusky Library on Saturday, February 21, at 2PM.

The November 12, 2007 Sandusky Register reported on the sculpture’s dedication. John Bacon quoted Frederick Douglass during the ceremony: “This contest has now ended. My chains are broken, and the victory brings me unspeakable joy.”

Sandusky residents played an integral role in aiding fleeing slaves reach freedom in Canada. Hewson Peeke in his 1916 History of Erie County wrote that the first runaway slave to reach Sandusky was in 1820. Captain Shepherd, with the help of an African American hostler known as “John,” took the fugitive across Lake Erie to Malden in his small sailboat.
Rush R. Sloane wrote in “The Underground Railroad of the Firelands,” from the July 1888 Firelands Pioneer, that before the year 1837 “the fugitives who escaped through Sandusky were conducted and aided almost wholly by black men.” Sloane lists the names of several Sandusky men involved in this endeavor: John Jackson, Grant Ritchie, Isaac Brown, John Hampton, William Wilson, Thomas Butler, Samuel Carr, George Robertson , Samuel Floyd, John and Alfred Winfield, John R. Loot (sometimes spelled Lott), Robert Holmes, Bazel Brown, Andy Robinson, Peter Anderson, Black Jack, William Butler, John Hamilton, Andrew Hamilton and Benjamin Johnson. Sandusky’s Second Baptist Church was an active station on the Underground Railroad. Fugitive slaves were fed and housed at the church while waiting for their passage to Canada. Rev. Thomas Holland Boston, former pastor of the St. Stephen A.M.E. Church in Sandusky also aided many fleeing slaves, including Joe Daniel who hid at the home of Rev. Boston before he finally made his way to Canada safely. George J. Reynolds was a local carriage maker who was known to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Key officials, businessmen, and lawyers in Sandusky and Erie County enabled the work of the Underground Railway. Judge Jabez Wright and his son Winthrop hid fugitives in their cellar. United States Congressman Joseph M. Root was a radical abolitionist. Sandusky lawyers Rush Sloane and F. D. Parish both faced prosecution for their aid to runaway slaves. Sloane was forced to pay $6000 in damages and costs under the Fugitive Slave Law, while F. D. Parish was fined $1250 by the Circuit Court of the U.S. in 1849 after he sheltered two slaves from Kentucky.

Mr. Sloane wrote that among the “early and earnest friends of the line” were: John Beatty, F. D. Parish, Samuel Walker, R. J. Jennings, Clifton Hadley, J. N. Davidson, Isaac Darling and John Thorpe. Since 1848 the following men also assisted in the work of the Underground Railroad: John Irvine, Thomas Drake, William H. Clark, Sr., William H. Clark, Jr., L.H. Lewis, Otis L. Peck, John G. Pool, S. E. Hitchcock, Homer Goodwin, Thomas C. McGee, George Barney, Herman Ruess, C. C. Keech, Samuel Irvine, O. C. McLouth, J. M. Root, and H. C. Williams. Of course, countless other men and women, from both Huron and Erie Counties, also assisted fleeing slaves reach safety. Farmers would often provide shelter in their barns, while their wives would provide food and clothing.

You can obtain a free brochure about the Underground Railroad in Erie County at the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Center at 4424 Milan Road. Another excellent resource located at the Archives Research Center of the Sandusky Library is William Steuk’s The Underground Railroad in Sandusky, Ohio.

1 comment:

Ed Daniel said...

Your recent item about the Underground Railroad in Sandusky was very informative, fleshing out what I remember my mother telling me when I grew up in Sandusky in the 1940's and 50's. But, not mentioned was Josiah Henson, the real-life model for Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." His memoirs in 1849 mentioned (on p.56, available on-line thru Google Boooks) recount that his escape to Canada in 1830 were facilitated by a boat captain near Sandsky who spirited Henson and his family away to avoid bounty hunters in town. The scene, in Stowe's book, about Uncle Tom fording an icey-cold stream, took place somewhere west of Sandusky.