The Underground Railroad
Previous to the Civil War a great many Negroes from the slave states gained their freedom by reaching Canada by the “Underground Railroad.” Probably only a few have heard how this trunk line between Dixie and Canada received it’s name. It is said that a number of men in Cincinnati were engaged in conversation concerning the escape of Negroes when a southern man said that the owners could always trace the Negroes to that city but from there they lost all trace of them. They could not understand it unless there was an underground railroad. To which one of the Cincinnati men replied, “Yes, we have one.” The slave holder wanted to see it so they took him to the hills back of Cincinnati, which were being tunneled for a railroad, and told him it ran straight to Canada. In this way he was deceived and believed it to be the means by which the slaves escaped their masters. Consequently it was call the “Underground Railroad.”
The institution was composed of people living north of the Ohio river who were opposed to slavery. By uniting and forming a chain of stations they organized the means by which hundreds of Negroes escaped their masters and fled to Canada.
The most active of the sympathizers were Quakers, the leader of whom in this state was Levi Coffin. He enlisted the sympathy of people living north and south of Newport. After a fugitive slave crossed the Ohio river he was hidden away and as soon as the immediate pursuit was over, he was conducted during the night to the next station.
On of the lines of the railroad ran through Union Co. near Roseburg. The first station was kept by Peter Napa, a Negro who was well known to the fugitive slaves. He lived in a log cabin on the farm now owned by Albert Brett. He brought them to Thomas
Hawthorn’s, living but a short distance north of Roseburg, who would take them to the next station, William Beard. He in turn took them to Wayne Co. near Newport where friends would forward them towards Canada.
Levi Coffin, who lived in Cincinnati, kept a station and a great many slaves passed under his supervision. At one time a slave had reached the Coffin house and the master, close behind, came up and insisted that the slave was in the house. Mr. Coffin’s wife dressed the slave in women’s attire and took him with her out of the front door before the gaze of the slave holder and thus succeeded in getting him away.
This railroad was carried on in secret because it was in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law. The operators were activated by a spirit of kindness and devotion to the cause of freedom for the poor African slave.
Slavery was instituted in the first settlements of the colonies. After the Declaration of Independence all the leading men thought that slavery would soon pass away so they made no laws to prohibit it. As a result of this it fastened itself in a peculiar manner on the southern part of the country.
The history of the “Underground Railroad” is coincident with all the history of slavery. It was a few to assist a runaway slave and anyone could arrest him and bring him to his master. This is the reason the slave did not know who might capture him and while on his journey would prefer to crawl into cane brakes or thickets and other secluded places and her remain during the day, resuming his journey at night.
The operator of the “Underground Railroad” were called all kinds of names such as: wicked Quakers,” “abolitionists, and “nigger stealers.” But they were real philanthropists who had witnessed the suffering and heard the cries and moans of those that were sold on the auction blocks separating father, mother and children.
Such events as John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry and the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eliza with her baby in her arms, crossing the Ohio river on floating cakes of ice were causes that angered the south so much that they rushed into war to maintain slavery and to stop the work of the “Underground Railroad.” The barriers of slavery were so strong on the part of the south and the spirit of freedom which swept over the north was so aggressive than an irrepressible conflict was waged for years. Not until the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did the “Underground Railroad” go out of existence.
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